The only possible recipe is tuna on a bed of tears
The only possible recipe is tuna on a bed of tears
The Grolier Club, 47 East 60th Street, (with an entrance that looks—but isn’t—impassable due to nearby construction), has been around for one hundred and twenty five years. The Grolier celebrates books and prints and was one of the first organizations in the US to do so; it has terrific exhibitions that are free and open to the public. Check out their website: www.grolierclub.org
A current Grolier exhibits deals with the works of Sylvia Plath, (October 27, 1932 – February 11, 1963), sadly best known as an American poet who committed suicide. I took a tour of the exhibit with Judith G. Raymo, who assembled it from her personal collection of Plath’s work.
Plath went to Smith and then to Cambridge’s Newnham College on a Fullbright. Of her works, the best known are The Colossus, a poem, and The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical novel published shortly before her death at age thirty.
From a young age, Plath’s writing gifts were obvious: her first work was published in the Christian Science Monitor just after she graduated from high school and she kept an elaborate diary starting at age eleven.
During Plath’s time at Smith she began exhibiting symptoms of clinical depression which was treated with multiple bouts of ETC (electroshock therapy). Much psychotherapy followed. Plath had had a troubled relationship with her parents but possibly the worst thing that happened to her was meeting and marrying British poet Ted Hughes with whom she had two children. Hughes was jealous of Plath’s success, isolated her and, after her death, burned or lost several of her journals and novels, part of the estate he inherited since when she died Plath and Hughes were married though separated. Plath described Hughes as “a singer, story-teller, lion and world-wanderer” with “a voice like the thunder of God.” Well, yes but he was also an abuser whose beating may have cause her to miscarry her second pregnancy. Plath left Hughes in 1962 after she learned about his affair with Assia Wevill. (Wevill then spent six years with Hughes and ultimately killed herself using the same method as Plath– asphyxiation from a gas stove. Hughes does not epitomize a kindly, loving partner.)
If Plath hadn’t left such a brilliant legacy her life story would be even more heart-wrenching (if that’s possible.) She seems like a woman bewitched by a man whose personality was such that it helped wreck her. On the plus side, Plath’s success in work outstrips her difficulties and the Grolier show is a fine tribute.
Amazingly, Plath baked a lot. This is supposedly her favorite cake recipe, a quintessentially 60s item if ever there was one.
Classic Tomato Soup Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (courtesy Graywolf Press)
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cloves
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
2 tablespoons shortening
1 can tomato soup
2 cups white flour
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon mace (a spice you can buy)
1 cup white sugar
1 egg (well-beaten)
1 package cream cheese (3 ounce)
1 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix dry ingredients.
Wash and cut raisins and roll them in a little flour.
Cream the sugar, shortening, and egg together thoroughly.
Add dry ingredients and soup to the creamed sugar mixture in alternating batches, a third at a time, and mix until all soup and dry ingredients are incorporated.
Fold in raisins and chopped nuts.
Pour into floured cake pan.
Bake one hour; let cool before icing.
For the frosting, beat the cream cheese until soft and airy. Add sugar and vanilla. Stir until smooth. Spread on cooled cake.
You’re probably not going to recreate this but it’s said to taste pretty good. And, if you don’t tell anyone about the tomato soup they won’t guess.
Visiting a college friend in New Haven, I was warmly welcomed both by her and co-host, Beau. Beau is a Papillon, (note the butterfly-shaped ears): he is also the only dog I know who spurns food. Weight Watchers would find him an excellent role model.
The friend and I, (Beau had a pass), had a food-and-culture-filled weekend starting with a performance of Pentecost, a three-and-a half hour play at the Yale School of Drama. Act I deals with when the Renaissance actually began as well as the pros and cons of art restoration; Act II introduces ideas about immigration. Not only is the work a bit overlong, there is no
Meryl among this group of students who haven’t learned to articulate and often intensify the problem by addressing the rear wall.
