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.

Dec 122016


Today is the birthday (1863) of Edvard Munch, Norwegian artist who is commonly remembered for his painting “The Scream” and little else these days. Certainly the painting is emblematic of Munch’s life, and representative of much of his work. But there is more to him than that. I don’t have space to go into great detail, so I’ll content myself with a few highlights (as I see them).

Munch was born in a farmhouse in the village of Ådalsbruk in Løten, and the family moved to Christiania (renamed Kristiania in 1877, and now Oslo) in 1864 when his father was appointed medical officer at Akershus Fortress. His mother died of tuberculosis in 1868, as did Munch’s favorite sister Johanne Sophie in 1877. After their mother’s death, Munch and his siblings were raised by their father and by their aunt Karen. Munch was often ill for much of the winters and kept out of school. To keep himself occupied he would draw by himself, and was tutored at home by various family members.

Munch wrote, “My father was temperamentally nervous and obsessively religious—to the point of psychoneurosis. From him I inherited the seeds of madness. The angels of fear, sorrow, and death stood by my side since the day I was born.” One of Munch’s younger sisters, Laura, was diagnosed with mental illness at an early age. Of the five siblings, only Andreas married, but he died a few months after the wedding. Munch wrote later, “I inherited two of mankind’s most frightful enemies—the heritage of consumption and insanity.”

Munch’s father’s military pay was very low, and his attempts to develop a private side practice failed, keeping his family in genteel poverty. They moved frequently from one cheap apartment to another. Munch’s early drawings and watercolors depicted these interiors, and the individual objects, such as medicine bottles and drawing implements, plus some landscapes. By his teens, art dominated Munch’s interests. At 13, Munch had his first exposure to other artists at the newly formed Art Association, where he admired the work of the Norwegian landscape school. He returned to copy the paintings, and soon he began to paint in oils.


In 1879, Munch enrolled in a technical college to study engineering, where he excelled in physics, chemistry, and mathematics. He learned scaled and perspective drawing, but frequent illnesses interrupted his studies. The following year, much to his father’s disappointment, Munch left the college determined to become a painter. His father viewed art as an “unholy trade”, and his neighbors reacted bitterly and sent him anonymous letters. Munch wrote his goal in his diary: “in my art I attempt to explain life and its meaning to myself.”

In 1881, Munch enrolled at the Royal School of Art and Design of Kristiania, one of whose founders was his distant relative Jacob Munch. His teachers were sculptor Julius Middelthun and the naturalistic painter Christian Krohg. In 1883, Munch took part in his first public exhibition and shared a studio with other students. His full-length portrait of Karl Jensen-Hjell, a notorious bohemian-about-town, earned a critic’s dismissive response: “It is impressionism carried to the extreme. It is a travesty of art.” Munch’s nude paintings from this period survive only in sketches, except for Standing Nude (1887). They may have been destroyed by his father.


During these early years, Munch experimented with many styles, including Naturalism and Impressionism. Some early works are reminiscent of Manet. Many of these attempts brought him unfavorable criticism from the press and constant rebukes by his father who eventually refused to advance him any more money for art supplies. Munch also received his father’s ire for his relationship with Hans Jæger, the local nihilist who lived by the code “a passion to destroy is also a creative passion” and who advocated suicide as the ultimate way to freedom. Munch wrote, “My ideas developed under the influence of the bohemians or rather under Hans Jæger. Many people have mistakenly claimed that my ideas were formed under the influence of Strindberg and the Germans…but that is wrong. They had already been formed by then.” At that time he began the binge drinking and brawling of his circle.


After numerous experiments, Munch concluded that the Impressionist idiom did not allow sufficient expression. He found it superficial and too akin to scientific experimentation. He felt a need to go deeper and explore situations brimming with emotional content and expressive energy. Under Jæger’s commandment that Munch should “write his life”, meaning that Munch should explore his own emotional and psychological state, he began a period of reflection and self-examination, recording his thoughts in his “soul’s diary”. This deeper perspective helped move him to a new view of his art. He wrote that his painting The Sick Child (1886), based on his sister’s death, was his first “soul painting”, his first break from Impressionism. The painting received a negative response from critics and from his family, and caused another “violent outburst of moral indignation” from the community.

