Jun 152018
 

Today is the birthday (1914) of Saul Steinberg, a Romanian-born, U.S. artist, cartoonist and illustrator, best known for his work for The New Yorker, most notably “View of the World from 9th Avenue.” He described himself as “a writer who draws.” Steinberg was born in Râmnicu Sărat in Romania. In 1932, he entered the University of Bucharest and in 1933, he enrolled at the Politecnico di Milano to study architecture. He received his degree in 1940. In 1936, he began contributing cartoons to the humor newspaper Bertoldo. Two years later, the anti-Semitic racial laws promulgated by the Fascist government forced him to start seeking refuge in another country.

In 1941, Steinberg went the Dominican Republic, where he spent a year awaiting a US visa. By then, his drawings had appeared in several US periodicals. His first contribution to The New Yorker was published in October 1941. Steinberg arrived in New York City in July 1942; within a few months he received a commission in the US Naval Reserve and was then seconded to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). He worked for the Morale Operations division in China, North Africa, and Italy.

After World War II, Steinberg continued to publish drawings in The New Yorker and other periodicals, including Fortune, Vogue, Mademoiselle, and Harper’s Bazaar. At the same time, he embarked on an exhibition career in galleries and museums. In 1946, he was included in the critically acclaimed “Fourteen Americans” show at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, exhibiting along with Arshile Gorky, Isamu Noguchi, and Robert Motherwell, among others. Steinberg went on to have more than 80 one-artist shows in galleries and museums throughout the US, Europe, and South America. He was affiliated with the Betty Parsons and Sidney Janis galleries in New York and the Galerie Maeght in Paris. A dozen museums and institutions have in-depth collections of his work, and examples are included in the holdings of more than eighty other public collections.

Steinberg’s long, multifaceted career encompassed works in many media and appeared in different contexts. In addition to magazine publications and gallery art, he produced advertising art, photoworks, textiles, stage sets, and murals. Given this many-leveled output, his work is difficult to position within the canons of postwar art history. He himself defined the problem: “I don’t quite belong to the art, cartoon or magazine world, so the art world doesn’t quite know where to place me.”

“View of the World from 9th Avenue” is instantly recognizable to millions, and can be interpreted in numerous ways. On a specific level you can see it as how self-absorbed and self -centered West Side New Yorkers are. Looking west from 9th avenue things up close are in clear detail, but then once you hit the Hudson, it gets vague. “Jersey” is a little brown strip that lies across the Hudson, key towns in the US, such as Chicago and Las Vegas, are dotted around the rest of the US, which is the size of a city block (as are Canada to the north and Mexico to the south), and somewhere vaguely across the Pacific Ocean (which is only slightly wider than the Hudson) are China, Japan, and Russia.  Certainly, West Siders are this self-absorbed, and Steinberg’s point is well taken. What needs to be remembered is that Steinberg’s understanding of people is perfectly generalizable. Just about everyone the world over, sees “the rest of the world” through the same lenses. This point can be illustrated (literally and figuratively), by his many imitators.

 

Steinberg sued the producers of Moscow on the Hudson for plagiarizing his work for the movie’s poster. It’s probably true that they were unaware that the work was copyrighted. By the time the movie was produced the work had filtered into popular consciousness – which, as an artist he should have taken as a compliment (although I am fully sympathetic with the need for artist’s to maintain copyrights).

We also need to remember that Steinberg did a mountain of other works, which are much less well known, but arresting in different ways. Here’s a small gallery:

I’ll go with a Romanian dish to celebrate Steinberg. Here’s drob de miel, a dish that is traditional at Easter in parts of Romania that resembles haggis in some ways, meat loaf in others. Its main ingredients are lamb’s entrails (same as haggis), which nowadays can be really hard to get in many countries. Livers and kidneys are not all that difficult to procure but heart and lungs will be more of a problem. It differs from haggis in numerous ways: it is baked, not boiled, it is wrapped in caul, not the sheep’s stomach, and the filler is bread, not oats. Also it has boiled eggs in the center.

Drob de Miel

Ingredients

500 gm/ 1 lb lamb’s offal
2 boiled eggs
2 raw eggs
1 slice of bread, dipped in milk
1 bunch spring onions, chopped fine
1 bunch parsley, chopped fine
1 bunch dill, chopped fine
1 tbsp sour cream
salt and pepper
1 lamb’s caul
vegetable oil for greasing

Instructions

Simmer the offal in a large saucepan with plenty of water, skimming the scum that rises periodically. Drain the entrails, and when cool grind them using a mincer or food processor along with the slice of bread. Put the ground meat in a large mixing bowl and add the raw eggs, sour cream, and salt and pepper to taste. Also add the dill, parsley and spring onion. Mix all the ingredients well with a wooden spoon.

Grease a loaf pan well. Thoroughly wash the lamb’s caul and lay it over the pan so that it lines it, and the edges lap evenly over the sides. Spoon in half the ground offal mix and spread it evenly. Place the boiled eggs in the middle, and spoon the rest of the mix over the top. Even it out, and pull the caul over the top so that the meat is in a tight package.

Bake at 190˚C/375˚F for 35 minutes. Let cool slightly in the tin on a wire rack, and then turn the drob out on a serving platter. Serve, cut into slices.

Mar 132018
 

Today is the birthday (1900) of Andrée Bosquet, a Belgian painter who is not especially well known to the general public for a variety of reasons, not least being that art historians have a hard job classifying her work. Bosquet was born in Tournai (Doornik in Dutch), in the province of Hainaut, now part of the Lille-Kortrijk-Tournai metropolitan area.

Bosquet took painting lessons with Marguerite Putsage, Anto Carte, and E. Motte, but she was primarily self-taught. She exhibited regularly from 1922 onwards, invited in particular by the Groupe Nervia and Le Bon Vouloir (Mons). She was awarded the Charles Caty Prize in 1963.

Bosquet used primarily oil, red chalk and charcoal, painting and drawing with simplicity and delicacy. Her subjects included multiple self-portraits, children, still life, and waterscapes. She used soft colors in half-tints mainly. Her style cannot be connected with any school defined by art history, although it is sometimes likened to Primitivist or Symbolist works. Her work are exhibited in various Belgian museums in Ghent, Brussels, Mons, and La Louvière.

She died in La Louvière on June 27, 1980. Here is my gallery of selected works:

For Bosquet I have chosen a dish that you can think of as having a distinctive Walloon style. Like Bosquet’s art, it is both simple and profound. The trick is that it is made from classic ingredients from Wallonia: Herve cheese and sirop de Liège. Rotsa ruck finding them outside of Belgium. Herve cheese is a strongly flavored, rind washed soft cheese made from cow’s milk. The aging process takes place in ripening cellars of the Herve countryside, sometimes cut into its chalky rock. Sirop de Liège is made by boiling apple or pear juices for hours until they are reduced to a syrup, somewhat like apple butter only not as firm.

Toast thick slices of crusty bread. Spread them with sirop de Liège, and top this with a layer of Herve cheese. Place the slices on a baking sheet and bake in a very hot oven for a few minutes until the cheese melts. Serve hot straight from the oven.

Sep 162017
 

Today is the birthday (1886) of Jean or Hans Arp, an Alsation (French-German) sculptor, painter, poet, and abstract artist who worked in a variety of media including torn and pasted paper. When Arp spoke in German he referred to himself as “Hans” and when he spoke in French he referred to himself as “Jean.” Arp was born in Strasbourg, the son of a French mother and a German father, during the period following the Franco-Prussian War when the area was known as Alsace-Lorraine (Elsass-Lothringen in German) after France had ceded it to Germany in 1871. Following the return of Alsace to France at the end of World War I, French law required that his name become Jean.

In 1904, after leaving the École des Arts et Métiers in Strasbourg, he went to Paris where he published his poetry for the first time. From 1905 to 1907, Arp studied at the Kunstschule in Weimar, Germany, and in 1908 went back to Paris, where he attended the Académie Julian. Arp was a founder-member of the Moderne Bund in Lucerne, participating in their exhibitions from 1911 to 1913.

In 1912, he went to Munich, called on Wassily Kandinsky, the influential Russian painter and art theorist, was encouraged by him in his researches and exhibited with the Der Blaue Reiter group. Later that year, he took part in a major exhibition in Zürich, along with Henri Matisse, Robert Delaunay and Kandinsky. In Berlin in 1913, he was taken up by Herwarth Walden, the dealer and magazine editor who was at that time one of the most powerful figures in the European avant-garde.

