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Jim Joyce – Featured Artist

Jim Joyce takes a lot of pictures.  He captures images of landscapes, flowers, big cats, all sorts of images from the great outdoors, but one subject that doesn’t catch his eye is people.  At least not anymore.

Our featured artist in our Market Square location, Joyce spent a lot of his adult life trying to capture perfect moments of people interacting for PR shots and the like.  But the challenges of blinking eyes, crooked smiles, funny faces, and even hair mussing gusts, finally got to him: “I got over the people pictures and so the only ones I take now are of my 7-year-old granddaughter.”

Although he didn’t include his family shots, Joyce did manage to bring a wide variety that includes dogwoods, tigers, flowers and more.  For this exhibit Joyce selected some of his favorites from a large collection that now takes up considerable space in his home.  He’s learned how to maximize every square inch of space from closest shelves to the space beneath beds in order to house his growing collection.

Joyce takes his camera along wherever he goes because, he says, “one morning I was walking my dog and there was a bald eagle right in the tree right above me.  I didn’t have my camera on me so I took a picture with my cell phone.  Of course, it was a minute detail on my camera screen, and it was a minute detail on my camera screen when I got back home to edit.  I blew it up so I could show people.  It was bigger than a speck, but you still couldn’t tell what it was. And I don’t think anybody believed me.  Since then I take my camera with me everywhere.”

Joyce’s eye for the unexpected often gives his photography a fresh kind of realism, but the exhibit has more than a few shots that will make you stop for a second glance to check just what you saw.  The striking color of a bird’s nest or the tendrils of a fern have an extra, alluring dimension, and the photo of a dance studio seems somehow slightly surreal.  The dance studio shot is actually a photo of mural that he caught in some particularly serendipitous light, but even so, it captures the spirit of Joyce’s work – an eye for on the spot composition and a little bit of luck.

Jim Joyce’s photography will be on view at the downtown Knoxville Tomato Head on Market Square from May 7th thru June 3rd, 2018.  Mr. Joyce will then display his work at the West Knoxville Gallery Tomato Head from June 4th thru July 2nd, 2018.

 

Chess Pie

Chess pie may not be what you think it is.

There’s the name, of course; unlike apple or peach or even buttermilk pie, chess pie doesn’t sound like what’s in it.  It doesn’t promise a crust filled with bishops or even pawns.  There are many stories about its name, and in one version, as Mahasti explains in the video below, it may have less to do with the pie itself than with where it was stored.  I suppose in the interest of accuracy, we could rename it to Butter, Sugar, Vanilla, and Egg Pie, but that hardly rolls off the tongue.  And, to be honest, I like to know what’s in my treats, but I’m not particularly interested in saying every ingredient aloud.

Aside from the interesting nomenclature, this pie is notable for some modern fiddling.  I say modern, but I really mean is the post-cake mix era.  I can remember the first time I saw a 9×13 Pyrex baking dish holding a rich and gooey filling encased by a golden brown cakey frame.  It was at one of those countless church socials that punctuated my greener days; and when I asked just what it was, I recall hearing a mature southern voice, dripping with disdain, say, “They call it a chess bar, but that’s not right.  That’s from a mix.”

You will understand, I expect, that in some circles, store bought cake mix remains a kind of sad chapter and a blemish in the history of the baking arts. In my own family, there are some who have always believed that while the use of cake mix would not necessarily endanger your immortal soul, it almost certainly indicated the kind of loose moral character that could lead one to perdition.

Still, this “chess bar” is a popular and easy treat.  It’s rich and full of butter, cream cheese and whatever else comes in the box of butter-yellow cake mix. But what it’s not is chess pie.

Now, admittedly, a real chess pie has ingredients that might surprise you.  Of course, there’s the butter, egg, vanilla and sugar, but there’s also a midge of cornmeal and little lemon juice and vinegar, too.   Don’t be skeert, this is the way chess pie is supposed to be.  These interesting ingredients serve dual functions in the pie.  The cornmeal helps stabilize the filling as it sets and contributes to the unique texture of this treat.  As for vinegar and lemon, think of them like buttermilk, which performs a similar function in baking.  The acid helps the eggs thicken at a lower temperature so the pie bakes evenly and that makes for a very nice custard.  It also keeps balance in the flavor of the pie as it offsets the sweetness.

