A new book about the life of famed New Mexico artist Georgia O’Keeffe caught my eye, simply because it’s so beautifully designed (and partly because I love O’Keeffe’s art).
Writer/photographer Robyn Lea (who also wrote and photographed Dinner With Jackson Pollock: Recipes, Art & Nature, 2015) and publisher Assouline have produced a beautiful book featuring 50 recipes “collected from artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s favorite cookbooks” (some with her handwritten notes) or “prepared for her by cooks.”
Recipes include Brightest Borscht with Sour Cream & Dill (doesn’t sound very New-Mexican, does it?), Farmhouse Rye Bread, Hearty Greek Lentil Soup, and Chocolate & Walnut Brownie.
Note that the recipes are from O’Keeffe’s favorite cookbooks – not necessarily original O’Keeffes. Does that mean we’re buying this book to find out what cookbook recipes she liked? Oh, well. Me? I’m going to buy this book for the pictures. And the pretty borscht recipe. How did they get it so very, very painterly-pink?
I don’t know enough about art or Georgia O’Keeffe to pontificate, so I thought I would share this review from The New Yorker magazine instead. I think you’ll like this because writer Calvin Tomkins actually did cook with O’Keeffe and even shared a culinary disaster (“In my shocked state, I realized that one of her eyebrows had vanished, and the other was singed…”). Read on.
Excerpted from Dinner with Georgia O’Keefe, by Calvin Tomkins, The New Yorker, April 23, 2017
“Included in a new book by Robyn Lea, titled “Dinner With Georgia O’Keeffe,” is a full-page photograph of the artist standing at her kitchen table, in New Mexico, slicing vegetables. She wears a starched white apron over a dark work shirt. Behind her is a modest, four-burner white stove, the same workmanlike model you used to find in nine out of ten American kitchens. O’Keeffe made dinner for me on that stove one night, in the fall of 1973, when I visited her at the Ghost Ranch.
“It was a Sunday, and the local woman who usually cooked for her had the day off. Also present was Juan Hamilton, a twenty-seven-year-old artist and potter who had turned up at O’Keeffe’s door a week or so earlier to ask if she needed any kind of help around the house. Miss O’Keeffe (as she preferred to be called) asked him if he could drive a car. Hamilton said that he could, and so began a relationship that lasted until her death, thirteen years later, at the age of ninety-eight. (It also led O’Keeffe’s family to contest her will, under which a large share of her seventy-six-million-dollar estate had been left to Hamilton—the case was eventually settled out of court.)
O’Keeffe was cooking a chicken in the oven. Hamilton had an easy way of teasing her, which she liked, and our conversation, as I recall it all these years later, was lively and a bit boisterous.
At one point, O’Keeffe bent down to open the oven door. The bird didn’t seem to be cooking, and, before we could offer assistance, she was on her hands and knees, peering into the oven. There was a sudden flash, followed by a very loud bang—so loud that it took several seconds to realize what had happened. I saw O’Keeffe rise unsteadily to one knee, and then to her feet. She looked shaken.
“Well,” she said, with a thin smile, “It seems we’re not having chicken.”
“In my shocked state, I realized that one of her eyebrows had vanished, and the other was singed. Aside from that, there was no damage. The rest of the evening is completely gone from my memory. I don’t think any of us referred to the incident again, maybe because it could have been so much worse.
“This happened on the last evening of my three-day visit to the Ghost Ranch… The Ghost Ranch was seventy miles northwest of Santa Fe, in the high desert landscape of red earth, blue sky, and distant, tawny mountains that her paintings have burned into our collective memory.
“O’Keeffe had met me at the door of her smallish, single-story adobe house. She was standing very straight, and dressed entirely in white—ankle-length dress, jacket, shoes. Her white hair was pulled straight back and tied in a knot. She asked me a minimal question about my trip from New York, and showed me to the guest room — until then, I’d had no idea where I would be staying.
“…That afternoon, Hamilton drove us in O’Keeffe’s car — a tan Volkswagen minibus — to a Benedictine monastery that she had been to before. It was in the desert, seventeen miles away. She wanted to see the purple asters that grew plentifully down there at this time of year. Hamilton and I sat in the front, and O’Keeffe sat in back, bouncing rather merrily from side to side on the barely navigable dirt road. She talked about the country around Taos, where she had painted for a summer, in 1929, before finding the Ghost Ranch.
“In the evening, with the sun at your back, that high sage-covered plain looks like an ocean,” she said. “The color up there—the blue-green of the sage, and the mountains, and the white flowers—is different from anything I’d ever seen. There’s nothing like it in Texas or even in Colorado…”
“…A few years after she discovered the Ghost Ranch and built her house there, the ranch (not including her property) was sold to the Presbyterian Church, which used it as a conference center.
“O’Keeffe also owned a larger and more comfortable house in the village of Abiquiú, where she spent the winters. She had a large studio there, and a garden where she grew seventeen different types of squash and various other vegetables, but the Ghost Ranch was where she felt at home. “I knew the minute I got up here that this was where I wanted to live,” she said. “There is nothing in this house that I can get along without.”
“On the night after the near-disaster in the kitchen, I wrote down two unrelated things she had said earlier that day. One had to do with all the long-distance walking she had done over the years.
“I think I’ve taken a bath in every brook from Abiquiú to Española—irrigation ditches are fine for bathing, too,” she said. The other was, “I’m much more down-to-earth than people give me credit for. At times, I’m ridiculously realistic.”
“O’Keeffe’s star may have dimmed a bit during the past three decades, but that was never going to be permanent. Her current retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum (through July 23rd) brings her back, vivid as ever, quietly imperious, and indelibly herself.”
*Calvin Tomkins, TNY, April 2017.
Also from The New Yorker: Georgia O’Keefe’s Powerful Personal Style, by Haley Mlotek, April 6, 2017.
* You may need a TNY subscription to read this one?
The New Yorker magazine, April 23, 2017.
Dinner with Georgia O’Keeffe: Recipes, Art, Landscape (spiral-bound), by Robyn Lea, April 25, 2017. Publisher: Assouline Books. Amazon.com says: “Dinner with Georgia O’Keeffe is a perfect balance between the fresh local and traditional ingredients O’Keeffe sought and the New Mexican landscape and culture that constantly influenced both her art and her sense of self.”
Dinner With Jackson Pollock: Recipes, Art & Nature (spiral-bound), by Robyn Lea (author, photographer) & Francesca Pollock (preface), March 31, 2015. Publisher, Assouline Books.
The Ghost Ranch in New Mexico (O’Keeffe’s former home) now offers retreats, camping, archeological and desert tours, painting workshops and two guided Georgia O’Keeffe Tours, incuding “a trail ride through the landscape she painted during the fifty years the artist spent painting and living here.”
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico (Amazon.com and the museum’s online site sell another book about O’Keeffe in the kitchen: A Painter’s Kitchen: Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O’Keeffe).