Some of the pottery currently on exhibit at the Yale Center for British Art is brilliant. Edmund de Waal, (of the Hare with the Amber Eyes fame), is represented as is an installation, Made in China, by Clare Twomey with eighty large red porcelain vases shown in the entrance and elsewhere in the building. Perhaps the Twomey installation is meant as a spoof? It comes off that way.
Onto the Yale Art Gallery across the street for two war-related photography exhibits that left me cold and a delightful small show of ancient glass that brought back memories of the glass museum in Zadar in Croatia. Zadar gets my nod but glass exhibited in New Haven comes minus jet lag.
Our culture caper ended with a concert of Evening Ragas in Yale’s glorious Battell Chapel, used today by Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and other groups for religious gatherings as well as for non-sectarian performances. The hypnotic music was courtesy of Rabindra Goswami on sitar and Ramchandra Pandid on tabla, both consummate artists. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wz13DSCYhms
For the cheese-centric, a strong recommendation for Caesus, a cute spot serving lunch and dinner, catering and selling over one hundred cheeses and other fancy food, http://caseusnewhaven.com. If cheese isn’t your thing, the restaurant offers plenty of cheeseless (and gluten-free) options.
Because it’s a classic, here is;
Baked macaroni and cheese
8 ounces fusilli or other short pasta
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the baking dish
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk, heated
1 bay leaf
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 1/2 cups shredded sharp white cheddar cheese (you could, um, cheat here and buy it already shredded)
1 1/2 cups shredded gruyere cheese (cheat here as well if you can find it)
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil; add the pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve 1 cup cooking water, and then drain the pasta. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking, 2 minutes, then whisk in the milk. Add the bay leaf, nutmeg and 1 teaspoon salt and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thick, 8 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and stir in 2 cups cheddar and the gruyere. Stir in the pasta and the reserved cooking water to make a loose sauce. Butter a 2-quart baking dish; add the pasta mixture and top with the remaining 1/2 cup cheddar. Bake 15 minutes.
Not quite as easy as from a package but a great deal better, no additives and a hit with all ages. Milk for the little ones; something stronger for you.
Frank Lloyd Wright changed the way we build and the way we live. Visiting Kentuck Knob and Fallingwater, both in western Pennsylvania south of Pittsburgh, I came away with greater appreciation for his work and a better sense of the contrary, uncompromising man he was.
Kentuck Knob was completed in 1956 for Bernadine and her husband, ice cream magnate I.N. Hagan. The house is a good example of Wright’s Usonian style, meant to be practical for middle-class clients and run without staff. Because he loathed clutter, Wright refused to provide a garage and instead built the Hagens a carport (and is said to have coined the
word.) Wright didn’t believe in storage spaces either and wanted the house’s rooms to be small but somehow Mrs. Hagan prevailed so the kitchen was
enlarged, (with clever burners that flip up to preserve counter space), the living room expanded and the outdoor dining porch made bigger so the skylights became part of the “ceiling.” I found the house dark and many elements—ceilings, beds, desks– low as Wright, a small man, designed on a scale that worked for him but must have been a challenge for tall guests. Getting in and out of the bathtubs looks like you’d need a hoist.
As planned, the house blends into the landscape starting from the crescent-shaped entrance curling around the courtyard. We were told that the site was originally bare but the Hagans planted thousands of trees that have grown up and are at least partly responsible for the lack of light in the living room. At the rear there is a TDF view of the Youngiogheny River gorge with surrounding hills and farmland.
Fallingwater, the weekend retreat of the Edgar Kaufmann family, was completed in 1937 amid squabbling about how much weight the cantilevered structure could bear. (Major renovations took place in 2001.) Kaufmann wanted his house to sit opposite the waterfall; contrarily, Wright built it directly over Bear Run Creek which is why Edgar Jr. reportedly referred to FW as “Rising Mildew.” Since Wright designed houses to blend fully into the natural world, bedrooms are small to encourage being outdoors; the living room hearth integrates boulders from the site and many windows have no surround so they fit
seamlessly into the walls. Stunning and unusual yes; also uncomfortable. FW has over one hundred stone steps and both houses have very narrow passages and built-in benches in the living room that are aesthetically pleasing but would make conversation hard. Sybarite that I am, most Wright-designed furniture looks difficult to live with. As a man on one of my FW tours said, “when you bought a Wright house, you had to take the entire package,” meaning style first, the rest maybe not so much.