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By 1892 Munch had formulated his characteristic aesthetic, as seen in Melancholy which he produced in several versions. Melancholy was exhibited in 1891 at the Autumn Exhibition in Oslo. In 1892, Adelsteen Normann, on behalf of the Union of Berlin Artists, invited Munch to exhibit at its November exhibition, the society’s first one-man exhibition. However, his paintings evoked bitter controversy (dubbed “The Munch Affair”), and after one week the exhibition closed. Munch was pleased with the “great commotion”, and wrote in a letter: “Never have I had such an amusing time—it’s incredible that something as innocent as painting should have created such a stir.”

In Berlin, Munch became involved in an international circle of writers, artists and critics, including the Swedish dramatist and leading intellectual August Strindberg, whom he painted in 1892. During his four years in Berlin, Munch sketched out most of the ideas that would comprise his major work, The Frieze of Life, first designed for book illustration but later expressed in paintings. He sold little, but made some income from charging entrance fees to view his controversial paintings. Already, Munch was showing a reluctance to part with his paintings, which he termed his “children”.

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The Scream exists in four versions: two pastels (1893 and 1895) and two paintings (1893 and 1910). There are also several lithographs of The Scream (1895 and later). The Scream is one of the most recognizable paintings in all art. Munch wrote of how the painting came to be: “I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature.” He later described the personal anguish behind the painting, “for several years I was almost mad… You know my picture, ‘The Scream?’ I was stretched to the limit—nature was screaming in my blood… After that I gave up hope ever of being able to love again.”


The original German title given by Munch to his work was Der Schrei der Natur (“The Scream of Nature”). The Norwegian word skrik usually is translated as “scream” but is cognate with the English “shriek”. Occasionally, the painting has been called The Cry.

Munch hated to part with his paintings because he thought of his work as a single body of expression. So to capitalize on his production and make some income, he turned to graphic arts to reproduce many of his most famous paintings. Munch admitted to the personal goals of his work but he also offered his art to a wider purpose, “My art is really a voluntary confession and an attempt to explain to myself my relationship with life—it is, therefore, actually a sort of egoism, but I am constantly hoping that through this I can help others achieve clarity.”


In 1896, Munch moved to Paris, where he focused on graphic representations of his “Frieze of Life” themes. He further developed his woodcut and lithographic technique. Munch produced multi-colored versions of “The Sick Child” which sold well, as well as several nudes and multiple versions of Kiss (1892) Many of the Parisian critics still considered Munch’s work “violent and brutal” but his exhibitions received serious attention and good attendance. His financial situation improved considerably and in 1897, he bought a summer house facing the fjords of Kristiania, a small fisherman’s cabin built in the late 18th century, in the small town of Åsgårdstrand. He called this home the “Happy House” and returned here almost every summer for the next 20 years. It was this place he missed when he was abroad and when he felt depressed and exhausted. “To walk in Åsgårdstrand is like walking among my paintings—I get so inspired to paint when I am here”.

In 1899, Munch began an intimate relationship with Tulla Larsen. They traveled to Italy together and upon returning, Munch began another fertile period in his art, which included landscapes and his final painting in “The Frieze of Life” series, The Dance of Life (1899). Larsen was eager for marriage, and Munch begged off. His drinking and poor health reinforced his fears, as he wrote in the third person: “Ever since he was a child he had hated marriage. His sick and nervous home had given him the feeling that he had no right to get married.” Munch almost accepted marriage, but then fled from Larsen in 1900, also turning away from her considerable fortune, and moved to Berlin.

The good press coverage gained Munch the attention of influential patrons Albert Kollman and Max Linde. He described the turn of events in his diary, “After twenty years of struggle and misery forces of good finally come to my aid in Germany—and a bright door opens up for me.” However, despite this positive change, Munch’s self-destructive and erratic behavior involved him first with a violent quarrel with another artist, then with an accidental shooting in the presence of Tulla Larsen (who had returned for a brief reconciliation), which injured two of his fingers. She finally left him and married one of Munch’s younger colleagues. Munch took this as a betrayal, and he dwelled on the humiliation for some time to come, channeling some of the bitterness into new paintings. His paintings Still Life (The Murderess) and The Death of Marat I, done in 1906-7, clearly reference the shooting incident and the emotional after effects.


