MISSING SUNLIGHT

When it’s this gloomy all day, –when there is no sense that there has ever been a sun, –ever will be a sun, I miss places where the sun was guaranteed:  Provence      Hawaii

Turns out that memories of the American West for me are also light-filled.  My own images from early trips there did not involve electronic cameras.  However, at the Princeton University Art Museum just now, there is a splendid array of The Moderns from the Phillips (Gallery, of Washington, D.C.)  My favorite museum in the capital, Mr. and Mrs. Phillips’ own home, — this haven proves a gateway to the paintings of Bonnard.  No one, –not even Matisse–, equaled this artist, who had lived one hill over from me in my life in Cannes.  Especially, no one seemingly has even attempted light in mimosa, such as he so magnificently evoked in canvas after canvas.

To my delight, amongst European moderns, such as Picasso and Braque, there is a high proportion of American art.  Even a Georgia O’Keeffe I do not know — with a torn red leaf asserting its power despite having been altered…  One of my all-time favorite of our artists is ‘our Turner’, Thomas Moran.  His views in Yellowstone National Park involve all the senses, so that we can nearly hear his waterfalls.

The-Grand-Canyon-Of-The-Yellowstone-2

The West was never easy for me — whether sightseeing or skiing.  Coming from the storied East, where most mountains and rivers involved our War of Independence, and even the tragedy mis-named Civil War – I often felt as dwarfed as the figures in this scene of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Moran dared another favorite site, Venice.  I remember light there, also, dazzling, more than doubled by all those wrinkling canals.  Especially the Easter morning when I stood alone in St. Mark’s Square, in absolute silence, even to the pigeons.  I hadn’t realized that all the bells of Venice had been silenced on Good Friday, when we’d arrived.  At the moment of dawn, all the bells began their clamor.  The birds rose as one, swirled like sandpipers, in grey clouds, imitating the DNA spiral.  Church bells and wings and the light of a Venice dawn…

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Master of Venice, indeed.  But Moran was most at home in the American West.

And I learned, anew, that one place where one can count on light is inside any art museum, no matter what is going on outdoors in any season.
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Thomas Moran Country

This man can find light even in the most formidable mountain passes.

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0126.2339_MORAN_SHOSHONE FALLS_SHARPENED 2_o6

 

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Moran’s Dawn at Sea — favorite experience, whether crossing on the France, the Mary, or the QEII.

 

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‘La Confrerie du Cassoulet’ – Friends Gather to Re-create the South of France

Sweet Dessert Wine for Cassoulet Supper -- Muscat de Beaumes de Venise

Sweet Dessert Wine for Cassoulet Supper — Muscat de Beaumes de Venise

 

Intrepid friends are willing to share in the traditional cassoulet of the South of France.  Betty Lies brought green olive tapenade for appetizer, and Carolyn Yoder poured Pol Roger.  Valerie Meluskey marinated ripe cantaloupe in a light yet complex vinaigrette.  Pat Tanner crafted jewel-like citron tartes topped with citron knots.  Faith Bahadurian brought le vin typique pour cassoulet, Madiran.  Fay Lachmann found ‘the black wine of Cahors,’ which Werner and I had been served over and over in the South of France, to accompany their regional specialty, in 1978.  The wines were spectacular, including the classic dessert wine, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise with our tartes.

Casspi;et Beams that generated La Confrerie du Cassoulet

Casspi;et Beams that generated La Confrerie du Cassoulet

It all started with a packet of beans.  Faith Bahadurian, Ur-Food-Writer and good friend of long standing, well knows my passion for the south of France.  She therefore ordered a package of Rancho Gordo Cassoulet beans, secretly hoping I would take the bait. I immediately invited the group of dear friends, who, –as Des Confreres du Choucroute–, gathered here to see if those simple ingredients of pork and saucisson and sauerkraut, plus some very special Rieslings, could be alchemized into a memorable meal.  Indeed they could.  So the group returned for the cassoulet of Languedoc.

Cassoulet Bean Broth Ingredients

Cassoulet Bean Broth Ingredients

Other people are homesick for America when they leave, even to kissing the ground upon return.  I have always been the other way ’round.  As the S.S. France lowered our American car onto the quai of Le Havre in 1964, I knew my very American feet were walking upon the earth of my real home.  I did not fully realize yet about regional cuisine.  I also had no IDEA how very different the South of France is from everywhere else, especially Paris.  And I had barely heard of Languedoc.

