A Deitch Studio Valentine

Pam’s Pictorama Post: At a quick count this is the seventh Valentine reveal we’ve had here at Deitch Studio and Pictorama. The actual tradition of Kim making me Valentines goes back to the first year Kim and I were together though and this November we round the two decade mark.

Cookie, currently in possession of my work chair.

Of course, like many folks, we’ve spent the past year knitted tightly together in our one room, with our two kitties, Blackie and Cookie. My days are punctuated by doing the small stuff, like fighting the cats for my desk chair (Cookie is sound asleep in it right now, I swear she’s smiling), or making us grilled cheese with jalapeno peppers for lunch. Somehow talking about our home life always comes back to food for me and my at home days have given birth to a revived interest in cooking – necessary and nurturing, it is at the heart of home.

My newly persistent home life means two distinct meals a day here – breakfast happens on our own (I myself am partial to yogurt and berries and the occasional sumo orange, Kim is on an avocado toast kick at the moment), but now lunch and dinner are more proper meals. Sometimes lunch is a bit of a pick up of leftovers, soup or a large salad, and sadly I have been known to eat mine while on a call or Zoom meeting. But more often than not is is taking a break and sitting down together at least briefly and consuming something nutritious. (I think back to many years ago in cooking school when a French chef-instructor, Guy, saw me eating standing up and he found me a chair and then lectured me on the importance of taking the time to appreciate the food and to focus on eating it. Very sweet and oh so very French!)

Easy to make, cheesy olive bread!

Dinner is really a proper homemade meal now with a couple of veggies and a protein. As some of you know, I passed through a baking phase early in the pandemic, recreating some of my grandmother’s recipes and finding some of my own. (A few of those posts along with quarantine life musings can be found here and here. Oh, cheesy olive bread!) I have moved into soups as part of my part two pandemic diet. These are hearty affairs which are closer to stews and are the centerpiece of the meal. Some recent recipes and thoughts on my confinement cooking can be found here and here. (Keep a weather eye peeled if you are a fan of the food posts, I’m currently dreaming up a vegetarian version of matzoh ball soup and my paternal grandmother’s split pea and veggie soup.)

A spicy clam chowder I invented recently.

Post-bookcase installation and re-arrangement of our apartment, my desk (an old and not especially beautiful drawing table that a friend was throwing out many years ago and has somehow stuck with me) is now placed about three feet from Kim’s large, wooden table he uses as a desk. (This table was acquired by us at the 26th Street flea market in the early years of living in this apartment. It was newly made and is substantial, although now one leg has been scratched on a bit by Blackie and it has its wonkinesses and weaknesses around the drawers too. I remember being somewhat amazed that we were making such a big purchase – what if we measured wrong? What if it didn’t hold up?)

Cookie enjoying some desk time recently.

As a result of our newfound proximity, Kim knows every aspect of my work life, fundraising for Jazz at Lincoln Center, and I hazard that he could easily take over for a day if pressed into service – repeating phrases and numbers he hears again and again. He knows the exact percentage we are at in our annual income budget and rejoices with me when the percentage point creeps up a notch or two. I sometimes consider if he ever really wondered what I did at work all day, as he himself has never worked in an office such as mine, but man, he sure does know about it now.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection, by Kim Deitch

When I look at last year’s Valentine, memories of last year’s life (in the before time) come rushing back. The fantasy of a Felix-filled cottage at the British seaside, like the locale of many of my posing with Felix photos. It is a reminder of how much change a year can bring and we have certainly all seen it in a variety of ways. I was in the midst of hectic domestic travel to some very snowy locations and I was exhausted from it and frankly welcomed the time at home. Of course, it begs the question of where we will all be when this time rolls around next year and we are presumably in what I call, the after time. I am sure many of you are thinking along the same lines.

This year’s card focuses in on my domain – our 600 square feet we call home and office. I get to sport a sort of semi-animated Felix necklace (Kim has a way of inventing bits and outfits I would love to own), but otherwise the players are (almost) all denizens of our tiny corner of the world. Cookie and Blackie are there, of course. Giant Mickey Mouse (a huge Dean’s Rag Doll display who inhabits the space near the bottom of our bed) waves his arms.

A line-up of a few of my favorite Aesop Fable dolls, along with a rather excellent Bugs Bunny I purchased randomly on eBay making an appearance. They are lined up behind Kim on his desk, in front of the ever-growing stack of finished pages of art that resides on his desk. A tiny Dean’s Mickey (Minnie really) Jazzer fills out the group on the desk. (They were designed to sit on the arm of your record player – yep, there’s a lot to absorb in that sentence and probably a bad idea for the records, which would have been 78’s at the time.) Kim is like the master of ceremonies – he has gathered the group to pay tribute!

