Monday, February 9, 2015

Tal Traditions : The Arkansas Sugar Cookie Recipe V.1.0 and V.2.0

Oh I wanted to get this up at Christmas time. I really did. But things got happily complicated 'round the end of December. We got hung up!*  So with no further ado : 

The Arkansas Sugar Cookie (all versions) !!

First, a bit of background on the subject .

While Pop never liked any tampering with his favorites, he would try our experiments with traditional recipes at least once. Mashed potatoes with roast garlic which we thought a remarkable improvement, found no favor with him. From that day forward, he became responsible for all mashed potato production, Thanksgiving or otherwise. All win- win from our point of view. Right Mom?

The Arkansas Sugar Cookie has a similar spot in Streeter family history. They were a Gram Streeter specialty. A tin came by post every December wherever we were living at the time.  She prepared these very far in advance and they could survive pretty much anything. They were always the same size, recipe, color.  Pop thought that they were just as good several months later as right out of the oven. Not many cookies hold up quite as well as these do!

Blanche Waller Streeter ( b.1882 - d.1970).Widowed early in her marriage, she raised one son, Tal's father, Paul. She supported the two of them by taking in lodgers to her two story home on Laramie Street in Manhattan, Kansas.

I spent only one afternoon with her that I can remember. I was nine, soon to be ten. We were leaving to live in Japan that August. She passed away several months later.

She and I were left together in a very dark living room with Victorian furnishings. She sat in a huge Morris Chair, me the sofa. Green Acres on the television. I was given one of these cookies from a large red tin in the kitchen.

Her stern admonition "Don't marry no Mandarin with no long pigtail" were the only words addressed in my direction. No further conversation . Eva Gabor offered the only levity and light to the afternoon.

I didn't quite know what to think of these cookies at the time. They are huge things for one.The ingredients are super simple. LARD, buttermilk, white flour, white sugar and nutmeg. Nothing more, nothing less. They aren't very sweet. Similar texture to a pie crust.

And LARD ? If ever there was an ingredient that has fallen out of favor, this is one! And if you have never had a cookie made with lard instead of butter you won't be able to imagine the flakiness.

I can't tell you anything more about the name. I've looked into it. The recipe doesn't show up anywhere using quite the same ingredients. I can't recall what Gram Streeter's relationship was with the state of Arkansas. As far as I know she was a Kansan through and through.  

When she passed away, Tal decided to take on the AS cookie challenge and he became quite good at it. Mostly for his own enjoyment as he never quite got around to making them in time to send them off like his Gran had. That would have meant preparing far,far in advance. Not a Tal attribute.    

Pop was bold enough to offer his Bennett College sculpture students an A if they could successfully write out the recipe which he passed around the month before final exams. No takers as I recall. So it is Romig that gets the credit for sitting next to Gram Streeter and writing everything down. Once again, she saves the day.    

One Christmas in Paris, I received a box of these dipped in dark Chocolate. Even I screamed sacrilege ! Calling up the Verbank kitchen, I asked what prompted this unnecessary addition? This gilding the lily ? He replied "That was your ever astonishing Mother !" We laughed long and hard as I recall !

Classic style Arkansas Sugar Cookies V.1.0 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

The Ingredients:
1 cup shortening (LARD!)
2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 t freshly ground nutmeg

Cream all of the above together. I wouldn't use your hands as one can over heat/over work this dough too quickly. Use a utensil like a pastry cutter or  a Foley Fork .

Then add:
1 cup buttermilk
6 1/2 cups to 7 cups of flour

At this point I divide the dough into 3 balls of equal size and wrap them up in plastic wrap and pop them in the fridge to calm down before attempting to roll them out.

Roll out each ball pretty thin, say 3mm, sprinkle with sugar and an additional grating of nutmeg and roll again. Cut with a Hellman's mayonnaise top. This is the traditional size of an Arkansas Sugar Cookie. But more on that later.
Yeah yeah we did this step a bit later than you are supposed to.

And sometimes we added just a bit more nutmeg.

For this? A Microplane, a real Microplane is the kit to have.  Here, Tiger uses a yellow handled Microplane Home Kitchen version !                                                                                

Yeah, Yeah a bit ass backwards but it still works.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 The Microplane you see him using here, doesn't have a big handle like previous one. Why? Because it's a Potters Microplane! They use these too! We got ours at the Santa Fe Clay Supplies Shop! 

Much less expensive and just as good as the kitchen or chef's version.

What does a chefs version look like? Very nice and very expensive. Stainless steel handle is the only difference. We don't have one of those.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

In the oven and puffing up nicely.

Then out of the oven. "Hot stuff! Watch your back!" Pop's friend Peter Moore used to say that.

The finished product :
Classic Style Arkansas Sugar Cookies.

