Friday, September 29, 2006

Inside The Box

P Hermé's Emotion IsfahanHave you heard of "thinking outside the box"? Well I'm thinking about inside the box. Imagine you're in a Parisian pâtisserie...
I did these 2 paintings this morning..which do you like best? You've taken hours to make your choice, not to mention the angst you felt just entering the place. You anticipate that moment back at your hotel, gently opening the boite (box).. The chocolate icing still tasted yummy..You open the box et voilà. Your precious pastry is smooshed inside. This is not a happy moment. You've come a long way for this "cupcake". Maybe you even dreamed about it at length. Maybe you showed up first thing Monday morning and found the pâtisserie of your dreams closed.
It happened to me :(
Perfection awaits youThis is why Pierre Hermé is king of Parisian pâtisseries (except for the bit about being closed on Mondays). He's thought it all out and planned for these mini-catastrophes. His pastry box has a specially fitted inner lining so almost NOTHING falls over.

And nothing get's smooshed either in transit. No yummy chocolate icing wasted. And you don't have to make a fool of yourself, licking out the box, even if no one is looking.
Hermé's boxes are a wonderful soft dove grey just like Paris' grey skies.

I want this sac du boitesThe phrase "thinking outside the box" means to "think creatively" or "be original". Pierré Hermé thinks creatively inside the box in every way. And he has something else up his sleeve. A new online collection is coming out soon. Go sign up at his site

Do you think customs will let me bring back Paris' beautiful boxes to show you? Hmmm...

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sienna Pigment Not Siena, the town

the red cliffs of Roussillon in ProvenceThere's much lore about pigments and color. In the French village perché of Roussillon, a man and his wife lived on top of a big cliff. He was fiercely jealous of his beautiful wife, imagining she preferred other men.

Souvenirs of RoussillonFinally in a fit of rage he threw her over the cliff. Her blood ran down and stained the grey rocks a rich deep red ochre. Et voilà we have wonderful pigments coming from Roussillon... It's a place all artists should visit.

Dreaming of Tuscany...I've always loved earth colors. Sienna evokes dreams of Tuscany and was originally mined near the town of Siena, therefore it's name. A natural earth color, it was one of the first pigments used and found in many cave paintings.

Earth colors are always warm colors. Nice to remember. And they go well with all cool colors, the
blues and the greens. So be kind to the earth for giving us such lovely colors.

stacking loaves of raw sienna in the ovenThe old way to make burnt sienna is to take raw sienna rocks, stack them in a big brick oven-like room. Then they are heated/roasted to remove water from the clay till they calcify and change into a red-brown colour.

but where is her paintbox now...It's true I "turned up my nose" at my mother's exotic fruits. But when she let me play with her old paint box - that was a different story. Eventually I came to own that shiny black enamel box. It was my best friend.

7th heavenWhile I was researching watercolor recipes, I made the pilgrimage to Winsor & Newton in Harrow, near London. The front door opens into The Colourmen's Shop, a wonderful facsimilie of a 19th century art supply shop. Glass case upon case of pigment jars, old Victorian paint boxes, brushes and all the painting paraphrenalia artists love = 7th heaven.

You can pay a call at W& N's Colourmen Shop by clicking on
, then HISTORY, and then VIRTUAL MUSEUM. Have fun !