Some of the Valentine participants shown here.

Meanwhile, Waldo is there and he is checking out Felix’s girlfriend, and while she is a creation of Kim’s mind, the Felix is not. He is a splendid, sizable example I purchased at auction because, although I have other somewhat similar examples, I couldn’t resist the bargain he was. (Of course, I have never regretted the purchase.)

What can such a fortunate girl say? I’m very pleased to be at the heart of this particular kingdom. Although not always absolutely peaceable, there is nowhere I would rather be. I hope to reign here, benignly of course, for many years to come.

Blackie (top) and Cookie as a matched set eating dinner recently.

Clam Chowder, Cooking from the Pantry

I don’t know why, but the idea of a spicy version of Manhattan clam chowder started to nag at my brain recently. I enjoy the occasional cup of the stuff when out – either the red Manhattan style or even (although less frequently) the creamier New England version. I can’t say I go out of my way to get it, more like it is an acceptable option when navigating a menu at a diner with a desire to add a bit on, or alternatively maybe not indulge too much.

In general though, I find it lacking and I have never made it myself, nor thought much about it. But for some reason I recently began to think about how you could make a more substantial and spicier one, a zootier version if you will. I think it started because I had several cans of clams which I had purchased for the occasional fish pasta I make (usually with some shrimp, leftover fish bits and maybe some of the canned clams), but I am currently on a diet so pasta isn’t happening right now.

Ah yes, speaking of that diet, readers know I have opined a bit in previous posts about the comfort of cooking. I explored re-creating some family recipes during what I tend to think of as Pandemic Part 1: the First Six Months (those recipes can be found here and here), and some new comfort food (a lovely cheesy bread can be found here) which also made the first months of quarantine – The Weight Gaining Months.

Cheesy Olive Bread – I could live on it.

After a long period of thinking that dieting during a pandemic didn’t make sense, I have reversed course and I am now in Phase 2: the Dieting Months. However, I do not intend to abandon the comfort I take in cooking so I am now applying my skill to devising soups and stews. During these cold winter months they are wonderful and it is satisfying. I derive as much joy out of constructing them that I would from baking, and happily fill the apartment with the aroma of the newest concoction. I generally get several meals for the two of us out of each attempt which lightens the weekday burden of meal planning a bit.

The kitchen, mid-renovation

Meanwhile, pandemic life has made me consider (and establish) what I euphemistically call my pantry. For the record, my pantry is one tall, narrow kitchen cabinet and a banker’s box in the entryway closet recently pressed into service. Until I remodeled our kitchen it was entirely non-existent and a few cans and whatnot were tucked in among the dishes, pots and pans, overflowing onto the limited countertop. It expanded (to the closet annex) during the initial phase of NYC lockdown when grocery shopping was most difficult. It now contains some extra pasta, beans, vegetable broth and the like. (The tale of the kitchen renovation can largely be found here and here – not a chapter I am personally willing to revisit at the moment.)

Growing up in suburban New Jersey we had an amazing pantry that was a large, sort of five foot cabinet of shelves which folded up on itself, once and then again. (Amazing!) I was fairly entertained by the engineering of it as a child (the long piano hinges to bear the weight of each heavy section of shelf), and I am now in awe of the amount it held. Still, were I to move to the suburbs I would likely opt for a walk-in space, a small room of shelves, where I could see everything and bulk buy to my heart’s content. (I come from a long line of if not quite hoarders, folks who like to buy in large quantity and to be well stocked on essentials. My mother has been buying paper towels and toilet paper in bulk for decades and never thought twice about purchasing industrial sized tin cans of olive oil which I remember having trouble hefting.) I also aspire to having a kitchen sink large enough to bathe a small child or good size dog.

It is not to be my fate and instead our tiny apartment (equipped with its bar sink, sigh), requires a certain vigilance around rotating through and using up food, buying just enough to feel well stocked, but not crowding us and the cats out of the house. (I confess that the aforementioned diet and my increased consumption of fruit and vegetables is skewing all this and you can barely open our refrigerator after a Fresh Direct delivery on Sunday morning and oranges constantly roll out when you open it as they are tucked into nooks.)

No idea why this was actually created (clammy cocktail?), but it is my go-to cheat for a fish stock base/

Anyway, all this to say my so-called pantry had this couple of cans of clams awaiting bouillabaisse (I made that for the holidays and the recipe and story can be found here, at the bottom of my Boxing Day post), but that was more ambitious than I was feeling. The fish pasta was too carb heavy for the zippy new diet so I went to work on this. This spicy chowder has the charm of being largely made from what can be kept in the house, an advantage in these days of not wanting to run to the store.

