30 October 2015

Famous Food Friday -- Tanaquil Le Clercq

Tanaquil Le Clercq 
with Corrado Cagli, Vittorio Rieti, and 
George Balanchine, by Irving Penn photo ©
Tanaquil Le Clercq is a legend. Not in the modern sense of "legend" but in that old-world, truly remarkable, lager than life, sadder than death, extraordinarily gorgeous, muse to many kind of legend.

First, and foremost, she was a dancer.  An extraordinary, ethereal dancer.  At the age of 12, she was offered a scholarship to the School of American Ballet by George Balanchine.  At 17, she would help launch the Ballet Society that would later become the New York City Ballet. At 23, she would become Balachine's fourth or fifth wife, depending on who's counting. 

When Le Clercq was 15, Balanchine asked her to be his partner in a dance he created entitled "Resurgence" for a March of Dimes charity benefit. He would play the role of Polio and she would be his tragic victim, paralyzed by the dreaded affliction. The dance might hardly be remembered if not for its prophetic nature.

In 1956, at the height of career, Tanaquil Le Clercq contracted polio and was paralysed.  She was 27- years-old.
Jerome Robbins choreographed one his most famous ballet's for Le Clercq. Afternoon of a Faun, taken from a Debussy prelude, is still being preformed. In 2013, Nancy Buirski completed a documentary Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq. It is one of the best sources for footage of Le Clercq dancing.

After her paralysis, she became an author penning the autobiography of Mourka, a cat Balanchine taught to "dance." 
In 1966 she compiled The Ballet Cook Book featuring stories and recipes featuring a who's who of the world of ballet from Sir Frederick Ashton to Vera Zorina.

It has become one of the most collectible cookbooks on the market. Always a holiday treat, here is Le Clercq's family recipe for eggnog.

Great-Great-Grandmother Blackwell’s Eggnog 

12 egg yolks
cup sugar
1 1/2
cups bourbon whisky

3/4 cup St. Croix rum
1 quart heavy cream, whipped

Beat egg yolks and sugar until light and sugar has melted completely. Add whisky and rum and continue beating 3–4 minutes. Stir in the whipped cream and mix thoroughly. Place in refrigerator and chill until ready to serve.
Even the poet, Frank O'Hara found Le Clercq to be a muse.

 Ode To Tanaquil LeClercq

smiling through my own memories of painful excitement your wide eyes
        and narrow like a lost forest of childhood stolen from gypsies
two eyes that are the sunset of
                                             two knees
                                                            two wrists
                                                                            two minds
and the extended philosophical column, when they conducted the dialogues
                in distant Athens, rests on your two ribbon-wrapped hearts, white
         credibly agile
                                        scimitars of a city-state

where in the innocence of my watching had those ribbons become entangled
        dragging me upward into lilac-colored ozone where I gasped
                 and you continued to smile as you dropped the bloody scarf of my life
                                                 from way up there, my neck hurt

            you were always changing into something else
            and always will be
            always plumage, perfection's broken heart, wings

            and wide eyes in which everything you do
            repeats yourself simultaneously and simply
                                            as a window "gives" on something

it seems sometimes as if you were only breathing
       and everything happened around you
because when you disappeared in the wings nothing was there
       but the motion of some extraordinary happening I hadn't understood
the superb arc of a question, of a decision about death

          because you are beautiful you are hunted
                 and with the courage of a vase
                         you refuse to become a deer or a tree
                 and the world holds its breath
                         to see if you are there, and safe

                                                  are you?

Cats, cookbooks, ballet, poetry -- who could go wrong. If you are fond of ballet, do check out Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq.   PBS ran it several years ago and I think it might still be out there to download. I suggest making a big bowl of eggnog and gathering for a screening.

21 October 2015

Requiescat in Pace -- Kitty Carlisle

We lost our Kitty Carlisle today. She had been sickly for some time.

As you may remember, she showed up here right after I moved in.  Having two cats from D.C., I didn't want another one, but she was undaunted. She stayed close by all through the winter. The first warm day, I sat out in the sun. She climbed up in the chair and kissed me. That was it.

After numerous trips to the vet to make an outside stray and inside family member, she was still listed as "Cat" in her file. The vet asked me if I was ever going to name her. That day I heard that Kitty Carlisle had died. Cat and Kitty shared a lot of attributes so she became Kitty Carlisle. She was always regal, she always carried herself as though she was far superior to you, however, she never made you feel bad about your shortcomings.  She was a lady till the end. 

She will be missed.

20 October 2015

Delicata Squash

Delicata squash have become a fall favorite, but still very hard to find in the backwoods of West Virginia.  Last year, we set about seed saving from the delicata we bought in D.C.  We carefully saved the seeds and this summer, we started a tray of plants in the greenhouse. 

They were beautiful plants, but the weather outside was not cooperating.  Finally, we got the plants in the ground.  Many of them died during the very process of planting them!  They went into the ground in one of the worst dry spells we have had in West Virginia.

Undaunted, we watered every day, but watering isn't the same as a nice, gentle rain shower.  Still, a few of the plants thrived. (OK, they didn't exactly "thrive" so much as they survived, but one takes what one can get.)

Just as the fruit started to gain in size, the weather decided to cause more problems. After warm weather, the temperature decided to plummet for two nights.  Just two, in the middle of a mild October.  So we set out covering the squash for two nights to try to save them. 

The leaves got a bit burned from the frost, but I think we might actually get one or two from the effort.  In all of our canning, we made a batch of Blueberry Chipolte Ketchup.  Out favorite way to serve the delicata squash is to cut it into long strips, like fries, and serve them with the ketchup. 

Next year, more seeds earlier in the year!

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.
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