Go Go Verrocchio!

Inspired by the Times article on the exhibition in D.C., (link here: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/10/arts/design/verrocchio-review-national-gallery-leonardo.html ) I went, throwing in a catch-up with a Washington-based friend as a bonus.

Born Andrea di Michele di Francesco de’ Cioni in 1435, the artist took the name Verrocchio in tribute to his master, a goldsmith. He emerged as a brilliant painter, sculptor (in bronze, terra cotta, marble) and goldsmith, fortunate to have the patronage of the Medicis. (Nothing like the deepest pockets around!) Other greats including Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Leonardo worked in his studio, as explained in the exhibition which points out which works, largely paintings, were probably partly made via “assistant” hands.

Verrocchio’s David in the National Gallery
Avocados for guac at Oyamel

Before the exhibit, (at the National Gallery, free like most DC museums), we saw a half-hour film about it, narrated by Glen Close, that greatly enriched my enjoyment. Then upstairs to the real thing which displays works gathered from all over– a treat to see them in one space. The exhibition closes January 12 so hustle if it interests you.

Among the non-Renaissance delights of the DC visit was a three pm meal at an exuberant Mexican restaurant, quite a contrast to the more subdued exhibit. Under the leadership of Chef Jose Andres, an advocate for immigration reform, Oyamel Cocina Mexicana served up great margaritas, tacos (one of mine was goat) and a bean dish that was TDF.

To complete the cultural immersion, before the Verrocchio, we hit the Freer Gallery to see the Hokusai show, a tribute to the great Japanese master that displays works ranging from large screens to small drawings.

Hokusai’s The Great Wave

It was a splendid trifecta of food and art, so terrific that I was torn as to an appropriate recipe. Italian wins. This is my standard lasagne recipe, made at least once a year, usually for Christmas Eve. It comes from that wizard of simplicity, Peg Bracken who gave us the wonderful I Hate to Cook Book.

LASAGNE

2 Tbls. olive oil

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 onion chopped

1 lb. ground beef

8 oz can tomato sauce

1 #2 can tomatoes

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp ground pepper

½ tsp oregano

8 oz lasagna noodles

½ lb mozzarella, sliced thin

¾ pound ricotta cheese

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Sauté the onion and garlic in the oil. Add the ground beef  tomato sauce, tomatoes, salt, pepper and oregano and simmer 20 minutes. (Break up meat as it cooks.) While sauce simmers, cook noodles in boiling salted water (read package for time) and drain well. Butter casserole. First layer is noodles, then cheese (some ricotta, some mozzarella, some Parmesan) then meat sauce. Make two more layers in the same order, ending with a layer of sauce and Parmesan. Bake uncovered at 375 for 20 minutes.

OR freeze unbaked, covered with foil. Remember to defrost 24 hours before you plan to serve. Once defrosted, put in 350 or so oven until hot through. Toast Verrocchio, immigration reform, free museums or what you will. Happy New Year!

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Not the Shores of Gitche Gumee

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has just mounted two gigantic paintings in the Great Hall. Part an attempt to signal diversity, part a marketing ploy and part interesting works of art, the pictures are by Kent Monkman, a Cree from Canada with the help of those in his “workshop.”

The opening event took place in the Met’s Grace Rainey Rogers auditorium, packed to the gunnels. The audience (a mix of VIPs in elegant outfits and regular folks in warm clothes) listened to remarks by Max Hollein, the Met’s Director; Phyllis Yaffe, the outgoing Consul General of Canada in New York, and curator Randall Griffey.  Slides of Monkton’s two pictures were on the screen.

Kent Monkton

The evening began with five Indigenous People presenting a musical tribute to honor a New York friend who had died. We were asked to stand and think warmly about those we knew who had passed on. When I thought of my adored late husband I got a strong sense of him rolling his eyes at the music which was heavy on drum bashing and repeated wailing.