In the autumn of 1908, Munch’s anxiety, compounded by excessive drinking and brawling, had become acute. As he later wrote, “My condition was verging on madness—it was touch and go.” Subject to hallucinations and feelings of persecution, he entered the clinic of Dr. Daniel Jacobson. The therapy Munch received for the next eight months included diet and “electrification” (a treatment then fashionable for nervous conditions, not to be confused with electroconvulsive therapy). Munch’s stay in hospital stabilized his personality, and after returning to Norway in 1909, his work became more colorful and less pessimistic.

Munch spent most of his last two decades in solitude at his estate in Ekely, at Skøyen, Oslo. Many of his late paintings celebrate farm life, including several in which he used his work horse “Rousseau” as a model. Munch occasionally left his home to paint murals on commission, including those done for the Freia chocolate factory.

To the end of his life, Munch continued to paint unsparing self-portraits, adding to his self-searching cycle of his life and his unflinching series of takes on his emotional and physical states. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazis labeled Munch’s work “degenerate art” (along with that of Picasso, Paul Klee, Matisse, Gauguin and many other modern artists) and removed his 82 works from German museums.

In 1940, the Germans invaded Norway and the Nazi party took over the government. Munch was 76 years old. With nearly an entire collection of his art in the second floor of his house, Munch lived in fear of a Nazi confiscation. Seventy-one of the paintings previously taken by the Nazis had been returned to Norway through purchase by collectors (the other eleven were never recovered), including The Scream and The Sick Child, and they too were hidden from the Nazis.

Munch died in his house at Ekely near Oslo on 23 January 1944, about a month after his 80th birthday. The city of Oslo bought the Ekely estate from Munch’s heirs in 1946; his house was demolished in May 1960.


When I look at a platter of Norwegian open-face sandwiches I am vaguely reminded of a Munch painting. However, I’ll turn my attention to pinnekjøtt. Pinnekjøtt are lamb or mutton ribs that are prepared in a way that was originally traditional in northern and western Norway but is now popular throughout the country, especially at Christmas. I can’t give you a genuine recipe because you need to get the ribs in Norway, but I can give the idea.


The preparation of pinnekjøtt uses traditional methods for food preservation, curing, drying and in some regions also smoking as means of inhibiting the growth of micro-organisms. In home preparation of pinnekjøtt, racks of lamb or mutton are cured in brine or coarse sea salt. Once sufficiently cured, and when the weather is cold enough, the racks are hung in a cool, dark, well ventilated place to dry. In some regions, particularly in parts of Hordaland, the fresh racks are smoked prior to curing. Traditionally this was done in order to prevent mold growth during the drying process and some food historians assert that this method was inherited from the Vikings.

Before cooking, the racks are separated into individual ribs by cutting them apart with a sharp knife between the bones. The ribs must then be soaked in water in order to rinse out the salt and reconstitute the meat. Today pinnekjøtt is available in most supermarkets before Christmas, smoked or unsmoked, ready cut and sometimes also soaked, ready for cooking.


After soaking, the ribs are steamed over a little water in a large saucepan. A layer of birch twigs or strips may be placed in the bottom of the saucepan instead of a metal steamer. The name pinnekjøtt (literally: stick meat) is disputed. It may refer to the birch twigs of the cooking process, but the word ‘pinne’ in Norwegian slang is also used to refer to single ribs.



Nov 212014


According to Jewish tradition on this date in 164 BCE Judah Maccabee rededicated the temple in Jerusalem after he had defeated the Seleucid Antiochus IV and cleaned out all the Greek statuary and other profanations. The Jewish feast of Hanukkah (“Dedication”), thus, commemorates the restoration of Jewish worship at the temple. For centuries Hanukkah was a relatively minor celebration in the Jewish ritual calendar because, unlike major holy days such as Passover and Yom Kippur, it has no basis in the Tanakh (Hebrew biblical canon).

Judea was part of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt until 200 BCE when Antiochus III of Syria defeated Ptolemy V Epiphanes of Egypt at the Battle of Panium. Judea became at that moment part of the Seleucid Empire of Syria. Antiochus III wanting to conciliate his new Jewish subjects guaranteed their right to “live according to their ancestral customs” and to continue to practice their religion in the temple in Jerusalem. However in 175 BCE, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the son of Antiochus III, invaded Judea, ostensibly at the request of the sons of Tobias. The Tobiads, who led the Hellenizing Jewish faction in Jerusalem, were expelled to Syria around 170 BCE when the high priest Onias and his pro-Egyptian faction wrested control from them. The exiled Tobiads lobbied Antiochus IV to recapture Jerusalem. As ancient Jewish historian Josephus tells us:

The king being thereto disposed beforehand, complied with them, and came upon the Jews with a great army, and took their city by force, and slew a great multitude of those that favored Ptolemy, and sent out his soldiers to plunder them without mercy. He also spoiled the temple, and put a stop to the constant practice of offering a daily sacrifice of expiation for three years and six months.

