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Cucumber Salad

If you’re anything like me, the presence of a large bowl of cucumbers and onions dressed with vinegar and perhaps a IMG_0205little sugar or salt is a sure sign of a well-balanced summer meal.  As long as there’s a platter of sliced tomatoes, some well-buttered ears of corn, and cold hunks of melon to look forward to, it’s a warm weather feast worthy of any country table and any country appetite.

But that bowl of pale green and white has a special place in my heart because it represents some pretty sensible kitchen magic.

The cucumber itself is the perfect summer food because it is truly cool – its interior is about 20 degrees cooler than its surface.  That relates to the fact that the vegetable is 96% water and wears a well-insulated jacket in a fashionable shade of green.  What makes the summer table work so well is the presence of lots of moisture, and cucumbers, like much good, fresh produce, is bursting with hydration.

cuke salad ingredientsWith all that goodness going on, you wonder why on earth you’d want to cover it up with any dressing at all?  But the cucumber salad takes on an additional level of brilliance for the summer table precisely because of that dressing and its slightly sour disposition.

Vinegar’s acidity commends it to the summer diet because of its refreshing quality.  What, you don’t think of vinegar as refreshing?  Perhaps you’d prefer a glass of lemonade or a crisp gold glass of sauvignon blanc?  What makes both of those beverages work in the summer sun is their acidity – think of it as a brightness that acts in the same way as does a squeeze of lime over a taco or lemon over fish.

When the cucumbers dive into their dressing, they are literally bathed in extra refreshment.  It’s a relish, really, that’s light, summery and enlivening and a perfect match to food from the grill. And if you’re a fan of the cold fried chicken picnic, cucumber salad is almost a miracle worker for making the mouth sing after the richness of the crisp and golden-brown main course.

Tomato Head’s version of this Southern staple combines the traditional recipe with a little mint and jalapeno.  The dab of heat actually works to increase the refreshment quality because it wakes up your mouth’s receptors.  And mint adds additional refreshment with an alluring flavor that sets this dish apart from granny’s delicious but predictable version.

It’s quick, it’s fresh, and it’s cool.  Just like a cucumber ought to be.

Tomato Head’s Cucumber Salad

The Finished Product

The Finished Product

For the Dressing:

¼ cup cider vinegar

1 Tbl sugar

3/4 tsp salt

Mix vinegar together with sugar and salt in a small saucepan, and heat just until sugar dissolves. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.

For the Salad:

4 cups cucumber

1/2 cup onion

2 TBL minced jalapeno

2 TBL mint, chopped

2 TBL of vinegar mix

Thinly slice the cucumbers and onion and place in a medium bowl. Add the chopped Jalapeno and mint. Pour the dressing over the cucumber mixture and allow the mixture to sit for 30 minutes.

Serve as a side dish with Fried Chicken, or any grilled meats.

Serves 6-8 people.

Dino Liddick – Featured Artist

image4The image of the tortured artist is cliché because it’s often true, and, more so, because we talk about it a lot.  In fact we love it.  It may be that it appeals to a strange human craving for martyrdom:  we love those who suffer for their passions.  But not all artists fall on their swords or mutilate their ears; for a whole bunch of them the creative process reflects an earnest desire to bring a burning passion or drive to create into harmony with a good, even calm life.

Dino Liddick is one of the seekers of calm.  Dino’s exhibit, “With the Eye, For the Mind” is currently hanging in our Market Square location, and the work that comprises the show is built upon a foundation of mindfulness and kindness.  Some of that is a reaction to an emotional life, and some is related to sheer practicality.

Certainly the artist has responded to emotional crises in his work, but for Liddick, the art isn’t merely a kind of therapy: it’s a statement of being.  “Sometimes somebody will ask me how I feel, and I say, well, look at that painting – that’s how I feel.”  On his website, he writes, “Rather than pulling ideas from the mind to produce ‘art,’” he, “practices clearing his mind through the process of a piece.”

