Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Matisse’s Cut-Out (Linzer) Cookie Bars

Matisse’s very popular show Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs recently closed at MoMA following a successful run at the Tate Modern last summer. Matisse is very well known for his colorful paintings, drawings, sculpture and mixed-paper collages, the latter of which he turned to exclusively in the early 1940s. By this time, Matisse had experienced a long and prolific career: along with his contemporaries Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, Matisse is recognized as a major player in early 20th century expressive art, and dabbled in Fauvism, Impressionism and modernism. A regular at the Paris apartment/salon of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Matisse’s works dominated their walls, and their patronage and friendship greatly helped his career.

Matisse originally used cut-outs in the planning process for his paintings and sculptures; a sort of technical sketch where he repositioned and re-pinned various elements until he was happy with the final composition. In 1941, after undergoing surgery for stomach cancer, Matisse was left bed and wheelchair bound and found that he could no longer paint or sculpt as he once had.

Not one to give up, Matisse then moved primarily to dramatic, yet simple cut-out collages, which he could do somewhat easily from bed. The works started out with a little experimentation: he would cut out various shapes, and instruct assistants or nurses to position the pieces all over the walls of his home and hospital rooms.  Matisse would then evaluate their positions, and have his assistants repositioned them, sometimes over and over again, until he was satisfied with the composition. Later, the pieces would be glued to canvases and paper, which is how many are presented today. Earlier examples of these collages show holes and puncture marks, showing the trial and error process, an imperfect look that Matisse preferred.

One of Matisse’s most well known cut-outs was also his only site-specific work. After visiting a pool in Cannes with his assistant, Lydia, Matisse wanted to bring the idea of the pool back to his dining room. After Lydia wrapped a portion of his walls in white paper, Matisse cut out and painted divers and swimmers, positioning them around his room. The end result, called The Swimming Pool, was purchased by NY’s Museum of Modern Art in 1975 (21 years after Matisse’s death at the age of 85) and quickly became a museum favorite and a prime and important example of his work in this medium. 

Henri Matisse, The Swimming Pool, 1952, gouache on paper, image via MoMA

One of my favorite things about this work is all of the research, conservation and care that MoMA has put into the display of this work. After viewing images of the work in situ in Matisse’s dining room, MoMA planned a huge conservation project with the goal of restoring the original color balance of the work, part of which involved re-mounting the white paper and blue shapes on new burlap and removing surface stains. Following all of this, the work was then re-installed in a gallery specifically designed to mimic the dining room in which they once hung; visitors enter a doorway arranged similarly to the entrance in Matisse’s dining room, and the burlap panels are hung at the same height as they were originally designed. Well done, MoMA!

Without further ado, here is a recipe for Linzer Torte Bars, which are the original cut-out cookie. This decorative dessert can be made as cookies, bars or a torte, which is how it originally appeared in Linz, Austria back in the 17th century. Even though these are typically a winter holiday treat, I think they still work now, especially since the recent snow up here in NYC is not exactly spring-like!

Linzer Torte Bars
Recipe adapted from smitten kitchen
Yield: 16 bars / an 8x8 square pan

Base and Lattice Dough:
·      ¾ c. hazelnuts, toasted
·      ¾ c. almonds, toasted
·      1 c. all-purpose flour
·      ¾ c. whole wheat flour
·      1 t. cinnamon
·      pinch of salt
·      ¼ t. baking powder
·      1 ½ c. unsalted butter, room temperature, and cut into ½ inch cubes
·      ¾ c. sugar
·      1 egg + 1 egg yolk
·      1 t. vanilla extract
·      zest of a lime

·      1 c. seedless raspberry jam
·      1 t. ground flaxseeds
·      1 t. all-purpose flour

To Finish:
·      1 egg yolk
·      dash of water
·      handful of slivered almonds (optional)

First make the base: In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and creamy, about 3 minutes. Measure 3 T. of flour (either variety) and set aside. Add in salt, baking powder and remaining flour to butter and sugar. Slowly mix in the egg, followed by the egg yolk, beating completely between each addition. Add the vanilla extract and lime zest, and set mixture aside.

Using a food processor, pulse the nuts and the 3 T. of flour that you saved above, until the nuts are ground but not yet in the nut-butter stage, about 10-15 seconds. Stir the nut mixture into your dough with a wooden spoon, and once combined, gently knead the dough a few times with your hands inside the bowl of your mixer. Divide the dough into two equal portions, either by eyeballing or using a kitchen scale.

Preheat the oven to 400°F and spray the bottom and sides of an 8x8 square pan with cooking spray (or butter!). Press one of the dough halves into the bottom of the pan, evenly pushing the dough into an even level that extends about ¼ inch up the sides of the pan on all sides. Bake the crust for about 15 minutes, and let cool.