It’s an ideal pie for picnics and potlucks and the like, because it’s delicious at room temperature and, by my standards, even better when cold.  The high sugar content keeps it nice and fresh out of the fridge so it keeps well in the hamper or on the long table of desserts – though I wouldn’t expect it to last very long once people know that it’s there.

But, if you do make this pie (and everybody will thank you if you do) don’t be tempted to take a slice while it’s warm.  The pie must chill completely before it’s actually chess pie.  If you cut it too soon, you may as well call it a mess.

recipe

7 TBL Butter, melted

1 ¾ cup Granulated Sugar

4 large Eggs

¼ c Whole Milk

1 TBL Cider Vinegar

1 TBL Fresh Lemon Juice

½ TBL Vanilla

¼ tsp Salt

2 TBL plus 2 tsp Cornmeal

1 TBL All Purpose Flour

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Place melted butter in a large mixing bowl.  Whisk in the sugar.  Gradually whisk in the milk, and eggs.  When the mixture is well combined mix in the vinegar, lemon juice and vanilla and whisk until all the ingredients are incorporated.  Add the salt, cornmeal and flour and whisk until the mixture is blended well.

Pour the mixture into a prepared 9 – inch pie shell and bake on the center rack for 45 – 50 minutes until the center puffs slightly and sets.  If the pie is getting too dark, cover with foil for the last 5-10 minutes of baking.

Cool the pie to room temperature, then chill for 3-4 hours.  Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Serves 8 – 12

Sweet Pie Pastry

Recipe

 

10 TBL Butter, room temperature

½ cup Granulated Sugar

¼ tsp Salt

1 Large Egg

2 cups All Purpose Flour

Makes 2- 9 -inch crusts

Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until smooth with the paddle attachment.  While mixer is running on low, gradually add the sugar and salt.  Mix for 2-3 minutes, scraping down a few times, until the sugar and butter are well combined.  Add the egg and mix well.  Turn the mixer off and add the flour all at once.  Turn the mixer back on low and mix until all the flour is absorbed and a smooth dough forms.

Divide the dough into 2 equal portions.   Flatten the dough into discs and wrap well with plastic film.  If using the same day, refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes, , and allow to rest for 5 minutes before rolling out.

Roll the dough to 9.5 – 10 inches in diameter.  Lift the dough onto your pie plate, press into place and crimp the edges.

Fill the prepared pie shell with filling and bake according to filling instructions.

Dough may be refrigerated overnight or frozen up to 30 days for future use.  Thaw frozen dough overnight in the refrigerator the day before you plan to use.  Rest dough at room temperature for 5-10 minutes before rolling.

Flour Head Bakery Strawberry Dumplings

My relationship to dumplings is complicated.  And it has been since I was forced to smile through some underdone, chicken flavored flour blob forced upon my plate at a church potluck.

I don’t know if you know the rules about these events, but you can rest assured that every potluck contributor is judging your plate both when you fill it and as you empty it too.  And in a small church, a plate that doesn’t give everybody equal love in terms of quantities taken and quantities eaten will create hurt feelings that linger for years.

I suppose that’s why I had to eat those dumplings.  Of course, nobody cared that my feelings were hurt by eating them.  Life, I’ve learned, isn’t fair.  If the truth be known, my eating life was nearly ruined by the experience.  After all, a fine dumpling is a wonder, and all across the world dumplings are the inspiration for comestible excellence and creativity.  But I can hold a big food grudge for a long time, and I’m afraid that Sister So-and-So’s unsuccessful dish nearly kept me from a lot of lip-smacking wonder.  Thank Disney it didn’t.

Though it pains me to admit it, I am eternally grateful to Disney for opening a door that saved my dumpling life.  It happened when I was about 8 years old, and I know this because the recollection starts with a film – one of only a handful that I can now remember seeing as a child.  In 1975 Disney released the Apple Dumpling Gang.  Though I had to consult the interwebs to clear my cobwebs about the cast and plot of the film, I needed no help remembering the apple dumpling.