In 1915, he moved to Switzerland to take advantage of Swiss neutrality. Arp later told the story of how, when he was notified to report to the German consulate, he avoided being drafted into the German Army: he took the paperwork he had been given and, in the first blank, wrote the date. He then wrote the date in every other space as well, then drew a line beneath them and carefully added them up. He then took off all his clothes and went to hand in his paperwork. I’d be inclined to argue that Dada was born at that moment !!

Arp was a founding member of the Dada movement in Zürich in 1916. In 1920, as Hans Arp, along with Max Ernst and the social activist Alfred Grünwald, he set up the Cologne Dada group. However, in 1925, his work also appeared in the first exhibition of the surrealist group at the Galérie Pierre in Paris.

In 1926, Arp moved to the Paris suburb of Meudon. In 1931, he broke with the Surrealist movement to found Abstraction-Création, working with the Paris-based group Abstraction-Création and the periodical, Transition. Beginning in the 1930s, the artist expanded his efforts from collage and bas-relief to include bronze and stone sculptures. He produced several small works made of multiple elements that the viewer could pick up, separate, and rearrange into new configurations.

Throughout the 1930s and until the end of his life, he wrote and published essays and poetry. In 1942, he fled from his home in Meudon to escape German occupation and lived in Zürich until the war ended. Arp visited New York City in 1949 for a solo exhibition at the Buchholz Gallery. In 1950, he was invited to execute a relief for the Harvard University Graduate Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts and was also commissioned to do a mural at the UNESCO building in Paris.

Here’s your gallery:

Arp died in 1966, in Basel.

Baeckeoffe (“baker’s oven”) is a classic dish from the French region of Alsace where Arp was born. Baeckeoffe is actually from the Alsatian dialect of German. The dish is a mix of sliced potatoes, sliced onions, cubed mutton, beef, and pork which have been marinated overnight in Alsatian white wine and juniper berries and slow-cooked in a sealed ceramic casserole dish. Leeks, thyme, parsley, garlic, carrots and marjoram are other commonly added ingredients for flavor and color.

There are several stories concerning the origin of the dish based on the name.  I suspect that they are all rubbish.  Let’s, first of all, talk about bakers’ ovens. Until the 20th century the average-to-poor household in various European countries, including England, did not have an oven. If you wanted to roast something, you took it to the baker’s. There’s a famous scene in Dickens’ Christmas Carol about people on Christmas Day going to the baker’s to get their dinner roasts. Bakers had very large ovens lined with fire brick.  They lit a roaring fire in them, got the bricks red hot, then raked out the fire and started the baking process. Over the course of the day the oven cooled, and so it was a rare art to be able to shift items around in the oven and be sure they all cooked correctly as the oven cooled.

One story claims that Baekeoffe was inspired by Hamin, an Ashkenazi traditional dish for Shabbat. Because of the spiritual prohibition against cooking from Friday night to Saturday night, the Jews had to prepare food for Saturday on Friday afternoon, and then would give the dish to the baker, who would keep it warm in his oven until Saturday noon.

A second story claims that traditionally Lutheran households would prepare Baeckeoffe on Saturday evening and leave it with the baker to cook in his gradually cooling oven on Sunday while they attended the lengthy – many hours – Lutheran church services which were more typical in the 19th century than now. The baker would take a “rope” of dough and line the rim of a large, heavy ceramic casserole, then place the lid upon it for an extremely tight seal. This kept the moisture in the container. On the way back from church, the women would pick up their casserole and a loaf of bread. This provided a meal to the Alsatians that respected the strict Lutheran rules of their Sabbath. Part of the ritual of serving the dish is breaking the crust formed by the rope of dough.

The third version of the story of the origin of this dish is that women in France would do laundry on Mondays and thus not have time to cook. They would drop the pots off at the baker on Monday morning and do the laundry. When the children returned home from school they would then pick up the pot at the baker and carry it home with them. This version of the story is favored by a number of food historians, but I think they are all hokum.

Baeckeoffe

Ingredients

2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
2 small leeks, white and pale green parts, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
2 or 3 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp whole juniper berries
1 ½ tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
3 tbsp finely chopped fresh flatleaf parsley
3 cups (one 750 ml bottle) dry white wine, such as an Alsatian pinot gris, plus more, if needed, for the pot
1 lb boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 1¼-inch chunks
1 lb boneless pork butt, trimmed and cut into 1¼-inch chunks
1 lb boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1¼ inch cubes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 lb Russet potatoes, peeled and sliced

Instructions

In a large bowl or very large plastic bag with a secure seal, mix together the onions, leeks, carrot, garlic, bay leaves, juniper berries, thyme, parsley, wine, beef, pork, lamb, and salt, and pepper to taste. Mix well, seal, and refrigerate for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours. Mix the meats and marinade occasionally. If they are in a bag, squeeze out the air before sealing and just turn it over once or twice.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350°F. Smear the olive oil all over the bottom of a 6- or 8-quart Dutch oven.

Cover the bottom of the pot with half of the potatoes. Strain the solids and meat from the marinade, reserving both separately. Spread the meats and vegetables on top of the potatoes and then top with the remaining potatoes. Carefully pour the reserved marinade over the potatoes. If the liquid does not cover the top of the potatoes, add more wine or water until they are just covered.

Cover the pot and bring the stew to a gentle simmer on top of the stove. Place the pot in the oven and bake until the meats are very tender, about 3 ½ hours. Serve, directly from the casserole, in warm, generously sized soup plates. Serve with crusty bread.

Serves 10 generously.

 

Jul 282017
 

Today is the birthday (1902) of Albert Namatjira (born Elea Namatjira), a Western Arrernte-speaking Aboriginal artist from the MacDonnell Ranges in Central Australia, who was, without question, the most famous indigenous Australian of his generation, although then and now his name is probably little known outside Australia. His was a household name was I was a boy in South Australia in the 1950s and 1960s.

Namatjira was born and raised at the Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission outside Alice Springs and showed interest in art from an early age. It was not until he was 32, however, when he met Australian landscape artist Rex Battarbee, whose work was displayed at the Mission, that he began to paint seriously in Western style under Battarbee’s guidance. Namatjira’s watercolors of the outback gained popularity with Euro-Australians, perhaps because they were more easily assimilated into popular Western conceptions of art than traditional Aboriginal designs, and reproductions of his works hung in many homes throughout Australia. His success was a two-edged sword in so many ways. At the time, Northern Territory Aboriginal Australians were wards of State without the right to own property, vote, or buy alcohol. Namatjira was seen as a “success” story of assimilation into majority White culture, and towards the end of his life in 1957, he became the first Northern Territory Aboriginal Australian to be granted restricted Australian citizenship.

Namatjira’s family were traditional Aranda (Arunta), but they converted to Christianity, upon which they baptized their son and changed his name from Elea to Albert. After a Western-style schooling at the Mission, Namatjira, at the age of 13, went into the bush for initiation and was exposed to traditional culture as a member of the Arrernte community (in which he was to eventually become an elder). After he returned to the Mission, he married his wife Rubina at the age of 18. His wife, like his father’s wife, was outside the classificatory kinship system into which Namatjira should have married traditionally, and so he was ostracized by his clan for several years, during which he worked as a camel driver and saw much of Central Australia, which he was later to depict in his paintings.

Namatjira was introduced to Western-style painting of the outback via an exhibition at his Mission in 1934 by Battarbee and John Gardner, both landscape painters from Melbourne who were touring Central Australia in a Model-T Ford converted to a camper. Battarbee, returned to the area in the winter of 1936 to paint the landscape and Namatjira acted as a guide to show him local scenic areas. In return Battarbee taught Namatjira how to paint with watercolors.

Namatjira began painting in his own style which quickly became recognizable as distinctive. His landscapes normally highlighted both the rugged geological features of the land in the background, and the Australian flora in the foreground with very old, stately and majestic white gum trees surrounded by twisted scrub. His work had a high quality of illumination showing the gashes of the land and the twists in the trees. His colors were similar to the ochres that his ancestral kin had used to depict the same landscape, but his style was squarely within the norms of Western art aesthetics. Almost from the start his art was appreciated popularly in Australia, but always had a mixed reception from the art critics. These were the days when the Western modern art world was (ironically) more attracted to “primitive” or indigenous art styles and classic watercolor landscapes were out of vogue.

In 1938 Namatjira held his first exhibition in Melbourne, and subsequent exhibitions in Sydney and Adelaide quickly sold out. For the next ten years Namatjira painted ceaselessly, his works continuing to sell quickly, and his popularity continuing to rise. Queen Elizabeth II became one of his more notable fans and he was awarded the Queen’s Coronation Medal in 1953 and met her in Canberra in 1954. Not only did his own art become widely recognized, but a painting of him by William Dargie won the Archibald Prize in 1956. Apart from becoming popular and critically acclaimed, he also earned a lot of money.

