The Swedish Artist Chef says, “Great Food must be paired with art that is made from great stories. So the guests at the table are nourished and edified by the ingredients of the mind, as well as food and drink. Then, in the savoring and retelling of the art and its story, guests have something to bring to their next dinner.”
These vignettes go with the “Food Paired With Art” series, as a complete culinary package.
This is my grandmother’s tea cup, and my grandmother’s tiger striped cat.
My grandmother is gone now, but I have Tiger and her tea cup and remember how, when I used to visit her, she would fix me a cup of catnap tea.
And it always put me right to sleep. There, on her green billowy sofa, drifting off to the scent of cinamon and a faint lemon merangue that lingered in the old cushions.
So, I arrange grandma’s teacup with her tea tin just like she had it in her kitchen, and Tiger takes his usual spot. It had been a seamless transition for Tiger — from grandma to me — I suppose because he was so used to me having a cup of catnap tea in her kitchen, with him curled up on the stack of her recipe books.
I offer a piece of cookie to Tiger, and ask him, “What was it about catnap tea? What’s the secret — c’mon, cat, you know. I know you know.”
Tiger winks at me with one green eye and tells me.
“Catnap tea is an ancient brew. A potion, of sorts, and where the leaves come from is a mystery not even I can speak to. To drink catnap tea means to release all cat superstitions from the room.
“Here, take another sip…
“Can you feel the lightening of the air around you?
“Take another sip…
“Look, there goes the myth about cats loving cream from a freshly milked cow…Myth. We can’t digest milk..
“And there, right out the window, flies the one about nine lives…It’s actually more like a hundred…
“Take another sip and it won’t enter your mind that a black cat under a ladder will do anything to change your luck…There is no such thing as luck. Just try,try,try,
“A hundred times, try try try…
“That’s our lives.”
I felt the kitchen air clear out. All my sadness, my worries…All my own superstitions. Gone. I could breath, pure oxygen, untainted. I smelled a faint whisp of cinnamon, a tang of lemon merangue, and drifted off to sleep.
Heidi D. Hansenc2013
(goes with the dog/cow/sausage painting)
His name was Art. And I know this story because I rented a room in Farmer Jenkin’s farmhouse one summer. And I got to know Art.
Art was short for Artful Dodger — the child character in “Oliver Twist.” You know, the lead pick-pocket of Fagin’s boys.
Art got his name because he, too, was a famous pickpocket.
Let me back up a bit…
Farmer Jenkins and his wife May ran a dairy farm and knew that the secret to great tasting milk was to keep cows calm and peaceful. Farmer Jenkins never rushed, scolded, or prodded his cows, lest the anxiety hormones would sour the flavor of their milk.
It was Art’s job to bring calm and peace to the herd. Art was a mellow chap, you see, and this came naturally to him. He tended those cows like a mother hen, greeting each one each day with a nose-to-nose tap and wag of his tail. And then he slept by them as they grazed, snoring and stretching in the grasses and laying down a blanket of gentleness over his brood. Letting them know everything’s okay.
Except when it was time for Farmer Jenkin’s lunch.
Every day, out in the field, at 12 o’clock, Farmer Jenkins would put down his tools and tasks and prepare to eat the fabulous sandwich May had prepared for him and wrapped in wax paper.
Her sandwiches were the envy of all the other farmers. She piled them high on a stout bread, using several kinds of meats and cheeses and thick slabs of ripe red tomatoes and tangy red onion.
Farmer Jenkins could only finish half at a time, with a long swig of fresh milk, and would wrap the other half sandwich and put it in the back pocket of his baggy overalls to save for a snack later.
But later never came.
Inevitably, The Artful Dodger would strike. Pick that half sandwhich right out of that pocket while Farmer Jenkins was busy with this or that — and gulp it down in two swallows.
Farmer Jenkins never even knew it was gone until he found the empty wax paper, and then he would smile. It was his job to keep Art calm and at peace, and if half a great sandwich was what it cost, so be it.
The year after that summer I spent there, I got word that Farmer Jenkins had passed. I attended the wake at the farmhouse. I came in through the side door of the tool room, which had always been my habit, because it led right into the kitchen.
On the peg by the tool room door hung Farmer Jenkins baggy overalls.