I read a few recipes online and constructed mine from there. It goes without saying that this is a very flexible recipe which encourages its own specifics around the general idea and framework. Most of the ones I read called for bacon, but we are a pescatarian/no meat household so I went in a different direction. However, I would think you would chop it and add it to cook in the beginning with the garlic, onion and carrots. As I say above – use it to use up whatever leftovers are languishing in the fridge, bits of veg and fish.

In the before time I was a bit of a snob about using frozen or canned vegetables, but these days, especially for soup they are handy and work just fine. Of course if you are making this in the summer you’d use fresh corn and maybe even throw the cob in for good measure and to thicken the soup, perhaps even instead of the potato, but no complaints about this pantry version.

The sort of mainstay ingredients are as follows:

  • Large can of clams, drained
  • Bottle of clam juice
  • Large bottle of Clamato juice (my favorite cheat for fish stock!)
  • Large can of diced tomatoes
  • One large or two small bell peppers; I used red
  • Small onion
  • Garlic (lots! I think I used three or four large cloves)
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • New or creamer potatoes – help to thicken although I kept them to a minimum – four of the minature creamer ones, another recent discovery and I keep a bag of them in the house for various uses.
  • Jalapeño peppers (Pandemic pantry discovery for me – I keep a jar of them in the fridge – try them on grilled cheese sometime!) I used about 1/4 cup.
  • Green beans
  • Corn
  • Herbs – I had a bunch of flat leaf parsley and some fresh basil so I used that chopped. I also added two bay leaves and a bit of thyme. I used Maras red pepper (a whole post could be devoted to the discovery of this gentle, but strong red pepper as a seasoning!), but you could use red pepper flakes (I’d chop them a bit), chili pepper or whatever you prefer to make things spicy. I always like a bit of ground coriander. Salt to taste. I adjusted the seasoning throughout cooking in a more rigorous way than usual and I used a fine salt rather than the rough ground salt I prefer on many other things – no idea if that made a difference.
  • Tomato and anchovy paste (optional but I like to add it for depth)
  • Wine or vermouth, about a half a cup

So I was feeling a bit lazy and I used the Cuisinart to chop the onion, the garlic and the herbs. Not sure it was a good idea, but I decided to Cuisinart the red pepper as well. Of course this meant that it was very fine and it also brought out all the liquid which I had not anticipated and really I ended up deglazing the pan when I added it. It’s soup so in the end it doesn’t really matter, but the result was a finer, less chunky soup. I think fine either way although my usual go to is to hand chop.

Anyway, I softened the garlic, onions, celery and carrots first, along with the tomato and anchovy paste (first go of salt and the Maras pepper at this point, but I added more later), then added the potatoes (sliced pretty small), then bell peppers and then you can deglaze the pot with the wine or vermouth; I keep vermouth for cooking as a wine alternative. This assumes you are using frozen or canned corn and green beans – if fresh you would want to add them before deglazing.

Add the Clamato, the diced tomato, clams, clam juice, Jalapeño peppers (rough chopped), corn, beans, etc. and the herbs. Bring to a hard boil for a bit. Adjust seasoning. Simmer for no less than an hour, but the longer the better. Keep checking the seasoning throughout – I wanted it very spicy but didn’t want to kill us so it was a fine line. This is another recipe that is definitely better after a day in the fridge. I am going to make a variation on it today with shrimp and leftover flounder, with perhaps a few cheese tortellini to keep things interesting.

If I wasn’t on a diet I would serve this with corn bread or muffins – or even some crusty buttered baguette. Nevertheless, it was so great I can’t wait to make it again.

Boxing Day!

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I’m not sure I remember a Pictorama post falling on Boxing Day, but here we find ourselves on a sunny if cold New York City day post-Christmas as we do our best to shove 2020 behind us. Kim and I were recently speaking of Boxing Day and I looked up its history. It started in the 1830’s in Britain and it was a day to be charitable – boxes were taken to the poor and were given to servants who got the day off as well. It spread to the British colonies and remains a holiday there whereas, as we know, traditionally the day after Christmas in this country is usually about shopping. Of course nothing is really usual about this year, and I cannot imagine stores teeming with post-Christmas folks under the current Covid circumstances.

Our own Christmas was celebrated with just us and the felines here on 86th Street, a Zoom call to New Jersey with my mom, cousin and friend Suzanne in the afternoon sadly substituting for an annual visit. In order to cheer us up I made a rather amazing bouillabaisse if I do say so myself – a sort of quick and cheaty one that has its origins with my grandmother, but I have manipulated a bit over time. (I managed six of the seven fishes – seven if you count the anchovy paste!) I served it with homemade corn muffins and a red pepper compound butter. Before I brag on myself too much I will admit that I forgot to consider dessert entirely and ran out to the store and acquired a frozen Dutch apple pie. Frankly it did the job just fine and I confess, diet be damned, I am looking forward to eating some for breakfast today. Yum.