Due to his financial success, Namatjira became the subject of “humbugging” among his kin – a ritualized form of begging (associated with the nomadic, forager lifeways of the indigenous peoples). Arrernte are expected to share everything they own, and as Namatjira’s income grew, so did his extended family. At one time he was singlehandedly providing for over 600 people.To ease the burden on his strained resources, Namatjira sought to lease a cattle station to benefit his extended family. He was originally granted the lease but it was subsequently rejected because the land was part of a returned servicemen’s ballot, and also because he had no ancestral claim on the property. He then tried to build a house in Alice Springs, but was cheated in his land dealings. The land he was sold was on a flood plain and was unsuitable for building. The Minister for Territories, Paul Hasluck, offered him free land in a reserve on the outskirts of Alice Springs, but this was also rejected, and Namatjira and his family took up residence in a shanty at Morris Soak—a dry creek bed some distance from Alice Springs. Despite the fact that he was held as one of Australia’s greatest artists, Namatjira was living in poverty. His plight became a media cause célèbre, resulting in a wave of public outrage.

In 1957 the government exempted Namatjira and his wife from the restrictive legislation that applied to Australian Aborigines in the Northern Territory. This entitled them to vote, own land, build a house and buy alcohol. Although Albert and Rubina were legally allowed to drink alcohol, his Aboriginal family and friends were not. When an Aboriginal woman, Fay Iowa, was killed at Morris Soak, Namatjira was held responsible by Jim Lemaire, the Stipendiary Magistrate, for bringing alcohol into the camp. He was reprimanded at the coronial inquest. Namatjira was charged with leaving a bottle of rum in a place, (on a car seat), where a clan brother and fellow Hermannsburg artist Henoch Raberaba, could get access to it. Namatjira was sentenced to six months in prison for supplying an Aboriginal with liquor. After a public uproar, Hasluck intervened and the sentence was served at Papunya Native Reserve. He was released after serving only two months for medical and humanitarian reasons.

After his incarceration, Namatjira continued to live with Rubina in a cottage at Papunya, where he suffered a heart attack. There is some evidence that Namatjira believed that he had had the bone pointed at him by a member of Fay Iowa’s family (a ritualized curse and death sentence). After being transferred to Alice Springs hospital he died of heart disease complicated by pneumonia on 8 August 1959.

Here’s a sample album:

 

 

Wallaby stew is noted in songs and poems of the Australian bush. As is fitting for today’s anniversary, the dish is a meeting of indigenous Australian and European cooking methods. Wallaby shanks are common for the dish and can be treated much like lamb shanks. Outside of Australia you may have a hard go of it finding the meat.

Wallaby Stew

Ingredients

4 wallaby shanks
plain flour, for dusting
extra virgin olive oil
4 large carrots, peeled and coarsely diced
4 celery sticks, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 onions, peeled and quartered
2 cups red wine
2 pints beef stock
2 tbspn tomato paste
4 sprigs fresh thyme
salt and pepper

Instructions

Dredge the shanks in flour and brown over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed pan.

Add the vegetables, thyme, and stock, and bring to a gentle simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper (or pepperleaf if you can find it). Cover and simmer gently for at least 2 hours, or until the meat is very tender.

If need be, remove the meat and vegetables and keep them warm whilst you reduce the sauce.

Serve hot with the meat and vegetables covered with sauce.

Serves 4

Aug 302016
 

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Today is the birthday (1907) Leonor Fini, Argentine surrealist painter, designer, illustrator, and author, known for her depictions of powerful women. In English she is sometimes called “The Forgotten Bohemian.” She is not forgotten in Argentina.

Fini was born in Buenos Aires, to an Italian mother and Argentine father (of Italian descent). Her parents divorced when she was very young and her mother moved back to Italy.  She was raised in Trieste, her mother’s home city. Custody battles often involved Fini and her mother in sudden flights and disguises. She moved to Milan at the age of 17, and then to Paris, in either 1931 or 1932. There, she became acquainted with Carlo Carrà and Giorgio de Chirico, who inspired much of her work. She also came to know Paul Éluard, Max Ernst, Georges Bataille, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pablo Picasso, André Pieyre de Mandiargues, and Salvador Dalí. She traveled Europe by car with Mandiargues and Cartier-Bresson where she was photographed nude in a swimming pool by Cartier-Bresson. The photograph of Fini sold in 2007 for $305,000 – the highest price paid at auction for one of his works to that date.

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Fini had no formal artistic training. Her first major exhibition was in 1939 in New York at Julian Levy’s Gallery. She was considered part of a pre-war generation of Parisian artists, and outlived most of her artist peers. Surrealist artists in France became very interested in her once she began setting herself up as an artist, and came to know her as important in the movement. She is mentioned in most comprehensive works about surrealism, although some leave her out (she did not consider herself to be a surrealist). In 1949 Frederick Ashton choreographed a ballet conceptualized by Fini, “Le Rêve de Leonor” (“Leonor’s Dream”) with music by Benjamin Britten. In London, she exhibited at the Kaplan gallery in 1960 and at the Hanover Gallery in 1967. In the summer of 1986 there was a retrospective at the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris that drew in more than 5,000 people a day. It featured over 260 works in a variety of media. As a tribute to the many artistic and creative avenues that her career took throughout her lifetime, there were 100+ watercolors and drawings, around 80 theater/costume designs, and about 70 paintings, 5 masks, etc. Many of her paintings featured women in positions of power; an example of this is the painting La Bout du Monde where a female figure is submerged in water up to her breasts with human and animal skulls surrounding her. Madonna used the imagery in her video, “Bedtime Story” in 2006. In the spring of 1987 she had an exhibition at London’s Editions Graphique’s gallery. Fini was also featured in an exhibition entitled “Women, Surrealism, and Self-representation” at the San Francisco Modern Museum of Art in 1999.

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She painted portraits of Jean Genet, Anna Magnani, Jacques Audiberti, Alida Valli, Jean Schlumberger (jewelry designer) and Suzanne Flon as well as many other celebrities and wealthy visitors to Paris. While working for Elsa Schiaparelli she designed the flacon for the perfume, “Shocking”, which became the top selling perfume for the House of Schiaparelli.

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She designed costumes and decorations for theater, ballet and opera, including the first ballet performed by Roland Petit’s Ballet de Paris, “Les Demoiselles de la nuit”, featuring a young Margot Fonteyn. This was a payment of gratitude for Fini’s having been instrumental in finding the funding for the new ballet company. She also designed the costumes for two films, Renato Castellani’s Romeo and Juliet (1954) and John Huston’s A Walk with Love and Death (1968), which starred 18-year-old Anjelica Huston and Moshe Dayan’s son, Assaf.

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In the 1970s, she wrote three novels, Rogomelec, Moumour, Contes pour enfants velu and Oneiropompe. Her friends included Jean Cocteau, Giorgio de Chirico, and Alberto Moravia, Fabrizio Clerici and most of the other artists and writers living in or visiting Paris. She illustrated many works by the great authors and poets, including Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire, and Shakespeare, as well as texts by new writers. She was very generous with her illustrations and donated many drawings to writers to help them get published. She is, perhaps, best known for her graphic illustrations for Histoire d’O.

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Fini once said:

Marriage never appealed to me, I’ve never lived with one person. Since I was 18, I’ve always preferred to live in a sort of community – A big house with my atelier and cats and friends, one with a man who was rather a lover and another who was rather a friend. And it has always worked.

She was, however, married once, for a brief period, to Fedrico Veneziani. They were divorced after she met the Italian Count, Stanislao Lepri, who abandoned his diplomatic career shortly after meeting Fini and lived with her thereafter. She met the Polish writer Konstanty Jeleński, known as Kot in Rome in January 1952. She was delighted to discover that he was the illegitimate half-brother of Sforzino Sforza, who had been one of her lovers. Kot joined Fini and Lepri in their Paris apartment in October 1952 and the three remained inseparable until their deaths. She later employed an assistant to join the household, which he described as “a little bit of prison and a lot of theatre.” One of his jobs was to look after her Persian cats. Over the years she acquired about 23 of them. They shared her bed and, at mealtimes, were allowed to roam the dining-table selecting what they wanted to eat.

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Fini died in her apartment in Paris in 1996. By that time her star had fallen, largely because the French art world has always been deeply misogynistic. Dali described her work as “Better than most, perhaps. But talent is in the balls.” If you want a good tour of her art and life, go here: http://www.messynessychic.com/2015/06/09/the-forgotten-bohemian-queen-of-the-paris-art-world-leonor-fini/

I have spoken many times of the huge influence that Italian immigrants have had on Argentine culture and cuisine. It’s maybe a bit of a stretch to think of Fini as an Italian Argentine given that she spent almost all of her life in Europe. Many people think of me the same way. Like Fini, I was born in Buenos Aires, but have spent most of my life in other countries. The thing is that when I returned, many decades later, I knew I was HOME. So I’ll give a recipe for a very common Argentine dish of Italian descent – fainá – a skillet-baked flatbread made with chickpea flour. Fainá can be eaten as a side dish, with toppings, or on top of pizza. Argentinos have no trouble overdoing things.

