Happy Labor Day! While this holiday is historically a celebration of the American labor movement, it is also largely seen as the unofficial end of summer. This summer was a bit stressful at times (dramatic much?), but was mostly filled with pretty weather, fun trips, quality time with family, lots of baking and plenty of lazy days. I don’t like the idea of summer ending, but an upcoming vacation and birthday means September can’t be too bad!
Summer for many means trips to the beach and the return of Discovery
Channel’s Shark Week. Sadly, this year’s programming seemed to hit an all-time low, with even more footage than usual of sharks just biting stuff and eating meat fed to them by humans, as well as new shows: “Alien Sharks”, “Zombie Sharks”, and the fake documentary, “Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine.” The depiction of sharks as dangerous predators is nothing new, though the shark infested waters seen in Théodore Géricault’s Raft of Medusa are only a small part of the drama in this epic work.
Raft of Medusa, completed in 1819, is based on the real events surrounding the wreck of the French government vessel Medusa off the coast of Africa in 1816. Seen as proof of the corruption of Louis XVIII’s rule, the captain and other officials took the lifeboats, leaving over a hundred passengers to drift on a makeshift raft. Few survived when the raft was rescued 13 days later, and the people who did suffered sickness, thirst, hunger, cannibalism and insanity as they struggled to remain alive in the shark-infested waters. Arranged in a pyramidal form, this work shows the various stages of hope and despair, capturing the moment the survivors see a ship—potentially rescuers. The foreground, or base of the pyramid is crowded with nude corpses—including a father holding the body of his son—the forms of which were inspired by Michelangelo’s figures descending into hell in the Last Judgment. The viewer’s eyes go next to the men in the middle who have spotted the boat, and then finally to the top of the pyramid, where the men frantically wave rags in hopes of attracting their rescuers.
This dramatically lit work highlighted the huge scandal of the wreck, and was an icon of French Romanticism. As some of Géricault’s contemporaries painted works as propaganda for the government, this work is clearly anti-government, and is a clear break from the popular Neoclassical taste at the time. The dark color palette and sinister nature of the piece asked viewers how this emotional work could also be art—a paradox that appealed to the soul, and forced viewers to see beyond the conventional beauty of art. Summer may be ending, but who’s ready to take a bite out of fall?
Corn and Basil Muffins with Tomato Jam
1 ½ pounds ripe Roma tomatoes, cored and chopped coarsely
1 cup sugar
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
juice of one lime
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
dash of paprika
dash of all spice
pinch of salt
Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan, preferably cast iron, like a dutch oven or something similar. Turn stove heat to medium, and allow the mixture to come to a boil, stirring often. Once boiled, lower the heat to a simmer, and let the mixture thicken over the next hour or so, mixing occasionally. You will know it is ready when it has reduced down to a jam consistency, and you find yourself sampling it every few minutes! Let cool a bit and then store in clean jam jars until you are ready to fill your muffins.
This delicious jam will keep for about a week (unless you can it for real, which you can read about here). Depending on how many muffins you make, you may have a bit left over, which is fine, since this jam goes especially well with everything—I can’t wait to try with my morning eggs and my weekday sandwiches!
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
flax egg (1 ½ tablespoon flaxseed meal + 5 tablespoon water, let sit for 5 minutes)
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/8 cup olive oil
½ cup milk
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
2 ears of corn, kernels only
2 tablespoons chopped basil
approximately ½-1 cup ricotta cheese
Preheat your oven to 350˚F and grease or line a muffin tin. In a large bowl, beat together the melted butter and sugar until incorporated—a minute or two. Add in the flax egg, buttermilk, and olive oil, one at a time, making sure to mix well after each addition.
In a smaller bowl, combine together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt and pepper. Add 1/3 of the dry mixture to the wet, beating well to combine. Follow with ¼ c. milk, more mixing, and then repeat—dry—milk—dry. Scrape the sides of the bowl, and then stir in the corn kernels and basil, incorporating fully, but try not to overmix. Spoon the batter into your muffin pan and bake for about 22 minutes—keeping a very close eye on them after the 20 minute mark.
Allow the muffins to cool completely before you proceed with filling them. When ready, carefully core the cupcakes using any technique you prefer—an actual cupcake corer, or my method: improvising with a pastry tip and a ¼ teaspoon. I am sure that a cupcake corer is much easier to use, but this gadget was surprisingly difficult to find in my neighborhood—one kitchen store actually told me that they were sold out—who knew these were so popular?! Anyway, I used the larger end of a standard pastry tip to cut a perfect circle in the top of each of my muffins, and then used a ¼ teaspoon to gently scoop a tiny portion of the cake out. Next, use the same tiny measuring spoon to fill each hole with the homemade jam. Finally, using either a pastry bag or a plastic bag with a whole in one corner, gently pipe ricotta cheese over the top of your jam opening.
Now, climb out onto your fire escape or stoop—or porch if you live somewhere with actual outside space, and enjoy these seasonal treats while you savor the last days of summer! Happy Labor Day!
Muffin recipe adapted from Crepes of Wrath (makes about 10) and tomato jam recipe adapted Mark Bittman
Featured art: Théodore Géricault, The Raft of Medusa,1818-1819, oil on canvas
Michelangelo, The Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel,1536-1541, fresco