When the temple in Jerusalem was looted and services stopped, Judaism was outlawed. In 167 BC Antiochus ordered an altar to Zeus erected in the Temple. He banned brit milah (circumcision) and ordered pigs to be sacrificed at the altar of the temple (the sacrifice of pigs to the Greek gods was standard ritual practice in ancient Greek religion).

Antiochus’ actions provoked a large-scale revolt. Mattathias (Mattityahu), a Jewish priest, and his five sons Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah led a rebellion against Antiochus. Judah became known as Yehuda HaMakabi (“Judah the Hammer”). By 166 BC Mattathias had died, and Judah took his place as leader.


By 165 BC the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy was successful. The Temple was liberated and rededicated. The festival of Hanukkah was instituted to celebrate this event. Judah ordered the Temple to be cleansed, a new altar to be built in place of the polluted one and new holy vessels to be made. According to the Talmud, unadulterated and undefiled pure olive oil with the seal of the kohen gadol (high priest) was needed for the menorah in the Temple, which was required to burn throughout the night every night. The story goes that one flask was found with only enough oil to burn for one day, yet it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of kosher oil for the menorah. An eight-day festival was declared by the Jewish sages to commemorate this miracle.

The version of the story in 1 Maccabees states that an eight-day celebration of songs and sacrifices was proclaimed upon re-dedication of the altar, and makes no mention of the miracle of the oil. In fact, the miracle of the oil, which is central to Hanukkah, has been repeatedly questioned for its historicity since the Middle Ages. Because of its lack of Biblical authority Hanukkah was, for centuries, considered of minor importance. Now, because of its proximity to Christmas, it has taken on much greater importance in countries where Christmas is a mega-fest of display and consumption – acting as a rival festivity. As such it has adopted many Christmas customs such as the Christmas tree, redefined as a Hanukkah bush, with classic Jewish symbols, such as the star of David, replacing santa and wise men.

Hanukkah is not a Sabbath-like holiday, and there is no obligation to refrain from activities that are forbidden on the Sabbath, as specified in the Shulkhan Arukh. Adherents go to work as usual, but may leave early in order to be home to kindle the lights at nightfall. There is no religious reason for schools to be closed, although, in Israel, schools close from the second day for the whole week of Hanukkah. Many families exchange gifts each night, such as books or games.


Each night, throughout the 8 day holiday, a candle or oil-based light, is lit. As a universally practiced “beautification” (hiddur mitzvah) of the mitzvah, the number of lights lit is increased by one each night. An extra light called a shamash, meaning “attendant” or “sexton,” is also lit each night, and is given a distinct location, usually higher, lower, or to the side of the others. The purpose of the extra light is to adhere to the prohibition, specified in the Talmud (Tracate Shabbat 21b–23a), against using the Hanukkah lights for anything other than publicizing and meditating on the Hanukkah miracle. This differs from Sabbath candles which are meant to be used for illumination and lighting. Hence, if one were to need extra illumination on Hanukkah, the shamash candle would be available, and one would avoid using the prohibited lights. Some, especially Ashkenazim, light the shamash candle first and then use it to light the others. So all together, including the shamash, two lights are lit on the first night, three on the second and so on, ending with nine on the last night, for a total of 44 (36, excluding the shamash). It is Sephardic custom not to light the shamash first and use it to light the rest. Instead, the shamash candle is the last to be lit, and a different candle or a match is used to light all the candles.

The lights can be candles or oil lamps. Electric lights are sometimes used and are acceptable in places where open flame is not permitted, such as a hospital room, or for the very elderly and infirm. Most Jewish homes have a special candelabrum referred to as either a Chanukiah (the Sephardi and Israeli term), or a menorah (the traditional Ashkenazi name); Many families use an oil lamp (traditionally filled with olive oil) for Hanukkah. Like the candle Chanukiah, it has eight wicks to light plus the additional shamash light. Since the 1970’s the worldwide Chabad Hasidic movement has initiated public menorah lightings in open public places in many countries.