Looking for a recipe that goes with Pennsylvania (Wright famously didn’t give a damn about food) inevitably comes up as “Pennsylvania Dutch.) Fall is coming so it might be a good time to trot out:
3 cups sliced tart baking apples, such as Granny Smith
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, preferably unsalted, room temperature
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 375° F. Arrange apple slices in an 8-inch square baking dish. Combine flour, sugar and butter. Mix with hands until small lumps form. Add nuts and sprinkle over apples. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until apples are tender and top is lightly browned. Place on a cooling rack and let cool slightly before serving warm or at room temperature. I’d serve with vanilla ice cream.
Want to buy a FLW house? Here are several on the market, most at what seem like low prices. Good luck with the upkeep: http://mentalfloss.com/article/504416/5-frank-lloyd-wright-homes-you-can-buy-right-now
Lucky me—on my Labor Day weekend jaunt to Washington, D.C. I got a behind-the-scenes tour of the House and Senate. Back in the day either I zoned out during Social Studies or décor wasn’t mentioned because I didn’t anticipate the magnificence of the decoration throughout, especially the elaborately tiled floors and painted ceilings. The Brumidi Corridors are particularly terrific as is the Old Senate Room which is a good bit more somber. My experience was marvelous but I’m pretty sure the public tours are also
When Julia Child was televised dropping a chicken on the floor, casually picking it up and plunking it on a platter, she won my permanent adoration. Her kitchen, in the National Museum of American History, was removed from her house in Cambridge, MA and given to the Smithsonian. It’s huge as is her batterie de
cuisine—more pots and pans than several ordinary households put together. The exhibit includes photos, recipes, kitchen tools and lots more—the First Ladies’ gowns pale beside it.
I continued the food motif at Eastern Market at lunch with a new friend. The Market, completed in 1873 had a fire in 2007 that damaged the main space but didn’t stop activities. There are vendors inside and out depending on days of the week as well as many restaurants and the complex hosts numerous community activities.
The morning of my departure I visited several of the big deal monuments exploring FDR, Martin Luther King, Vietnam and the Lincoln Memorial. FDR’s space is composed of several separate “rooms” with the third one featuring a statue of Roosevelt next to his dog, Fala who seems a little too big in relation to his master. The MLK memorial occupies less
ground space but is, to my mind, more imposing. Although I’d been in Washington before, this was the first time I had climbed the stairs to see Abe up close and personal. The steps are a little daunting but are well worth negotiating. Lincoln is larger than life in every sense.
Overall I found getting around DC confusing, odd considering I have no trouble in other cities worldwide. In Washington-speak, “three blocks away” is far. The Metro is dandy but stops are spread out so a hike to the station is often in order. When people describe Washington as a “walking city” they aren’t kidding.
In homage to the great Julia, this is–more or less–her recipe for ratatouille. It looks lot more difficult than it is.
1 lb. eggplant:
1 lb zucchini or summer squash
4-6 Tbsp. olive oil (love to think what Julia would have made of today’s EVO shorthand)
1 tsp. salt
2 cloves garlic, mashed
About 1 1/2 cups yellow onions, thinly sliced
Salt & pepper to taste
2 green peppers (about 1 cup) sliced
3 Tbls minced parsley
1 lb ripe tomatoes. Julia wants them peeled, seeded and juiced. I might forgo this. Just saying.
Note: Per Julia, you can use canned tomatoes. If so it’s about 1 1/2 cups.
Peel and cut eggplant into lengthwise slices about 3 inches long and 3/8-inches thick. Scrub summer squash and cut into pieces the same size as eggplant. Put veggies into a bowl, toss with 1 tsp salt and set aside for 30 minutes. Then drain slices and dry with a towel.