While the crust is baking, throw together the filling: mix together the flaxseeds, flour and jam, and voilà—you have your filling! Next, roll the remaining dough out on a floured surface, until it resembles a 9-10 inch square. Now comes the cut-out part: using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough into any shape you wish: you could do a woven lattice, strips, or cut out shapes with a small cookie cutter like I did. Top your crust with the filling, and then lightly arrange the dough shapes over the filling. 

Before sticking in the oven, whip an egg yolk with a little bit of water, and brush it over the pastry. Cover with slivered almonds if you like and bake for about 40-45 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting into 16 pieces. Yum!


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Fragonard’s Blushing Apple Pie

Happy Pi Day Weekend everyone! For those not in the know, yesterday’s date 3/14/15 was the first 5 numbers of the mathematical constant π. Celebrated annually by math nerds around the world, it is also a time for all pie-loving freaks to let their pie-flag fly. What other occasion gives you an excuse to eat pie all day? How about all weekend?

This beautiful pie is vibrant and passionate, not unlike the Rococo-style “bedroom paintings” popular with 18th century French aristocrats.  The Shepherdess, painted by Jean-Honoré Fragonard is one such work, which shows the opening scene of a pastoral tryst. A young woman is featured, the “shepherdess” in this case, sitting in a lush landing with a lamb. She is waiting for her “shepherd”, who can be seen in the left background searching for her. While she looks fairly innocent to the 21st century viewer, she sits with her bare feet exposed, which would have seemed rather erotic to viewers at the time. Her cheeks are flushed in anticipation of what I can only imagine to be taking a huge bite out of this pie! Am I right?

Jean-Honore Fragonard, The Shepherdess, oil on canvas, 1752

This pie is satisfying on so many levels! The flakey crust is super buttery and light, despite the addition of whole-wheat flour to the dough. The beet adds so much with its magenta color, and compliments the apples and spices nicely.

I couldn’t resist baking this as soon as I spotted it in the Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book. I also can’t deny how lucky I am to be walking distance from an awesome pie shop! For those of you a little further from dedicated pie-bakeshops, I hope you sill had the chance to bake something in honor of the nerdiest holiday of the year! 

Blushing Apple Pie

Butter Crust:
·      1 ½ c. all-purpose flour
·      1 c. whole wheat flour
·      pinch of salt
·      1 T. sugar
·      2 sticks of cold, unsalted butter, diced
·      1 c. cold water + 1 c. ice cubes
·      splash of apple cider vinegar

Blushing Apple Pie
·      juice of 1 orange
·      2 ½ golden delicious apples (about 6)
·      ¼ c. sugar
·      ½ c. brown sugar + more for sprinkling over the pre-baked pie
·      1 small beet, oven roasted for about 30 minutes, until tender
·      ¼ t. ground ginger
·      ¼ t. ground cardamom
·      pinch of salt
·      3 T. all-purpose flour
·      1 t. vanilla extract
·      ½ vanilla bean, scraped
·      ½ t. citrus extract, such as fiore di sicilia
·      1 t. apple cider vinegar
·      2 heavy dashes Angostura bitters*
·      1 egg

Make the crust the night before:
Sift the dry ingredients into the bowl of a large food processor. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is made up of pea-sized pieces of butter. In a separate bowl, combine the water, ice, and a healthy swig of apple cider vinegar. Add 2 T of the liquid to the dough mixture at a time, pulsing with the food processor until incorporated. Stop only once the mixture resembles a dough that you can work with. If you add too much liquid, just add in a couple more T. of flour.

Divide the dough into two equal discs, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill overnight.

When you are ready to make the pie, first peel, core and thinly slice the apples, and add to a large bowl. Add the orange juice and 2 T. of the sugar. Mix and set aside, letting the apples soften in the sugary juice.

In the bowl of a food processor, mix together the rest of the sugar, brown sugar, ginger, cardamom, salt, flour, vanilla, fiore di sicilia and bitters. Peel and dice the beet, and add to the mixture, processing until the beet is fully incorporated.

After the apples have marinated in the orange juice for about 20-30 minutes, drain the excess liquid and put the apples back in the bowl. Mix the apples and the beet mixture together until completely combined.

Remove one of the discs of dough from the fridge about 10 minutes before you want to use it, so that it softens up a bit. Lightly flour your work surface as well as your rolling pin, and start rolling the dough out, starting in the center, and slowly pushing the dough out and away from you. Work slowly, to avoid too many cracks in the dough, and continue to add more flour as needed, as you work. You want to roll the dough out into a 12-13 inch circle, with as uniform a thickness as you can manage.

Butter or grease a pie pan, and carefully transfer the crust into the pan. Gently push the dough into the sides of the pan, and trim the dough overhang to allow about an inch of excess all around the sides.