And in the back pocket was a gorgeous fresh sandwich filled with ham, turkey, several cheeses and ripe red tomato. I smiled. May wasn’t ready to say goodbye to her husband.
When I left later that day, after visiting and comforting and paying my respects, I left through the tool room. And hanging by the door were his overalls, but the pocket was empty. A wax paper wrapping lay on the floor.
I walked out into the pasture and found The Artful Dodger calming his cows.
Some traditions will never die, for the soothing they bring in their constancy and permission.
Heidi D. Hansenc2013
(goes with the mexican food picture)
Toes in soft white sand. Umbrellas blow in a gust of ocean breeze. They are striped with the colors of the meal. Green avocado, red tomatoes, yellow lemon of the dip into which they plunge sand-colored tortilla chips.
Washed down with something cold and sharp, in an iced glass, slice of lime.
She watched the other woman kick the frothy edes of the small waves that washed up the beach. Receeding and pulling a cave of sand out from under her feet. Lilting laughter as she tried to balance on the tiny islands left for her feet to stand on.
Later, her foot would touch the salt-dried toes of the other woman as they sat at the cabana table and watched the ocean play.
She would slice her an avocado, and then they would go inside, inside the Mazatlan of her mind.
Heidi D. Hansenc2013
(Goes with the japanese noodles/fish/Mt. Fuji painting)
When my father climbed Mt. Fuji, Japan, he did not prepare. Full of confidence and self-assurance to match his intelligence, he thought he knew all about the great mountain and could do it in a day.
The night before his hike up Fuji, he feasted on fresh sashimi, soba noodles, stir fried vegetables and washed it down with an ornamental Japanese beer. He slept well.
He started his climb at sunrise, having no breakfast, believeing he was still energized by his meal the night before. He never liked to eat breakfast.
By nightfall, he was still short of the summit, and he was parched, weak from the thinned air and zero calories of the day.
Mt. Fuji is a sacred mountain to the Buddhists, and all along the trail are tiny prayer and meditation huts where a Buddhist Monk presides and will also stamp into your walking stick the wood-burned symbol of that particular hut.
The monks did not provide food to travelors. But they would allow Dad to sleep on the floor of the hut so he could reach the summit in the morning.
As it happened, some other American tourists came along and for a fee, Dad was able to have two of their Hershey bars for his dinner. It was too cold to sleep, so he talked with the Monk.
The monk spoke english and had been to a univeristy in the states as a younger man. The subject turned to the walking stick, emblazonned with the dozens off emblems of the prayer huts up the climb.
The monk revealed to my father that although he had served Mt. Fuji in this capacity for many years, he had never gone past this hut. He had never seen the summit.
He said he had made it a point of his meditations to do so, but could not overcome his fear of height. This was as far up as he was able to go. He pulled out his own personal walking stick, and showed my father it was identical in markings to my dad’s. No emblems gained past this hut.
My father could see and feel his humiliation.
My dad told him, “When I get home, I am giving my walking stick to my daughter, who is ill. Perhaps all the spirits of those who have prayed on this mountain are in this stick now, and will heal her.”
The buddhist monk nodded in understanding, but said nothing.
Just as the sky began to turn a shade lighter with the advancement of morning, my dad began to doze off. But the monk shook him awake.
“We will climb this mountain, together, for the spirit of your daughter. All my fears will turn to prayers for her. Let’s begin our summit climb.”
They both reached the top that day, and both dad and the monk got their walking sticks covered with the complete set of wood-burned symbols of success.
The monk returned to his hut, in humility — not humiliation. His success was service for my dad’s quest.
Today I am well, and dad is gone, and his Mt. Fuji stick stands guard by my front door.
Heidi D. Hansenc2013
(To go with the salad painting)
“Hope is the thing with feathers,” she wrote.
Motion. Color. Grace. Freedom. Identity — I don’t think too many birds question who they are. They know it, and so can fly free.
Science now tells us that hope and joy — two things that are so very un-scientific — are primary factors in healing the body and mind.
How do we know hope and joy when we see it? How can we measure it, contain it, save the leftovers for later?
“The world is open to your imagination,” wrote Mary Oliver.