Afterwards came Monkman in the guise of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle (whose name, we are told, plays on “mischief” and “egotistical.”) He/ she was clad in a teepee-shaped dark pink garment with the tent open at knee-level to reveal legs ending in very high heels. She/he also wore diamond bracelets over dark pink gloves, long dark hair, very long eyelashes and an upward-pointing feather headdress and read a sort of invocation-cum-admonition full of double-entendres. In the pictures, Welcoming the Newcomers and Resurgence of the People, Miss Chief is the central figure in both, naked except for some drapery and Christian Laboutin high heels.  The paintings are laden with very identifiable references to European and North American paintings and sculptures in the Met’s collections. Here is a link to the review by Holland Carter in the 12/20/ 19 New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/19/arts/design/kent-monkman-metropolitan-museum.html Even more fun, this link takes you to a talk by Kent Monkman partly as Miss Chief: https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2019/great-hall-commission-kent-monkman?utm_source=qr&utm_campaign=gallery&fbclid=IwAR17RRBLiVBJ9hwHrC4FWBDpLPwPZiqSITpx2d82XAZH0qlPZT5yX9eRSeY#content

From my POV, the whole has a little bit of the Emperor’s New Clothes mixed in. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea and well-executed. I’d love to take a tour beginning and ending with Monkton’s pictures in the Great Hall that includes viewing the works referenced which I bet the Met has planned.

Here is a recipe for the drink should you be so inclined:

Winter Aperol Spritz

3 ounces Aperol

3 ounces prosecco

1 ounce cranberry juice

2 ounces club soda

1 orange rind twist

1 sprig of rosemary

Combine the aperol, prosecco and cranberry in a glass with ice. Add the orange twist and rosemary sprig. Salute Canada, the Met, indigenous peoples or whatever takes your fancy. Do not play the spirit music. Cheers!

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Many Cultures (and Many Pounds)

I bet I gained 5 pounds+ in Sicily. Of course I walked a lot: through old cites and wonderful markets; I swam in the glorious Mediterranean; I hiked the north side of Mt. Aetna (although even the die hard hikers among us thought this hike was “challenging” what with the five-foot drops and the loose scree underfoot.

I learned to make panelle, the classic Sicilian chickpea fritters (although they won’t be on my table anytime soon as I don’t fry); swam in the glorious Mediterranean (followed by a five course lunch on the boat); visited a very old chocolatier in Modena, first donning what looked like what the cap and smock worn before a surgical procedure); got briefly lost in Palermo (I can get lost anywhere and this is a user-friendly city) and more.

Frying panelle

So many civilizations came through Sicily: Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Swabians, Aragonese, Lombards, Spaniards, French, Albanians and English. Each left its mark in terms of culture, architecture and design and, of course, food. I had many wonderful experiences: two days at the Anna Lanza Cooking School where I had a beautiful, comfy room although some others did not;  visiting an herb farm near Noto where the owner’s wife hails from Brooklyn and served, among other things, deep fried sage leaves as part of our lunch (another item that won’t be featured on my menu but they were divine); wandering around Ragusa, a medieval town that has a Disneyfied air and is lit at night like a stage set; lunch at a wonderful pizzeria in Syracuse where the actual pizza was preceded by arancini (rice balls around a filling, typically a little meat and some peas) and seafood caponata and complemented by gallons of wine. Actually, everything was accompanied by lots of wine.

Ragusa at night

Home since late October, I’ve peeled off the pounds with a diet of kale and yogurt (well, not quite).

It was a terrific trip complete with beautiful weather except on the very last day in Taormina where it was pouring. Regardless, some of us donned slickers to see the Greek Theater which was entirely worth the rain. 

Greek theater in Taormina

Inspired by the food we had, once home I worked out a way to serve zucchini because my typical way of cooking it (sliced and sautéed along with yellow squash and onion) is boring.

Herewith, Zucchini a la Siciliana

This serves two.

One large zucchini cut in half lengthwise

Feta cheese, crumbled

Olive oil (not in a league with what we downed on the trip- I’m told that you can forget about “EVO” and cold pressed and the like. Look for a date on the label. The most recent is the best.)

Ripe tomatoes (no longer happening here in the northeast)

Pour a few tablespoons of olive oil into a baking dish. Rub the zucchini in it so all sides are coated. Cook at about 350 until zucchini are soft enough to handle. Scrape out the inner flesh, chop up and put in a bowl.

Add to this chopped tomatoes and the feta. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stuff this mixture into the zucchini halves.

Put them back in the oven (same pan) for another twenty minutes or so; the cheese should start to melt and the whole be on the soft side.

Zuchhini a la Siciliana

Serve with a Nero d’Avila wine, (it’s red) a Sicilian grape I’m betting my local liquor store doesn’t stock. Or, a white from the Aetna region, ditto. 