A nice mix of well done ones and less done ones. Thinner and thicker.

The biggest tip we veterans have to offer would be to not overwork the dough. All of you people that like to mix stuff ? Makes one tough cookie.  Not a good idea !

With the extra bits, also try to curb your instinct to put the scraps all together then squeeze the wee out of them with your hot hands trying to make everything come together. Also not a good idea. Like good pie crust, you just want the dough to stick together.

Ditto putting too much flour on the surface of your rolling area.  Dry Dough Alert!  

I also put each batch of cut cookies in the freezer for 5 minutes before putting them into the oven for baking. This gives us even more flaky cookies!

But Pop should have the last word ** :

"My grandmother had a big tin box she had painted bright red, our favorite color. She filled this right up to the top with cookies big enough so children would be coming back for more. She rolled the cookie dough in the kitchen right out on an enameled kitchen work counter, then cut them out; with a four inch diameter cookie cutter ( the top of a Hellmans mayo jar does the trick)

Since childhood, Pop adds that he likes the crispy thin ones best but "a mix of thicker and thinner is just  perfect!" 

This recipe makes about five dozen cookies."

Okay. Got that out of the way.

Now we come to the Tiger/Lissa Arkansas Sugar Cookie V. 2.0

Truth is, I'm a bit of a dog with a bone when it comes to a traditional recipe. I can't resist tinkering with it. I 'd like to think Pop would agree that it is important to his godson Tiger's development that even Arkansas Sugar Cookie Making offers ample opportunity for independent thought, testing a hypothesis and discovery !

So with that in mind, I hope you will all enjoy this 2.0 version of The Arkansas Sugar Cookie. We think we really have come up with a winner ! One that he would have approved of ! Right Tiger?

In our version we wondered what this recipe would be like if we added something other than nutmeg ?

We tried three variations : 1. Cinnamon and orange zest, 2. green cardamon (black inside seeds finely chopped ), and finally 3. fennel or green anise seed.

Then we asked what other thing we might try to make this recipe our own?

Change the size! So off came the top of a gin bottle, the perfect size we both thought!

Our recipe makes too many cookies to count! Those dough balls never seemed to get any smaller !

We decided after much deliberation that cinnamon and orange zest was our favorite combination. Turned out to be our testers prefered V.2.0 Cinnamon/orange zest too!

See what you think ! Are you a tradionalist? Or ready to head out into the great unknown?

Please let us know what you come up with?

V.3.0 anyone?

- Lissa in Paris, sending a little wave to her Tiger pal, veteran AS Cookie maker /designer 

*Mom always said that "I got hung up" was an acceptable excuse for being late to something and needed no further explanation ! So I'll use it here. 
**This comes from his bio. I kid you not. He took this all very seriously.
***Yes yes, the two square boxes with our final product ? All Mompots ! Beautiful. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

So Tal, How Did You Become An Artist ?

Found this while going through some of Pop's papers :

"All the art "success" in Tal's career since Manhattan High School aside: How Tal came to be an artist in the first place!

1938 Kindergarten, Bluemont Elementary.
A paper-mache banana painted a bright chrome yellow tempera (right out of the bottle) was followed by a book of colored crayon and pencil drawings of birds. These were recognized by my mother as a "career omen" . In the ensuring years, she lost the banana but managed to hold onto the bird book til her mid eighties. Passing it back to me with the comment: "I always knew you were going to be an artist."

1939 Miss Waite's First Grade.  The college art education student teacher in my first grade class took my crayon drawing of Abraham Lincoln to show her classmates.

1943 Fourth Grade, Wichita Kansas. in the spirit of not putting all my eggs in one basket, I teach myself to play alto sax.

1945/46 mid Fifth and Sixth Grade, Bluemont School. At the close of the war, we moved back to Manhattan. For me, it was a return to the great company of all my old friends.
My art career takes off really seriously. I win the Poppy Poster Contest.

This next item is arguably, the most crucial element of my bio : One day skipping play recess, Gary Rodgers was reading at his desk on the front row of our sixth grade classroom, me drawing, copying comics seated at the desk just behind his. Gary turns 'round every once in awhile, watching the progress of my drawing.  

1947: Seventh Grade, Manhattan Junior High School : Midway through the first term of art class, an unfortunate misunderstanding occurred between Miss French and myself regarding a Halloween drawing, Miss French slaps me, bringing to a stinging close, this segment of my art career. It was not to be resumed until my senior year of high school.

1952 : Senior Year, Manhattan High. Gary Rodgers, after all these years, still a close friend, was made editor of the high school yearbook. He approached me one day in Miss Sykes' journalism class, saying "Tal you can draw right? Would you consider illustrating our High School Annual ? "

It just so happened that Miss French, who taught art from seventh through twelfth grades, died that year. I enrolled in my first art class since seventh grade. I was back in business.