Put four tablespoons olive oil in skillet. Sauté summer squash and eggplant, one layer at a time, for about one minute until slightly browned. Transfer to a dish.
Cook pepper and onions in the same skillet, adding a little olive oil if needed, for 10 minutes or until tender. Add garlic and season the mixture with salt and pepper.
Slice tomatoes and layer them over pepper and onions, seasoning with salt and pepper. Cover skillet and let the vegetables cook for about 5 minutes on a low heat until the tomatoes start to render juice. Check the seasoning and raise the heat. Cook until juice evaporates entirely.
In a deep casserole put in 1/3 of the tomato mixture. Sprinkle minced parsley over tomatoes. Arrange half of the summer squash and eggplant on top. Layer the remaining tomatoes and parsley with remaining summer squash and eggplant trying to finish with tomatoes and parsley.
Cover casserole and put it on a low heat. Let everything simmer for about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, raise the heat a little and cook everything for 15 minutes uncovered. Cook until all the juices evaporate. Throughout, be careful with heat so vegetables at the bottom don’t scorch. Serve hot or at room temperature (my preference.)
Like most of Julia’s recipes, this has several steps and ingredients but the end result is worth it. You can make a whole meal of ratatouille, embroider with cheese or serve as a side dish. It keeps well and seems to go on forever. Bon appétit!
To paraphrase Garrison Keillor, it’s been a not- so- quiet few weeks in Manchester, VT where I rented a house. The place is incredibly comfortable but has the look of “designed by the cat, built by Grandma”—eight chairs where four would suffice, thousands of throw pillows, multiple cabinets of knick-knacks. However, the hot water is plentiful, the location great and everything functions– putting away some of the stuff and adding fresh flowers has done a lot.
Caught the last few concerts at the Manchester Music Festival including the final Young Artists offering. The program is a full scholarship, six-week intensive chamber music offering for string players and pianists, ages 18-26. These young musicians are truly world class. The second concert I went to, an Evening at the Opera, was marred by a screechy, overly mannered soprano and a bass with clenched diction. On the plus side, the other soprano was excellent as was the magnificent tenor, Gerard Schneider, who sang brilliantly even though scuttlebutt had it he was getting over food poisoning.
One night at the wonderful Northshire Bookstore, filmmaker Jay Craven talked about of writer Howard Frank Mosher and screened the film he (Jay) made, Where the Rivers Flow North starring Rip Torn, playing a logger, and Tantoo Cardinal, a native American playing Torn’s live-in companion, Bangor. Michael J. Fox had a small role as well. The picture, made in 1993, is set in 1927 in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. The story revolves around a big company that wants to flood the land belonging to Torn’s character to build a dam—overall, it’s beautiful and very moving. Craven told some hilarious anecdotes about working with Torn who gives a fine performance but sounds like he was a bit challenging to work with.
A writing workshop, watercolor lesson, several hikes including one not- quite- to Lye Brook Falls, and many visits to Farmer’s Markets have added to the fun as have delightful guests. At the Dorset Farmer’s Market I bought potatoes from farmers I’ve shopped from for years. They grow several varieties; I especially like the German Butterball, a small, light skinned potato that is perfect for this:
French Potato Salad
2 lbs potatoes
¼ c. dry white wine
1 Tbls. White wine vinegar
1 Tbls. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
¼ tsp white pepper
Pinch of coarse salt
¼ cup olive oil
2 tbls. chopped green onions
2 tbls chopped parsley
Scrub potatoes and drop into pot of enough salted boiling water to cover. Boil until tender when stuck with point of knife. (I steamed because rented house has a steamer. Took about 20 minutes but depends on how small—or large– your potatoes are. I tend to go for smallish ones.)
Cut into ¼ “slices. Place in a single layer in shallow dish. Pour the wine over the warm slices and toss very gently. Set aside so they absorb the wine. (Note: The recipe says do this and wait several hours before adding dressing. I added it right away and it was just fine.)