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Fainá

Ingredients

1½ cups chickpea flour
2 cups warm water
5 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Instructions

Combine the chickpea flour and water in a bowl and stir well until thoroughly mixed. Set aside covered at room temperature for at least 2 hours. Foam will form on the top. Skim off the foam and whisk in 3 tablespoons of olive oil and salt to taste.

Preheat the oven to 500°F/260°C.

Heat a 10 inch cast-iron skillet over high heat until it is smoking hot. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and swirl it around over the heat to cover the surfaces of the skillet.

Pour in the chickpea batter in one go, and immediately place the skillet in the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes. It should be golden all over. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. Serve in wedges.

Aug 212016
 

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Today is the birthday (1872) of Aubrey Vincent Beardsley, an English illustrator and poet, best known for his drawings in black ink, influenced by the style of Japanese woodcuts, which emphasized the grotesque, the decadent, and the erotic. He was a leading figure in the Aesthetic Movement which also included Oscar Wilde and James A. McNeill Whistler. Beardsley’s life was short (25 years) but his contribution to the development of Art Nouveau was immense.

During his lifetime, and ever since, Beardsley’s life and work have been the subject of intense discussion ranging from passionate endorsement to furious condemnation, with not much room in between. I know from experience that undergraduate rooms in the late 1960s and early 1970s were wallpapered with his posters, mostly, I think, in a trite way. His work no longer shocks as it did in Victorian England, so it had become a rather mild nod in the direction of decadence.  The seemingly enduring mystery among scholars is the question of what he was attempting to achieve by his work. I’m not an art historian but it all seems rather simple to me. He lived in Victorian England in the “gay 90s” and knew the Paris of la belle époque. This heady world fascinated him and he wanted to make a mark. He did. What more is there to know?

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Beardsley was born in Brighton on the south coast of England. Beardsley’s mother, Ellen Agnus Pitt (1846–1932), was the daughter of Surgeon-Major William Pitt of the Indian Army. The Pitts were a well-established and respected family in Brighton, and Beardsley’s mother married a man of lower social status than might have been expected. In 1883 his family settled in London, and in the following year he appeared in public as an “infant musical phenomenon”, playing at several concerts with his sister. In January 1885 he began to attend Brighton, Hove and Sussex Grammar School, where he spent the next four years. His first poems, drawings and cartoons appeared in print in “Past and Present”, the school’s magazine. In 1888 he obtained a post in an architect’s office, and afterwards one in the Guardian Life and Fire Insurance Company. In 1891, under the advice of Sir Edward Burne-Jones and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, he took up art as a profession. In 1892 he attended the classes at the Westminster School of Art under Professor Fred Brown.

Also in 1892, Beardsley traveled to Paris, where he discovered the poster art of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and the Parisian fashion for Japanese prints, both of which would be major influences on his own style. Beardsley’s first commission was Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory (1893), which he illustrated for the publishing house J. M. Dent and Company.

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His six years of major creative output can be divided into several periods, identified by the form of his signature. In the early period his work is mostly unsigned. During 1891 and 1892 he progressed to using his initials, A.V.B. In mid-1892, the period of Le Morte d’Arthur and The Bon Mots he used a Japanese-influenced mark which became progressively more graceful, sometimes accompanied by A.B. in block capitals. He co-founded The Yellow Book with US writer Henry Harland, and for the first four editions he served as art editor and produced the cover designs and many illustrations for the magazine. He was also closely aligned with Aestheticism, the British counterpart of Decadence and Symbolism. Most of his images are done in ink, and feature large dark areas contrasted with large blank ones, and areas of fine detail contrasted with areas with none at all.

Beardsley was the most controversial artist of the Art Nouveau era, renowned for his dark and perverse images and grotesque erotica, which were the main themes of his later work. His illustrations were in black and white, against a white background. Some of his drawings, inspired by Japanese shunga artwork, featured enormous genitalia. His most famous erotic illustrations concerned themes of history and legend, including his illustrations for a privately printed edition of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, and his drawings for Oscar Wilde’s play Salome, which eventually premiered in Paris in 1896. Other major illustration projects included an 1896 edition of The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope, and the collection A Book of Fifty Drawings by Aubrey Beardsley (1897).

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He also produced extensive illustrations for books and magazines and worked for magazines such as The Studio and The Savoy, of which he was a co-founder. As a co-founder of The Savoy, Beardsley was able to pursue his writing as well as illustration, and a number of his writings, including “Under the Hill” (a story based on the Tannhäuser legend) and “The Ballad of a Barber” appeared in the magazine.

Beardsley’s work reflected the decadence of his era and his influence was enormous, clearly visible in the work of the French Symbolists, the Poster art Movement of the 1890s and the work of many later-period Art Nouveau artists such as Pape and Clarke. Beardsley was a public as well as a private eccentric. He said, “I have one aim—the grotesque. If I am not grotesque I am nothing.” Like Wilde and other aesthetes, Beardsley was meticulous about his attire: dove-grey suits, hats, and ties, and yellow gloves. He would appear at his publisher’s in a morning coat and patent leather pumps.

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Although Beardsley’s sexuality has been discussed numerous times no data outside of his art exist. Numerous fanciful tales exist – for example, that he got his sister pregnant and they she either miscarried or had an abortion – but this stuff all comes from the gossip mill. Apparently he was generally regarded as asexual. During his entire career, Beardsley had recurrent attacks of tuberculosis, which he was diagnosed with at age 7. He suffered frequent lung hemorrhages and was often unable to work or leave his home. It was either Beardsley himself or Wilde who quipped that both he and his lungs were affected.

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Beardsley converted to Roman Catholicism in March 1897, and subsequently begged his publisher, Leonard Smithers, to “destroy all copies of Lysistrata and bad drawings… by all that is holy all obscene drawings.” Smithers ignored Beardsley’s wishes, and actually continued to sell reproductions as well as forgeries of Beardsley’s work.

In 1897 deteriorating health prompted his move to the French Riviera, where he died a year later on 16 March 1898 at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Menton, attended by his mother and sister. Following a Requiem Mass in Menton Cathedral the following day, his remains were interred in the adjacent cemetery.

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I assume that Beardsley’s art is well known, so I’ll give a small gallery which I’ll intersperse with some quotes.

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All humanity inspires me. Every passer-by is my unconscious sitter; and as strange as it may seem, I really draw folk as I see them. Surely it is not my fault that they fall into certain lines and angles.

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I see everything in a grotesque way. When I go to the theatre, for example, things shape themselves before my eyes just as a I draw them — the people on the stage, the footlights, the queer faces and garb of the audience in the boxes and stalls. They all seem weird and strange to me. Things have always impressed me in this way.

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What is a portrait good for, unless it shows just how the subject was seen by the painter? In the old days before photography came in a sitter had a perfect right to say to the artist: “Paint me just as I am.” Now if he wishes absolute fidelity he can go to the photographer and get it.

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I think the title page I drew for Salomé was after all “impossible”. You see booksellers couldn’t stick it up in their windows.

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I have always done my sketches, as people would say, for the fun of it… I have worked to amuse myself, and if it has amused the public as well, so much the better for me.

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Beardsley’s era was dominated in English cuisine by Isabella Beeton and in French by Auguste Escoffier, both of whom I have mentioned many times already. Anything decadent would be suitable as a recipe. I found this picture online and thought it captured the spirit perfectly.

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It is an individual serving of beef, topped with foie gras (both of which have been seared), and encased in puff pastry – served with a little spinach and demi-glace.

Jul 222016
 

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Today is the birthday (1882) of Edward Hopper, a prominent US realist painter and printmaker. While he was most popularly known for his oil paintings, he was equally proficient as a watercolorist and printmaker in etching. Both in his urban and rural scenes, his spare and finely calculated renderings are instantly recognizable.

Hopper was born in Upper Nyack, New York, a yacht-building center on the Hudson River north of New York City. He was one of two children of a comfortably well-off, middle-class family. His birthplace and boyhood home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000, and is now the Edward Hopper House Art Center.

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Hopper’s parents encouraged his art and kept him amply supplied with materials, instructional magazines, and illustrated books. By his teens, he was working in pen-and-ink, charcoal, watercolor, and oil—drawing from nature as well as making political cartoons. In 1895, he created his first signed oil painting, Rowboat in Rocky Cove. It shows his early interest in nautical subjects.