I paint my first picture, a portrait of Shirley Wickham (now Shirley Taylor ) using the redhead Breck Girl Shampoo advertisement as a resource.

Encouraged, I send in my pencil copy of the "Draw Me" girls head that appeared on the back of Safety Matches Talent Test, required for gaining admittance to art correspondence school.

I'm way up there !

" 97 ! Definitely a career worth considering !" says the salesman who visits our house on 1718 Pierre.

I decide to check this out just a bit further, taking advantage of an open-house at the University of Kansas, Lawrence.

One of my art career credentials I learn, was the fact that though I'd taken math all the way through Algebra in high school and despite all of Kenny Ellis' wonderful help, I was really stupid when it came to math.

This, it turns out, is a requirement for being an artist ! Flying colors at KU ! I'm offered a scholarship! The rest, it goes without saying (when you are only allowed a half page bio) is history. "  

Aw he had a good sense of humor didn't he?


Saddened by recent events. Paris : Grey, Overcast. The usual January/February Paris vibe.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tal Spirit : Shirone, Japan 1971 to present day and beyond.

My mother and I received a very special letter last week from Shirone Japan. Back in 1971, Tal's introduction of this incredible community and their tremendous festival of Giant Kite fighting really rocked Western imaginations. It was The Art of the Japanese Kite's first chapter.

In some sense it recounts in a macro way Tal's own introduction to Japan. The train north, the except from Kawabata's Snow Country, the arrival in this tiny farming village, going to the gymnasium to see these giant things being readied, which were going to fly? It seemed impossible ! Tal wrote in extraordinary detail what it was like to encounter these mammoth O dako or "Giant" kites. His descriptions of the actual kite fighting were engrossing and unforgettable.

In the years that followed the publication of The Art of the Japanese Kite, American publications like National Geographic came to Shirone and filmed the festival, wrote articles on the kite crazy Japanese  

  So it was particularly touching when two of the   present day exponents of the Shirone Odako         made a visit to Tal, in July 2013, a year before     his passing. While he was greatly depleted of       physical energy , he was very moved. Kazama Masao, one of the Odako Master kitemakers      and Endo Hiromi head of the Shirone Odako      Museum reignited his memories of those first  experiences with these spectacular kites.

When Mr Endo, today's present director of the Shirone  heard of Tal's passing, he wrote offering his condolences. And this past month he sent us another message saying that Tal had "put Shirone on the map. Had introduced the Odako far beyond the island of Japan and for this, the town was eternally grateful and they were dedicating this years 2015 Odako Calender to Tal's spirit.
Tal ended the chapter on Shirone with these words : "The sight of the Shirone Kites hanging in the afternoon sky is indescribably beautiful. Their combat is exciting and their death poignant. For me, and for many others, the festival need not ever end."    


Lissa, looking out on a light snowfall in Santa Fe New Mexico
December 2014. 


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Tal Friend : Otto Piene 1926 - 2014

Otto and Tal were fellow Brothers of the Sky, each influential in promoting and conceptualizing "Sky Art". Otto directed MIT's Center for Advanced Visual Studies from 1974 to until the early '90's. He invited Tal's participation in many Sky Art Conferences the world over as well as inviting him to become a CAVS Fellow.

And as you all know, Tal passed away on April 17, 2014 and his friend Otto, three months later on July 17, 2014 while preparing for a Sky Event and retrospective of his work at Berlin's Neue National Galley.

In preparation for Otto Piene's memorial service this coming November 8th 2014 at MIT's Kresge Auditorium 3:30PM. Friends and former CAVS fellows were asked to submit writing celebrating Piene's life and contribution.

Tal wrote this poem for Otto last September, 2013 on receiving Otto's gift of the huge book on Otto's life's work up until that date. He dictated* this letterpoem the next morning to Romig. She recently passed a copy to those organizing the event.

"For Otto"

Thank you for your wonderful book, Otto Piene.

Thank you for being so hard for us other mortals to keep up with.

Thank you for having a wonderful wife, your Elizabeth.

Thanks for keeping your neighbors, us, awake with your light.

Someday I hope your light will shine to the moon

when you have figured out that trip.

People most often are disappointed to see

This lump of far from the earth.

They forget that our perception of the moon

Is all about the beauty of light reflected from the sun.

The beauty of the moon is in

This fragile piece of light.

Day after day,

Night after night, Otto.


For further reading on Otto Piene, I would suggest having a look at the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies - CAVS website.