The S.S. France, my first Magic Carpet to my True Home

The S.S. France, my first Magic Carpet to my True Home

Nothing has ever changed my total connection to La Belle France.  I managed to live in Provence, (Cannes, near Vallauris, on l’Observatoire Hill) from 1987 to 1988.  I don’t think I had cassoulet on that journey.  Rather, when Werner and I, with the Friends of the Art Museum (Princeton) spent more than two weeks in Romanesque France (often more Roman than Romanesque!) in 1978, we were honored with cassoulet in auberge after auberge.  The places we stayed rolled out their regional specialties for Princetonians, and cassoulet was their favorite and mine.

Cassoulet Broth

Cassoulet Broth

I used to make this dish often when I lived on Braeburn off Snowden, in my early Princeton years.  My husband often cooked lamb and duck, out in the Weber grill.  I would save and freeze leftovers, to serve at supper parties, using elegant slender flageolets verts seches (dried beans, the icy green of celadon, which were easily available in the days before globalization.) However, as this cassoulet sequel to choucroute took form, I discovered that one cannot find those special slender forceful little pale green beans any more.  Faith to the rescue:  Rancho Gordo’s flageolets blancs (white) worked well, and held their shape during the three hours of cooking.

Cassoulet Beans Await Broth

Cassoulet Beans Await Broth

I took pictures all along, in this process, for this dinner planned three months ago.  I’ll share them with you, to give you a sense of our night.

Browning the Bones for the Cassoulet Broth

Browning the Bones for the Cassoulet Broth

Some of us at the table had been to the South of France together, some more than once.  Again, however, without the peasant dish that is cassoulet.

Confit du Canarad, browned, Ready for Assemblage

Confit du Canarad, browned, Ready for Assemblage

Although everyone didn’t know everyone today, there was a sense of reunion and strong fellowship.  France has that effect..

Maigret du Canard, Duck Breast, Ready for Assemblage

Maigret du Canard, Duck Breast, Ready for Assemblage

Browned Shoulder of Lamb Cubes, ready for Assemblage   o, yes, with generosities of garlic!

Browned Shoulder of Lamb Cubes, ready for Assemblage o, yes, with generosities of garlic!

Cassoulet Pork Belly -- my First!

Cassoulet Pork Belly — my First!

Browning the Pork Chop and the Duck Breast

Browning the Pork Chop and the Duck Breast

Deglazing the Bone Pan

Deglazing the Bone Pan

Meats Ready for Assemblage

Meats Ready for Assemblage

Ready for the Broth

Ready for the Broth  Trader Joe’s Spectacular Tomatoes even in March, and Fresh Thyme

Overnight-soaked Cassoulet Beans Have Absorbed all the Water!

Overnight-soaked Cassoulet Beans Have Absorbed all the Water!

Forgive the out-of-focus picture here. I was so amazed at the enlargement and engorgement of the beans, that I wasn’t using the right setting on the camera.

Beans, Bones, Tomatoes, Herbs

Beans, Bones, Tomatoes, Herbs

The famous beans were mixed with the ultimate broth, along with sauteed carrot and onion chunks, more garlic (in addition to that which was cooked with the lamb chunks), and sauteed tiny pancetta bits.  Also the (very ugly) pork belly, cut into smaller pieces because it seemed tough.  Those hearty hefty Trader Joe tomatoes and his fresh rosemary and thyme branches, went into the beans, although I never remember tomatoes in cassoulet.  The recipe called for chicken broth and a half bottle of a wine from the south of France good for cooking and appropriate to the dish: La Ferme Julien (typical Daudet goat on label) was suggested by one of the helpful wine experts at Trader Joe’s  This assemblage went into the refrigerator in one container.  All the meats, including those gorgeous crisp duck legs, purportedly confit, went into another, also with La Ferme Julien wine as marinade.  Into the refrigerator with it all until this morning.

In case you’re getting impatient, here is the resulting creation – before its oven time and crumbing:

Cassoulet Ingredients

Cassoulet Ingredients

This morning, half the brothed refrigerated beans went into the crock of the crock pot.  Then all the meats, including the duck legs.  Then the rest of the beans.  Sprigs of thyme and of rosemary were introduced at each layer.  I put the crock pot on high at noon, and after an hour nothing had happened.  So into the oven at 350 in the crock pot crock with its lid went this assemblage for the prescribed three hours.

First Beans into Crock

First Beans into Crock

Starting at one p.m., crumbs were generously used to cover the top layer of beans.  A thin ‘fil’ (thread) of olive oil was laced back and forth over the crumbs.  Then into the oven again.  One can do this crumb crisping (I ended up broiling it after 45 minutes) three times or more.  Three was enough.