Rather than formulate a work, Liddick hopes the piece will come together intuitively without too much conscious involvement.  It’s an effort to feel rather than to think.  When he’s moved by a subject or situation, Dino tries “to go home and reach that feeling, and let that feeling come into shape. I try to paint the feeling and then put in the shapes – I don’t try to the paint the shapes and then put in the feeling.”

In addition to his sensory exploration and mind clearing, Liddick has a practical side that comes with a sense of humor.

Often, he says, when the creative urge hits he’ll “usually have an abundance of white or an abundance of blue [paint]. I’ll image2be thinking of new painting so I’ll follow the path of least resistance. And I say, ‘Hey you got to love this color! Why not make it easy on yourself and make a nice blue painting,’ instead of saying, “Oh no! I’m an artist with this idea for red so I’m going to go out and spend $200 on red!’ I try not to be stuck up with myself.”

There’s also a Zen element to Dino’s conversation and art, and accepting the path of least resistance is part of his overall search for balance in the chaos that life can easily become.

“Whether I’m doing red or blue painting it’s up to me. If I get stuck or caught up in making a red one when I’ve got a lot of blue, I’m not taking the path of least resistance… I’m going to take this hard way.  I see people struggling through their day, and they say l’ve got all this I’ve got to do… I slow down and just go home and chill and think be happy with your day instead of putting your happiness at the end of this long hard exhausting road.  It’s almost like we Americans say you’re not happy unless you practically kill yourself today.”

“With the Eye, for the Mind” by Dino Liddick will be on view at the downtown Knoxville Tomato Head on Market Square from June 5th through July 2nd.  The exhibit will display at the West Knoxville Gallery Tomato Head from July 4th through August 3rd.

Cheese Straws

I do not often think of myself as a Southerner.  It’s not prejudicial – I am fond of the South in many ways and often eat and cook like a Southerner ought to do.   I’ve grown okra, I can tie up a tomato, I know how to make a fair tea cake, I prefer my grits with red-eye gravy, and my cast iron skillet is seasoned and ready for cornbread at the drop of a hat.  Why, the only things really that keep me from calling myself a true Southerner are that I have never thought of East Tennessee as being particularly Southern, and, much, much more to the point, I don’t care for cheese straws.

Getting Ready to Mix

Getting Ready to Mix

Don’t misunderstand me, I like the idea of cheese straws, and I even like the taste of them.  What I do not like is the shape – this essential southern snack, when forced through a cookie press like a big hog through a tight sty, takes on a cylindrical, sometimes frilly edged form that I find difficult to abide.

In case you might wonder, it is not a cylinder phobia of which I am afflicted.  I enjoy driving with all 4 of them firing as much as the next person, and should I find myself eating a whole carrot, I am content to nibble away as any cartoon bunny might.  But in the matter of cheese straws with their delicate and tender construction, I am entirely discontent to approach the thing as one might approach a corn dog.

That delicate construction has a propensity to crumb or even break off.  If the straw is made to be delicious, it will be a little unctuous and may very well leave a slight stain on one’s seersucker should it break apart.  Furthermore, I subscribe to the idea that decent cocktail food should be easily eaten in one, perhaps two bites.  I have seen straws that strain that rule to upwards of four ungainly mouthfuls.

Who, I ask you, would be so indelicate as to imagine that I could possibly eat that way in polite society?  Why a cheese straw of such a length would most certainly tickle the epiglottis and provoke an unseemly gag or, if it did not, might open one up to very scurrilous remarks upon the absence of that reflex.

So you see my point, I am quite sure.  Fortunately, the very good and sensible Mahasti also understands this woeful

Ready to Cut the Wafers

Ready to Cut the Wafers

dilemma.  For this reason, she has proved us with a very politic solution.  In fact it’s much more politic and agreeable than almost anything else I’ve heard so far this year.  You see, after Mahasti assembles her base recipe she rolls it up into a long cylinder (of which, I remind you, I am not phobic) and slices it into the most delicate little rounds you can imagine.