In the film, three orphans come under the care of a wandering gambler, Russell Donovan (Bill Bixby).  When they first meet, Donovan tries to feed them salt pork, but the youngsters request (and eventually get) apple dumplings.  And that was fascinating because clearly, where dumplings were concerned, I’d been cheated.

And I remember nearly running my little legs off to ask my Mamaw Ethel if she had ever made these wonders.  She said, no, she hadn’t and didn’t even have a recipe.  When she said no more about it and promised nothing, I thought the conversation was closed.  But when my next turn for a sleepover came, I entered a house redolent of cinnamon and apples, and I knew without a doubt that that wasn’t a pie in the oven.  And it was an eating epiphany.  So thanks, Disney, for that.

After all, if I hadn’t met the apple dumpling, I’d probably never had gotten excited about Mahasti’s newest recipe: Flour Head Bakery’s Strawberry Dumplings

And that would be a darn shame.  Strawberries capture the feeling of spring sunshine with an exuberance that’s nearly unmatched in festive color and flavor.  And adding them to recipes is a jolt of happy that goes a very long way to making good food better.  And in this recipe, there is a lot of happy.

Fruit dumplings, and all dumplings really, are only as good as they are light.  Of course, keeping them seasonal is crucial, too – a strawberry dumpling won’t be truly fabulous without great strawberries – that much is a given, but after that it’s all about technique and having the right recipe.

Using cold butter will help keep the dumplings light, and it’s important not to over mix the batter.  My personal challenge with muffins and pancakes is try remember to mix just until moistened.  No matter how many times I read that instruction, I’m tempted to beat the daylights out of the batter until it’s silky smooth.  That’s too much work, and it doesn’t yield the best results.

In this recipe, Mahasti covers the dumplings with foil for the first 20 minutes of baking; don’t be tempted to omit that step, otherwise, you might have browned dumplings with underdone hearts.  And that, of course, could break some poor youngster’s heart if she has to eat them at your next potluck.

Recipe

For Sliced Strawberries:

3 cups strawberries

¼ cup sugar

1 tsp Balsamic Vinegar or Vanilla

Slice 3 cups of strawberries and toss with ¼ cup Sugar and 1 tsp of Balsamic Vinegar, or Vanilla and set aside.

For Strawberry Puree:

1 cups Strawberries, chopped

1 cup Water

1 /2 cup Sugar

Place the chopped strawberries, water and sugar in the jar of your blender and blend until smooth

For Dumplings:

1 cup Flour

2 TBL Sugar

1 ½ tsp Baking Powder

½ tsp Salt

4 TBL Butter, cut into small pieces

½ cup Milk

1 tsp Vanilla

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. With a pastry cutter cut the butter into the flour mixture until the butter is in pea size pieces. If you don’t have a pastry cutter you can rub the butter between your fingers. Pour the vanilla into the milk, then pour the milk into the flour mixture and mix just until all the flour has been moistened. (the mixture will be quite wet like a thick pancake batter)

Whipped Cream for serving

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Slice one more cup of strawberries and place them in the bottom of a 9-inch deep dish pie pan. Drop the batter by the spoonful on top of the berries. Pour the berry puree over the dumplings.

Place the dish on the middle rack of your oven and loosely cover with foil. Bake for the first 20 minutes covered. Remove the foil and bake an additional 20 minutes until the dumplings are level with the top of your pie pan and starting to brown slightly. The mixture will be runny.

Rest the dumplings for 10 – 15 minutes. Serve warm with Strawberries in Syrup and top with whipped cream.

Serves 6-7 people

Matzo Balls for Matzo Ball Soup

Recipe

4 large eggs

1 tsp Salt

½ tsp Black Pepper, ground

2 TBL Parsley, chopped

¼ cup Schmaltz (chicken fat), or melted shortening

¼ cup Chicken Stock

1 ¼ cup Matzo crackers, ground

In a medium bowl whisk eggs.  Add salt, pepper, parsley, schmaltz and chicken stock and mix until incorporated.  Add Matzo meal and mix until everything is mixed well.  Refrigerate the mixture for 3 hours or overnight.