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In high school, he considered being  a naval architect, but after graduation he declared his intention to follow an art career. Hopper’s parents insisted that he study commercial art to have a reliable means of income. In developing his self-image and individualistic philosophy of life, Hopper was influenced by the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. He later said, “I admire him greatly…I read him over and over again.”

Hopper began art studies with a correspondence course in 1899. Soon he transferred to the New York School of Art and Design, the forerunner of Parsons School for Design. There he studied for six years, with teachers including William Merritt Chase, who instructed him in oil painting. Early on, Hopper modeled his style after Chase and French masters Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas. Hopper’s first existing oil painting to hint at his famous interiors was Solitary Figure in a Theater (c.1904). During his student years, he also painted dozens of nudes, still life studies, landscapes, and portraits, including his self-portraits.

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In 1905, Hopper landed a part-time job with an advertising agency, where he created cover designs for trade magazines. He came to detest illustration but was bound to it by economic necessity until the mid-1920s. During this time he made three trips to Europe, each centered in Paris, ostensibly to study the emerging art scene there. In fact, however, he studied alone and seemed mostly unaffected by the new currents in art. Later he said that he “didn’t remember having heard of Picasso at all.” He was highly impressed by Rembrandt, particularly his Night Watch, which he said was “the most wonderful thing of his I have seen; it’s past belief in its reality.”

Hopper began painting urban and architectural scenes in a dark palette. Then he shifted to the lighter palette of the Impressionists before returning to the darker palette with which he was comfortable. Hopper later said, “I got over that and later things done in Paris were more the kind of things I do now.” Hopper spent much of his time drawing street and café scenes, and going to the theater and opera. Unlike many of his contemporaries who imitated the abstract cubist experiments, Hopper was attracted to realist art. Later, he admitted to no European influences other than French engraver Charles Méryon, whose moody Paris scenes Hopper imitated.

After returning from his last European trip, Hopper rented a studio in New York City, where he struggled to define his own style. Reluctantly, he returned to illustration. Being a freelancer, Hopper was forced to solicit for projects, and had to knock on the doors of magazine and agency offices to find business. His painting languished: “it’s hard for me to decide what I want to paint. I go for months without finding it sometimes. It comes slowly.” His fellow illustrator, Walter Tittle, described Hopper’s depressed emotional state in sharper terms, seeing his friend “suffering…from long periods of unconquerable inertia, sitting for days at a time before his easel in helpless unhappiness, unable to raise a hand to break the spell.”

In 1912, Hopper traveled to Gloucester, Massachusetts, to seek some inspiration and did his first outdoor paintings in the US. He painted Squam Light, the first of many lighthouse paintings to come.

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In 1913, at the famous Armory Show, Hopper earned $250 after he sold his first painting, Sailing (1911), which he painted over an earlier self-portrait. Hopper was 31, and although he hoped his first sale would lead to others in short order, his career would not catch on for many more years to come. He continued to participate in group exhibitions at smaller venues, such as MacDowell Club of New York. Shortly after his father’s death that same year, Hopper moved to the 3 Washington Square North apartment in the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan where he would live for the rest of his life.

The following year he received a commission to make some movie posters and handle publicity for a movie company. Although he did not like the illustration work, Hopper was a lifelong devotee of the cinema and the theatre, both of which became subjects for his paintings and influenced his compositional methods.

At an impasse over his oil paintings, in 1915 Hopper turned to etching. By 1923 he had produced most of his approximately 70 works in this medium, many of urban scenes of both Paris and New York. He also produced some posters for the war effort, as well as continuing with occasional commercial projects. When he could, Hopper did some outdoor watercolors on visits to New England, especially at the art colonies at Ogunquit, Maine, and Monhegan Island.

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During the early 1920s his etchings began to receive public recognition. They expressed some of his later themes, as in Night on the El Train (couples in silence), Evening Wind (solitary female), and The Catboat (simple nautical scene). Two notable oil paintings of this time were New York Interior (1921) and New York Restaurant (1922). He also painted two of his many “window” paintings to come: Girl at Sewing Machine and Moonlight Interior, both of which show a figure (clothed or nude) near a window of an apartment viewed as gazing out or from the outside looking in.

Although these were frustrating years, they did not go by completely without recognition. In 1918, Hopper was awarded the U.S. Shipping Board Prize for his war poster, “Smash the Hun,” and he was able to exhibit. In 1923, Hopper received two awards for his etchings: the Logan Prize from the Chicago Society of Etchers, and the W. A. Bryan Prize.

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By 1923, Hopper’s slow climb finally produced a breakthrough. He re-encountered his future wife Josephine Nivison, an artist and former student of Robert Henri, during a summer painting trip in Gloucester, Massachusetts. They married a year later. She was gregarious and outgoing and he was shy and introverted. She remarked famously, “Sometimes talking to Eddie is just like dropping a stone in a well, except that it doesn’t thump when it hits bottom.” She subordinated her career to his and shared his reclusive life style. The rest of their lives revolved around their spare walk-up apartment in the city and their summers in South Truro on Cape Cod. She managed his career and his interviews, was his primary model, and his life companion.

With Nivison’s help, six of Hopper’s Gloucester watercolors were admitted to an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum in 1923. One of them, The Mansard Roof, was purchased by the museum for its permanent collection for the sum of $100. The critics generally raved about his work; one stated, “What vitality, force and directness! Observe what can be done with the homeliest subject.” Hopper sold all his watercolors at a one-man show the following year and finally decided to put illustration behind him.

At 41 Hopper received further recognition for his work although he continued to harbor bitterness about his career, turning down appearances and awards. His Two on the Aisle (1927) sold for a personal record $1,500, enabling Hopper to purchase an automobile, which he used to make field trips to remote areas of New England. In 1929, he produced Chop Suey and Railroad Sunset. The following year, art patron Stephen Clark donated House by the Railroad (1925) to the Museum of Modern Art, the first oil painting it acquired for its collection. Hopper painted his last self-portrait in oil around 1930. Although she posed for many of his paintings, Josephine modeled for only one formal oil portrait by her husband, Jo Painting (1936).

Hopper fared better than many other artists during the Great Depression. His stature took a sharp rise in 1931 when major museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, paid thousands of dollars for his works. He sold 30 paintings that year, including 13 watercolors. The following year he participated in the first Whitney Annual, and he continued to exhibit in every annual at the museum for the rest of his life. In 1933, the Museum of Modern Art gave Hopper his first large-scale retrospective.

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Hopper was very productive through the 1930s and early 1940s, producing among many important works New York Movie (1939), Girlie Show (1941), Nighthawks (1942), Hotel Lobby (1943), and Morning in a City (1944). During the late 1940s, however, he suffered a period of relative inactivity. He admitted, “I wish I could paint more. I get sick of reading and going to the movies.” In the two decades to come his health faltered, and he had several prostate surgeries and other medical problems. Nonetheless, in the 1950s and early 1960s, he created several more major works, including First Row Orchestra (1951); as well as Morning Sun and Hotel by a Railroad, both in 1952; and Intermission in 1963.

Hopper died in his studio near Washington Square in New York City on May 15, 1967. His wife, who died ten months later, bequeathed their joint collection of more than three thousand works to the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Here’s my usual gallery featuring mostly Hopper’s landscapes and urban images, the latter inevitably depicting the isolation and barrenness of life in the modern city.

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Nighthawks, showing people in a diner in the wee hours, is justly famous. They are just drinking coffee, but the scene reminds me of early morning breakfasts in diners.

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Flapjacks are classic diner breakfast food. Flapjacks in Britain are oatmeal bars, but in the US they are a version of pancakes. They are made to order in diners on the flat griddle and so are also called griddle cakes. At home you can make them in a large, cast-iron skillet. They are usually served in stacks with butter and maple syrup (maybe with some crisp bacon on the side).

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Flapjacks

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose
4 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
6 tbsp butter, melted
1 ½ cups milk
2 eggs
butter or oil for greasing

Instructions

Heat your griddle or skillet over heat so that water flicked on it beads and dances immediately. Grease it lightly with butter or oil once it is hot.

Meanwhile sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a mixing bowl so that they are combined. Beat together the butter, milk, and eggs vigorously, making sure that the butter does not congeal in the process.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir to mix. Do not worry about making a smooth batter. Do this quickly and don’t worry about lumps. Just make sure there are no pockets of dry ingredients.

Use a small ladle to pour the batter on to the hot griddle, a few at a time. When the top surface begins to pop with bubbles, turn the flapjacks with a spatula. Both sides should be mottled golden and brown.

Serve in stacks with butter and maple syrup.