Here is a selection of Otto's books that Tal had in his library (Now at Dream of Flight Museum and Library, Santa Fe NM) :

Lissa - Fall 2014 Paris

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tal Riff : Red Line to the Sky c.1973

Post Endless Column, post Flying Red Lines, on his return to the United States, Tal began development of a piece called  "Red Line to the Sky". 

Red Line to the Sky continued his boyhood fascination with towers, beacons and other tall structures seen from a great distance. Not yet  built (Ha ! ) this work went through many transformations. Red, not red, mirror finish steel, lasers emanating the top...anything to get off the earth's surface and up up into the sky !

His later proposals for "Prairie Beacon" and Kwanju Korea's "Great Tower of Light" all stem from this first light "tower".  

Red Line to the Sky drawing c.1973
The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC collection has an early pencil drawing of Tal's Red Line to the Sky with the following notes on the back: 
 "Somewhere between these two dimensions is the optimum, minimal height. 

Polished Chrome "mirror" four sided or single surfaces to be 2'- 0 (4' - 0) or 4' - (8' - 0 ) 

ie : really the needle, the skyscraper, the Empire State Building is the most dramatic contemporary statement - from skyscraper back to menhir in the "Cock" and Endless Column / Brancusi believed he had achieved something approaching ultimate perfection 1.1: Scale 1/4 - 1' SCALE : 1/4" = 2 - 0 ..."

I've found other Tal notes in SD magazine / Space Design Magazine May/June 1971  regarding Red Line to the Sky : 

"To put a mark in the sky with the finest of brushes. a Red Line to the Sky beginning somewhere deep in the earth but without end, continuing noiselessly on into the heavens. "

Tal's last riff on a "light tower" were his discussions with architect Gustavo Bonevardi of PROUN Space Studio in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy. Tal suggested "two towers of white light". 

Yes you read that right. A proposal for two twin towers of light post 9/11. 

Tal considered the "Tribute in Light" which Bonevardi and Co. then organized and installed, a beautiful piece, making multiple trips to see it.  

I've never seen Tal's name mentioned as part of the team of other architects and artists that collaborated with Bonavardi. 

Romig says they met one evening at friends and Tal offered his idea of light towers. There you are.

Looking through the artists generally mentioned with this piece, none had ever done anything remotely like this in their previous works. 

Looks like a Tal "riff" that someone else carried to beautiful fruition. After all, It is one thing to have an idea and yet another to "make it happen".

Monday, August 18, 2014

Tal Riff on Kites : the chiringa !

Some late night writing of Pop's that I found in his pre-stroke emails. 

"It gave me the idea of teaching prisoners to make the little Chiringa* folded paper kite, which they could fly up and over the high prison walls. This idea didn't come about; a victim of worries of untrustworthiness and abuses (which did seem not completely unreasonable) but also, perhaps an underlying thought, a primary punishment, the loss of freedom in both spirit and substance.
It's something perhaps still possible in a more gentle and generous time.

This kite suggestion or proposal is something which might come to fruition on the web, reaching such a big audience..

Another kite-related thought, unrealized, in this similar subversive vein, one which has yet to see the the light of day: plans for a simple paper kite, in the shape and three-dimensional rendering of an old fashioned bomb. Black, with a yellow "Have a Happy Day, smiling face image" on it---which I imagined as anonymous “lesson,” several of these Happy Day Bomb kites flown  over small town centers (parks), the insurgent flyer catching the end of the kites flying string, high in a tree limb.

I see this as bringing to light a very emotional response from viewers, a consciousness-raising, for several quite different viewers both good and evil, The good response: "My god, will you look at that," The evil, calling the sheriff, “Hey "get that damn thing down from there.

Raising the question, “How's it feel to think of bombs raining down on your little community, pretty much anywhere throughout our United States.

Still, I don't “rightly know” as we say here and there, that this is an acceptable project for me to suggest: I've fairly frequently been asked to put well-meaning social messages on kites (a save the whales kite, for example and advertising (which I never seriously considered, although it’s a common practice).  

I've always turned to the thought that kites should remain in a kind of primary, pure formsomething beautiful flying in the sky."

* What might a Chiringa folded kite look like folks ? Any idea ? - Lissa  Verbank , 2014 

found this : "la chiringa es diferente al papalote o cometa, la chringa es hecha solo de papel, no tiene armazon de madera" . Lissa guessing translation : la chiringa is made only with paper and doesn't have wooden "bones".    
So still looking for a picture of just what this Cuban kite called a chiringa looks like !  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Tal Humor : On Collecting

"One is nice. Shows interest and that you have a eye. Two ? Its just a pair, Bruce. Three ? Now you are getting started !  If you want someone to take you seriously, to take your collection seriously, these are the first three rules, a beginning collector must follow. "

Another nugget of Tal humor that came to Bruce as he packed up yet a third copy of this or that. 

Verbank, August 2014