La Cassoulet avec crumbs (Panko)

La Cassoulet avec crumbs (Panko)

You may wonder why I say ‘purported’ confit.  In France, confit du canard ou confit d’oie (goose) is cooked in fat and sold in the cooking fat.  French recipes for cassoulet specify ‘un pot du grasse cu confit’.  Ha!  There wasn’t a speck of duck fat in this actually very lovely confit — only the handsome, succulent legs.  We made do with olive oil.

Ready for Guests

Ready for Guests

Valerie's Glorious Melon Vinaigrette with Pomegranate Seeds

Valerie’s Glorious Melon Vinaigrette with Pomegranate Seeds

Pat Tanner's Exquisite Citron Tarte with Citron Knots!

Pat Tanner’s Exquisite Citron Tarte with Citron Knots!

As with our experiment with choucroute, for all the splendors of this night, the best part was our fellowship.

THE JUNO CHRONICLES — The Blizzard of 2015

Snowed Ash Tree

Snowed Ash Tree, Jan. 27, 2015

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that I always feel, and often obey, a mandate imposed by my hero, Henry David Thoreau.: In natural situations, I resonate to the question, “What would Henry do?”  Of course, he’d journal the development of this storm.

So here goes, with no pretensions as to literary merit.

Yesterday (Tuesday, January 26th) driving home from D&R Greenway, I was puzzled to realize that — a mere two blocks from the red barn of the Pole Farm– I could NOT find that bright red barn.  An infinity of tiny whitenesses created snow fog worse than any white-out during ski trips to Zermatt.  Even more amazing, when close enough to see the barn, it HAD NO COLOR!

“Blowing and Drifting Snow”, –infamous in my Minnesota years, zwooshing across those prairies, absolutely obscuring the edges of major highways–, was alive and well and zwooshing along Cold Soil Road.  I am too aware of ditches on both sides of that narrow (seemingly unsalted, unsanded) roadway. The ditches had filled somehow.  Snow coursed, like fat white greedy hands, onto and beyond the so-called shoulder.

The snow reminded me of Royal Icing with which I had had to frost a wedding cake for a British cookbook at Tested Recipe Institute, 500 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan.  Royal Icing hardens irrevocably – and that’s exactly what the Cold Soil snow-icing seemed to have done.  With the wedding cake, [a fruit cake (!)], I had to go on and make roses.  With the Royal Icing of Cold Soil, I only had to make my halting, near-blinded way a few more blocks into Society Hill.

Royal Icing Snow

Royal Icing Snow

Possibly the hardest part of the homeward journey turned out to be the attempt to back into my parking place, with all stripes and of course parking place numbers, covered.  The car’s a little crooked, but, at least, with four-wheel drive, whenever I do essay a journey, I can go safely frontwards.

Midnight Magic Snowstorm 1 2015

Midnight Tree, Snowflakes Catching the Flash]

Fast forward to morning, Tuesday, January 27.  In the night, emergency orders closed New Jersey roads. Snow didn’t look that perilous at various times in the night, but it’s done a grand job of coating everything.  We never had the wild winds.  Our office was supposed to open at noon, but an early call put that to rest for this day.

This is no Nor’easter — ‘my’ snow pours ceaselessly, angling sharply from southwest to northeast, often flat-out sideways.

Snow From Northwest Coats Tree Trunk

Snow From SOUTHWEST Coats Tree Trunk

I ‘screwed my courage to the sticking place” and proceeded to brush off my car and a neighbor’s, [probably the Samaritan who had done the same for my car, last week, anonymously.]  I could STAND on the accumulated snow.  That hasn’t happened since I was ten years old!  I had forgotten how snow dampens clothes — at first it doesn’t melt and you think it doesn’t matter…

Cold Rhododendrons

Cold Rhododendrons

Now the promised “blowing and drifting snow” has arrived with a vengeance.  (It’s around noon.)  At first, great thick swirls, like Isadora scarves, whirled from the roof.  It seemed as though a Giant on the roof had just drunk hot soup, breathing furious gusts out onto the gelid air.  The energy and curvaceousness of the puffs brought back a Renaissance mural at Rome’s Farnese Gallery.  There, a wind god puffed fat cheeks, and white billows scurried across the wall.

Mid=Blizzard

Mid=Blizzard

Then, out in the middle of the ‘greensward’ between my building and the one across the way, a disembodied curtain of snow zoomed across, blotting out the other buildings.  This was like the Nutcracker’s corps de ballet, impersonating not mere snowflakes, but a vertical blizzard, fast-forwarded.