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Pomegranates 101

Pom Still lifeI was surprised to see pomegranates show up so early in my local market this year. Growing up, my mother tempted my sister and I with exotic fruits. Persimmons, litchi nuts, qumquats and pomegranates. We rejected her offerings with distain - tongues sticking out. No way! Afterall I ate Campbell's Clam Chowder for lunch every day religiously. I'm glad I saw Rick Burn's documentary on Andy Warhol last night. I feel slightly better now about all that Campbells soup.Venice is in my kitchenA trip to Venice brought pomegranates back into my life. In October '02 I noticed poms in all the Bologna street markets. I was surprised - it seemed early in the season for pomegranates. Later in Venice , I found boxes of pomegranates in the Rialto market. They were yellowy-red, not the candy-apple red you see in the US and much smaller. Size isn't an issue over there. I bought one to paint back in my room and it sat over my bed for a week. I never got around to painting it. It's picture hangs on my kitchen cabinet as a reminder of Venice.rouge et verte leçonRemember the power of the complimentary colors RED + GREEN and their subliminal effect at Cafe de Flore? Go back and check tout suite if you forgot :) Anyway my local greengrocer on 31st street puts his red pommies next to the green grapes and pears.Pomegranete on my Provençal window sillI found a Moroccan pom in Paris before I headed off to Arts in Provence to paint pink villages. Every morning I would get up and paint that pomegranate sitting on my window sill - more fun than the pink villages.A HEALTH REPORTThis post is a HEALTH REPORT. These days pomegranates are supposed to cure cancer, Alzheimer's, old age and stop terrorism in it's tracks. I can't say about that, but I have another theory and this one I've put into practice. Since my Venice encounter with the pomegranate 4 years ago, I noticed that if I eat them all winter long I don't catch colds or flue. This is the honest truth! EAT THOSE SEEDSAsk my sneezing, sniffling co-workers or any NYC strap-hangers I encountered last year. For whatever reason pomegranates do protect against winter cold germs. But soon as I stop eating the magic seeds my protection is lost. Last year I went to Chinatown and loaded up. I put the seeds in freezer bags - almost as an experiment. But hey it worked! Just a few tablespoons of seeds a day will do. AND DON'T CHEW! It's 4 years I've been on this regime. BTW I just eat the seeds plain. No fancy stuff. Drinking the juice doesn't work for me. It was years before I tried my mother's pomegranates, but now every winter morning I eat them religiously. The Campbell's Clam Chowder is long gone from my menu. Thanks Mom 

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

My Bologna

città rossa Most travelers en route from Venice/Milano to Firenze Santa Maria Novella station never get off the train at Bologna. That's one good reason right there to visit the 'red city' città rossa.
37 kilometers (almost 23 miles) of arcades to walk through - another reason. The Museo Morandi is the best reason.If you turn some Morandis upside down you'll see classic arcade shapes in the negative areas around the objects. Bologna's neutralized ochres, burnt siennas and raw siennas gave Morandi his palette too. 
"It takes me weeks to make up my mind which group of bottles will go well with a particular coloured tablecloth. Then it takes me weeks of thinking about the bottles themselves, and yet often I still go wrong with the spaces. Perhaps I work too fast?"

a window into Morandi My friend, Maryann, has a "Morandi" sitting on her window sill and she didn't go to Bologna to get it...just to the flea market for wooden dowels. The postcard size calendar on the right is best souvenir I got in Bologna - photos of Morandi's still life objects. Morandi's objects, the flower vases, bottles, jars, pitchers are sitting on pedestals in the gallery, like guests of honor, among the paintings. Many are painted flat white or greyish to destroy all reflections. He often painted the same setups over and over, just stepping a few centimeters to the right or left. The calendar page shows Morandi's paint-glutted palette and the closeup shows you how lush his tranquille still lifes are. Every brush mark is visible.

The museum has a "study room" , a reconstruction of his studio. It's full of 100s of his objects plus his narrow camp bed. Morandi rarely left the house. He painted his landscapes looking through binoculars from his window... Gelateria Gianni is another good reason to visit Bologna. Chef Mario Battali trained with Gianni, and his cookbook hangs on the wall over the long case of 20 - 40 delicious flavors. And don't miss salsamenteria Tamburini at lunch time.
Did I convinced you to get off the train at Bologna?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Guest Artists