These are cheese wafers and have the same kind of ethereal lightness that I imagined manna having when it floated down into my imagination during Sunday School.

I suppose you can take your crunchy cheese snack in whatever shape you want it.  But I hope you’ll understand that while I may not have the genteel quality of a real Southerner, I do have delicate sensibilities which is the next best thing.

So Bon Appetit, y’all.

 

Flour Head Bakery’s Cheddar Cheese Wafers

The Finished Product

The Finished Product

½ lb Sharp Cheddar, shredded

4 oz butter (1 stick), soft

3 TBl water

1.5 cups all purpose flour

1 tsp salt

½ tsp Cayenne

½ tsp Paprika

1 tsp Bl pepper

2 tsp baking powder

In the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or in a medium bowl with a hand-held mixer, beat the butter until smooth.  Add the shredded cheddar and mix until the cheese breaks down and forms a smooth paste.  Add water and mix just until incorporated.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, salt, cayenne, paprika, black pepper and baking powder.

Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix until it forms a smooth ball.  Divide the dough into 2 pieces, and shape each piece into a log.  Wrap each log in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, 2 hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 300 degrees.

Slice the log into 1/8 inch discs and place on a parchment lined baking sheet, with ½ inch of space between each wafer.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Remove the wafers from the oven, turn the oven off and allow the oven to cool for 10 minutes.  Return the wafers to the oven and allow to rest in off oven for 30 minutes or until crisp. (the wafers will crisp up as they cool)

Unbaked wafer logs can be kept in the refrigerator up to 5 days, and can be frozen for up to 1 month.

Guacamole

Juliet famously pined, “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.”  Of course she was considering handsome young Romeo whose family name represented an ancient feud and was, one might say, the Hatfield to her McCoy.  But names matter, at least in some matters they do, and sometimes for odd reasons.

Consider the Avocado.  Its real, rather, its original name, ahuacate, is an Aztec word for a certain part of the male reproductive equipment that resembles the, ahem, sack-like shape of the avocado.  Get the picture?

20170506_075758

the ingredients are ready

The folks who wanted to market the oily fruit to Americans certainly got a picture – one can only imagine their faces when someone explained the name.  I suspect they had nightmares of rival campaigns trying to denigrate and rebrand their product as Aztec testicles. Fortunately for the avocado farmers, the renaming worked; and that’s also fortunate for us – just imagine a world without avocado.

Guacamole, like popcorn, chocolate, and chewing gum, dates back to the Aztec Empire, too.  In fact, the basic recipe hasn’t changed very much: avocado, tomato, onion, some hot pepper and cilantro.  And many folks will argue that the basic recipe is all you need.  But we know that history and available ingredients change recipes all the time – not to mention the human drive to mix things up.

20170506_080743

chips and dip anyone?

And this is exactly what Mahasti’s recipe does.  While it stays true to the basics, the addition of both mango and blueberry give the dip a surprising depth of flavor and pops of delicate sweetness.  Mango’s texture is a perfect substitute for tomatoes in this variation while the blueberries add an additional kind of fun bite to the eating of it.

The fruit has a tasty interaction with the jalapeno, too – the heat of the pepper actually accentuates the sweetness of the fruit while the blueberries in particular act as an internal balm to the jalapeno’s warmth.  There’s gotta be some food science to explain it, all, but, all I know is that this mix is uniquely delicious.

20170506_075243 (1)

the rumble in progress

This recipe also has the distinction of being the winning Guacamole in the soon to be legendary contest: Guac Rumble 2017 between Mahasti and WBIR’s Daniel Sechtin.  Certainly Daniel’s traditional version was delicious – especially with his deft use of serrano peppers and garlic; but Mahasti’s version swayed the judges by sheer force of flavor, and, of course, because it’s awfully attractive, too.

Tomato Head’s “Better than Daniel’s” Guacamole

½ Mango

2 TBL Jalapeno, chopped

3 TBL Cilantro, chopped

3 TBL Red Onion, chopped

3 Ripe Avocado

½ cup Fresh Blooberries

1 TBL Lime Juice

½ tsp Salt

Cut ½ mango off, remove the flesh with a spoon and chop into small pieces and place in a medium bowl.