May 182016
 

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Today is reputedly the birthday (1474) of Isabella d’Este, Marchesa of Mantua and an important figure in the Renaissance. She was a political leader, a patron of the arts, and a fashionista whose innovative style of dressing was copied by women throughout Italy and at the French court. She served as the regent of Mantua during the absence of her husband, Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantua, and during the minority of her son, Federico, Duke of Mantua.

Isabella’s early life is unusually well-documented because of the exalted position of her parents and their voluminous correspondence. Unfortunately specific days sometimes get confused in the welter of details. Some say that she was born on a Tuesday at 9 o’clock in the evening. Very precise; but that would make her birth date the 17th . Others claim the 19th as the correct date. Majority opinion splits the difference and use the 18th as correct. I’ll stay out of the debate, but I do want to celebrate her because I live in Mantua now, and she is an important component of the town’s history. Today works for me. She was born in Ferrara, to Ercole I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara and Eleanor of Naples. Eleanor was the daughter of Ferdinand I, the Aragonese King of Naples, and Isabella of Clermont.

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Isabella received an excellent education, which was unusual for girls at the time. As a child she studied Roman history, Greek, and Latin (and could recite Virgil and Terence by heart). She was personally acquainted with the politicians, ambassadors, painters, musicians, writers, and scholars, who lived in and around the court. Isabella was known as a talented singer and musician, and was taught to play the lute by Giovanni Angelo Testagrossa. In addition she was an innovator of new dances.

In 1480, at the age of six, Isabella was betrothed to Gianfrancesco, the heir to the Marquis of Mantua.  Isabella did not consider him handsome, but admired him for his strength and bravery and regarded him as honorable. After their first few encounters, she found that she enjoyed his company and spent the next few years getting to know him. During their courtship, Isabella treasured the letters, poems, and sonnets he sent her as gifts.

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Ten years later, on 11 February 1490 at age 15, she married Francesco Gonzaga, who had by then succeeded to the marquisate. Isabella became Marchesa on this marriage amid a spectacular outpouring of popular acclamation. Francesco, in his capacity as Captain General of the Venetian armies, was often required to go to Venice for conferences which left Isabella in Mantua on her own at La Reggia, the ancient palace which was the family seat of the Gonzagas.  She passed the time with her mother and sister, Beatrice; and upon meeting Elisabetta Gonzaga, her 18-year-old sister-in-law, the two women became close friends. They enjoyed reading books, playing cards, and traveling about the countryside together and maintained a steady correspondence until Elisabetta’s death in 1526.

A year after her marriage to Isabella’s brother, Alfonso in 1502, Lucrezia Borgia became Francesco’s mistress. I’ve spoken about this troubled relationship before and don’t need to say more. http://www.bookofdaystales.com/lucrezia-borgia/ When a  married man sleeps with another woman there are likely to be problems. I think what we have to avoid are judgments based on our own conceptions of morality and the mores of our own times. Based on what I know from her letters, Isabella felt betrayed largely because she felt she had a unique bond with Francesco that was not common among the nobility of the times. Marriages were arranged out of expediency and not love, so a certain amount of infidelity was expected and certainly condoned (although more for men than women).  Isabella believed her marriage was special and blamed Lucrezia for the affair even though Francesco often slept with prostitutes (from whom he contracted syphilis – from which he died, and which his son inherited and died from also).

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Isabella played an important role in Mantua during the city’s troubled times. When her husband was captured in 1509 and held hostage in Venice, she took control of Mantua’s military forces and held off invaders until his release in 1512. In the same year she was the hostess at the Congress of Mantua, which was held to settle questions concerning relations between Florence and Milan. As a ruler, it was clear that she was much more assertive and competent than her husband. When apprised of this fact upon his return, Francesco was furious and humiliated at being upstaged by his wife’s superior political ability. The marriage broke down irrevocably, and, as a result, Isabella began to travel freely and live independently from her husband until his death on 19 March 1519.

After the death of her husband, Isabella ruled Mantua as regent for her son, Federico. She began to play an increasingly important role in Italian politics, steadily advancing Mantua’s position. She was instrumental in promoting Mantua to a Duchy, which she obtained by wise diplomatic use of her son’s marriage contracts. She also succeeded in obtaining a cardinalate for her son Ercole. She further displayed shrewd political acumen in her negotiations with Cesare Borgia, who had dispossessed Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, duke of Urbino, the husband of her sister-in-law and good friend Elisabetta Gonzaga in 1502.

Isabella d’Este was famous as a very important patron of the arts during the Renaissance. Many of her accomplishments are documented in her correspondence, which is still archived in Mantua (c. 28,000 letters received and copies of c. 12,000 letters written). In painting she had the most famous artists of the time work for her, such as, Giovanni Bellini, Giorgione, Leonardo da Vinci, Andrea Mantegna (court painter until 1506), Perugino, Raphael, and Titian, as well as Antonio da Correggio, Lorenzo Costa (court painter from 1509), Dosso Dossi, Francesco Francia, Giulio Romano and many others. Her ‘Studiolo’ in the Ducal Palace, Mantua, was decorated with allegories by Mantegna, Perugino, Costa and Correggio.

Isabella is considered by some art historians to be a plausible candidate for the woman in Leonardo’s ‘Mona Lisa’ of 1502-06, which is usually considered a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo. (wife of a merchant in Florence) Evidence in favor of Isabella as the subject of the famous work includes Leonardo’s drawing ‘Isabella d’Este’ from 1499 and her letters of 1501-06 requesting a promised painted portrait. The mountains in the background of the Mona Lisa could be the Dolomites, and the armrest is a Renaissance symbol for a portrait of a sovereign. You decide. The image below is from left to right, Leonard’s sketch of Isabella, a digitally cleaned up version of the Mona Lisa, and the Mona Lisa as it has been known for many years without cleaning.

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Isabella contracted the most important sculptors and medallists of her time – such as, Michelangelo, Pier Jacopo Alari Bonacolsi (L’Antico), Gian Cristoforo Romano and Tullio Lombardo, and collected ancient Roman art. In the humanities she was in contact with Pietro Aretino, Ludovico Ariosto, Pietro Bembo, Baldassare Castiglione, Mario Equicola, Gian Giorgio Trissino  etc. In music she sponsored the composers Bartolomeo Tromboncino and Marco Cara, and played the lute herself. She employed women as professional singers at her court, which was unusual for the time, including Giovanna Moreschi, the wife of Marchetto Cara.

As a fashion leader, she ordered the finest clothing, including furs as well as the newest distillations of scents, which she made into perfumes and sent as presents. Her style of dressing in caps (‘capigliari’) and plunging décolletage was imitated throughout Italy and at the French court.

Isabella had met the French king in Milan in 1500 on a successful diplomatic mission which she had undertaken to protect Mantua from French invasion. Louis had been impressed by her, and it was while she was being entertained by Louis, whose troops occupied Milan, that she offered asylum to Milanese refugees including Cecilia Gallerani, the refined mistress of her sister Beatrice’s husband, Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, who had been forced to leave his duchy in the wake of French occupation. Isabella presented Cecilia to King Louis, describing her as a “lady of rare gifts and charm”.

As a widow, Isabella at the age of 45 became a devoted head of state while regent for her son. To improve the well-being of her subjects she studied architecture, agriculture, and industry, and followed the principles that Niccolò Machiavelli had set forth for rulers in The Prince. The people of Mantua are said to have respected and loved her, and she is still held in high regard here.

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Isabella left Mantua for Rome in 1527. She was present during the catastrophic Sack of Rome, when she converted her house into an asylum for about 2000 people fleeing the Imperial soldiers. Isabella’s house was one of the very few which was not attacked, due to the fact that her son was a member of the invading army. When she left, she managed to acquire safe passage for all the refugees who had sought refuge in her home.

After Rome became stabilized following the attack, she left the city and returned to Mantua. She made it a centre of culture, started a school for girls, and turned her ducal apartments into a museum containing the finest art treasures. This was not enough to satisfy Isabella, already in her mid-60s, so she returned to political life and ruled Solarolo, in Romagna until her death on 13 February 1539.

Isabella is a very important figure in Mantua today, not least because the center of the town is preserved very much as it was in her day. Frescoes, paintings, tapestries, and sculptures that she collected or commissioned are still on display, and you can visit her apartments and gardens.  Here’s a small gallery of my own photographs.

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There are many traditional dishes from Mantua which are famous, such as tortelli di zucca, pasta stuffed with pumpkin, which is available in numerous restaurants around town. It is commonly eaten on Christmas Eve as part of the evening festivities. There are also dishes made from local lake fish, and the common Mantuan risotto, (alla pilota), is not moist and creamy, as in other parts of Italy, but dry with all the grains separate. As with any artisanal cuisine, you are better off coming to Mantua if you want the real thing, but you can find plenty of Mantuan recipes online if you want to experiment.