Gently spoon the apple mixture into the prepared crust, spreading it gently into an even layer. Roll out your second disc of dough, just like the first. With a sharp knife or pizza cutter, slice six even (approximately 1-inch) strips of dough for your lattice. Carefully wrap two strips together, pinching the pieces together at each end. Repeat with the remaining four strips, and then arrange carefully over the top of the pie. Use the remaining dough to arrange around the sides of the pie, and then crimp the dough using both thumbs and an index finger. Preheat the oven to 400°F and chill the pie while the oven heats up.

Before you slide the pie into the oven, whip the egg and lighly brush over the top pie crust. Sprinkle with brown sugar, and bake for 20 minutes on the top middle rack of the oven. Lower the heat to 375°F, rotate the pie 180° and bake for an additional 40-45 minutes, until the juices are bubbling and the crust is becoming a nice golden brown. Let cool completely, at least an hour or two, before slicing and serving.

*Why bitters?  They are not completely necessary in this recipe, but as Emily and Melissa Elsen say in The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, they “add a special something, a secret ingredient if you will.” No worries if you don’t have any or can’t find in your local store, but if you can, definitely add these in for a fun kick!

Happy Pi Day!!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Sweet Treats #6

Ever wonder what artists eat? Apparently Leonardo da Vinci’s journals recorded not only his brilliant ideas but also his thoughts about food and nutrition. It seems like he may have been on to something: in addition to advising against eating when you are not hungry, he also understood the importance of eating well-cooked meals made up of simple ingredients. Revolutionary! :)

Meanwhile, in the contemporary world, check out photographer Zachary Zavislak’s clever series Artist’s Palate

The Metropolitan Museum got a new president, replacing Emily Rafferty, who was the first woman to hold this post, and will step down at the end of March.

In celebrity art news, my 4th grade crush, Leonardo diCaprio recently purchased this after seeing it on instagram

And in celebrity parents news: Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s billionaire father has decided to sell of his $50 million+ art collection over the next few years, to benefit the endowment for nonprofit Harlem Children’s Zone 

Meanwhile, James Franco’s mom Betsy is also busy using her influence for good in the art world, and is currently fundraising for WomenArts, an organization that supports gender equality in the arts

Happy Friday, and see you tomorrow for Pi Day! 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Madame Cézanne and Consistently Amazing Chocolate Chip Cookies

Some things seem to always be just the way you want and expect them to be; stable yet perfect, no matter what: the fit of your favorite pair of jeans (perhaps prior to baking a batch of these!), a visit to see one of your favorite classic paintings, Meryl Streep’s performance in just about anything, and these chocolate chip cookies.

We can also add Paul Cézanne’s series of portraits of his wife to the list—together for 37 years, Hortense Fiquet was the subject of approximately 29 portraits done by her husband, over a span of about 20 years. The Met’s fabulous show Madame Cézanne (which closes on March 15, so go if you can!) showcases Hortense, who was her husband’s most painted subject, and brings together an impressive gathering of 24 of the known works from all over the world.

Paul Cezanne, Madame Cezanne, oil on canvas, 1886

Not only did Cézanne paint his wife over and over again, but he also depicted her in the same way in every portrait—alone, plainly dressed (sometimes in the same blue or red dress), usually showing her straight on, with a somber, reserved expression. These portraits are a rare look into their long but somewhat unusual relationship. The couple originally got together in 1869, and had a child together before getting married in 1886. By that time they had been living apart for most of their relationship, and Cézanne suggested that he had fallen out of love with Hortense, but wanted his son to be able to eventually legally inherit his estate.

Paul Cezanne, Madame Cezanne (Hortense Fiquet) in a Red Dress, oil on canvas, 1888-90
Despite a somewhat rocky relationship at times, Cézanne always depicted his wife in the same way. Though his style matured over the years, Hortense was always shown as a mysterious and ageless woman; plain, yet not unattractive.

Paul Cezanne, Madame Cezanne in the Conservatory, oil on canvas, 1891
These cookies are kind of the same way. If you take the time to let the dough chill overnight, they won’t disappoint. They always turn out as delicious, heavy, generous disks with the perfect ratio of buttery goodness and chocolate pieces. After growing up on the famous Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookie, making these for the first time felt like I was cheating on a loved one. But they are too perfect to deny any longer—there is certainly a reason that Jacques Torres is called Mr. Chocolate! Don’t believe me? I dare you to prove me wrong.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Recipe adapted from the New York Times, adapted from Jacques Torres

·      2 c. minus 2 T. cake flour
·      1 2/3 c. bread flour
·      1 ¼ t. baking soda
·      1 ½ t. baking powder
·      pinch of salt
·      1 ½ c. unsalted butter, room temperature
·      1 ¼ c. brown sugar
·      1 c. sugar
·      2 eggs, room temperature
·      2 t. vanilla extract
·      1 ¼ lbs. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips or chunks
·      flaky sea salt (optional)

Sift the dry ingredients together (flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt) and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugars together for about 5, until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Reduce the speed and slowly add in the dry mixture until only just combined. Gather the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic and chill overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 350°F and scoop the dough into cookie portions about 2 rounded tablespoons in size. Bake on a cookie sheet lined in parchment paper or a silicone mat for about 15 minutes—rotate halfway through and watch carefully for the second half. They are done when they are golden brown in color and look like they are cooked through.