Chop Jalapeno, cilantro and red onions, and add them to the bowl.  Cut avocado in half and remove pits.  Score the avocados into sections, and scoop out into the bowl.  Add blueberries, lime juice and salt.  Mix well smashing the avocados with the side of the spoon a little if too chunky.

Serve Guacamole with chips as an appetizer, or alongside tacos, or enchiladas.

Lemon Cake

For many juvenile Southerners, like young and tender me, lemon lives in the libation section of the memory because it of its inextricable association with tall and frosty vessels of our beloved iced tea.  And though a bright yellow wedge of citrus perched happily on the edge of a glass signals sweet refreshment for some, it is a vision that makes my tongue curl in abject terror.

You see, while my child hood was, largely, a sweet time that was filled with culinary delights provided by my Mamaws,

Getting Ready to Mix

Getting Ready to Mix

including one, Mamaw Ethel, who was not only a fine cook but also a master baker, it was also a time of certain frugalities.  Though Mamaw Ethel would splurge on any number of cake ingredients, for her nearly constant companion, a giant jar of iced tea, she was content to spike her beverage with a healthy dollop of commercially concentrated lemon juice from a pale green bottle that lived in the door of her fridge.

Perhaps you can see the appeal?  When compared to the cost of real lemons, this was a bargain of nearly incomparable magnitude.

But to poor, lil’ ole me who was accustomed to liking so many of the things at Mamaw’s table, the accidental and inevitable and always shocking swallow of her overly faux-lemoned tea was ruinous to my normally sweet complexion.

And thus it has ever been.  To this day, good southern folk smile indulgently at the village idiot who orders “Iced tea, no fruit.”

And after all those years of suffering through the vile torture of sweet natured folks who just couldn’t  believe that anybody would want tea without lemon,  it has taken a long time for me to see the lemon as a friend.

Ready to Eat

Ready to Eat

But I am not alone.  Little did I know that I was experiencing literally some of the most potent figurative aspects of this particular citrus.  For in painting and in other matters artistic, the lemon may represent bitterness or wealth.  The lemon’s pith, as I imagine you know, is a tongue bending taste – all on its own it’s fiercely bitter to my mouth – which, according to various voices on the inter-webs, is what you’re supposed to understand should you see a peeled lemon in a painting.  It’s certainly what I see when I recall Mamaw’s free-flowing lemon in a jar.

Likewise, like black pepper and other spices, lemon once was a hard to get and expensive provision.  If there was a lemon on your table, your neighbors might shake their head and cluck, “You can’t hide money…”

I don’t think Mamaw worried what the neighbors thought – I suspect she was just keeping her pennies for better uses: she did make a luxurious Coconut Cream Cake at a time with when coconut was much dearer in rural East Tennessee than it is now.

At any rate, I avoided lemon bars, slandered lemon ice-box pie, and nearly gagged at the thought of lemon cake for years.  But it was, in fact, a well glazed lemon pound cake that changed my mind and my sweet life forever.

Of course, I didn’t know there was lemon lurking in every bite of that beautiful cake – it was the first pound cake that ever I saw crowned with a layer of nearly sculpted white glaze.  It was perfect, and it was love at first sight; and even after the first bite, infused though it was with lemon, lemon, lemon, I was enthralled like Romeo (but without similar consequences).

The bright and happy sweetness of fresh lemon well blended with sugar and flour was so delightful, I even wanted to kiss the little bit of zest I found lying in wait in each mouthful.  I did not eat this cake delicately, nor did I eat slowly or modestly with good sense.  I ate my second slice with the same ravenous mouth that bolted down the first.  I am not ashamed.  I had years of eating to make up for.