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Sbrisolona is probably the tourist favorite, enjoyed as much by Italian tourists as foreigners, and loved by Mantuans as well. You’ll see it on sale everywhere. Sbrisolona is a round, flat, flour, butter, and nut crumble cake that is not terribly difficult to make at home; but Mantuan bakers make a specialty of it, and theirs is hard to beat. Sometimes you can find it with nuts other than almonds, or with dried fruits, but the idea is basically the same. You can see that the measures are very easy to follow, and overall it is not complicated. It’s just that local ingredients plus the generations of experience of local bakers are unbeatable. Italian tourists wouldn’t buy it by the ton if they could make it as well themselves. Here’s a decent recipe. The special polenta flour may be the hardest ingredient to find.

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Sbrisolona 

Ingredients

100 g flour
100 g fine polenta flour
100 g caster sugar
100 g butter
100 g coarsely ground almonds
1 egg yolk
grated zest, 1 lemon
1 pinch salt
40 mL grappa
whole almonds (about 8)

Instructions

Heat the oven to 170°F.

Mix the flour, sugar, polenta flour and salt together in a large bowl. Add the butter in the same way you would to make pastry.  That is, dice it small and rub it into the dry ingredients until it looks like rough crumbly sand. A food processor is good for this step. Pulse the ingredients about 8 times.

Add the ground almonds, lemon zest, egg yolk, and grappa and mix lightly. This will make a crumbly dough. Do not mix too much.

Put the mix into a lightly greased 26 cm tin without smoothing – just toss it in and spread. Add a few whole almonds.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden. Let the pan cool and turn out the cake carefully.

Sbrisolona keeps well in an air-tight container. To eat it, do not cut it with a knife but break it with your hands.

May 122016
 

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Today might be the birthday (1812) of Edward Lear or it might be tomorrow. The records are not clear.  A perfect date for a man who dealt in absurdity all of his life, and also for my blog which now deals in celebrations that move around the calendar.

Lear was born in North London, the second to last of twenty-one children (and youngest to survive) of Ann Clark Skerrett and Jeremiah Lear. He was raised by his eldest sister, Ann, 21 years his senior. Owing to the family’s limited finances, Lear and his sister left the family home and lived together when he was aged four. Ann continued to act as a mother for him until her death, when he was almost 50 years of age.

Lear suffered from lifelong health afflictions. From the age of six he suffered frequent grand mal epileptic seizures, and bronchitis, asthma, and during later life, partial blindness. Lear experienced his first seizure at a fair near Highgate with his father. The event scared and embarrassed him and consequently he felt lifelong guilt and shame for his condition. His adult diaries indicate that he always sensed the onset of a seizure in time to remove himself from public view. When Lear was about seven years old he began to show signs of depression, possibly due to the instability of his childhood. He suffered from periods of severe depression which he referred to as “the Morbids.”

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Lear was already drawing “for bread and cheese” by the time he was aged 16 and soon developed into a serious draughtsman employed by the Zoological Society and then from 1832 to 1836 by the Earl of Derby, who kept a private menagerie at his estate Knowsley Hall. Lear’s first publication, published when he was 19 years old, was Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots in 1830. He was considered one of the greatest ornithological artists of his era, compared favorably with John James Audubon.

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Among other travels, he visited Greece and Egypt during 1848–49, and toured India and Ceylon during 1873–75. While traveling he produced large quantities of colored wash drawings in a distinctive style, which he converted later in his studio into oil and watercolor paintings, as well as prints for his books. His landscape style often shows views with strong sunlight, with intense contrasts of color.

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Between 1878 to 1883 Lear spent his summers on Monte Generoso, a mountain on the border between the Swiss canton of Ticino and the Italian region of Lombardy (very near where I live now). Throughout his life he continued to paint seriously. He had a lifelong ambition to illustrate Tennyson’s poems; near the end of his life a volume with a small number of illustrations was published.

Lear played the accordion, flute, and guitar, but primarily the piano. He composed music for many Romantic and Victorian poems, but was known mostly for his many musical settings of Tennyson’s poetry. He published four settings in 1853, five in 1859, and three in 1860. Lear’s were the only musical settings that Tennyson approved of. Lear also composed music for many of his nonsense songs, including “The Owl and the Pussy-cat,” but only two of the scores have survived, the music for “The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò” and “The Pelican Chorus.” While he never played professionally, he did perform his own nonsense songs and his settings of others’ poetry at countless social gatherings, sometimes adding his own lyrics (as with the song “The Nervous Family”), and sometimes replacing serious lyrics with nursery rhymes.

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Lear travelled widely throughout his life and eventually settled in San Remo, on the Mediterranean coast, in the 1870s, at a villa he named “Villa Tennyson.”

Lear was known to introduce himself with a long pseudonym: “Mr Abebika kratoponoko Prizzikalo Kattefello Ablegorabalus Ableborinto phashyph” or “Chakonoton the Cozovex Dossi Fossi Sini Tomentilla Coronilla Polentilla Battledore & Shuttlecock Derry down Derry Dumps” which he based on Aldiborontiphoskyphorniostikos.

After a long decline in his health, Lear died at his villa in 1888 of heart disease, from which he had suffered since at least 1870. Lear’s funeral was said to be a sad, lonely affair by the wife of Dr. Hassall, Lear’s physician, none of Lear’s many lifelong friends being able to attend. Lear is buried in the Cemetery Foce in San Remo. On his headstone are inscribed these lines about Mount Tomohrit (in Albania) from Tennyson’s poem To E.L. [Edward Lear], On His Travels in Greece:

                 all things fair.
With such a pencil, such a pen.
You shadow forth to distant men,
I read and felt that I was there.

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Lear had a longstanding friendship with an Albanian chef, Giorgis, whom he described as an excellent friend and a thoroughly unsatisfactory cook. So I won’t give you an Albanian recipe.  Instead here are some of Lear’s own “recipes.” They should appeal to Lear fans.

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THREE RECEIPTS FOR DOMESTIC COOKERY

TO MAKE AN AMBLONGUS PIE

Take 4 pounds (say 4 1/2 pounds) of fresh Amblongusses, and put them in a small pipkin.

Cover them with water and boil them for 8 hours incessantly, after which add 2 pints of new milk, and proceed to boil for 4 hours more.

When you have ascertained that the Amblongusses are quite soft, take them out and place them in a wide pan, taking care to shake them well previously.

Grate some nutmeg over the surface, and cover them carefully with powdered gingerbread, curry-powder, and a sufficient quantity of Cayenne pepper.

Remove the pan into the next room, and place it on the floor. Bring it back again, and let it simmer for three-quarters of an hour. Shake the pan violently till all the Amblongusses have become a pale purple colour.

Then, having prepared a paste, insert the whole carefully, adding at the same time a small pigeon, 2 slices of beef, 4 cauliflowers, and any number of oysters.

Watch patiently till the crust begins to rise, and add a pinch of salt from time to time.

Serve up in a clean dish, and throw the whole out of the window as fast as possible.

TO MAKE CRUMBOBBLIOUS CUTLETS

Procure some strips of beef, and having cut them into the smallest possible slices, proceed to cut them still smaller, eight or perhaps nine times.

When the whole is thus minced, brush it up hastily with a new clothes-brush, and stir round rapidly and capriciously with a salt-spoon or a soup ladel.

Place the whole in a saucepan, and remove it to a sunny place, — say the roof of the house if free from sparrows or other birds, — and leave it there for about a week.

At the end of that time add a little lavender, some oil of almonds, and a few herring-bones; and cover the whole with 4 gallons of clarified crumbobblious sauce, when it will be ready for use.

Cut it into the shape of ordinary cutlets, and serve it up in a clean tablecloth or dinner-napkin.

TO MAKE GOSKY PATTIES

Take a pig, three or four years of age, and tie him by the off-hind leg to a post. Place 5 pounds of currants, 5 of sugar, 2 pecks of peas, 18 roast chestnuts, a candle, and six bushels of turnips, within his reach; if he eats these, constantly provide him with more.

Then, procure some cream, some slices of Cheshire cheese, four quinces of foolscap paper, and a packet of black pins. Work the whole into a paste, and spread it out to dry on a sheet of clean brown waterproof linen.

When the paste is perfectly dry, but not before, proceed to beat the Pig violently, with the handle of a large broom. If he squeals, beat him again.

Visit the paste and beat the pig alternately for some days, and ascertain that if at the end of that period the whole is about to turn into Gosky Patties.

