Sunday, September 30, 2012

AppleFest 2012

Apples of all kinds!

Happy AppleFest to all. Though the fest was a little light on the apples due to the drought, it was still a fun time. Apple doughnuts, apple taffy, apple wine, apple salad, apple cider, apple martinis, apple apples......

Locally made Pumpkin Wine and apple doughnut

 The best was sitting outside in the crisp fall air, leaves falling, bands playing while I sipped my giant glass of pumpkin wine and ate some freshly baked apple doughnuts. The only bad thing was that the bees seemed to want some of my apple goodness too!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

And this little figgy stayed home....

Fall is in the air and there's nothing like cool weather to make you want to bake. Who wants to make cake in the summer in a hot kitchen when it's 100 outside? Really!
   This is always how my baking adventures start....At the store I find some yummy item and buy it, not know what to do with it. Then I have to hunt through all my cookbooks, or God find something to do with my food item. Luckily, I didn't have to work all that hard this time.
   Yup, I bought figs....again...I can't help it, they are so good and only come out for a short time. I also had just returned from the library where I picked up a copy of John Besh's "My New Orleans". After drooling over all the seafood I noticed a whole section on figs! Huzzah! What goes better with an LSU Tiger's game than a fig cake?

Cane Syrup Fig Cake

2 Cups sugar
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup milk
2 cups chopped fresh figs
Grated zest from a quarter of a lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons Steen's Cane Syrup (or Golden Syrup)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons baking powder
4 egg whites
Cooking Spray

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Spray a Bundt cake pan with cooking spray.

Put the sugar and butter into a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium high speed until light and fluffy, about 7 minutes.

Adding the butter and sugar

Add the milk, figs, lemon zest, cinnamon, cane sugar a vanilla and beat on moderate speed until everything is mixed together.
Everything but the figs in my favorite measuring cup from
The Museum of Useful Things

Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Use a rubber spatula to fold the flour mixture into the sugar and butter mixture. Fold in by making figure eight motions with the spatula. Just fold in until everything is mixed together. 

In a clean mixing bowl beat the egg whites with clean beaters. Clean, and you want to make sure you separate your eggs in a separate container and transfer them into the mixing bowl one at a time. Beat the eggs on medium high speed until stiff peaks form (5 minutes). 

Carefully fold in one-third of the egg white mixture at a time. Do not over mix-you need the whites to be fluffy and airy in this cake! 
Folding in the egg whites

Pour the batter into the pan and bake until the cake is golden brown, 35-40 minutes.
Cooling the cake on a rack.

The cake is delicious and freezes quite well. The sugar settles in the crust giving it a crisp crunch and the figs add a nice tartness to the cake. It's great as a mid morning snack or a simple after dinner dessert.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Impressionism and Fashion

  It seems I just can't get away from the Impressionists. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that a new exhibit currently on show at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris will be making its' way to New York and Chicago next year.
   Featuring 74 paintings and 37 period costumes the exhibit seeks to show how the times were changing during the Belle Epoque period. Fashion during the end of the 19th century was rapidly changing from the rigid crinoline to a free flowing silhouette. The sewing machine was also readily available and couture fashion houses were starting to pop up.
   If you read my post about Sacre Bleau, you know that Paris was coming out of the Franco-Prussian war and the Impressionist's (and the new middle class) were starting to enjoy a life of leisure. Not to go off on a fashion tangent, but fashion and economy have always been tied together. Just look at the lipstick indicator or the hemline indicator. Hemlines always fall during bad times. I used to think this was a backwards was of approaching things, longer hemlines=more fabric=more money. But, the longer hemlines relate more to economic uncertainty and the need to be covered up and secure than a monetary value. The 1960's and 1980's had micro hemlines while the 1920's and the start of the economic downturn til now have seen longer hemlines. If you look at most of the collections from last week's Fashion Week-longer hemlines still rule.
   While a trip to Paris would be wonderful, I think I'll wait until the show comes to Chicago's Art Institute in June 2013. If you can pony up the money for a trip to Paris I would recommend it, most of the fashions' won't be coming over sees due to their fragility.
   I do hope their will be paintings from Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassat, Eva Gonzales and Marie Bracquemond. Especially Berthe Morisot. In Belinda Thompson's book "Impressionism: Origins, Practice and Reception", there is a wonderful passage about how Morisot was able to capture life in her paintings in a way that differed from her male counterparts.

Morisot's advantage over her male colleagues lay precisely in her experience of living in contemporary clothes. She knew the discomforts of corsets, the inconveniences of the crinoline and the restricting effect of tightly swathed skirts. She also understood the relative irrelevance of looking immaculate when sitting on the grass or playing with young children. Although the settings are similar, her pictures differ from the detail staged vignettes of fashion plates; rather, Morisot adapted ideas from the realm of fashion to the intimacy of the domestic interior. With a combination of careful observation and an ability to make rapid notations of effects with swift, long and nervous brush marks, she achieved the artless, unposed look she wanted. Where Alfred Steven's fashionable subjects somewhat resemble clothes horses, Morisot's women get on with their lives, often with the ribbons on their bonnets adrift. Instead of fanning themselves flirtily, or holding their parasols above their heads as Tissot's women do, they constantly discard such encumbrances.