Thus, with all due respect to Mamaw, it pleases me more than I want to admit that Mahasti has opted to share this particular Flour Head recipe.  It is, methinks, the lemon loaf that greets the soul at paradise.  It’s moist enough as it is with a generous cloud of sour cream, but once you add the lemon syrup and seal it with a kiss, er, that is, a smooth layer of lemon glaze, you may feel compelled to sing and, perhaps, quote Shakespeare.

Flour Head Bakery’s Lemon Loaf with Fresh Berries

For the Cake:

Even Better with Berries

Even Better with Berries

4 large eggs

1 1/3 cup Sour Cream

1 1/3 cup Granulated Sugar

2/3 cup oil

3 TBL Lemon Zest

2 TBL Lemon Juice

2 c All Purpose Flour

2 2/3 tsp Baking Powder

2/3 tsp Salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour a 9x 5 loaf pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl whisk together eggs, sour cream, sugar and oil. Add lemon Zest and Lemon Juice. In another bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and whisk just until combined. Some lumps will be left; don’t overmix.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Drop the oven temperature to 325 and bake another 35 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 200 degrees or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

While the cake is baking prepare the lemon syrup and lemon glaze.

Lemon Syrup:

2 TBL Lemon Juice

3 TBL Confectioner’s sugar

After you remove the cake from the oven, and while it is still hot and in the pan, spoon the lemon syrup over the top of the cake. Allow cake to cool in the pan for 30 minutes to an hour. Remove the cake from the pan, onto a cooling rack or plate.

Lemon Glaze:

1 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar

3 TBL Lemon Juice

1 TBL Lemon Zest

Carefully pour the glaze over the entire length of the cake, and smooth it out with the back of a spoon, covering the top.

Slice and serve with fresh berries.

Schulz Brau and Nico Schulz

They say you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.  Sometimes, I guess, that means habits, and

The Schulz Brau Castle

The Schulz Brau Castle

sometimes it may refer to the native accent.  The degree to which that is true varies widely, I suspect; but I’m betting that the old saw’s veracity is more likely if the country boy is remembering good beer, and the country roads that take him home are in Germany.

And if you meet Nico Shulz of the Schulz Bräu Brewing Company, or just get a good swallow of his beer, you’ll thank God he’s a country boy who missed the sudsy comforts of home enough to recreate them here and share.

When Nico first moved to the US to study food science in Lexington, KY, he says he quickly began to “miss my good German beers, so I started making my own.”  Later, when visiting his soon to be wife in Knoxville, he was disappointed he “couldn’t really find a brewery that I liked, at least, none with German beer. Of course, it was some years ago and there weren’t many breweries around. So I started to think that Knoxville needed a German brewery.”

A Gleaming Brew House

A Gleaming Brew House

The result of Nico’s contemplations is Schulz Bräu Brewing Company located just off Central on Bernard Avenue.  It’s an impressive facility and beautiful, too.  The exterior is imposing and belies the comfortable surroundings and pristine brewery inside.  Though he’s a passionate beer man in mission and vocation, Nico trained as a scientist – and his brewery, one might say, reflects the discipline of his discipline.  And while science and tradition may sometimes make uneasy bedfellows, at Schulz Bräu, they’re like horse and carriage.

That’s one of the reasons we love it.

At Tomato Head, we try to keep our taps of beer made close to home, so it’s been a great time for us as Knoxville’s brewers have fruitful and multiplied.  And that’s never been truer than this month when Nico was finally able to contribute Schulz Bräu to our taps.

That makes us happy in lots of ways.  First, of course, the closeness of the beer’s birth means that it’s fresh and also means that we get to celebrate our favorite town with every pull of the tap handle.

It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Nico makes an authentic and outstanding German Pilsner that’s crisp and refreshing, and one that makes good music with all our food in addition to tasting pretty fine all by itself, too.

But one of the brightest jewels in Nico’s crown is his commitment to the ideals of the Reinheitsgebot.  That mouthful of a word refers to the German Beer Purity Law.  Nico describes it as, “the oldest food safety law in the world. It basically dictates that you can only use four ingredients to make beer: water, hops, malt and yeast.  So that’s all we use – we’re not adding any flavoring, and we add no chemicals to it. Everything is brewed traditionally – no preservatives nothing like that.  It makes brewing quite harder and less efficient, but I prefer the traditional way – it’s the healthier way.”