If it does not then, it never will; and in that case the Pig may be let loose, and the whole process may be considered as finished.

 

 

 

 

Apr 222016
 

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Today is the birthday (1884) of Otto Rank, Austrian psychoanalyst, writer, and teacher. Born in Vienna as Otto Rosenfeld, he was one of Sigmund Freud’s closest colleagues for 20 years, a prolific writer on psychoanalytic themes, an editor of the two most important analytic journals of his day, managing director of Freud’s publishing house and a creative theorist and therapist. In 1926, after a break with Freud, Rank left Vienna for Paris. For the remaining 14 years of his life, Rank had a successful career as a lecturer, writer and therapist in France and the United States. Unlike Freud, Rank’s is not a household name, but it ought to be. His work is arguably more influential nowadays than Freud’s is.

In 1905, at the age of 21, Otto Rank presented Freud with a short manuscript on the artist, a study that so impressed Freud he invited Rank to become Secretary of the emerging Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Rank thus became the first paid member of the psychoanalytic movement, and Freud’s general assistant for almost 20 years. Freud considered Rank, with whom he was more intimate intellectually than his own sons, to be the most brilliant of his Viennese disciples.

Encouraged and supported by Freud, Rank (who had attended a vocational high school), completed the “Gymnasium” (college-preparatory high school), attended the University of Vienna, and completed his Ph.D. in 1911. His thesis, on the Lohengrin Saga, was the first Freudian doctoral dissertation.

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Rank was one of Freud’s six collaborators brought together in a secret “committee” or “ring” to defend the psychoanalytic mainstream as disputes with Adler and then Jung developed. Rank was the most prolific author in the “ring” besides Freud himself, extending psychoanalytic theory to the study of legend, myth, art, and other works of creativity. He worked closely with Freud, contributing two chapters on myth and legend to later editions of The Interpretation of Dreams. Rank’s name appeared underneath Freud’s on the title page for many years. Between 1915 and 1918, Rank served as Secretary of the International Psychoanalytical Association which Freud had founded in 1910. Everyone in the small psychoanalytic world understood how much Freud respected Rank and his prolific creativity in expanding psychoanalytic theory.

In 1924, Rank published Das Trauma der Geburt (translated into English as The Trauma of Birth in 1929), exploring how art, myth, religion, philosophy and therapy were illuminated by separation anxiety in the “phase before the development of the Oedipus complex..”  But there was no such phase in Freud’s theories. For Freud the Oedipus complex was the nucleus of neurosis and the foundational source of all art, myth, religion, philosophy, therapy – indeed of all human culture and civilization. It was the first time that anyone in the inner circle had dared to suggest that the Oedipus complex might not be the supreme causal factor in psychoanalysis. Rank was the first to use the term “pre-Oedipal” in a public psychoanalytic forum in 1925.

After some hesitation, Freud distanced himself from The Trauma of Birth, signaling to other members of his inner circle that Rank was perilously close to anti-Oedipal heresy. “I am boiling with rage,” Freud told Sándor Ferenczi then Rank’s best friend. Confronted with Freud’s decisive opposition, Rank resigned in protest from his positions as Vice-President of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, director of Freud’s publishing house, and co-editor of Imago and Zeitschrift. Ferenczi, with whom Rank had collaborated from 1920 through 1924 on new experiential, object-relational and “here-and-now” approaches to therapy, vacillated on the significance of Rank’s pre-Oedipal theory but not on Rank’s objections to classical analytic technique.

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Rank was the first to see therapy as a learning and unlearning experience. Rank saw the therapeutic relationship as allowing the patient to: (1) learn more creative ways of thinking, feeling and being in the here-and-now; and (2) unlearn self-destructive ways of thinking, feeling and being in the here-and-now. For him, patterns of self-destruction (“neurosis”) represent a failure of creativity not, as Freud assumed, a retreat from sexuality.

Rank’s psychology of creativity has recently been applied to action learning, an inquiry-based process of group problem solving, team building, leader development and organizational learning. Transformative action learning, synthesized by Robert Kramer from Rank’s writings on art and spirituality, involves real people, working on real problems in real time. Once a safe space is created by an executive coach, questions allow group members to “step out of the frame of the prevailing ideology,” as Rank wrote in Art and Artist, reflect on their assumptions and beliefs, and reframe their choices. The process of “stepping out” of a frame, out of a form of knowing – a prevailing ideology – is analogous to the work of artists as they struggle to give birth to fresh ways of seeing the world, perspectives that allow them to see aspects of the world that no artists, including themselves, have ever seen before. The heart of transformative action learning, as developed by Kramer, is asking powerful questions to promote the unlearning or letting go of taken-for-granted assumptions and beliefs.

Rank believed that the most creative artists, such as Rembrandt, Michelangelo and Leonardo, know how to separate even from their own greatest public successes, from earlier artistic incarnations of themselves. Their “greatness consists precisely in this reaching out beyond themselves, beyond the ideology which they have themselves fostered.” Through the lens of Rank’s work on understanding art and artists, transformative action learning can be seen as the never-completed process of learning how to “step out of the frame” of the ruling mindset, whether one’s own or the culture’s – in other words, of learning how to unlearn.

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Comparing the process of unlearning to the “breaking out” process of birth, Rank was the first psychologist to suggest that a continual capacity to separate from “internal mental objects” – from internalized institutions, beliefs and neuroses; from the restrictions of culture, social conformity and received wisdom – is the sine qua non for lifelong creativity. In a 1938 lecture, Rank said:

Life in itself is a mere succession of separations. Beginning with birth, going through several weaning periods and the development of the individual personality, and finally culminating in death – which represents the final separation. At birth, the individual experiences the first shock of separation, which throughout his life he strives to overcome. In the process of adaptation, man persistently separates from his old self, or at least from those segments off his old self that are now outlived. Like a child who has outgrown a toy, he discards the old parts of himself for which he has no further use ….The ego continually breaks away from its worn-out parts, which were of value in the past but have no value in the present. The neurotic [who cannot unlearn, and, therefore, lacks creativity] is unable to accomplish this normal detachment process … Owing to fear and guilt generated in the assertion of his own autonomy, he is unable to free himself, and instead remains suspended upon some primitive level of his evolution.

I would, perhaps, be a little less optimistic in my view of the world because, in my experience, people don’t unlearn enough, often enough. Many people stay trapped in conventional modes of thought, and follow routines that are not productive, and do not make them happy, because they are afraid to let go. One of my common mantras in life is – “your comfort zone is your enemy.”

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So let’s break out a little with the Viennese version of goulash. Goulash came to Austria from Hungary when Vienna was the cultural center of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but was changed in the process. The Wiener Saftgulasch is now a fixture on Viennese menus. A variation of the Wiener Saftgulasch is the Fiakergulasch, which is served with a fried egg, fried or boiled sausage, pickle and either dumplings (Semmelknödel) or potatoes. This goulash is just meat and onions plus seasonings that have been cooked until the meat is very tender. It is best made the day before and then reheated. Sacher sausage is Vienna sausage, similar to frankfurters. Traditionally the recipe used lard or dripping for frying. You can vary the proportions of sweet and hot paprika to suit your taste. And . . . if you are a good student of Rank you will not make the dish the same way twice.

Fiakergulasch

Ingredients:

1 kg stewing beef, cut in cubes
4-6 eggs
4-6 pickled gherkins
2-3 pairs Sacher sausages
750 g onions, peeled and sliced coarsely
⅔ cup cooking oil
2 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tsp hot paprika
3 cloves garlic, bruised and minced
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 tbsp marjoram
2 bay leaves
1 tsp caraway seeds, chopped
¼ cup vinegar
salt
freshly ground pepper
butter (for frying eggs)

Instructions

Heat the oil in a deep oven-proof pot and fry the onions over medium heat until golden brown, stirring and turning regularly. Add the paprika powder and tomato paste, stir, and quickly pour in the vinegar and a little water. Add the cubed meat with salt and pepper to taste to the pot. Stir in the garlic, marjoram, bay leaves and caraway, and pour in enough water so that the meat is covered. Stir, and simmer on medium heat, semi-covered, for about 2 1/2 hours. Stir from time to time, and add water as needed. When the meat is very tender, take the pot off the stove and place it in a moderately-warm oven (120°C) for about 1 hour. Refrigerate overnight.

Next day, reheat the goulash and check the seasoning. Heat water for the sausages and simmer gently for about 5 minutes (or fry them in a little oil). Heat the butter in a pan, and fry the eggs. Slice the gherkins in the shape of a fan.

Serve the goulash on warmed plates. Place the fried eggs on top of the goulash, and one sausage on the side. Garnish with gherkins. Serve with dumplings or boiled potatoes and dark rye bread.

Serves 4-6