If you’ve read a couple of my blog posts and given the site title, it’s probably pretty obvious that food is a big part of my life. I’ve preached for years now that there’s so much more to food than just eating it. Certainly not everyone needs to be as avid a food-fan as I, but I would like you to consider as you read this (if you don’t feel like reading just look at the photos, you’ll get the gist) the many delightful ways we can and do experience food on a daily basis. We don’t all need to love to cook for people, like to dabble in painting, try our hand in amateur photography or even enjoy stuffing our faces. That being said, isn’t it fun sometimes to be on the receiving end of a lovingly prepared meal, appreciate the glorious colors in Nature’s bounty or just paint or draw with reckless abandon? And flavor!!! I hope we can all agree that when something titillates our taste buds in just the right way the whole day can be better. That happened to me just the other day when I got my first McDonalds Shamrock Shake of the season. Oh! that creamy minty-ness made the rest of my day sublime!
I had this grand epiphany a couple of months ago when I realized the objects I’d be painting at the art studio where I get my oil painting instruction was going to be of a head of red cabbage, a bulb of garlic and scallions. I was going to “sense” the heck out of those three food items. Sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch, no sense would be left unturned!
Here are my results of my sensory study of a member of the genus Brassica (cabbage) and two members of the genus Allium:
The Evolution of a Painting
The above represents eight hours of painting split into four two-hour sessions. The studio during this time was occupied by just three of us, the artist-in-residence, me and another “student”. While the artist provided invaluable tips about blending, creating perspective and shading, we each started with a blank canvas, did our own work and only used a previously done painting as reference. What fun we had! Bright colors were used, the sweet smell of linseed and clove oils filled the air, hot tea was available from the on-site cafe, friendships were made, and laughter ensued. Perhaps the best part of any art class I’ve taken is the mutual respect given to other’s work. I’ve found that in art classes compliments are given freely and often. I imagine it has something to do with creative thought and the realization that just as everyone is unique so, too, is artistic vision.
Still Life Photography
Who doesn’t love to take photos? To be clear, I hate to be in ’em but love to take ’em. I’ve developed a penchant for food photography through the years. Straight off the vine, chopped raw, cooked and plated, a lot of food in my house winds up being a subject of online iPhone photography. In this case the plan was to secure the items that I had just painted, set up a similar scene and shoot away in preparation of the next phase of this study……………using these precise ingredients in a recipe. Before I move on though let’s explore color. Obviously when painting you can make things whatever color you choose. While my painting probably has more color than any other cabbage head ever, you can see that the real cabbage has quite a lot of blue in it. I had tried to find garlic and scallions that had some wine-ish color to them but alas no such luck during the month of February. I do like the shadows created in the photo. The scallion shadows would be fun to paint. Now on with the show…..
I decided in advance that whatever recipe I made with the three ingredients I painted and photographed would be served at a “Galentine’s Day” Luncheon I was having for three friends that I had never had at my home or cooked for before. I figured I would easily find some sort of “slaw” recipe that would include all three ingredients. I thought I go that route until I came upon “Sesame Chicken and Cabbage Salad” in a recent issue of Bon Appetit http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/sesame-chicken-and-cabbage-salad-recipe. Perfect! Now my painting can extend to the focal of the plate visually and tastefully!
I love to cook, especially for others and I like nothing better than to invite new people to the table. In this instance, I took a chance on three lovely ladies that I knew were at least familiar with each other (and crossed my fingers there wasn’t any private turmoil that I wasn’t aware of), that I admired and just plain liked. After that it was up to me to cook a meal, set a table and provide the welcoming atmosphere so all five senses were used to enjoy one head of cabbage, one bulb of garlic and three scallions.
Sight- The colors! The deepest purples, the dusty blues, the bright and light green, the whitest of whites and the subtle reds….and that’s just the vegetables! And let’s face it folks, I’m a great tablescaper. In fact I added one photo above of berries, mints and cream just because the berry bowl set that I picked up for $6.50 at a local antique store is just too pretty.
Smell- I already mentioned the intoxicating (I actually think it can be) allure of the smell of an art studio. I can’t say that the scent of cabbage does much for me, but once you mince the garlic and chop those onions and get the whole kitchen going there’s no better smell EXCEPT when I put the Cheddar Ramekin in the oven to bake. That’s that slice of pie that’s sharing the plate with the salad above. At lunchtime, one of my friends brought a heavenly smelling arrangement of varied colors of roses too.
Hearing-First, there’s the music I play when I cook. For me it’s typically Van Morrison ( when I write too, he’s on right now.) or Billy Joel with a healthy dose of the soundtrack from “Hamilton” from time to time. If I want to go old school and get really pumped, I see if Alexa can locate the soundtrack from the movie “Hoosiers”…the GOAT in sports movies and soundtracks as far as I’m concerned. While the chatter at the Art Studio was somewhat limited, we were busy creating after all, we did take time out talk shop and get to know each other. As for the luncheon at my house, it was an all-out gab fest! From food, politics, quilting to gossip, it was all covered. Another sound that could be heard that day was the sweet, sweet sound of a bottle of bubbly being opened. Ahhh…..
Taste- Okay this one is self-explanatory but to me there’s no finer experience than good food especially enjoyed with good people. A year or so before my dad passed away, he lost most of his sense of taste. That was so hard for him and me as well because we shared a strong belief that one way to enjoy life is one taste at a time. We had many, many lunches together just the two of us that typically included wine. That’s where he gave me life advice, built me up and could tell me just one more story about the good old days. I, in turn, was more than happy to point out that it was his darling daughter who took him out to lunch every year (I think at last count, my dad had it as 18 years straight) whereas he was lucky if his only son and my brother even acknowledged his birthday.
Touch- Hugs! You get hugs when you cook for someone. That someone gets a hug from me when they come to the door. We all hug when we meet at a restaurant don’t we (unless one is already seated then you do that dip-down pat-on-the back move)? And don’t get me started on the “feels” I get when a perfectly prepared burger topped with mushrooms, caramelized onions and blue cheese finds it’s way to my mouth. The beverage that’s most touchy for me is bubbly- it tickles my nose and it tickles my heart and makes everything a celebration.
Okay, I’ve come to the end of my adventure in painting, photographing, preparing, cooking and of course eating the subject matter of my most recent artwork. If you’ve made it this far, I thank you and remember there’s always a place at my table.
Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. – Harriet van Horne