It’s no secret to beer lovers that beer can be made with any number of artificial additives, Nico estimates that “there are dozens of chemicals

Fresh Pilsner

Fresh Pilsner

approved by the FDA that you can add to your beer: things to give a higher yield, a longer shelf life -but it’s just not worth it to me. You can add color, antioxidants, and there’s even stuff you can add so the kettle doesn’t boil over, but I’d rather have it boil over than add chemicals to my beer. There’s just no need for it –  it’s easier and more efficient, yes, but that’s it.  And that’s unhealthy, so we don’t use them; we just want to make something that we take pride in.”

And that’s something we take pride in pouring.

PROST! And Zum Wohl, too!

Casey Fox – Featured Artist

By day, Casey Fox is the celebrated manager of Library Fund Development for the Knox County Public Library.  Featured as one of the Knoxville News-Sentinel’s “40 under 40,” Fox gets kudos for her fund-raising efforts, particularly a capital campaign to help digitize the library’s historic archives.

But when she’s not busy contributing to the Library’s mission, Fox has a secret identity, and it’s one that Tomato Head has proudly unveiled and put on public display in our Market Square restaurant.

Casey Fox is also a photographer.

Putt n Stuff

Putt n Stuff

Now through May 1st, Fox presents her first solo exhibit in our downtown location.  Titled “Landscaped,” the exhibit features a collection of images that Fox captured over the last 7 or 8 years but without intending to create a series.  Fox says it was only after the fact that she realized that not only did she have enough shots for a show, she had also uncovered a style:

“I was just looking back through my pictures and realized, ‘oh this is what I do’. I remember sitting on the couch once looking through all my stuff and putting some pictures together in the computer and then turning to my husband, Jesse, and saying I think I have a show.”

Chittlins

Chittlins

Fox’s style is a natural one – the photos in the show are largely unrefined with only minimal post processing.  This raw naturalism says Fox, is, in some ways, related to New Topographics, a movement that arose in the 1970s.  The movement, in the words of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, marked a shift in photography as “Pictures of transcendent natural vistas gave way to unromanticized views of stark industrial landscapes, suburban sprawl, and everyday scenes not usually given a second glance.”

Fox captures this quality – her lighting is all natural and the photographs are almost always straight on with any attempt to manipulate the landscape – not even through angled shots.  She makes a point of that because, “I like the subjects to speak for themselves. I guess that’s another reason I don’t do weird angles or anything – I just like presenting the buildings, or whatever the subject is, and letting it be there and not projecting a lot on to it. “

But that’s not to say that there’s no romanticism in Fox’s exhibit – there very well may be, but it’s a romanticism that the visitor and viewer will bring.

Many of the shots in “Landscaped” were captured in East Tennessee, and some of those are practically redolent with

Bristol Auto Auction

Bristol Auto Auction

nostalgia – an abandoned and overgrown store front, an old house seemingly inhabited by the trees that crowd it, even a shot of empty road and overpasses evoke a distinct feel of a familiar landscape and the travels and memories once made there.

Of course, those are personal reactions – you’ll enjoy forming your own.

“Landscaped”, an exhibit of photographs by Casey Fox will be on view at the downtown Knoxville Tomato Head Restaurant from April 3rd to April 30th, 2017.  The exhibit will then display at the West Knoxville Gallery Tomato Head from May 2nd to June 5th, 2017.

Peanut Butter Sandwich Day

Open faced and ready to eat

Open faced and ready to eat

As a younger person, I never grasped the concept of comfort food. For me, food fell into only two categories – things I liked and things I didn’t.  And the categorization was complicated – one might assume that peanut butter was in one category or another, but it wasn’t.  A piece of bread, spread thick with the smooth and creamy nut butter was something likeable unless it was it was folded in half (or topped with more bread), in which case I didn’t like it. No, not one bit.