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Back to School

Visiting my granddaughter, a sophomore at Hobart William Smith in Geneva, NY, was great fun not counting getting to and from which required multiple forms of transportation—missing only travel by Conestoga wagon.  I started at 8 AM, (bus to Newark Airport, plane to Rochester, rental car to Geneva), and pulled into my lodgings, a place that made the Bates Motel look good, after 4 PM. Was it worth the effort?—100 percent.

We toured the lovely campus awash in green lawns and flowers ahead of the snow which will undoubtedly arrive in October. There were meals at several restaurants, one clearly a place for college kids only when taken there by someone else. Winds often whip smartly in from Seneca Lake but on Saturday all was calm and very warm. My student was occupado with masses of work so I spent the afternoon revisiting Seneca Falls, home of the first Women’s Rights Convention in July, 1848.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s home is right on the lake. A woman Park Service Ranger waved me inside the modest house where Stanton raised her seven children, (all of whom had malaria and survived, something of a rarity in those days.) The only original materials left are the family piano and wallpaper in one room. The simple, airy house takes about a half hour to view.

Stanton and two of her brood

The National Women’s Hall of Fame was closed because new members (Sonia Sotomayor, Jane Fonda, Angela Davis and others) were being inducted at a ceremony elsewhere but tickets to this event were sold out. I had an unremarkable lunch, wandered through a shop of women-made goods and visited the Museum of Waterways and Industry housed in the Visitors Center. In early days, Seneca Falls was known for pump manufacturing along with building fire engines

Justice Sotomayor

After “brunch” with the student and a friend at the student dining center Sunday, it was time to get back in my adorable red Ford Fusion and start the return trip home. By then I’d mastered most of the car’s fancy electronics including how to dim the bright lights, helpfully explained by the Parks Department guide at the Stanton House. Glad I went; glad to return home.

Penn Yan, a town near Geneva, is the buckwheat capital of the U.S. So….

Buckwheat Crepes

Buckwheat Crepes

1¼ cups buckwheat flour
¼ teaspoon salt
3 eggs
½ stick butter, melted
1 cup milk
1 cup water

Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Whisk in eggs, melted butter, milk, and water. Batter will be much more runny than pancake batter.

Heat 8- or 10-inch nonstick skillet to medium-high. Apply a light coating of butter and ladle or pour about a quarter cup of batter into hot pan. Pour in an expanding circular pattern, then tilt pan to spread batter even more, so crepe is as thin as possible. Don’t worry, once browned they don’t tear easily. If pan is too hot or too cool and batter doesn’t start cooking immediately without burning, adjust heat accordingly.

After about a minute, use a non-stick spatula to loosen all around the rim of the crepe, then flip, using spatula and/or fingers. (It may take one or two sacrificial crepes, but you’ll get a rhythm. As the second side lightly browns (usually about another minute), slide crepe onto a plate.

Either serve immediately or stack with waxed paper or plastic wrap between each for heating and serving later. For filling: fresh fruits or jam, cheese and ham, eggs and spinach, Nutella, honey and yogurt, ice cream. I These are almost exactly like crepes served in Brittany—which is easier to get to than Geneva, NY. But minus the delightful granddaughter.

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It’s a Wonderful Town

Although I’ve lived in NYC my entire life, I’d never visited The Battery at the southernmost tip of Manhattan. In the area after a meeting at the New York Landmarks Conservancy where I volunteer, I went on an excellent, free tour given by Greg, a volunteer at the Battery Conservancy.

Ten of us started at the Netherland Memorial Flagpole. Given to the city by the people of Holland, it is fittingly embellished with a seal  incorporating two beavers, a nod to trade in fur; two barrels in tribute to the Dutch East India trade in rum, and a stylized windmill, symbol of Dutch life.

Beavers, barrels and windmill

Then we went inside the Urban Farm, a large garden where veggies and herbs are planted and tended by kids and adult volunteers. School groups visit so kids can see that food isn’t just something wrapped in plastic at the supermarket. The harvested results are distributed among various area schools where they are cooked and eaten.

There is a massive statue of Giovanni da Verrazzano, born in Florence, Italy, who explored the U.S east coast searching for a passage to the Pacific Ocean.  He didn’t find it but did find New York Harbor, hence the bridge named after him with a very pricey toll. One version of his death recounted by our guide is that in 1582, he went ashore, possibly on Guadeloupe, where he was killed and eaten by the native inhabitants. (mumbles of yummy navigator around the table?)

