Bread of the Month: Sensing the tastes of a famed artist

image_7What most of us know of Georgia O’Keeffe comes from the canvas — brilliant, colorful, sensuous works that stamped a legendary place for the artist in history as one of the country’s most talented painters. As a person, she was known as the adventuring reclusive, who fell in love with New Mexico and made a long life for herself on the desert she found was her muse.

image_2It’s not terribly surprising that “Miss O’Keeffe” as both acquaintances and household staff called her, kept a garden, cooked, and had a curious passion for good, healthy eating. As a being so deeply connected to the earth and the rhythms of nature, it seems fitting that she grew produce, tended an orchard, reaped plants and foods with the seasons, and kept an eclectic range of recipes. So it is documented in a lovely cookbook called A Painter’s Kitchen: Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O’Keeffe(1997). It was written by Margaret Wood, who was O’Keeffe’s companion and assistant from 1977 to 1982, and was instrumentally involved in running the household, including food preparation. O’Keeffe bought her Abiquiu house specifically for its garden, she said, so she could have her own produce. On the property, she claimed to have “the best applesauce tree around,” and the yellow apples were used just for that, as well as being kept wrapped and stored for eating into the winter months.

image_3Reading through this book, one gathers an impression of a very creative and healthful diet, full of natural offerings that sound as tasty as they are nutritious — Tomato Souffle, Almond Soup, Mashed Potatoes with Dandelion Greens, Fried Flowers (locust blooms), Watercress Salad (with homemade herb dressing), Biscochitos (New Mexican Christmas cookies, which O’Keeffe liked made with whole wheat flour).

As particular about her food as her surroundings, O’Keeffe rarely dined out. As Wood wrote, “Miss O’Keeffee often wondered aloud, ‘Do you other people eat as well as we do?’”

image1Looking over these recipes, one would doubt so. As I thumbed through the bread section of the book, a recipe for “Atomic Muffins,” caught my eye. This was a savory muffin, LOADED with nuts — cashews, almonds, pecans and sunflower seeds. “Miss O’Keeffe was always interested in the benefits of various viatamins and minerals in nuts, seeds, and grains. These muffins have a particularly remarkable variety of nuts which can be adapted to individual tastes,” Wood wrote.

image_1Safflower oil — one of the healthiest around — provides the fat for these muffins, and a wee bit of honey lends just a hint of sweetness. Before muffins became the near-cupcake beings they are today, there used to be more muffin recipes that made them the true bread of any meal — a side for soups, an offering at the brunch buffet or in lieu of a yeast roll at Thanksgiving feasts. These hearty muffins could do just that.

I baked a batch in mini muffin form and before baking, sprinkled a few sunflower seeds on top. I thought they were delicious little breads, earthy and full of those buttery nut flavors, not sweet at all. I expected my sugar-enthused co-workers to not be as impressed. When I returned to the break room expecting to collect the rest of my muffin offerings, they were nearly gone.

I was surprised, and I wasn’t. The quiet magic of Georgia O’Keeffe seemed to be effective from the oven, as well as the paintbrush.
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Atomic Muffins
From “A Painter’s Kitchen: Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O’Keeffe” by Margaret Wood (1997)
Makes 1 dozen muffins

1/4 cup coarsely chopped almonds
1/4 cup coarsely chopped cashew nuts
1/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup unbleached white flour
1/4 cup soy flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons brewer’s yeast (optional)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/4 cup safflower oil
2 to 3 tablespoons honey
1 cup whole milk

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Chop the almonds, cashews, pecans and sunflower seeds (or other nuts of choice). Combine the flours, brewer’s yeast (if desired), baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a smaller bowl, beat the egg then add the oil, honey and milk. Add the liquids and nuts to the dry ingredients, and mix until just blended. Grease a muffin tin and fill to 2/3 full. Bake 15 minutes or until nicely browned. Serve with butter/oil and fruit preserves.

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