I can still remember my poor father’s baffled expression when I wouldn’t eat the snack that only moments before I had noisily craved.  What he didn’t understand was that there was a vast difference between a peanut butter sandwich and what I called a peanut butter top. And so, when he enacted the dreadful fold, the craving died and the luster was off the nut – as I’m certain he thought I was off my nut, too.

I couldn’t explain it.  It just was – might as well ask me why I have a big toe.  I just do.

As a grown person, I don’t have that particular obsession anymore, well, not in the same degree.  Nowadays, peanut butter sandwiches have zero appeal without jelly, but I retain an admittedly strange obsession with canapes and other foods served open-faced.  And there is nothing that catches my heart, appetite, and eye quite like an open faced cookie.  For it was the thumbprint cookie that revealed not only why I turned my countenance from Daddy’s sandwich but also transformed my inexplicable obsession into explicable reason.

At least to my mind.

My mother was fond of sandwich cookies – Vienna fingers or vanilla creams were a constant and welcome presence in the pantry.  But there was one day, a glorious and epiphanous day, when some kind and generous soul gifted mother with a bag of Pepperidge Farm Strawberry thumbprint cookies.

Almost Finished

Almost Finished

Oh joyous day – every obsessive nerve in my little body quivered – here was the peanut butter top of cookies, and it had jam.  JAM!  But most importantly it was then that I knew! I knew why the peanut butter top was essential, and the peanut butter sandwich was vile.  It was at the first moment of biting that cookie when I understood that the open face always smelled better and! And! AND! the impression of the first bite was not dominated by the bread or the cookie but was shared equally with the always magnificent, always delightful filling!

First impressions DO matter.

More important than my own epiphany, now my poor father would feel the sting of my refusal less keenly!  He would understand, as I understood, that my rejection of the sandwich was a textural and olfactive thing and not some oedipal grudge.  And he would no longer think that I was off my nut.

Alas, fathers, like children, I suppose, don’t always act like we want them to do– even 45 years later my dad remains uncertain about my sanity.  But I know – and that’s enough.

And while my affection for peanut butter has changed significantly, there are two things that have become essential truth in my eating life: One is that peanut butter is always better with jelly; the other, good food with good open faced presentation is the road to Nirvana. And thumbprint cookies are the fast lane.

Sunday, April 2nd is National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day.  You may celebrate with a sandwich if you must, or you can really put the hammer down by making Peanut Butter and Jelly Thumbprint Cookies.  Mahasti has provided a recipe below – and will show you how easy it is to celebrate in open-faced style on WBIR’s Weekend Today.

And while baking these cookies and celebrating food holidays may only affirm your family’s worry that you’re off your nut, they’ll be grateful that you’re tasteful about it.

Flour Head Bakery’s Peanut Butter and Jelly thumbprint cookies

Ground Peanuts:

The batter ready for scooping

The batter ready for scooping

½ cup unsalted, roasted peanuts ground fine

1/3 cup granulated sugar

Place peanuts in the bowl of a food processor and grind until fine.  Place peanuts in a bowl, add sugar and set aside.

For the cookie:

½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature

¾ cup creamy peanut butter

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar

1 large egg

2 Tablespoons whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

Rolling along.

Rolling along.

Place butter in bowl of stand mixer and beat with the paddle attachment.  Add sugar and beat until fluffy.  Add egg and mix until well combined.  Add vanilla and milk and mix well.  In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.  With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture and mix until all the flour is mixed in.  Place the cookie dough in the refrigerator for an hour.  Remove the dough and scoop into balls.  Roll the dough balls in the ground peanut mixture and place 1.5 inches apart on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake for 12 minutes.  Remove from oven, allow the cookies to cool for 1 minute, then gently press your thumb in the middle.  Spoon a small amount of your favorite jam in the imprint and serve.

Makes 20 – 24 1 inch cookies.