We visited the Labyrinth where bricks form seven consecutive circles in memory of those lost on 9/11. Anyone may walk the circles that invite meditation or sit on the beautiful curved bench in this slightly out-of-the way, peaceful mini-park. Continuing on our route, we passed The Korean War Veterans Monument that has a silhouette in the shape of a soldier cut out of its center. Originally you could see though the figure to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island beyond but the Parks Department has insisted on letting trees grow obstructing that view. At the water’s edge is another sculpture honoring the American Merchant Mariners who lost more lives in WWII than did any other branch of service.

The work, by Marisol, shows two men at the top and a third in the water, his hand outstretched in the hope of rescue. Not to be, he drowns twice a day as the tide comes in. When I visited the tide was going out so his head and shoulders were exposed.

Castle Clinton was later known as Castle Garden. After it was a fort, it became the first U.S. immigration station (before Ellis Island.) As time moved on, it morphed into a beer garden, a theater (where Jenny Lind and P.T. Barnum strutted their stuff), an exhibition hall and the New York City Aquarium.

Towards the end we walked past the Seaglass Carousel. Shaped like a chambered nautilus, for $5 a shot kids and adults can ride big fish that glow and play music. Or, if you’re in an expansive mood, rent the whole Carousel for a party (and please invite me.)

I am not about to offer a recipe for roast explorer. Instead, here’s one for Waldorf Salad, said to have first appeared in NYC in 1893, created by Oscar Tschirky, the maître d’hôtel of the Waldorf Astoria hotel.

Waldorf Salad

6 Tbsp mayonnaise (or plain yogurt)

1 Tbsp lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

2 sweet apples cored and chopped (i.e. not a tart Granny Smith.)

1 cup red seedless grapes, sliced in half (or 1/4 cup of raisins)

1 cup celery, thinly sliced

1 cup chopped, slightly toasted walnuts

Lettuce

In a medium- sized bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise (or yogurt), lemon juice, salt and pepper. Stir in the apple, celery, grapes, and walnuts. Serve on a bed of fresh lettuce.

If you want more heft, add chopped, cooked chicken. I suppose you could drink lemonade but a nice, full white wine would make a more festive lunch. Raise a glass to Peter Minuet.

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Way Out West

August beauties to come

Not Montana, rather western New York State where my older daughter lives. Big open space makes it possible for her significant other to cultivate an enormous garden that provides tons of veggies at harvest time. I got into the action hoeing a l-o-n-g row of fledgling tomato plants and have the healed blister to prove it.

My last visit to the Corning Museum of Glass was way before the place got so big. Now it has a visitor center, huge parking lot and lots of exhibit spaces (also lots of visitors.) We loved New Glass Now with some exiting work by contemporary glass artists. We also went to several demos of glass blowing techniques, marveling at the skill of experts. Mid-way, we drove into the little town of Corning for lunch at Nine Elephants, a nice Thai place. The exhibit on glass history was led by an excellent docent although it was late in the day and my attention span was waning. Back to Corning to the (truly) Old World Café for an ice cream break.

Old World Cafe, Corning NY

Alfred University is especially well known for programs in ceramic art, ceramic engineering and glass engineering and has a strong astronomy program with the well-respected, 7- telescope Skull Observatory. Alfred University is especially well known for programs in ceramic art, ceramic engineering and glass engineering and has a strong astronomy program with the well-respected, 7- telescope Skull Observatory. The Ceramic Art Museum has an interesting show, Kilns of Alfred, with large photos documenting the personal kilns used by Alfred ceramic art luminaries. (I never knew there were so many kinds.)  Scattered around the gallery show are many ceramic works, some wonderful, other not so much. Afterwards, still at Alfred, we snuck into a rehearsal for the annual MostArts Festival which attracts world class musicians. There is a major young pianist competition drawing talent from all over. With a $10,000 prize, it attracts the best of the best 13-18 year olds.

One type of kiln

We also went to a lavender festival that was short on lavender and longer on baked goods and women with purple streaks in their hair. And no trip to the area would be complete without a stop- off Aldi’s, owned by Trader Joe’s, where the values are incredible.  