Let cool completely and enjoy!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Sweet Treats #5

Remember this awful restoration job from a couple of years ago? Sadly, some 14th century frescos of the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi have been over-restored as well, compromising original works by Giotto, Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti, among others

Love washing your hands, brushing your teeth and maintaining a clean appearance? (I hope the answer is yes…) Want to see a whole exhibition dedicated to cleanliness? If so, you’re in luck—this museum’s show on the subject just opened, and will run until this summer

See? Coffee’s not so bad for you!

More sad, damaged art news: ISIS stormed the Nineveh Museum in Iraq a few weeks ago, and destroyed 3,000 year-old Assyrian sculptures—and as if that wasn’t bad enough, they videotaped the entire thing

Opening this week:
·      MoMA’s retrospective on Bjork opens next Sunday, March 8th, and yes, it will feature this dress (Museum of Modern Art)
·      ADAA Art Show (Art Dealers Association of America), Pulse Contemporary Art Fair and The Armory Show all open in NYC this week

Closing this week:
·      Vera Lutter (Gagosian Gallery)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Travel Fried Rice

Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa, c. 1503-06, oil on panel

Hello from freezing and snowy New York! Tonight I leave for 10 days in Paris (hopefully, unless said snow gets in the way!), and I’m totally psyched! For most of it I will be working, but I hope to have plenty of time to explore, check out museums and eat! Speaking of food, I am not a huge fan of airport/airplane cuisine (is anyone?), and since I will be flying during my normal dinnertime, I have put quite a bit of thought into what will keep me satiated until I arrive in beautiful Paris in time for a pain au chocolat and a coffee.

Everyone seems to approach travel food in different ways—some value convenience most and others want an elaborate feast, using the mentality that if it is their last meal (God forbid!) it better be delicious. Taking advice from this book, I settled for something thoughtful, delicious and easy—a dish of fried rice that uses up your fresh produce and/or any leftovers you have, while still tasting new and interesting. This also packs well, and doesn't involve lots of mixing or assembling once you get to the airport.

“Loaning” myself to my company’s Paris office next week falls a week or so short of the 52nd anniversary of the Mona Lisa loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy persuaded the French Minister of Cultural Affairs to loan the work to the US for three weeks in 1962. This was a rare trip for the work, which is displayed under bulletproof glass at the Louvre, its usual home. After New York, the painting traveled to Washington, DC, where it was shown at the National Gallery before heading back to Paris.

The painting was insured for $100 million, and carefully shipped across the world. As someone with a small amount of experience shipping old master pictures of high value, I can only imagine what a crazy shipment this was to orchestrate—pre-shipment, the painting was packed in a temperature controlled, fireproof, airtight crate, and it flew with a 24-hour security detail. 

The Mona Lisa at the National Gallery, Washington in 1962

My trip should be a lot easier and far less expensive, and I can’t wait to wake up tomorrow and start a day of sightseeing. This fried rice is key—it’s a healthy home-cooked meal before I start 10 all-restaurant-days. In addition to using up the veggies in my fridge, I also picked up a grilled salmon fillet to add in as my main protein. I plan to eat this bowl of goodness while I am still waiting for my flight at the airport—just because I love salmon doesn’t mean everyone on my plane wants to smell it.  :)  

Once prepared, this meal can be packed up in a plastic to-go container, and thrown in your carry-on.

Fried Rice
Adapted by the “Expat Fried Rice” in Keepers
Serves 2

·      2 T. olive oil
·      ¼ c. diced onion
·      2 c. cooked brown rice, preferably a day old
·      2 eggs
·      1 c. protein of your choice
·      1 c. kale, sautéed for a couple of minutes in olive oil
·      1 red pepper, sliced
·      1 T. oyster sauce

Sauté the onions in the oil over high heat for about a minute.  Add the rice and cook, stirring every once in a while for a couple minutes. Crack the eggs over the mixture, and cook, scrambling everything until the egg is cooked through. Add in the protein and veggies, and heat through, then stir in the oyster sauce. Cook an additional moment or so longer—until you are happy with it, and remove from the heat.
You can season with salt and pepper if you want, but I usually let the oyster sauce flavor it, and let it be! Let cool completely before packing up, and don’t forget to consider silver wear—plastic is easiest.

See you in Paris! xx

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