 

Beth Meadows – Featured Artist

Beth Meadows’ current studio is a working space, not open to the public; but if you were to find your way there, you would find yourself in a nest of ideas – one lined with images and materials that the artist collects because they draw her attention.  In the exhibit now hanging at Tomato Head Market Square, Meadows has assembled a collection of pieces that feature two prominent classes of things that consistently catch her eye: fashion and food packaging.

Many of the images depicted might seem familiar, and that’s because they’re drawn from the pages of fashion IMG_8938magazines.    “They’re super models, “ Meadows says, “and the clothing is made out of a collage of food packaging. The idea was to mix this fascination I have with fashion that’s grown over the years with a negative feeling I have about grocery shopping. I don’t love it, grocery shopping, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that I’m trying not to be swayed by how things are packaged – because I don’t want to be marketed to or persuaded to buy things that are packaged beautifully.  That’s really hard for an artist like me because I’m aesthetically inclined.”

The works are a mix of collage and drawing that are, in fact, based on photographs of super models; but as the she creates the piece, Meadows creates her own line of clothing for each – one that’s built from the food packaging that she normally resists:

“In order to make these I let myself go to the grocery store and buy packaging that was just really attractive. It made that shopping experience really enjoyable for the first time in a long time, so now I go specifically to buy certain colors.  And I have friends who just hand me food packaging now because they know I’m collecting it.  Actually there’s somebody at Tomato Head who works in the kitchen who’s been giving me some of their food packaging.”

IMG_8886One of Meadows’ pieces will feature a design created from a discarded onion bag; another, a sack of flour.  Some of the packaging is evident – a handbag made from a ginger ale label or a belt from a cheese wrapper – other bits are mere moments of color, say a flash of gold from some Shiner Bock.

The combination of fashion and food is easy fodder for anyone looking for what playwright Edward Albee would call, “connective tissue” that might link issues or the artist directly with the works they create.  But like Albee, Meadows eschews any direct connections to issues personal or otherwise.

“You just work, work, work and then you look back and think, wow it might mean that.  But I’m not thinking about it. I’m just looking at stuff all the time, things that are fascinating to me – this manila folder is on my desk is full of magazine pages. I have ideas that I want to paint and create and sometimes I’m wondering why am I drawn to this, but it’s not the first thing that I think about. Someone might say, ‘well it’s like you’re trying to be deep with these’ but it wasn’t the initial inspiration. It was just that I wanted to go buy beautiful food packaging from the grocery store.”

Even so, Meadows’ work is thoughtful and thought provoking.  And her fascination with fashion informs her work in multiple ways.

“On a personal level, I wake up in the morning and there are decisions I have to make. Someone was coming to take a picture of me this morning so I look a lot more put together than I usually do.  But my daily question is am I doing this for me or am I doing it for somebody else? It’s hard to ride that line of whether I’m taking care of myself for me instead of looking for someone else’s affirmation of me.”

“Looking at supermodels, and the fashion industry in general, is so interesting to me because on the surface these IMG_8785women look very powerful and exude confidence because of what they’re wearing – but all the layers underneath that are also interesting to me. Usually the designer’s a man, usually he’s adorning these women – so then they become objects.  I’m intrigued by what these women are thinking and, then I wonder if, at the end of the day, do they feel valued after and how much of themselves is still in those photos after they’ve been photo-shopped.”

It’s not hard to make a similar connection to food packaging – how often does it match what’s inside?   And that’s just beginning of many ideas that flow from this Meadows’ work – the exhibit excites the eye and conversation.

Meadows has a broad range of work, in addition to visiting her exhibit at our downtown place, you’ll want to explore the complete range of her portfolio and find out more about her on her website: http://withbearhands.com/.

I spend a lot of time resisting it but I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I can’t afford any of that and I probably never will be able to afford it because it’s also inaccessible to me but I think that’s what interesting to me is this bag was free so I’m using free and accessible materials to talk all about a subject that’s completely inaccessible to me and most people I know.

© 2016 The Tomato Head Site by: Robin Easter Design