Purple tresses on display

One morning my host baked delicious scones for breakfast. This isn’t his recipe but a very standard version.

Easy Scones

2 cups flour

1/3 cup sugar (not sure but you can probably decrease this a little)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 stick unsalted butter, cold

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream cold

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment. (Probably OK to just grease pan.)

Put flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in food processor and pulse to combine..Cut the butter into pieces and add to the food processor.

Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal.With the food processor running on low speed, stream in the cream. When the dough gathers into a ball, turn off the food processor and divide dough into two equal portions.

Flatten each portion of dough into a disc  about 1 1/2-inches thick. Score each disc into 6 triangles with a knife and pull the triangles slightly away from one another (allowing about 1/2-inch in between).

Bake scones for 14 to 18 minutes, or until set in the centers and slightly golden on the bottoms.

Delicious and very British even if not served with clotted cream. Great at breakfast and also for a snack anytime.

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City of Sushi and Spas

Jars of photo developing materials from Eastman House Museum

En route to visiting my daughter in way western New York State, I spent two days in Rochester with a friend who lives there. The city’s actual nickname is “Flower City” as there used to be lots of nurseries around it but I have re-dubbed it as above. Sushi is ubiquitous, a little odd as the city is inland, and there spas everywhere you turn including one across from my hotel called Ape and Canary (does this conjure up a spa to you? Not to me.)

George Eastman as in Eastman Kodak was a marketing genius who nvented cameras and popularized film using the razor and blade technique. He came up with the original Kodak camera and the phenomenally successful “Brownie” which targeted kids and, at $1, was also popular with servicemen. At the Eastman House Museum there are docent-led tours of the gardens, house (a National Historic Landmark) and collections. The current exhibit in the History of Photography section honors the 50th anniversary of the moon walk with fabulous old and new pictures.  ­­­­­­  

The Colonial Revival mansion is appropriately grand. Eastman was a huge philanthropist  who established the Eastman School of Music, schools of dentistry and medicine at the University of Rochester,  created the London Eastman Dental Hospital and gave zillions to MIT, Tuskegee and Hampton Universities. He never married and lived with his mother. A music-lover, he had a private organist but didn’t like the distraction of seeing the musician’s feet move on the pedals so had a wall of planting built as a shield.  

Lock 33 on the Erie Canal was—literally—a trip. As we got there, a 28-foot sailboat was entering under motor. The couple on the boat came from Gross Point and are heading to the Bahamas—as she said, “once we reach the Atlantic, we turn right.” My friend hopped aboard for the lock adventure in which the water level drops many feet in about five minutes.  Lucky for us, Chris, the lockkeeper, allowed her to ‘stowaway’ but I suspect he’s thrilled when people really get into it as it’s a fairly dull job.

Chris, Master of Lock 33

At the Memorial Art Gallery we enjoyed a show of works by artists from the Finger Lakes region.  We also dropped by the largest Wegman’s (as in supermarket) in the country. Because it was very hot, we waited until early evening for a trip to the Mt. Hope Cemetery to pay respects to Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, both buried there along with other luminaries. As we stood admiring the overall beauty of the place larded with gorgeous trees, a running group sprinted past.

For a small city, Rochester has lots of restaurants. I especially liked The Village Bakery & Café in Pittsford which is very informal with good food. Something called The Garbage Plate (not served there) is considered one of the city’s specialties—it’s a combo of meat such as hamburger, steak, chicken and/or hot dogs served on top of fries, baked beans and/or macaroni, the whole usually drizzled with spicy hot sauce often with meat –which I passed on. Rochester was the original home of French’s mustard although later that company decamped to NJ. Taking mustard as the theme, here is a recipe for potatoes that can be lightly mixed with a mustard sauce or dipped into it.

The largest Wegman’s in the US is in Rochester

Honey Mustard Potatoes

  • 6 potatoes (about 2 pounds)
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard  (so much for French’s  but hey, still mustard)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • Olive oil

Preheat oven to 400. Cube potatoes and spread them on foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil; add salt and pepper to taste. Mix to combine. Put in oven and bake about 45 minutes, stirring now and then, until potatoes are lightly browned.

Combine 2 T honey, ¼ cup mustard and ½ tsp thyme in small bowl. When potatoes are done, remove from oven and let cool a bit. Either mix in the honey/mustard or serve on the side.