Frosted Conifers, Mid-Storm

Frosted Conifers, Mid-Storm

Meanwhile, snow descends with the furious relentlessness that categorizes this storm named Juno. This is an ironic name, as I am deep in Masters and Commanders by Andrew Roberts.  You could call it a quadruple biography of the decision-makers of WWII.  This spectacular British biographer/historian has great respect for FDR, affection for and pride in Churchill yet sees ‘warts and all’, and clear eyes and wisdom regarding George Marshall and Alan Brooke.  Juno was one of code names for British beaches in Normandy.  On a later D Day, I visited Juno, touched by intimate bouquets, as though hand-made, carefully placed.  Ribbons of the French tricoleur blew in the sea wind, at sites where British and American soldiers had given their lives to save France and the free world.  Ribbons of snow efface everything here at my study window.

Farm Fresh Omelet, Farm-Raised Bacon, Lettuce from Live Lettuce Plant from Terhune Orchards

Farm Fresh Omelet, Farm-Raised Bacon, Lettuce from Live Lettuce Plant from Terhune Orchards

After a restorative lunch, I note the turkey vulture, tipping and soaring.  This may not be easy for him, as the ground is too cold to generate thermals which vultures require for lift.  He’s elegant, practiced, even graceful.  Pete Dunne, consummate birder, terms vultures “The Wind Masters”.  Pete taught me to appreciate them. This black and grey icon of the wild is very welcome in the totally motionless landscape out my windows.

Sun Like a Lightbulb

Sun Like a Lightbulb

I realize, suddenly, the snow has topped falling.

There is that strange sepulchral glow to the world that comes after storm, but before sun.

Sepulchral Glow

Sepulchral Glow

The other highlight of my day was the sudden gaggle of snow geese, heard before seen.  There is no other sound in the wild to equal their liquid mellifluous murmuring.  It is light years more wonderful than the barking of Canada geese, and thousands of times more rare.  I only encounter the snow geese chorale at ‘The Brig, in South Jersey.

These snow geese, about twenty, were nearly invisible in the impenetrable mass of minuscule flakes, if you could call them flakes. Their cluster (snow geese do not do ‘V’s’) was very determinedly flying sharply east from somewhere north.  I concluded that snow geese must have to gabble throughout their flights, whenever the element for whom they are named rules the day.  Must these black-and-white visitors from afar carry on like this, vocally, so that they do not lose each other, lose their way?

The most important New Year’s Eve of my life, when my century changed, took place at the Brig.  Hundreds, if not thousands, of snow geese blanketed Absecon Bay, the way real snow blankets everything today.  The setting sun of the 20th Century painted the bay water pink and rose and coral, and the snow geese with it.  My New Year’s Eve noisemakers were the liquidities of these birds. And now, for the first time (and I have lived in Princeton off and on since 1968), I hear that music in my back yard.

A mourning dove landed – then, the only sign of nearby life.  It looked anything but mournful, perky rather, even triumphant.

Snow Rescuers Snowstorm 1 2015

Snow-Rescuers at Dusk

There is a sea of white on the ground, seafoam on all the clenched rhododendrons, foam and sea spray and god knows what else taking the place of sky.  All day, that sky resembled the solid fog that surrounds icebergs.  This I experienced from the deck of the SS France, which had embarked on the anniversary of the Titanic disaster, sailing that long-ago April of 1964

If Henry were here, he’d be chronicling numbers assiduously.  He would want you to know that all day the thermometer at the front door has ranged very few degrees above ten.  Late afternoon, and it has soared to eighteen.

Snow Removal Snowstorm 1 2015

Snowplows in Half-Light

This yard is so empty of life, because Society Hill residents are forbidden to feed the birds.

The mourning dove seems taken up residence for now, puffing itself to stay warm.  There is no nourishment for it nor for turkey vulture, anywhere around here.

One friend who lives at Society Hill tells me that she and a friend have seen a coyote right in the middle of their street, very nearby.  I have yet to find coyotes here nor in the Pole Farm, but I am always searching

Another friend has gone ski-birding twice this week.  Some of her miracles include kinglets — those golden-crowned and ruby-crowned living jewels who zip about on the ground, feeding with the dapper chickadees.  And, also at the Pole Farm, she was blessed with two female Northern harriers, and the most elusive and rare male, known as “the grey ghost.”

Although the snow has seemed to stop, swirls arrive, I guess from roofs.  The last burst itself was a grey ghost.

Dire Beauty, Mid-Storm

Dire Beauty, Mid-Storm

AFTER THE STORM

After the Snow Snowstorm 1 2015

Calm after Snowstorm 1 2015