To shape the balls: 

Scoop the mixture using an ice scream scoop, or a large spoon.  Roll the scoops into balls and place in a pot of salted boiling water.  Drop the matzo balls into the pot, making sure you leave enough room for them to double in size, and reduce the heat to simmer.  Simmer the matzo balls, covered, for 45 minutes until they are very fluffy and floating.

To Serve Matzo Ball Soup:

Heat and season your homemade chicken stock with salt to taste.  Place some thinly sliced carrots in each bowl.  Place a matzo ball in each bowl and ladle hot chicken broth into each bowl.  Garnish with fresh dill.

Makes 7 large or 10 medium Matzo balls.

Simple Chicken Stock for Soups

Recipe

½ a Chicken

2 medium Carrots

3 stalks Celery

1 large Leek

1 small Yellow or White Onion

4 cloves Garlic

2 – inch piece of Ginger

8-10 sprigs Parsley

20 cups Water

Cut a whole chicken in half, rinse and place the chicken in a large stock pot.  Peel carrots and cut into 2-inch pieces and add to the pot.  Wash Celery and Leek and cut into 2-inch pieces and add to the pot.  Peel the onion and garlic cut into large dice and add to the pot.  Rinse the ginger and cut into strips then add the ginger to the pot.  Add parsley and water.  Bring mixture to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a gentle simmer and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the pot.  When cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the chicken and reserve for another use.  Return the chicken bones to the pot and simmer the stock for 3 hours.  Drain the stock through a mesh strainer, discard the solids and allow the stock to come to room temperature.  Refrigerate or freeze the stock until ready to use.

Stock will keep refrigerated for 5-6 days and frozen for up to a month.

Tomato Head’s Grit Casserole with Mushroom Cream Sauce        

I can’t recall my first memory of grits.

I may have blocked it. That’s not because of any dislike, per se, but more likely it comes down to shame.  I suspect that my first

Grits and Cast Iron

encounter with grits involved copious butter with lots and lots of sugar, too.  And as any self-respecting Southerner will tell you, sugar and grits are a dishonorable combination that casts considerable shade over the house that dares to serve it.  You will understand, of course, why I may have repressed any such memory, if, in fact, it ever transpired at all.

Or it may be that I suffered at the hands of hurried or inconsiderate cooks who didn’t care to or know how to cook grits properly and, thus, served up some al dente.  As far as I’m concerned, an underdone bowl of grits is a far greater transgression than a sweet one; and it’s much more horrid to the young and sensitive palate.  Imagine the shock of that first, granular bite – why you’d want to forget that, too.

But whatever it was, something happened way back when to make me more than a little suspicious of this staple; and that’s wreaked havoc with my love of fine dining in town over the last decade or so as there are more grits on pretty plates than you can shake stick at.

In the intervening years, I have managed to accept grits or at least to taste them with an open mind, not because of the number of talented chefs giving grits a loving and careful treatment, but because of an old friend and roommate named Harry who shared his conviction that all grits are improved by good casserole treatment.

Mushrooms and Cream

Harry’s Sunday habits were practically set in stone and included the New York Times, mimosas, biscuits, country ham and cheese

grit casserole.  The paper was for Harry to read aloud to you whether you liked it or not, but everything else was selected for sharing.  Harry’s house was one of those places where you never knew who might show up hungry.  And being a firm believer in hospitality, Harry always had something to offer – provided, of course, that they would listen to his selected readings from the Times.

I don’t recall his exact recipe, but the one that follows is very close.  And, as Harry would tell you, it feeds plenty and can sit happily in line with ham or whatever you serve for any upcoming family feasts or breakfasts or brunches for a crowd, waiting its turn and keeping its good taste and texture as everybody fills up their plate.