Christmas was a cold, stormy day here with a wind whipping around – I discovered just how bad when I made that run to the store. Jazz at Lincoln Center unexpectedly announced that they were giving us all two weeks off over the holiday and I am easing into a blissful state of extra sleep and pajama wearing – house cleaning will follow I hope, as I have ignored the state of it long enough and one should go into the New Year with a clear mind and house I suspect. All this to say, I have not yet enjoyed the aforementioned improved weather but look forward to some outdoor exercise in a bit – New Year’s resolutions are lurking just around the corner to be sure.

Our newest toy, identified as French and a Krazy Kat, but I believe was meant to be Felix.
Side view.

However, the aspect of Christmas which was traditional and in no way disappointing were the toys Santa, aka Kim, brought me! Two absolutely wonderful toys, the first featured today by way of Bertoia auctions shown above. (Of course I still enjoy receiving toys on Christmas – not a surprise to Pictorama readers I am sure.)

This extraordinary wind-up toy was identified as a French Krazy Kat with no additional information. He is entirely unmarked, stands at about 8 inches, with a metal body covered in a heavy felt suit. His head and hands are composition and you can see that he probably fell on his face a lot from the chipping on his nose – his one ear is also a bit nibbled down. Despite that he is in pretty extraordinary condition, and of course it should be noted that I believe he is a Felix not a Krazy Kat. It should also be noted that his wind-up key is permanently affixed to him, not removable.

This one-footed fellow is seen a bit more than the latest acquisition.

I have never seen a toy like him and would appreciate any information folks might have about his origins. His mechanism spring is a bit shot or over-wound and I have only achieved a few bits of a hopping, splayed leg gait out of him (he fell on his face immediatley) which is too bad because I have seen enough to know it must have been comical. He is smaller and more delicate than the more typical wind-up mohair Felix, one that seems to always lose one foot. My example shown above. I assume that because of his composition parts this fellow didn’t last and few of these seem to be knocking around. I wrote about the one above and another more or less one-of-a-kind wind-up Felix toys, shown below, in a post that can be found here. While I had never seen that one before I was certainly familiar with the wind-up function he was built on.

Another admittedly unusual Felix wind-up toy.

So, we start to close out 2020 with a house full of leftovers and a moment to catch our collective breath. For those of you who still have some cooking ambition in you, or need a New Year’s meal, I lay out the basics of my fish stew below. Enjoy!

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Fish Stew or Quick Bouillabaisse Recipe:

Saute onions, garlic and chopped carrots with salt and pepper until they begin to brown, add additional veggies. I like a little potato to thicken, green beans and a bit of corn. (If you are using corn on the cob you can wait and drop the full ear into the soup to cook and cut the corn off after – that will add taste and additionally thicken soup. I used frozen corn this time.) Add in a bit of anchovy paste and a smidge of tomato paste.

Add in fresh fish of choice, about a pound of each – I used a bit of halibut (skinned) although any thicker white meat fish will do, and cut it into bite-size chunks, I added shrimp, and scallops and let cook. I like to add a lobster tail or some crab legs and it does well to add them in here too if they aren’t frozen which my lobster tail was this time. (Snow crab legs are great, but messy to eat later – this was a faux lobster tail belonging broadly to the lobster family with sharp sprine-y bits – ouch!, but I was able to take it out after it had cooked and add the fish meat back into the stew so no eating time mess.)

Deglaze the pot with a cup or so of wine or vermouth. The cheating part starts here (and I am pretty sure this is my addition to this recipe) with some canned fish options. I start with a can of clams, with their liquid included, and this time added a tin of smoked oysters. (I prefer mussels but oysters was all the market had to offer and they were just fine. This is a very forgiving recipe.)

Here’s the big cheat – add a bottle of clam juice AND a large container of Clamato juice (I have often wondered what other use Clamato juice has in life – do people drink it? Make cocktails with it?) Also add a large can of chopped tomatoes at this stage. This creates a substitute fish broth base. I added fresh chopped basil and wide leaf parsley. I like basil in it in particular, but again this is another place where you can be creative. I also added a bit of oregano and at this stage adjust your seasoning overall – I tend to have been adding a bit of salt and pepper with each addition of fish. Bring to a boil and then simmer for at least 40 minutes.

If pressed, you can happily eat this immediately, but the real trick is to cool it down and refrigerate it over night. A glorious change takes place and it is even more amazing! Great dish for company made the day before and then only needs to be heated before serving.