This makes a decent dish to accompany something from the grill with a salad. Drink beer or wine (the area also calls itself “Sonoma East” as there are many vineyards in the Finger Lakes area.) 

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Upstate

Now that it’s officially summer, good old MetroNorth has reduced service to many destinations. The train I took to Poughkeepsie only runs once every two hours. As a result, trains are packed, almost replicating the charms of the NYC subway although I snagged a seat both ways. The most interesting part of the trip was the stop at Breakneck Ridge where hikers get off and vanish into the woods. The hike begins at river level and ascends some 1,500 feet up a steep, rocky ridge. It’s said to be a very strenuous trek with scrambles over big rocks but rewards the hardy with wonderful views of the Hudson River.

Rather them than me

My host, who has a delightful house in Clinton Corners, had intended us to go to an air show at the Rhinebeck Aerodrome, complete with planes from before WWI; also a Jaguar (as in automobile, not the big cat) exhibit.  When we arrived, the faces on a Boy Scout troop who marching out said ‘no dice’; too much wind to fly those tiny, hard-to-manage planes.    

At cocktail hour as my host’s bar was minus vodka, we dropped into Harker House, a Clinton Corners liquor store. Harker sells wines from all over but the hard stuff is particularly interesting as they sell only spirits made in New York State. Their newest offering is an agave spirit from Brooklyn; I’ve always equated agave (think tequila) with Mexico. Harker, closed Mondays and Tuesdays, has nice, very helpful owners.  The vodka, Pick Six, has a label depicting horse racing at Saratoga Springs.

Sunday we went to the grandly-named Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, highly regarded for its science, education and outreach, which occupies a huge tract of land. Walking on a few of the trails, my host, a wildflower expert, pointed out various flora including birdsfoot trefoil, (Ms. Nature here would have said it was a buttercup but no), American ginger and a bluebird, apparently a rarity as swallows have taken over the bluebird houses and evicted the original—and intended– tenants. 

We then pushed onto Poughkeepsie for a late lunch at Brasserie 292, very French with black and white tiles and music in French on the sound system. My tartine with smoked salmon and field salad on a baguette was wonderful and the burger my companion ate also looked great. If you’re in that ‘hood, check it out.

By coincidence, we ate carrots with ginger as part of our dinner the night before. That involved ginger syrup from a bottle but this recipe uses a piece of fresh ginger that probably adds a little more zing. Regardless, it’s easy, quick and a nice twist.

Ginger Honey-Glazed Carrots (courtesy Food Network)

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger

2 tablespoons honey

4 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced

1/4 cup water

Salt and pepper

In a small saucepan, melt butter and stir in ginger. Add honey and stir to dissolve. Stir in carrots and toss to coat. Pour in water and cover to steam. Stir occasionally and cook 8 minutes or until tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Beverage selection may depend on the main dish but red, white or a good summer rose would go along well. So would iced tea.  Toast native plants and do your bit to deal with climate change. Would love to hear what that bit is.

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Attention Walmart Shoppers

Fayetteville, AR, is in the northwest part of the state which is very different from the rest of Arkansas as I was told repeatedly.  My delightful host and hostess retrieved me from the airport (mysteriously known as XFN) and took me directly to the Walmart Museum, a surprisingly entertaining experience. The spirit of Mr. Sam hovers over the entire thing which includes his office, brought there down to the last paper clip.

Mr. Sam’s office

My factoid of the day: before Sam built the first Walmart, he opened a small five- and- dime, called Ben Franklin (ultimately a fairly large chain.) Back when I had a house in Dorset, VT, next door Manchester had the Ben, as we fondly called it.  The mother lode for all household minutiae, when it closed it was deeply missed.

The next day we went to Eureka Springs, a town that reminds me of Woodstock NY some years back in its tie- die enthusiasm. There are lots of springs and the rather seedy but clearly great–in-its-day Crescent Hotel.  En route home we stopped at the fabulous Thorncrown Chapel designed by E. Fay Jones, a mentee of Frank Lloyd Wright. Thorncrown was built –almost entirely of wood– in 1980. In 2002 the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places; it also received a special Award of Excellence from the American Institute of Architects.