Tomato Head’s Grit Casserole with Mushroom Cream Sauce        

2 cups Whole Milk

Comfort on a Plate

1 cup Water

½ cup Heavy Cream

½ tsp Salt

¼ tsp Ground Black Pepper

1 ¼ cups Stone Ground Grits

1 TBL Butter

1 cup Cheddar Cheese, shredded

2 eggs

Place the milk, water, heavy cream, salt and ground pepper in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk until mixture starts to let off steam.  Gradually stream in the grits while whisking, reduce heat to low and whisk constantly until mixture thickens.  Remove the grits from the heat and add in butter and cheddar.  In a small bowl whisk together the eggs, add ¼ cup of hot grits to the eggs and whisk until combined.  Add the egg mixture to the cheese and grit mixture and mix well.

Pour the mixture into a greased 10-inch cast iron skillet and bake in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes until the top is browned.

Serve the Grit Casserole in the skillet with Mushroom Cream Sauce on the side.

For the Mushroom Cream Sauce:

6 cups Mushrooms, sliced

2 TBL Butter

1 tsp Salt

½ tsp Black Pepper

¾ cups Heavy Cream

In a large skillet over high heat, melt butter.  Add mushrooms and sauté for 2-3 minutes.  Add salt, pepper and cream.  Reduce heat to medium and cook until the cream thickens, about 3-4 minutes.  Remove from heat and pour Mushrooms into a small bowl.

Serve with Grit Casserole

Serves 6-8 people.

 

 

 

Ric Brooks – Featured Artist

Lloyd Swanton during the Necks performance

Laurie Anderson with Kronos Quartet

Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond

 

 

 

 

Love is in the air.  And it’s on our walls.

It’s hanging there, mostly in bold colors, as a clear statement that photographer Ric Brooks loves music makers almost as much as he loves their music.

For years, Brooks has been the official unofficial photographer of Big Ears.  And it’s a role he loves.

He’s a straightforward guy, I suspect he wouldn’t tell you any lies.  So when he repeats that he isn’t a professional photographer, you believe that he believes it.  Yet when you look at his work, you’ll recognize that he is a passionate shutterbug – which, in many ways, is exactly what you want for a festival that touches the very heart of passion.

Artist Ric Brooks

His collection of work now hanging on our Market Square walls spans 2009 – 2017 and is mostly comprised of artists in action shots.  Each one is a studied photo in its way.  Brooks says, “I’m in the audience, listening, and I see a photograph that I want to take. Say, I see this look on the artist’s face, and I know I want to photograph it. I’ll have to take 3 or 4 just to get that expression.  Lots of musicians will do certain things, make a move or something to get that high note; you know it – it’s what people call the guitar face.  But you can see that happening in the song so you know it’s going to come back on the chorus or somewhere. I’m waiting for it. I know what photo I want.”

Some of the shots have a curious intimacy to them.  There’s a striking moment when it would seem that he made eye contact with Laurie Anderson but, “of course she couldn’t see me. That’s chance.  She can’t see me out in the audience.  I don’t like to get up close.”

Brooks opines that it might be that, like Schrodinger’s cat, the artist, even in performance, changes when observed so closely by the eternal possibilities represented by a lens: “Surely as an artist you have to feel the presence of the photographer, and wonder ‘is it looking good, is that the correct side?’ “

The exhibit represents just a fraction of his search for the images he likes and an extensive association with musicians.

Brooks and Big Ears founder Ashley Capps have a long and continuous friendship that dates back to Kindergarten.  When Capps started doing concerts at the Laurel Theatre way back when, Brooks was there with a camera and, sometimes, catering too.  When Capps opened Ella Guru’s, Brooks was there, managing, taking tickets, and meeting, hearing and watching.

Despite his wariness at labeling himself, Brooks is certainly conscious of his work as an art form – whether he admits it or not.   Each photograph is a full image; one that extends all the way to the edge and border of the photograph, which are beautifully coupled by a stamp bearing his signature.  Brooks carved the soapstone stamp himself, an inspiration drawn from his time in Japan, where he taught English for 4 years when just out of college.  The stamp means “Little River, “ he says. “It’s my name.”

