Friday, October 31, 2014

Grateful shout-out to friends accommodating unfamiliar diets

You know who you are. Friends and family who have for nearly 30 years graciously cooked and baked gluten-free for me. Each time you did it, I hope I said THANK YOU in capital letters. Today I am saying THANK YOU!!! in bold capital letters with three exclamation points. Why?

Because today I baked paleo desserts for a friend whose family follows a paleo diet for health reasons. Paleo concepts are foreign to me. Eliminating four gluten-containing grains, no problem—I just substitute other grains. But paleo-diet followers use NO grains.

So I experienced what you probably did when you entered the whole new world of gluten-free food for my sake. Except three decades ago, celiac discussions and gluten-free options weren’t as popular as they and paleo ideas are today; and the Internet didn’t make finding special-diet recipes so easy. So you had it much harder than I did today. Nonetheless, I might have identified with your time and emotional investment.

Step 1: Research. What is gluten? What is gluten in? What’s a paleo diet? What’s paleo-okay, and what isn’t?
Step 2: Find safe recipes.
Step 3: Worry about causing health problems for gluten-free/paleo person. Check with person about recipe ingredients.
Step 4: Buy special ingredients, if necessary.
Step 5: Put all ingredients on freshly cleaned kitchen counter. Feel anxiety about dish’s unfamiliar taste and texture. Will people like it? Feel additional anxiety remembering my own early gluten-free flops.
Step 6: Whip it up, pop it in the oven, and pray. Jump for joy when it looks fairly “normal” coming out of oven.
Step 7: New worry: What if the non-special-diet people eating it won’t like it? Bake “regular” pumpkin bread. For extra insurance, send husband to store to buy a second nonpaleo dessert.

After paleo carrot cupcakes and cinnamon apple cake came out of the oven, I wanted to make frosting for them, so I began Steps 1 and 2 above to find paleo frosting options. But I had too many questions and yuck-factor feelings. Two cups of palm shortening? You’ve got to be kidding. (I couldn’t get lard out of my mind.) After several hours of vacillating—to frost or not to frost?—I chickened out altogether. I brought my plain offerings to the meeting, where I learned palm shortening is not as yucky as lard seemed to me and got hints as to how the paleo-eating family typically makes frosting.

We live and learn. I now look forward to trying other paleo recipes once in a while. But the first time sure was nerve-racking. Did I mention my increased gratefulness to those of you who have accommodated my dietary needs?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Monet's Masterpiece

Whizzing through countryside just northwest of Paris, glimpsing the serpentine Seine looping through flower fields, I thought, “No wonder young Claude Monet wanted to live near these paintable landscapes.” In fact, views from the train between Normandy and Paris are what inspired Monet to live in picturesque Giverny, where he could, in effect, create an outdoor studio of gardens and ponds. Of course, he painted en plein air throughout Europe, but his home and gardens became a major muse for Monet and a magnet for other artists.

May 2014 marked my third visit to Giverny. Sadly, the town becomes ever more touristic and commercial. Happily, the gardens remain delightful, if overwhelming. On each visit, I have sat on a bench with pen in hand. Words, don’t fail me now; help me capture this beauty. But no words came. So then I snapped some photos. And I include a few here. But trying to convey the scope and depth of beauty here by showing you a flower photo is akin to saying, “Here’s a picture of the world” and showing you a photo of an ant. Upon entering Monet’s garden, my vision went into kaleidoscopic overload mode. Then I stopped to appreciate.

First the eye takes in myriad hues. Fuchsia foxgloves, cerise poppies, cobalt columbines, blushing pink peonies. Then textures. Spiky allium balls, fuzzy iris beards, velvet rose petals. Then layers. Pansies tucked into poppies, salvias hugging shrub roses, apple trees espaliered along a split-rail fence. Wait, notice shapes. Ruffled scallops, whorled wisps, fat, thin, tapered, round. Oh, and levels. Short, medium-high, tall, some trained to grow up and curl over arched arbors and cascade down from tall iron umbrellas. Colorful choruses of flowers sing their glory in dense, jumbled, spilling masses; yet a pleasing order pervades the setting. Monet’s pink stucco house provides solid backdrop. Garden arbors and umbrella tuteurs are the same bright green as the shutters of Monet’s open windows. Wide, pebbled paths perpendicular to the house stripe through flower beds.

Design detail is masterful, polychromatic palette at once calming and vibrant, scope too grand to take in from a single vantage point. One is left with many beautiful impressions. I wonder if this place is, in fact, Monet’s living, breathing masterpiece.

I haven’t even mentioned Monet’s lily pads, pond, and gently arching green bridge. Also clearly designed for beautiful impressions, they are across the road from the gardens.

If you’re a Monet fan and would like to view the world’s largest collection (more than 300) of Monet’s paintings and learn more about the progression of his style, visit the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris. Before Monet’s mentor, Eugéne Boudin, taught him to paint with oils, he was known to have a natural talent for drawing caricatures of his teachers and other locals in his childhood town of LeHavre. I enjoyed seeing some of these funny drawings at the Marmottan.