My love for art started at a very young age. At four, or thereabouts, I could often be seen with a pad of sketching paper and my No. 2 pencil sitting crosslegged on the hill overlooking the Atlantic, or perched on a rock by the creek behind our home doing by best to recreate on paper what was there before me.
Being the only member of my family who used a pencil for purposes other than making a grocery list or filling out a ledger, my artwork was proudly displayed on the bulletin board by the laundry room and although given much encouragement I was never really pointed in the direction of taking up art as a profession.
After moving to California when I was nine, my parents reconnected with other Nova Scotians who had also relocated to the Southern California area. If memory serves me, there were eight families in all within a hundred mile radius. Who would have thought?
Over the years I was assimilated into their families and theirs into mine, so their children were very good friends of mine and their parents faces as familiar to me as my own. Audrey, was one of my mother’s best friends. A free-thinker for her time, if you will, who definitely lived outside of the box. Besides teaching and playing the piano, she was a gifted oil painter and a registered character. I liked her a lot, and she reciprocated the favor.
During summer vacation, I was invited on many occasions to come and stay with her for a few days. I eagerly accepted. Never really leaving Nova Scotia too far behind her in the rear view mirror, Audrey proudly wore Nova Scotia tartan skirts, sweaters, pins, hats, and most probably underwear every chance she got, even during the warm summer months. It never occurred to her I don’t think, or if it did she didn’t think much about it, how odd this must seem to her Southern California neighbors. Wool in summer? Really?
The inside of her house always smelled faintly of turpentine and oil paints. That was my favorite part. Towards the back of the house they had built a large, airy, studio which opened up to the patio through French doors. After her piano was quiet for the day, and the lessons were behind her, this was where she spent most of her free time. On my visits she would set up a spare easel in the corner, hand me an apron, a jar of brushes, and some paints. A blank canvas, or one she’d painted over, was put in front of me for my use. Together we would paint for hours with only the soft notes of L’etude or Greek Rhapsody in the background and the scratching of our brushes against the canvas to interrupt the silence. Afterwards, she would wrap her hand around mine and guide my paintbrush to teach me technique and how to blend the colors to achieve what I wanted to achieve. I learned a lot.
When it came to the mundane, this was another story. As far as a housekeeper, Audrey was abysmal. Being a Bohemian at heart, her house was an eclectic mix of garage sale treasures, beautiful pieces from her mother’s estate, and items she found sitting next to a trash can during one of her daily walks. Her husband, a quiet man who managed the local Market Basket grocery store, seemed happy to find a meal in front of him at night (even it was usually in a foil container), and never said much of anything about the chaos under his roof, or at least that I overheard. Cooking was not her strong suit, nor was it her short. I guess we all have something we do well, this was not her something. Eggs were kept in the freezer, peanut butter, grape jelly and Wonder Bread in the cupboard, and other than the TV dinners stacked high in the free-standing freezer in the garage, it contained only ice. If you required more, you were on your own. Interestingly enough, one of her sons ended up as a chef in a fine restaurant in Orange County. Maybe it was out of self-preservation.
Perhaps it’s like my other half’s grandfather. I didn’t know the man, but have been privy to many stories he’s told of him. It seems he was a noted Egyptian academic, who filled his mind 24/7 with facts and data but if you handed him a pot filled with salted water and some noodles the man would have folded like a pup tent. I have friends and family that are gifted cooks. Give them salt, pepper, and garlic and they can create a meal. I have others that could screw up a boiled lobster. Which, incidentally, is probably against the law in some places. If not, it should be.
At any rate, Audrey was a character of the highest degree. She instilled a love of art in me that has always remained, and taught me to “see” what I was looking at not simply draw my perception of what I was seeing. For those of you that have the itch, try “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”, by Betty Edwards. People that think they can’t draw will be amazed at what they create.
So, this is to Audrey, who once went on Let’s Make a Deal, won what was behind the “big curtain”, which was a bedroom set, and had to sell it shortly after it arrived to pay the income tax due on it. Certifiable, yes, but wonderful and rich as well. The blank pad of sketching paper and the No. 2 pencil are still sitting on the floor next to my bed.
I have added a tab on my page titled “Recipe Card” with one of my sketches. It is interactive and in that you can add your recipes, or one of mine to it and print it out. It’s a nice way to share with a friend. I have binders full of recipes friends have shared with me over the years. Nice way to remember them.
I love potatoes, I love blue cheese, and together they’re a nearly perfect match. Give these a try.
Blue Cheese Potato Au Gratin
2 cups heavy cream
2 Tbsp. buttermilk
Thoroughly blend the milk and the buttermilk in med. mixing bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature overnight until thickened.
You can also purchase Creme Fraiche in the market if desired.
1 quart whole milk
1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup Creme Fraiche (you can substitute heavy cream if needed)
4 Tbsp. salted butter
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1/4 tsp. onion powder
3 lbs. russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In saucepan scald milk. Remove from heat. Whisk in onion powder. Set aside.
Blend bleu cheese and creme fraiche in food processor.
Use some of the butter to grease a 13 x 9 x 2 cooking dish liberally. Layer half of your potatoes in dish. Season generously with salt, pepper, nutmeg and add half Tbsp. of the parsley flakes. Evenly dot the potatoes with bleu cheese/creme fraiche mixture. Layer the other half of the potatoes. Season again. Dot with remaining cheese mixture and remaining butter. Serves 6.
Pour milk over top.
Bake for 1 1/2 hrs. until crispy and golden brown. Serve immediately. Yum.