I don’t know about you, but I had been feeling pretty good about the world.
It all began with a courageous Tunisian fruit vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, the everyman who made a desperate stand against intimidation and tyranny when he was slapped by a petty bureaucrat. The world paid attention to his mad, heroic, galvanizing self-immolation and reacted with one united voice, NO MORE. The tumbling dominos of dictators began falling from Tunesia to Egypt and Yemen and we heard a hallelujah chorus celebrating freedom from decades of despotic greed.
Taking their cue from the demonstrations in the Mid-East, the state workers of Wisconsin woke up to the fact that ‘little people’ were being played against one another by a smirking cadre of billionaires like the scenario in that great Twilight Zone, “The Monsters are due on Maple Street” (see it HERE). The workers protested that billions in tax deductions for the rich were behind the budget shortfall, not worker’s bargaining rights (yeah, if you make $250, 000 an hour you pay less than half the tax rate a teacher does… that’s fair, right?).
When it got to Muammar el-Qaddafi, we all thought… about time, this was the craziest mother of all. But the joy stopped. It stopped dead and then started stumbling backward. He would not go quietly into that good night and had stolen and stockpiled billions of his country’s oil money to insure his rabid jaws would remain firmly clamped on Libya’s throat.
That feeling of elation gave way to the rumbling indigestion of dread.
Then came the earthquake in Japan this weekend. I love Japan. I know those places. I walked those streets and felt the warmth of its people. My heart is breaking in solidarity for their loss. As I write this I have a creeping terror that there will be another tragic shoe to drop… the nuclear shoe. I am praying that I will not have to change this particular paragraph. I am praying that the sure hands of providence will return that shoe safely back to its tabi-socked foot and nuclear holocaust will be averted.
When the world is mourning, art can provide a refuge for a broken heart. Art is light and life and gives comfort. If we all had a deeper connection to it on this little planet… there would be less suffering, less war and brutality. All of the hearts that are frozen over and blind to art and beauty make the world a cruel, cruel place. Art is the reflection of the greatest of what we are. It can open hearts to the voices of others. It joins us.
We sent out the space probe Voyager with the secret hope that any alien race that found it would want to meet us, or, should they have thoughts about training a weapon on the mess we have made of our water-world Earth, they would hear those strains of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart and be moved to forgive us our trespasses and let us live a little longer. It would tell them we are capable of greatness… there is something worth saving. There is hope.
Megan at Feasting on Art proposed cooking directly inspired by art this week, in this case Dutch artist Floris Gerritsz van Schooten’s A Still Life of Cheese, painted in 1585. For me, food and art provide comfort at its best…and hopefulness. We all need a healthy serving of that this week.
Floris Gerritsz van Schooten (1585-1655) lived during a great time in Dutch history. The Dutch East India Company was trading with the world and brought that world back to Amsterdam. Their world was more expansive because of this trade and exploration and their society flowered with new knowledge and the rise of a new middle class (surprised that openness and prosperity raises all boats, brothers Koch?). The Dutch were the first Europeans to establish trade with Japan and brought Western culture and science there in 1609 (and the only westerners allowed to trade with them until 1854). You see, it’s all connected -- all you have to do is find the thread. It was a Golden Age (1568-1648) for the Dutch in so many ways. Rembrandt and Vermeer touched heaven working magic with faces and light. Gorgeous still lifes celebrated plenty and the promise of a full stomach as if to express joy in bounty as if to say, after generations of privation, look what we have, we are blessed.
I suspect man has always equated comfort with plenty and a full stomach. It was half of the formula for survival, the other half being a safe place to live. As civilization bloomed we expected more from the formula… comfort and deliciousness. When disaster strikes the formula gets re-set to the basics. When we triumph over tragedy we use food to celebrate and bring us back from the darkness of want and destruction.
In this time of sadness I wish I could spread comfort and warmth like stardust from my magic wand. The only way I know how to come close to that is with an offering of food (and one of my favorite food quotations). MFK Fisher wrote in Gastronomical Me : “It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one."
Cheese Toasties have often warmed me after long drives through dark night winds and drifting snows. I always thought the recipe was from Ms Fisher but it is not. It was a gift from the gods of deliciousness that has changed very little since I first made it – small additions of cognac, chili and mustard. They fill the air with the smell of toasting bread and cheese with a little spice – a smell that makes you feel all is well with the world for at least a few moments. I hope you will enjoy them and feel comfort and security, love and gratitude.
Cheese Toasties for 2
1 c grated cheddar cheese (I have used whatever I have on hand many a time, cheddar is my favorite)
¼ c mayonnaise
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 t to 1 T chipotle pepper in adobo (or pickled jalapenos if you don’t have chipotle)
1 t rum or cognac
1 t Dijon mustard
2 large slices bread (or 6 slices of baguette)
Toast the bread. Mix the rest together and spread on the toasted bread. Put under the broiler until brown and bubbly. Cut into ½ or ¼ size pieces and eat with gusto.
Be prepared to make more.
John F. Kennedy said in 1963: "The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state," Kennedy said. "... In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation. And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost's hired man, the fate of having 'nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope." (Thanks to Bill Moyers for this quote)
This blog was mentioned on The Kitchn! Thanks!