Consider and focus on living things. Lettuce, a radish, a tomato. Or a gaggle of tomatos evolved into a soup by using other living elements such as heat.
A morphing cloud, a snail wiggling across the sidewalk. Notice the new spider webs that popped up across your front yard walkway during the night. Someone was up and doing their job while you slept.
They know who they are, and so they can go forward every night in hope.
The world goes round. Living things will live, and do their thing.
Eat a salad of many colors. Note the flavors and textures. Living things, full of motion.
Watch out the window for wings bursting out of leaves, and the wake they leave behind for just a moment. That motion is hope, is joy. The salad that lives so we can live, is hope, and it is joy.
Now make that salad big enough for two. And share. Hope, like food, tastes better with company.
Heidi D. Hansenc2013
(to go with the bread painting)
The ladies of the fields were soul-tenders.
Sweaty, dusty, itchy and numb from exhaustion, they did not know it.
These were the wives of men who had taken their own lives and left them to manage the farms or perish themselves.
A rash of male suicides over the last 5 years, when farmers could not reap a harvest robust enough to pay their seed loans.
New seeds, better seeds, they had been promised. Hybrid seeds, will withstand drought and insects and yield a bigger crop. Modified to do so, they said, and cheaper.
In droves, farmers in that impoverished area took out large loans to buy these new, better seeds.
Only, when it came time to sell their crops — wheat, barley, corn, soy, to the flour mills, they were not paid nearly the expected price.
The flour mills already knew that the nutritional value of these new seeds was so low, it would not pass government food standards. So they paid very very little for the harvests.
The men did not make enough to repay their loans. And could not secure future loans. In humiliation, and despair, it came to suicide.
Many, many suicides.
Many, many wives out in the fields, saving what little land they could keep to grow something — anything — flowers, herbs, rye, tea for market — to repay their husband’s debts.
Tending the harvest of the soul, these gutsy women. The soul of feminism, the soul of the land, the soul of their traditions, posterity, their affirmation of life and protecting what they owned. And feminism.
What stronger, more “leaning in” and more tenacious and innovative women are there to speak for what a woman is made of than these ladies of the fields?
Believe it, as you sit down to eat your next loaf of bread, at a table of fresh flowers.
Heidi D. Hansenc2013
(goes with the pastry/desert painting)
There is a park bench in the middle of Norfolk Square. It sits beneath a street lamp and that lamp glows like a halo moon when the fog of London’s morning swirls around it.
Norfolk Square is a little piece of park in the middle of a road. A road still set with cobbles from a bygone era. The two sides of the street that flank Norfolk Square are restored Victorian houses, in rows.
Some are now Bed and Breakfasts, one is a pastry shop. The window of this pastry shop, bursting with its display of delicacies, can be seen from the park bench under the lamplight’s halo.
A man sits there early every morning, reading the Daily and waiting for that pastry shop to open.
Then, he would go inside and peruse the freshest and most colorful, stylish cakes and tarts and puddings and eclairs and fancy cookies and select the one which he thought was the most beautiful.
“Fruity? Chocolate? Nutty?” the hostess would inquire after his tastes.
“No.” he would say, deep in concentration. “Color and artistry.”
And he would make his selection, have it gently boxed, and order a cocoa to go. With whipped cream.
This man did this same routine every day for over a year, while the seasons changed to falling autumn leaves and rain, snow and rain, wildflowers and rain, and dry heat of summer.
Always, the same routine.
This caught the attention of the young delivery boy who, being 12 and curious, one day followed the man. On his bike.
Three blocks down, one block over, he rode quietly and slowly behind the man who walked, over to Hyde Park, where he stopped on a footbridge that spanned a reflecting pool.
He sat the box of pastry down on a certain brick on the bridge. Stood and drank his cocoa, then walked on, leaving behind the pastry box.
Pidgeons and a very loud crow descended on it. So did the delivery boy.
When he removed the box, he saw that the brick was a memorial brick, as were so many others along the bridge and paths, inscribed with namesof loved ones passed on, with epitaths or messages or a verse.
The delivery boy read the name, date, and inscription on the brick below the pastry box.
Then he set the box down just as he had found it, and slowly walked his bike back to the shop.
In his mind, one day, when he was grown, he determined that he would find a love like that.
Heidi D. Hansenc2013