Beat vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper in small bowl. Add the oil a bit at a time and whisk until it thickens. Sprinkle green onions over potatoes. Pour dressing over all and add parsley. Serve as a side dish with meat, chicken or what you will. Non-mayo eaters will be thrilled.
You opened wine for the potatoes so just pour and drink up. When I do, I toast the magnificent mountains of one of my favorite states.
New Yorkers to the core, a friend and I went on a tour of Gracie Mansion, home of NYC’s Mayor. Too bad that the docent shepherding us was both uninformed and so dull she could have made being inside a Spitfire during the Battle of Britain boring. However, what we saw of the house (partly off-limits as Mayor DeBlasio was “at home” hosting meetings) was dandy.
The house was built in 1799 by Scottish merchant Archibald Gracie, as a country abode; Gracie then fell on hard financial times and sold it. The house changed hands many times before Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, a man who usually got his way, decided it should be the official residence of the city’s mayor. In 1942 Mayor Fiorella La Guardia and his family moved in. The property is now run by the Gracie Mansion Conservancy and was elaborately restored and renovated starting in 2002 when Mayor Michael Bloomberg elected to live in his own wonderful house on East 79th Street. (It’s widely thought that Bloomberg paid for the renovations himself but this is neither confirmed nor denied.)
The current exhibition is called 1942 to honor the 75th anniversary of the Mansion serving as the Mayor’s official residence and it’s a bit of a mish-mash. A photo of Martha Graham; a white metal civil defense hat (like what my father wore as a WWII air raid warden); costume sketches for the Broadway show, On the Town; a Philco Radio and a quartet of works by Norman Rockwell do not exactly a cohesive exhibition make.
The most striking part of the Mansion is the entrance foyer where the floor is painted to resemble marble; in it is striped wallpaper, a wonderful chandelier and a few elegant pieces of furniture. During the (long) time I worked for the NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation, I once went to a luncheon at Gracie Mansion. Held on the lawn, the lunch was followed by a photo session (known in the trade as a “grip and grin) where I had my photo taken with my boss, the then- head of HHC, Ben Chu M.D., and our super-boss, Mayor Bloomberg. The photo still hangs in my office.
As to food, in 1942 we were in the middle of a war with serious rationing. Sugar, butter, meat and lots else was either hard or impossible to get so there was a lot of make-do. This is a recipe for sugarless cake. Anyone who watches historic drama will recognize it or, at least, the concept.
Wartime Sugarless Cake
3 cups sifted cake flour
4 tsps. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups corn syrup
3 egg yolks
2 tsps. grated orange rind
1 cup milk
3 egg whites
Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Stir shortening until creamy and add one cup of the corn syrup slowly until it becomes fluffy. Add egg yolks and beat well. Take turns alternating adding the dry ingredients and milk, stirring between each addition, then add the orange rind.
Beat the egg whites until stiff and add to the rest of the corn syrup gradually, beating until there are stiff peaks. Fold the batter until completely mixed. Bake in a greased cake pan at about 375 °F for 25 to 30 minutes.
Most wartime cakes had no icing since there was almost no sugar available. I’m unclear about how delicious this cake would be but back then people were both very good at improvising and relatively uncomplaining. Three cheers for them.
I was invited to a celebration of her life and works at the New York Historical Society. Also present and among those delivering remarks was Elizabeth Bradley, Vassar’s brand-new president, and Tyne Daly, a trustee of the Millay Society, sporting bright pink socks beneath her black dress.
Many photographs were shown including those of Millay’s home, Steepletop, in Austerlitz, NY. I remember visiting the house a few years ago and finding it dark and cramped. Apparently Norma, Millay’s sister, lived there after Vincent’s death, keeping the house exactly as it was as a shrine to her sister.
President Bradley told a great story about a run- in Vincent had with the then-Vassar president, Henry Noble MacCracken. Vincent, who considered herself except from college rules and regs, had cut classes saying she was ill but had actually been away from campus—a big no-no. Vassar wasn’t going to permit her to graduate with her class, (although, in response to a petition from the class, they did.) Vincent called MacCracken “Prexy” which probably wasn’t as rude as it sounds, and told him she’d been absent from class “in great pain from a poem.” Far as I know he didn’t flip her the bird. Why her talent should enable her to act outside the regulations beats me.