This distinctive element binds the subject, the art and the artist.  And one might opine that this considered and loving combination represents a sense of a work’s entirety and rests at the heart of what makes Ric Brooks’ Big Ears photography so alluring.  “I’m not assignment,” he says, which means he’s not visiting 3 or 4 concerts a night collecting images that he needs to post before a deadline: “I like to photograph a whole concert.”

His approach is a long form that yields a lot of treasure that we’re happy to share.

“Big Ears Big Eyes – Big Ears photos from 2009-2017”, an exhibit of photographs by Ric Brooks will be on view at the downtown Tomato Head on Market Square from March 5th thru April 1st.  The exhibit will then be on view at the West Knoxville Gallery Tomato Head from April 3rd thru May 7th.

Hot Milk Cake

 

Despite the digital age and the ease of having all my favorite books on a portable screen, I’m still dedicated to the real thing.  Books fit my hand, and there’s something particularly satisfying about holding the bottom corner of the next page of between my thumb and index finger; it’s a tease to my anticipation.

And with actual books, when I’m browsing through a bookstore, a sense of the hunt comes over me – and that feeling’s never so intense as when it’s a used bookshop that is my hunting ground.  It’s a treasure hunt, made complete by the enticing, almost delicious aroma of old books and their inevitable dust.  Pages old and new have their own scents that mingle into something that I find almost intoxicating.

But the hunt has other, better rewards if I’m prowling for cookbooks, something I can never seem to stop doing.  Cookbooks can yield the finest treasures, especially if they’ve been well used by thoughtful cooks who scribble notes in the margins that reveal certain truths or elucidate some mystery.  Perhaps they’re adjusted cooking times, or oven temperatures, or some reminder of an improvement – things like, “needs more vanilla” or “better with pecans,” living moments that bear witness to that best of recommendations for recipes and cookbooks, too – that they been used more than once.

If you’re particularly lucky, there may be even more treasure in the form of newspaper clippings, perhaps yellowed and nearly crackling cuttings that help date books for the time of their use – a small window into the past of the book’s owner.  Or, when the fates smile, the book may have the richest treasure of them all: an original recipe.

My favorite of these come on an index card, handwritten in ballpoint pen, stained and faded with use, complete with little corrections, changes that tell that the recipe is tried, true and perfected along the way.

This how our current recipe came to us.

Mahasti found a lovingly used treasure, The Cake Cookbook by Lilith Rushing and Ruth Voss, while on her own used book expedition.  Published in 1965, the book’s cover speaks of an era of doilies under cakes and napkins between fine china tea cups and their saucers.  The authors, sisters, are pictured by their biographies: Lilith, in wise and frameless glasses, also wrote children’s stories for the Farmer-Stockman of Oklahoma City and married a Kansan; Ruth, the younger sister in cat’s eye frames, was the associate editor of the Thomas, Oklahoma Tribune, and lived with her bachelor son.

Two red cardboard leaves are pasted inside the front cover of the book, and on them are written the names Tommy and Kathlyn.  Perhaps one of them, (Kathlyn, Mahasti imagines) also took a black, ball point pen to a 3 and half by five, lined index card to record a recipe for Hot Milk Cake.

It’s a cake that seems to have been fairly standard in the American kitchen from the early 1900’s until faded out of favor in the late 60’s or 70’s.  We imagine that Kathlyn copied the recipe from her mother’s or grandmother’s cookbook, perhaps it was her favorite, perhaps it was the one that mom loved best.

The cake itself is a like a sponge cake but calls for some baking powder to help the cake rise.  It’s one of those rich and moist cakes that tastes of vanilla and butter and comfort.  Often it was served alone without adornment or just touched with a simple glaze.  Kathlyn doesn’t tell us how her cake was finished, but we’re betting it all gotten eaten with or without something extra on top.

HOT MILK CAKE (exactly as it was hand written)

Mix in a Big Bowl

4 eggs

2C Sugar

Sift Together

2C Flour

2 tspb. b. Powder

½ tsp salt

Add:

1C Boiling Milk into which 1 stick of Butter Has been cut up

Add:

1 tsp vanilla

Pour in a well greased & Floured tube cake pan

Bake 50 min in 350⁰

© 2016 The Tomato Head Site by: Robin Easter Design