For more information about the Chicago Exhibit, you can visit The Art Institute, if you are interested in the New York exhibit, head here to The Met.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A squirrel salt and pepper shaker....

I am always amazed when I go to antique/ flea/ craft/etc markets and see salt and pepper shakers. There is never just one set of shakers and they come in all shapes and sizes, most of them cringe worthy.
   Like this angry squirrel salt and pepper shaker. More disturbing is the fact that there were 5 of these guys on a table. Angry, angry squirrel giving disapproving looks as you reach for the salt....

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sacre Bleu-A book Review

      Well, this week was the time of my annual horrible sinus infection-lovely, I know. Now most people don't go pick up a book when they are horribly congested, have a runny nose and lymph nodes the size of baseballs. But, since the weather finally turned colder and I had two boxes of Vicks Vap-o-Rub Kleenex, I thought a book might be a good distraction from not being able to breather through my nose (or breathe in general). 
     Christopher Moore's latest book, "Sacre Bleu", could just have easily been called, "Why did van Gogh Shoot Himself in a Cornfield and then Walk to His Doctor", or, "Why most Impressionistic Painters Died From Syphilis", or even, "The Book that Might Ruin Art History for the Elite". In fact, the afterword in the book is a big apology about how art is now ruined for some people (hardly-I think most people new the Impressionists were bastards that drank and hung out at the Moulin Rogue a bit too much.). 
   "Sacre Bleu" is a book that does attempt to answer the question, "Why did Vincent van Gogh shoot himself in the middle of a cornfield and then walk a mile to a doctor's house for help?". Moore weaves together many famous faces and names; Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Georges Seurat, Berthe Morisot, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, James Whistler-just to name a few. The author notes leaving out Edgar Degas because he was, "a miserable, unlikeable guy" and if he, "hadn't been such a jerk" he would have gotten a speaking part in the book.
   The book follows Toulouse-Lautrec and his friend Lucien Lessard (a purely fictional character) through Paris and the art salons to see if a mysterious color man and beautiful woman may be behind Vincent's death. What they find out, well, I will let you figure that out yourself. Let's just say that yes, a woman is involved. Women are, according to Lucien's mother, "wondrous, mysterious, magical creatures who should be treated not only with respect but with reverence and even awe". 
     Moore starts his book with a Prelude:
"This is a story about the color blue. It may ridge and weave, hide and deceive, take you down the paths of love and history and inspiration, but it's always bout blue. How do you know, when you think of blue-when you say blue-that you are talking about the same blue as anyone else? You cannot get a grip on blue. Blue is the sky, the sea, a god's eye, a devil's tail, a birth, a strangulation, a virgin's cloak, a monkey's ass. It's a butterfly, a bird, a spicy joke, the saddest song, the brightest day. Blue is sly, slick. This is a story about the color blue, and like blue, there's nothing true about it. Blue is beauty, not truth. True blue is a ruse, a rhyme; i's there, then it's not. Blue is a deeply sneaky color. Even blue is shallow. Blue is glory and power, a wave, a particle, a vibration, a resonance, a spirit, a passion, a memory, a vanity, a metaphor, a dream. Blue is a simile. Blue is a woman."
   Personally, I loved the book-though having Lucien be a baker made me constantly crave coffee and a nice loaf of french bread. The book rides the fine line of art history; Moore did take a good portion of his research from actual letters from the Impressionists; and good old fashion fiction-there was never a Lucien Lessard. Jumping through the 1800's and going back to 38,000 B.C, the book puts forward that great notion of art and madness and where inspiration comes from. Could all great paintings have come from a single muse? Or at least all great paintings that contain blue? From that question we're left with another, "How the Hell did Picasso live so long after his Blue Period?".
   The book itself is beautiful. Heavy pages with a lovely blue font contain pictures of whatever artist's work is talked about-great if you don't happen to be an art history buff. 
    I would highly recommend this to art history buffs, teachers and art haters as well. Especially art haters, nothing like a whole lot of sex to get people into art, right? Just make sure you have the coffee brewing and a nice plate of French pastries on standby. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Write to us!

Can I just say how much I love this dd?  With letter writing going the way of the dinosaur, it's nice to see a company asking for letters. Too bad that this ad is from the 1960's....
   Why do people feel the need to dismiss penmanship? You can't e-mail every form of communication, and I wouldn't want to. Texting, Messaging and E-mail is all to instant. You rarely get time to mull something over before you hit the send button and your thoughts are permanently sent out for all the world to see. 
   When you write a letter there's almost a ritual to it. You get out your paper (or stationary if you are lucky enough to find some), a pen, your address book and get started. Most people don't know how to write a proper letter of any kind. How sad is it that people break up over text now? God forbid someone messages you "regrets on ______ dying". 
   There's also something really nice about getting mail. Real Mail. Not bills, or charities looking for money or even mindless catalogues. When you open up the mail box and theres letters with postmarks from various places its thrilling. Someone took the time to write and tell you a story, or send a funny picture or an inspiring poem. It can be uplifting, especially when life is getting you down. When I lived across the country, the thing that really brightened up my day (my soul crushing 14 hour work day that started at 4:20 A.M. when the alarm blared at me) was a letter from my family. They always included some cut outs from the local paper so I would feel at home. You can't get that from a text message.