Vincent was openly bi-sexual and flaunted it. When she married, both parties had relationships with many people—a very open marriage albeit a long one. The feature I liked best at Steepletop was the pool that pre-dates today’s infinity pools with tall grasses
around it. Millay and Eugen Boissevain, her husband, loved hosting pool parties where bathing suits were rarely worn. (Not shocking today but back then?) She was beautiful, talented, won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1923 and sounds like a difficult person all around. I admire her abilities but wonder if I would have enjoyed her company.
It’s not easy finding a food recipe for Vincent’s period—everything focuses on alcohol. Here is a little gem theoretically for breakfast:
Ham for Breakfast
Chop 1 cup cold boiled ham very fine. Heat together the ham, about 1 Tsp butter, 2 Tbls water, ½ tsp mustard.
Make toast and butter. Put spoonful of the hot ham mixture on each slice of toast spreading evenly and serve hot.
The logical beverage would be gin but even Prexy would approve of coffee.
From London I took the train to Kew, site of the famed Royal Botanical Gardens. After a very short walk I joined the queue at Kew which took about ten minutes to get to the ticket seller.
My visit coincided with a hot spell in London so the world had come to Kew including numerous school groups, each group with kids in identical clothing making it easier for the keepers to be sure they left with the same number of small people they arrived with.
More than just a pretty face, Kew Gardens has more than 30,000 kinds of plants and zillions of preserved specimens. It comprises 300 acres; has its own police force and includes the herbarium containing more than seven million preserved plant specimens.
The Princess of Wales Conservatory is named after Augusta, Princess of Wales from 1736 to 1751 who founded the Gardens; a small area of it honors Princess Diana. Inside the Conservatory, besides humidity, are little acquaria with various marine species and plants.
Another structure, The Hive, is a large, modern, metal honey-comb-shaped structure. At the bottom are poles into which one sticks a long “toothpick” to hear bee sounds including tootling and quaking (news to me—I thought bees buzzed.) Walking further into the park are many places to eat. At noon despite the heat, easily eighty-five degrees, people were happily tucking into shepherd’s pie and the like. For me, the idea of cold water and a salad was more than I could manage.
Kew Palace, off to one side of the grounds is where King George III was, um, sequestered when one of his fits of madness came upon him. His strange behavior, (today thought to have
been because he was bipolar), began in 1788 and had more than a little to do with his letting go of the colonies. Among the treatments used in attempts to restore his sanity were freezing cold baths in a separate building called the Royal Kitchens—more like the Royal Freezer. The palace entrance is manned by young women in period costume who search your bag and beg for donations. Inside the doll house is worth a look; the paintings are in such dim light they are hard to see.
After two and a half hours in the heat and sun I bid Kew Gardens farewell and walked into the cute village where I had a lovely lunch of Scottish oysters and white wine at Ma Cuisine. After a brief shoe buying spree (Kew shoe?) I returned to London.
The Georgian (Hanoverian) period featured large, heavy meals. Some scholars note that wealthy Georgians had weight problems—no surprise as butter, cream and sugar feature in many recipes. This, for Lemon Syllabub, is a lovely dessert (or pudding if you’re a Brit) that is a cousin of our lemon mousse.
Lemon Syllabub courtesy History Cookbook online
1/2 a lemon
1/8 pint apple juice
1-2 oz caster (superfine) sugar
1/4 pint double cream
4 small glasses to serve this in.
Zest half the peel of the lemon and squeeze the juice. Place the apple juice, grated peel, lemon juice and sugar in bowl and soak for 30 minutes.
Whip the cream until semi-stiff, adding apple mixture gradually. Wash and remove the stalks from the strawberries and cut them into large pieces
Put the strawberries into the bottom of the glasses and spoon on the whipped cream
Chill in the fridge. Serve the same day with something regal like Champagne, okay?