The initial impetus for my visit was to see Crystal Bridges, the museum of American art built by Alice Walton, Mr. Sam’s daughter who is heir to the family fortune. The building, designed by Moshe Saftie, is stunning with raised sections sort of reminiscent of a turtle’s shell, (or, since this is Arkansas, an armadillo).

A small part of Crystal Bridges showing the “turtle shell/armadillo” look

The museum’s name comes from the Crystal Spring that feeds into the museum ponds and the bridges incorporated into its design.  The architecture and the way the structure sits neatly into its Ozarks ravine –bursting with flowering trees in early April—is stunning. The collection, while boasting many outstanding works, lacks depth. On the grounds is a Frank Lloyd Wright House, a Buckminster Fuller dome, walking trails and pieces of sculpture. The whole is a strong statement about the importance of art in an area that doesn’t have a lot of this magnitude. This is a link to the museum as a whole for those not buying a plane ticket: https://crystalbridges.org/

And now for a true Southern dish: real pimento cheese that bears NO resemblance to the stuff of my youth that came in a jar that was later repurposed and used for orange juice.

Pimento Cheese Sandwich

Best Pimento Cheese Spread

1 ½ cups mayonnaise

4 oz pimento (in a jar), drained and diced

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp finely grated onion

¼ tsp cayenne or to taste

8 oz extra sharp Cheddar finely grated

8 oz extra sharp Cheddar coarsely grated

Stir everything but the cheese together in bowl. Add cheeses mixing thoroughly.

Serve as a sandwich, on crackers or baguette slices, stuffed into celery.

You could yell “Woo Pig! Sooie! (assuming you can pronounce it) to honor the Razorbacks, the beloved U of AR football team– or not.  The celery stick bit is probably great with a Bloody Mary (as are many things.)

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The House That Tile Built

After Baja I went to LA to visit friends. (California seduces me with the weather but I don’t think I could cope with the traffic.) One day we drove to Malibu to tour the historic Adamson House—a wow especially as it’s not always open. At one point, the Rindge family owned pretty much all of present day Malibu, buying the property in 1892 for roughly $10 an acre. (Thirty years later, it became the most valuable single real estate holding in the United States—think 20 miles of coastland.) When she was widowed, May Rindge, a woman with more than her share of moxie, found herself land-rich and cash-poor so she looked for oil on the property. Instead she found buff and red clay and voila:  the creation of Malibu Potteries, a short-lived but  influential tile company that produced authentic versions of Mayan, Moorish, Moroccan, Saracen, and Persian- design tile.

From Malibu Potteries

In 1929, May’s daughter, Rhoda, and her husband, Merritt Adamson, used thirteen acres of the property to build a beach house. Now, set in gorgeous grounds, it’s a National Historic Monument and a California State Park. You need a docent to tour the Spanish Colonial style house. After passing through the front door which is surrounded by tile, you visit most of the rooms including an entryway with a Persian carpet made of tile right down to the rug fringes

Note fringe

and a bathroom tiled on all sides including the ceiling. Outdoors are several terrific fountains (tiled, of course); a magnificent tiled pool overlooking the ocean and a huge (tiled) bathtub where the Adamson family bathed their dogs. There is also a pool house that was commandeered by the military during WWII to house officers (enlisted men got tents.)

Dog bath–when only tile will do for Fido

The whole thing is “how the other half lived with tile’ – it’s very unusual and makes a great half-day visit. For the full Monte, here is the link to the property: http://www.adamsonhouse.org/main.php

This recipe showcases lemons, one of the quintessential Californian fruits. It’s easy, makes 4 dozen pieces AND you cut it into bars which are sort of like tiles, right?

Lemon Angel Cake Bars

For the bars:

1 package (16 ounces) angel food cake mix (see, a mix!)

1 can (15-3/4 ounces) lemon pie filling (and a can!)

1 cup unsweetened finely shredded coconut

For the frosting:

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

3 teaspoons grated lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, mix cake mix, pie filling and coconut until blended; spread into a greased 15 x 10 x1-in. baking pan.

Bake 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla until smooth. Gradually beat in confectioners’ sugar. Spread over cooled bars; sprinkle with lemon zest. Refrigerate at least 4 hours. Cut into bars (or triangles.)

You could drink a good California wine with whatever preceded the lemon bars or slosh lemon juice into your iced tea. Whistle California Here I Come as you pass the bars. Enjoy not being stuck in traffic.

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