How was your long weekend? Hopefully you are still slightly stuffed from a ton of delicious food and enjoying that glow you get after having a few days off, when you are able to totally relax, but before you start to get a little bored. That you had time to get yourself organized for the week ahead and maybe a little excited about the insanity of the holiday season when you heard your favorite Bruce Springsteen song on the radio (and by radio I really mean iphone because I am my own DJ and Springsteen is always playing…!).
I totally had that and more, and now I’m relaxed, refreshed and ready for the week ahead. Part of what got me to this blissful place was this fluffy french toast made with thick pieces of challah. Also known as gypsy toast, this decadent breakfast is one of my favorite comfort foods, but only when done right – no one wants to dig into a plate of rubbery, soggy french toast!
The name refers to “lost bread,” the bread that is a little stale but shouldn’t be wasted; soaking it in a milky, eggy mixture softens it, and then it’s lightly fried…. pure heaven!
Also sporting the “gypsy” nickname is Tiziano Vecellio’s (aka Titian) 1511 painting of the Madonna and Christ Child in a landscape. Known as Gypsy Madonna, due to the Virgin’s dark hair and dark almond shaped eyes, the work is one of the first and best known of early renderings of the Madonna situated in a landscape setting.
Titian was greatly influenced by his teacher, Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516): the composition itself is a variation on the kind of Madonnas that Bellini had been painting for the previous half century of more, especially his depiction of Virgin and Child of 1509 (see below). Both pictures are formatted horizontally, and show a Madonna seen frontally, a little over half-length, posing with the Christ Child who is seen standing at full-length, with a landscape seen beyond them. That being said, Titian’s version definitely still shows his own stylistic personality. The treatment of the paint is a little softer and generally less consistent than Bellini’s technique, but it is a gentle, welcome approach. The cloth of honor, which hangs behind the Virgin in both works, moves from the left in Bellini’s work to the right (and with a pattern!) in Titian’s picture, creating an asymmetrical composition with bold and dynamic contrasts.
This painting was given the nickname of “gypsy” in the 19th century, many, many years after people first started eating gypsy toast, which was referenced in Latin recipe collections in the 4th and 5th centuries. Amazing that so many years later, we are still finding ways to reuse our old bread and/or purchasing new fluffy challah to make into the ideal breakfast!
Featured art: Titian, Gypsy Madonna (or Virgin and Child), 1510-11, oil on panel
Giovanni Bellini, Virgin and Child, 1509, oil on panel
Recipe inspired by Huckleberry