The reason for the Hanukkah lights is not for the “lighting of the house within,” but rather for the “illumination of the house without,” so that passersby should see it and be reminded of the holiday’s miracle (i.e. the triumph of the few over the many and of the pure over the impure). Accordingly, lamps are set up at a prominent window or near the door leading to the street. It is customary amongst some Ashkenazi Jews to have a separate menorah for each family member (customs vary), whereas most Sephardic Jews light one for the whole household. Only when there was danger of antisemitic persecution were lamps supposed to be hidden from public view, as was the case in Persia under the rule of the Zoroastrians, or in parts of Europe before and during World War II. However, most Hasidic groups light lamps near an inside doorway, not necessarily in public view. According to this tradition, the lamps are placed on the opposite side from the mezuzah, so that when people pass through the door they are surrounded by the holiness of mitzvot (the commandments).

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There are two main traditional foods for Hanukkah, latkes and sufganiyot (more or less a jelly doughnut). They are both traditional because they are fried in oil – symbolic of temple oil. There is a long North African Jewish tradition of associating sfenj (small, round, deep-fried donuts) with Hanukkah. In Israel, where Central and East European Jews mingled with North African Jews, the Yiddish ponchkes (similar to the German Berliner, the Polish pączki, or the Russian ponchik) became part of this tradition. The ponchke-style sufganiyah was originally made from two circles of dough surrounding a jelly filling, stuck together and fried in one piece. Although this method is still practiced, an easier technique commonly used today is to deep-fry whole balls of dough, similar to the preparation of sfenj, and then inject them with a filling through a baker’s syringe (or a special industrial machine). This method has resulted in the modern sufganiyah being identical to the German Berliner. As such I do not find them as interesting as latkes.


The “modern” latke is a potato pancake which is known across Europe and the Middle East (and Africa due to colonial influence). As such, it is not especially Jewish. In fact much of what has come to be known as “Jewish cuisine” is a collection of the different cooking traditions of the Jewish diaspora worldwide. It is a diverse cuisine that has evolved over many centuries, shaped by Jewish dietary laws (kashrut), Jewish festival, and Shabbat (Sabbath) traditions. Jewish cuisine is influenced by the economics, agriculture, and culinary traditions of the many countries where Jewish communities have settled and varies widely throughout the world.

Until the potato was introduced to the Old World there could not have existed potato pancakes there, Jewish or otherwise. Latkes must have been made from other vegetables. So a challenge I throw out is to make this kind of pancake with a vegetable indigenous to the Old World. The first possibility that springs to mind is to use mashed legumes such as lentils or fava beans (as in Indian cuisine). Another choice would be roots such as celeriac, parsnips, turnips, or carrots, or a mix. If you want, use the potato recipe I am going to give here but use 2 cups of cooked and mashed legumes or grated vegetable in place of the potatoes. I’ve done this many times. Yum.

Potato latkes can be tricky if you do not follow certain simple rules (ask me how I know !!). The key issue is to avoid them becoming soggy. So . . . peel and grate 2 cups   of potatoes. Soak in cold water then strain, repeating as many times necessary until the water runs clear. This helps leach out much of the starch – which you don’t want. Drain them, then squeeze out as much liquid as you can by placing the potatoes in a colander and pressing hard with wadded paper towels until they are as dry as you can get them.

Beat two eggs with salt to taste in a mixing bowl and add the potatoes. Mix well. At his point you may add other ingredients such as finely chopped onions (very common), parsley, tomatoes, whatever you want. Purists add nothing else. In many recipes you will find people adding flour or other starches. Under no circumstances do this. You just got rid of all the starch; why add it back?

Heat good quality olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. The quantity of olive oil is cook’s choice. I use about ¼ inch because the whole idea is to remember the temple oil. Besides, I think it works well. Meanwhile, take about ¼ cup of the mixture, shape it into a ball, then flatten it to form a disk. How flat is also cook’s choice. They should not be too thin, in my opinion, but traditions vary.

Fry 2 or 3 latkes at a time, turning once when the bottom browns. Drain on wire racks and serve warm.

I like mine plain as a side dish, but there are no rules here. As an appetizer you can serve them with a dollop of sour cream or what you will. At Hanukkah many Jews eat them with a sprinkling of sugar or something sweet, especially at tea time

Yield: about 8