Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Exploring--Sculpture Garden in Warwick, New York

Friends in Warwick, New York introduced us to an amazing local collection of iron sculptures in a bucolic natural setting. After a phone call to the descendants of the artist, Frederick Franck, we were granted admission to the grounds and were the only visitors that afternoon savoring this quiet, almost worshipful, setting. Pacem in Terris, the name of the property, aptly describes both the goals and subject matter of the art and the experience the visitor receives.
Originally from the Netherlands, oral surgeon Frederick Franck gradually evolved from being a hobby artist in the 1930s to devoting his full time and attention to what he described as a pilgrimage of "seeing". Some of his works testify directly to the horrors of war and violence; others more subtly suggest the beauty and preciousness of all life, our environment, and peaceful living. He described his art as the central spiritual quest of his life, a search for "seeing" in the deepest sense. Some of his works are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, and the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, all in New York City, and elsewhere around the world. But I cannot imagine that seeing his works in any other setting could equal the inspiration of viewing the pieces on the grounds of his simple former home (now a small museum and bookstore).
These photos, from our memorable time at Pacem in Terris, show one of my favorite sculptures, the plaque about its meaning, and the rushing stream near the restored 18th century watermill Franck and his wife, Claske, lived and worked in for many years. If the photos are not clear, you may click on them for a larger view.
I have just been rereading sections from a book I purchased there, Fingers Pointing Toward the Sacred, a sort of memoir of parts of his lifetime spiritual quest in various cultures, including his account of interviews with Pope John XXIII, the Dalai Lama, Albert Schweitzer, and others. The book contains a number of his moving and evocative spare line drawings of people and places. The activity of losing himself in seeing and drawing formed a kind of meditative practice for him.
This season of renewed hope for "peace on earth" and for the coming New Year seemed an appropriate time to recall this remarkable artist and seeker and to show you one of his works.
Question of the day: Well, more of a thought--in my life's journey I have learned and benefited most from the wisdom of thoughtful, people who do not claim to be wise. I had that feeling of deep learning as we experienced Franck's art and as I read his reflections.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Savoring--Elegant Holiday Dessert Bar Recipe--Hungarian Pastry

When I made this dessert to bring to a holiday gathering, people raved about it, as always happens. Hungarian Pastry is elegant and festive looking and is melt-in-your-mouth yummy. The recipe is a family holiday favorite, originally given to my mother by a friend with Hungarian roots decades ago. Although we always called it Hungarian Pastry, it probably has an actual Hungarian name--if any of you know, please share its real name.
Preparation takes some time, but, in my opinion, making any kind of bar is simpler and less time-consuming than making cookies (all that placing individual dollops of dough and lifting them off the cookie sheet one by one :>). Made in a rimmed 10" x 15" sheet (sometimes called a jelly roll pan) and cut small, the recipe makes a generous number of bars--two platters full (the photo shows just one). One of the photos shows the kitchen tool that simplifies spreading layers--not the first time I have showed it to you. A staple in my mother-in-law's kitchen, we have these angled spreaders in several sizes. I used one about a foot long for this recipe. Then again, a kitchen knife will do.
1/2 pound butter (2 sticks), softened to room temperature
1 cup white sugar
3 eggs (separated)
2 tsp. vanilla
3 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
dash salt (up to 1/4 tsp.; I use less)
1 tsp. baking powder
20 - 24 oz. jar raspberry (or other) jam
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1. Cream butter and sugar together well in large bowl.
2. Carefully separate the 3 eggs--put whites in a different, medium-sized bowl and set aside. Put yolks into the butter/sugar mixture.
3. Add vanilla and mix well again, until fluffy.
4. Sift the dry ingredients together (full disclosure; I don't bother to sift) and add gradually to creamed mixture, blending well.
5. Spread this soft pastry mixture on a 10" x 15" rimmed baking sheet and press out until firm and even.
6. Spread jam over the pastry layer, covering as well as possible. If jam is very thick, you can stir it first.
7. Beat egg whites until stiff and spread over jam with a light touch. It doesn't hurt if the jam and egg whites mix a little here and there, but they should be as separate as possible.
8. Sprinkle with chopped nuts.
9. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 - 40 minutes. Check toward end of time to keep nuts from burning. The egg whites will split here and there.
Cool in pan on wire rack. Then cut into fairly small bars (your call; I think I cut 64 bars, 8 across and 8 down).
May all your seasonal treats be sweet and beautiful. We joyfully and gratefully celebrate Christmas and wish all you other Christmas celebrators a merry and meaningful day. And we pray that all of you enjoy a happy and healthy New Year. Especially for those whose 2010 has been difficult, we pray for better times ahead.
Question of the day: What is your family's favorite holiday dish or treat?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Growing--A New Home for a Painting, a Surprise Sale

"Look to the Hills", one of two versions of a lovely view at a conference center in Warwick, New York, has been displayed at Trends Home Decor on Hendricks Avenue in Jacksonville, Florida, for several months. Some of you may recall a post several months ago about the two versions I painted of this scene, based on a peaceful, renewing place we love. On Saturday, I phoned Lori Taylor, the Trends shop owner, a very sweet person and wonderful supporter of her artists, offering to bring in a new piece ("Spring Breeze", a Jacksonville Beach scene finished and posted on this blog a couple of months ago). Knowing that she has mounted an "angel wall" of special pieces for the season and that the shop is fairly full, I suggested that I could take one of my other paintings home for awhile to make room for the new one. That worked for her. A note: you can use the search box in the upper left corner of this blog to enter terms like "Trends Home Decor", "Look to the Hills", "Spring Breeze" or "paintings" for more photos and information.
She had decided to keep the Florida scenes I was showing in her shop and to rotate this New York landscape out for awhile, so we took it down. I set it aside on a chair while we chatted. Then, a couple came in to ask her about buying two brightly painted Adirondack chairs displayed out front (she sells unique home accessories and furniture in addition to moderately priced original art works). The woman came in to browse while her husband arranged payment, and she spotted my painting propped sideways on a chair. "Oh, I love that!" she said, "Don't tell me you just bought it, and I missed out." I was happy to say that is was still for sale, and we began to talk. Discovering I was the artist who painted "Look to the Hills", she described what it meant to her in more detail, how peaceful she felt it was, and how well it would fit in their bedroom.
Talk about serendipity! The pleasure of meeting the couple who took this piece home and of hearing how it spoke to them was delightful. And if I had taken it straight home instead of chatting with Lori for awhile, we would have missed each other, and that particular piece would not have found its new home.
Question of the day: Where would we be without the occasional perfectly magical connections and moments that sparkle in otherwise ordinary days?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Savoring--A Creative, Thankful Family Gathering

With a brand-new daughter-in-law marrying our Jacksonville son this past January and our other son and wife newly moved from Southern California to Atlanta, this is our first year ever to gather the six of us around our very, very thankful table. Each person contributed to a delicious meal, and our "We Are Thankful For" poster garnered many written thoughts of gratitude throughout the day. Although creativity and beauty may not be the most basic essentials of life, it is difficult for me to imagine a meaningful life without them--in some form. The beauty of our Thanksgiving table was a gift from our Atlanta "daughter", whose artistry shines in everything she does. The photos show the table before dinner and the centerpiece she created, which is still lovely. My husband read a Psalm, and we all gave thanks for God's love and care. Family, good food, home, beauty, love, and our spiritual life--we are truly thankful and hope that all of you are experiencing blessings and gratitude in your lives as well.
Question of the day: With many people in difficult circumstances around the world, I don't want to be insensitive or glib. But, do you think it is possible to live with a sense of gratitude through both ups and downs?