Friday, June 19, 2015

A Tasteful Palette

“Luncheon of the Boating Party,” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
1880-81. (The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.)

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Yes, this is an art blog, but it’s summer and I’m hungry. After dragging through a protracted, depressing winter with only heavy comfort food to offset the somber hues of sun-starved days, it’s nice to revel in the fresh sights and tastes of the season. So today I’m pairing some art with one of my favorite summery sandwiches. The tasty concoction was inspired by an artsy-fartsy offering I once had in an Asheville, N.C., cafe, but I’ve given it my own spin.

First, however, a few art entrees.
“The Crayfish Season Opens,”
by Carl Larsson. 1897.

When I think of artwork and summer, I immediately think of the Impressionists and their near-obsession with sunlight. And when I think of dining al fresco, Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party” always comes to mind. In spite of a top hat or two, the whole composition is awash in casual ease. Straw hats and undershirts, striped sun awning, opened bottles of wine and distant boats underscore friendly conversation and musings of relaxed revelers. Renoir’s signature handling of paint adds to the liveliness of the setting, and the viewer can’t help but feel a tad jealous for not being able to climb through the canvas and into the warm celebration.
“A Bigger Splash,” by David Hockney.
1967. (The Tate, London)

Now we jump sideways into Swedish illustrator, Carl Larsson’s, “The Crayfish Season Opens.” His classic approach to Scandinavian life has a light-handed feel, and this particular piece is a perfect addition to our menu. I know little, if anything, of the lowly crayfish and its place in Swedish gastronomy, but it is evident that the delicacy is somehow equated with summer. The outdoor table, smiling hostess and beckoning water pull at our imagination, and the viewer finds himself yearning for a morsel – if not a plateful – of summer sunshine and all the bounty it promises.

David Hockney may not be your cup of iced tea, but this painting, “A Bigger Splash,” has fierce, mental staying power and I cannot help but think of a perfect Summer day when confronted by its pure color and simple shapes. The character of light and splash of white entices us to find a martini, which must certainly be just out of view, and leave behind our wet footprints.
“Zuleika,” by John Singer Sargent.
c. 1906. (Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, N.Y.)

John Singer Sargent supplies my last offering before we heat up the stove. Known for his oil portraits of the rich and famous, Sargent was also a prolific water-colorist and a master of the figurative landscape. His “Zuleika,” harkens to the Impressionists, and minimized brush strokes maximize the feel of dappled shade and a summer breeze. The form is ambiguous to the point that we are left wondering if the figure is reading a book, or dozing. Perhaps it is a bit of both. Either way, the cares of life have been put aside, if only for a season.

Summer has a way of putting us at ease, and we devour the long days and the warmth they offer. Autumn will come in its own time and usher in different colors and flavors. But now it is summer, and it’s time for a bite.

Edward’s Killer Sandwich
Servings: Whatever
Calories: Probably a lot less than that cheesecake you’ve been eying

This one just might convert the meat-eaters in your crowd. It’s packed with flavor, and it will fill you up without killing the diet. You can vary the ingredients a tad, but stay as close as you can to my ingredients. Above all, don’t cave in to the Philistine’s – avoid adding meat.

Olive oil focaccia bread
Olive oil
Havarti cheese, sliced
Mayo (optional)
Avocado, sliced
Artisan lettuce or fresh baby spinach
Tomato, sliced
FRESH basil leaves, whole

Cut bread into sandwich-sized portions and slice horizontally to make matching halves. Liberally brush inside surfaces of bread with olive oil. Place bread on griddle. Use a water-filled tea kettle or some other weight to keep bread flat, and grill over medium heat, until deep golden brown.
Place cheese on one grilled half. Spread pesto and mayo (optional) on other grilled half. Layer remaining ingredients. Serve warm. Hint: If serving sandwich cooled and in an al fresco setting, keep ingredients separate until just before serving.

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