Anyone else change their desktop wallpaper 6x a day? I invited some guest artists into the pigment shop this week. A friend told me about Duane Keiser's Painting-A-Day blog. WOW!The master creator of P.A.D.s, Duane Keiser made it with his perfect slice of cucumber. That cucumber got us all thinking. Hmmm...a painting a day. I jumped into the blog pool and then pushed Luis in. Other guest artists have dropped by the shop. This week Peter Yesis told a funny story of his venture into the great outdoors, pleine aire painting. I couldn't resist putting his landscape setup on the desktop. Luis likes drama, entrails and Carravaggio paintings. I find them too dark, and when he's not looking I'll switch them. On Saturdays I'm in the shop alone, so I go to town. With all the Painting-A-Day blogs out there, the options are huge. Paul Hutchinson paints gutsy oils on the other side of the globe on the North Island, New Zealand. He told me his island is so small they only have cows, no sheep. I live on the island of Manna-hatta and have not seen a single cow or sheep outside the Children's Zoo... R. Chunn spent the last 4 years traveling around Latin America. His Morandi-like still lifes are brilliantly colored.He quotes Lucian Freud, "I paint the way I can, not the way I want to". Yesterday, I was trying to clean up the floor - why do I mistake any flat surface for a shelf? I came across an artist's web address from 2001. With Google's help I found Tom Wood, a British artist who now lives in Hong Kong.Do drop in on these artists:

Friday, September 22, 2006

Wine Tasting 102

There's just no way, when you're setting up a wine still life to substitute Crimson red paint for the gorgeous transparency of a glass of red. You've got to use the "real" thing. I had plenty of the "real" thing yesterday at the Great Match Spanish Wine & Tapas tasting. The room was huge, offering 300 wines to taste from 64 dominions of origin. I decided to focus on the Riojas, Spain's flagship wine. There are 3 levels of Rioja. You'll start off with: The CRIANZA - lesser in price and younger, released after 2 years of aging. Next the RESERVA- costing more and aged 3 years. Finally the GRAN RESERVA - the top of the line and most expensive and aged 5-7 years. There's more to learn about these wines and it's preferable NOT to read your clip notes on the subway en route to the tasting...

Other prep you can do before a tasting, is walking around the house holding a glass of red, a notepad + pen + a plate of snacks, while chatting. Multi-tasking is required skill at any tasting. Along with carrying around stuff, are the activities of swirling, "nosing and chewing the wine," tasting and commenting. So it can be quite intimidating if you haven't prepped ahead. Remember not to wear a white shirt and leave your perfume at home. I would give just about anything for this red and black Osborne "toro" T-shirt...Hmmm, wonder if they would like a nice watercolor..? I got to taste these little red gazpacho soups. Did you know the secret of good traditional gazpacho is to add some stale, dry bread, soaked in a basic vinaigrette? Throw it into the blender with the rest of the ingredients and you'll end up with a much creamier texture and a more authentic Spanish gazpacho. On a color note, Red + Black seem to be Spain's national colors. The flag is Red and Yellow with a touch of Black. The bullfight is full of Red + Black: Matadors, the bull, the red cape. Then there are flamenco dancers and gazpacho. And finally the Rioja red wines in their Black bottles.

Rioja is less than 5 hours from Bordeaux and quite a few French winemakers brought their expertise to Spain when phylloxera bug attacked their French vineyards in the 1800's. So it's no wonder Riojas have a "Bordeaux style" to them. Oh and don't be disappointed it you just get a slug of wine to taste. 1 1/2 tablespoons is average. And don't forget to spit and drink plenty of water in between tastes. This time I remembered :)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Chocolat et Thé

Tea I was walking along rue de Rennes, looking for a hairdresser, when par hasard/by chance I found instead tiny Duo Trio, 88, rue de Rennes 75006. The ultimate chocolat et thé shop...

Tea Their l'ardoise/blackboard sitting out in the street stopped me in my tracks. I love to check out the écriture française. This one was titled Mariage Frères? Ah, they are allowed to carry Mariage Frères thés.

TeaIn the vitrine/window - Mariage Fréres tablettes de chocolat. Who knew they made chocolate? And so chic in their black wrappers. And what a beautiful red Tetsubin. I saw Japanese iron teapots all over Paris in May.

TeaAnother petite magasin filled with treasures. On your left sit tall red tea tins in a beautiful comptoir de magasin /display case. I asked the vendeuse/saleswoman how long they'd been there, thinking it was years and years. Just 1 year she told me!

Tea In the case are what I call the "sniffing jars". Do tell if you know the correct name. You help yourself and open as many as you want, till you find your dream tea. Just don't mix up those lids.

