The Hyde Collection

For the second time this month, we visited a mansion which has now been turned into a museum. And, once again, it was the husband who provided the wealth made from the timber industry and the lady of the house who in large part spearheaded the art collection. On this occasion it was The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, New York that was the object of our outing. Located about forty-five minutes north of the Capital Region on the Hudson River, the home of Louis and Charlotte Hyde contains family furniture and works of art by such famous painters as Rembrandt, Rubens, Botticelli, Renoir, Picasso, Winslow Homer, and many others. The Italian Renaissance style residence is small by twenty-first-century standards but is built around a lovely two-story courtyard. We figure that the view onto a monstrous extension of the paper mill was nowhere in sight when the couple occupied the building from 1912 until 1963. Among the paintings hanging in the house, I particularly admired Willard Metcalf’s Blossoming Maple which seems to capture the bright leaves and buds of early spring. Another work, this one by American impressionist Childe Hassam, shows a cascade of red geraniums in a summer garden.

Afterwards we took a guided tour of Objects of Wonder and Delight in the museum's exhibition hall. The touring show, produced from works in the Norton Museum of West Palm Beach, Florida, contains mainly paintings but also photographs, a doll house, and, of all things, a felt suit. Our guide, Pat, did a nice job of describing the works of art and engaging the group in the discussion as well. She began the tour by telling us that royal art academies in Europe set rules for artists, including a hierarchy of preferred themes. At the top of the list were Biblical subjects, followed by mythological, then political/historical topics, portraits, landscapes, animals, plants, and still lifes. The only subject matter considered lower than the still life was in the area of man-made objects. That being said, the still life has been in existence since the time of ancient Egyptian funerary paintings and really became popular in Dutch painting of the seventeenth century. The fifty plus works in this exhibit are devoted to four centuries of still life in art.

Pat’s first choice was to look at Banquet of Holofernes by Dutch artist Kaspar (or Gaspar) van den Hoecke. This complex painting portrays the Biblical tale of Judith who, in order to dispose of Holofernes, an invading general, plies him with food and drink and then beheads him. There is a wide array of typical still life items such as glassware and food on the painting’s right which are bathed in candlelight. On the left our guide pointed out a rectangle containing action from another time period when Judith later slips into Holofernes’s room with a sword. The intricate and beautiful style displays the skill of the artist and supports the complexities of the story.

Next, the group discussed three works dealing with fruit in very different ways. The first by nineteenth century Frenchman Gustave Courbet accurately portrayed a tray full of fruit. Then there was a joyous, if not realistic, 1924 Walt Kuhn painting of Dancing Pears. Rounding out the trio was Canadian Edward Manigault’s Still Life with Pears, Bananas, and Grapes (1918). The lush coloring of this exotic work serves to celebrate life and to remind us to reflect on where our food comes from.

It was a very enjoyable way to spend the afternoon.

A Visit to JAX

We had the opportunity to spend a few days in north Florida last week. Jacksonville and its lovely San Marco area do not at all exemplify the Florida we’ve known in the past. There is no Hispanic culture, nor wealthy jet-setting northerners anywhere in sight. In fact, with its Spanish moss-laden trees and the sweet drawl of its people, Jacksonville seems more like Georgia whose border is a mere forty miles away. The weather, too, did not remind us of south Florida. The temperature was in the fifties while we were there, but after leaving a mere twelve degrees at home, it felt pretty nice to us.

Another huge difference we noticed was that fine dining is to be had in Jacksonville. (Not much of that farther south, at least in our minds.) The first night we found our way to Bistro Aix, a short fifteen minute walk from our hotel. On Sunday through Thursday nights from 5:00 to 7:00 they offer a three-course prix fixe meal. I had the creamy French onion soup, a nice variation which I’ve noticed in cookbooks before. (Though for the life of me, I can’t remember exactly where!) Then for the main dish I chose a half of a roast chicken with garlic mashed potatoes and grilled carrots and small turnips. Very nice. For dessert they had my favorite: classic crème brülée.