The vendeuse will weigh out your choice into a small tin or packet. TeaSo how come it's perfectly normal in France to take thé with your chocolats? Milk + cookies and apple pie + vanilla ice cream are a given combo in the US. But drinking tea with chocolates? Never heard of it. 
Chocolate connoisseur,Chloe Doutre-Roussel filled me in. Thé is a gourmet's drink in Europe and has been for 5-10 years now. More and more gourmets are choosing tea over coffee. We're talking really good teas, not flavored teas.

The tea connoisseur will seek out the subtilities of the greens, the oolongs, the oxydated (fermented) teas. French chocolatiers secretly agree coffee kills chocolate as does alcohol. Even though they may display alcohol-filled chocolates, well they sell easily.

But coffee bean aromas are too strong for chocolate. No way will you find coffee beans in a chocolate shop. The delicate aromas of tea do not interfere with chocolate. Et voilà. Americans are just getting into fine dark single origin chocolate bars and fine teas are becoming more prevalent, so perhaps it's just a matter of time.

TeaThé et chocolat is waiting for you in Paris. I hope we won't have to wait too long till we can find this wonderful combination stateside. Meantime I'd like to be one of these théieres/teapots sitting in a chocolate shop gazing out at rue de Rennes.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Denise Acabo

I bought this cabosse (cocoa pod) at the New York Chocolate Show last November. It looked different then. Brilliantly colored and much bigger than the dried up, dark bean you see here. I was told it would not stay colorful, but would rot quickly.

The best way to keep a cocoa pod, is to put it in a very low oven for at least 24 hours. Over time mine has shrunk even smaller and if I shake it, I can hear the fêve de cacao (beans) jumping around inside. Now I can join a Samba percussion group and shake my rattle. YAY
Back in the Paris confiserie of all confiseries (candy stores). The chocolate mecca for amateurs of France's meilleure (best) chocolat is the tiny shop, Denise Acabo in the 9th ème, on 30, rue Fontaine. I'd never seen copper chocolatières (chocolate pots) like these in the window -- maybe from Africa? The cabosses here are faux, made of plastic.But these bouchées au chocolat are definitely REAL. Bouchée means filled chocolate in a big version. The French sometimes skip lunch and have one entier bouchée instead. And if you have a big mouth, you can eat it in one bite, vous en faites une seule bouchée.
Some French people prefer to eat many small chocolates to one big one - more variety, unless it's a Rocher or good plain dark ganache. Once you bite into a big bouchée, you have to finish it, as the filling dries out. But with small bonbons chocolats, the outer coating prevents the interior from drying. No other country does bouchées au chocolat. They feel guilty when it comes to eating chocolate.." Hmmm..
Every Paris chocolaterie offers a variety of these bouchées au chocolat. I like them because you can buy just one in a fancy shop and not break the bank... Buying the best French chocolat is a heck of alot more economical than buying French couture. Merci, Dieu! Denise Acabo's shop, l'Etoile d'Or (the golden star), is famed for carrying French chocolate brands you can't find anywhere else in Paris. Le grand maître de Lyon, Bernachon in particular + Le Roux, Dufoux, Bonnat, Boyer, Fabrice Gillotte (not a relative, malheureusement ) and others. Her tiny shop is a delight and an adventure! Denise herself is pretty unique in Paris. Outfitted in navy blue Anglaise schoolgirl uniform with jupe Écossaise (Scottish plaid skirt) and nattes rouge (red braids), her passion for chocolate fills the shop. Let her help you choose from 30 different tablettes (bars of chocolate).
Here Denise is showing me her special 19th century-style wrapping paper, le papier d'Epinal, full of visual jokes. When you turn it upside down the images tell a different joke. Of course I saved this piece of paper, but could I find it yesterday? No! must be in my closet somewhere...
And why is it when you get a chance to take a picture of someone or something you rever, you get the camera shakes? If you'd like to own some cocoa pods vicariously, you can always treat yourself to a chocolate tree in Ecuador and help save the Rainforest.