The following night we weren’t as hungry and so we decided to try Taverna on San Marco square. For an appetizer we tried the cold, cubed beets, served with crumbled goat cheese, and small pieces of orange—nice, fresh, tasty! We had the pizza of the day as the entrée. It was on a thin crust with a combination of ricotta, fontina, and parmesan cheeses, topped with small strips of prosciutto. We were delighted to find on the menu a wine we’d been searching for and were finally able to taste Au Bon Climat, a California pinot noir from Santa Barbara.

Lest my readers believe that we only live to eat, let me assure you that we did manage to do a few other things on our short trip. For one, we found a great second-hand bookstore, also on the square. I really enjoy finding treasured old books like in the San Marco Bookstore, especially when they are so well-arranged in comfortable surroundings. The owner told me that to make the place more orderly they have eliminated certain sections and expanded others, like fiction and cookbooks. (Oops, there I go again!)

We really walked around a lot, including over the blue bridge to The Jacksonville Landing, Florida’s answer to New York’s South Street Seaport, with shops and restaurants. There’s a handy tourist trolley just outside that took us to the Cummer Museum. The Cummer family, who had moved to Florida from Michigan, made its fortune through saw mills. The patriarch’s son, Arthur, and his wife Ninah began collecting art at the beginning of the twentieth century. Their relatively small collection became the basis for the current museum. Visitors can also enjoy the beautiful gardens that Ninah Cummer had created, such as the Italian garden designed by landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman.

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A Mexican Fiesta

As many of my readers know, I grew up in the south, Arkansas to be exact. Because of that, I have been eating Mexican food (Tex Mex, that is) from as early as I can remember. We used to have a great restaurant in my hometown that originally had a simple dirt floor but served the freshest salsa and the most delicious cheese enchiladas and chili con queso that I have ever tasted. It’s heartening for me to see that south of the border cuisine has caught on and that now even the tiniest towns in our country seem to have one or two Mexican restaurants. I’ve collected a few good recipes over the years and would like to share two of them today, just in time for Super Bowl parties.

The first was given to me by someone I worked with in the language lab at the university. Here’s his recipe for Salsa Picante:

½ cup chopped onion,
1 cup chopped fresh tomato,
½ cup chopped Anaheim chilies (or bell pepper),
1 or 2 jalapeños, seeded and chopped,
2 Tab. cider vinegar (or lime juice),
pinch of salt,
2 Tab. oil,
1 teas. sugar, and
chopped cilantro
Several variations can be made using this basic recipe. Very often I add one or two chopped avocados to the mixture. This dish can then be served as a dip with corn chips, as a topping on tacos or burritos, as a side dish, or even as a salad dressing.

My sons once gave me a Mexican Cooking Class Cookbook which has quite a few good recipes in it. One of our favorites which I have adapted and simplified is called Stacked Enchiladas.

For this dish you first need to make a Red Chili Sauce:
Put 1/4 cup oil in a saucepan and cook about ½ cup of minced onion.
Add 2 Tab. flour and cook about one minute.
Put in 1/4 cup chili powder,
1 8-oz. can of tomato sauce,
1/2 teas. ground or whole cumin,
fresh minced garlic or garlic powder to taste, and
1 1/2 c. water. Cook for about 10 minutes till the flavors blend.

Then it's time to make the filling which could include meat or be vegetarian. I like to have a few cans of no-fat refried beans on hand which makes this a super quick meal.

Cook ½ pound of ground beef (chicken or refried beans) in a saucepan with a tablespoon of oil. Add ½ cup chopped onion, a pinch of salt, 1 clove minced garlic (or garlic powder), and about ¼ cup of the red chili sauce to the mixture. Finally, cook corn tortillas in a small amount of oil until limp. Drain on paper towels.

Now you are ready to assemble the enchiladas. Dip the cooked tortillas into the chili sauce to coat both sides. Place in an over-proof casserole, top with a small amount of the meat or bean mixture, topping with some cheddar cheese and sliced black olives. Then repeat the procedure, stacking each tortilla with one or two more layers. Cover with remaining chili sauce and sprinkle with more shredded cheese. Broil in the oven until the cheese is melted, about 5 minutes. Serve with shredded lettuce.

¡Buen provecho! And, by the way, I couldn't care less who wins the Super Bowl! ;)

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