When I was about 12, I dismissed Van Gogh as a crazy man who cut off his own ear. Then, in my teens, I saw his paintings in an Amsterdam museum and was shocked into awe at the difference between his dark early paintings and the stunningness of those when he discovered colour. I then felt compelled to read his biography which told me a different story than a severed ear.
As an adult I saw an exhibition of his paintings, each accompanied by one of the 652 letters that he wrote to his brother Theo. In them I was intrigued by his own devised method for teaching himself to paint, never imitating others, but trusting his own learning process. The exhibit also displayed copies of the books he read in Dutch, German, English and French – all the classics in their original languages. More than a crazy man.
Then, as a birthday present this September, the family took me to the Van Gogh Immersive Experience in Bristol — a way to be submerged into the vibrancy of his paintings accompanied by gentle music. This exhibit was not 100% acceptable to some art afficianados, but a truly perfect day of healing for one who was spending the rest of each day watching her husband’s life waning into oblivion.
Each time I encounter Van Gogh, there has been a surprising “more”. This time it was his quotes, starting with, “I only sign my paintings ‘Vincent’ because no one can pronounce my last name”. That afternoon in the semi-dark of beauty, I hastily scribbled down as many of his words as I was able. To me they are still breath-taking:
“If you [think you] cannot paint, paint in any way you can and the inner voice will fall silent.”
What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything!
If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere.
Success is….built on a whole series of failures.
To make sketches is to plant seeds from which paintings grow.
The way to know life is to love many things, for therein lies true strength and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much; and what is done in love is well done.
I think that the night is more alive than the day.
Normality is a paved road. It’s comfortable to walk on but no flowers grow there.
Paintings have a life of their own that originate in the painter’s soul. It is in the marrow of my bones.
There is nothing more artistic than loving people.
Colour speaks its own language – you cannot live without it.
Whew! A man riddled with mental illness comes out with such astounding truths! The magic of these thoughts, to me, is that he links creativity and love together – inspiration and community. For all of us who are devising recipes, painting pictures, composing songs, arranging flowers, writing chapters, designing houses, performing plays, or even planning a funeral, may these sayings of Van Gogh enrich our own courage and our own creativity.
Two Vegetarian Recipes Using Butternut Squash
Last month I promised or threatened you with two vegetarian recipes from this same book. Here they are, both based on butternut squash. Both recipes ask for the squash to be cooled completely after it is cooked, so it’s easier for you to do the recipes in stages. In the book there’s a third recipe – butternut squash tempura. If you want it, just ask.
Golden Ginger Cakes
Butternut squash 300 gms, (11 ounces, 2 cups) peeled and cut into dice.
Butter or coconut oil 100 gms (3 ½ oz. ½ cup)
Light brown sugar 100 gms (3 ½ oz. 2/3 cup)
Golden syrup 150 gms (5 oz, 6 tablespoons)
Self-raising (rising) flour. 200 gms (7 oz. 5 ½ cups) see my notes.*
Ground ginger 2 ½ teaspoons
Crystalised ginger, finely chopped 25 gms, (1 oz, 2 tablespoons)
Put the squash in a saucepan, add 4 tablespoons water and cook slowly until very very soft (20 – 25 mins). Drain, reserve the liquid, and cool on a big plate.
Butter loaf tin(s) and line with baking paper.
Preheat oven to 170 C, (150 fan, Gas 3, 340F).
Put butter or coconut oil, sugar, and syrup in a saucepan over very low heat. Stir occasionally until sugar has dissolved. Leave to cool 10 minutes. (I put the saucepan on a pan of ice.)
In a food processer, blend the squash until smooth with 2 tablespoons of reserved cooking water. Add SR flour, powdered ginger and chopped ginger, mix, then gradually pour in the butter-sugar mixture beating all the time. It should make a thick, spreadable batter. If sloppy, add more self-raising flour.
Spoon into the prepared tins and smooth the surface. Bake for 35 minutes (or more) until firm on top (the American in me would say to stick a toothpick in the middle and see if it comes out clean. When I was young, they’d say take a broom straw from the top of your broom and use that.) Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn onto a wire rack to cool completely.
The recipe goes on to show you a delicious way to toast the squash seeds and add them to the iced cakes, but I wanted to serve it warm with lemon sauce, so left them plain.
Verdict: Tastes great, not sickly sweet at all – cake is chewy, maybe because of golden syrup. Also, add more SR flour than given by the recipe, until you have a thick batter that spreads, not pours, into the loaf tins. It will make larger loaves, too.
Cheesy Squash Pastries
Butternut squash, peeled and diced: 300 g (11 ozs 2 cups)
Butter: 25 gms (1 oz 1 tablespoon)
Leek: 1 trimmed and thinly sliced
Dried sage: 1 tsp
Bay leaf: 11
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Puff pastry: 125 gms (4 ½ ozs, or a quarter of a 500 gm block)
Egg, beaten: 1 medium
Stilton cheese (or other hard blue cheese) crumbled: 40 g (1 ½ ozs, about 4 tablespoons)
Melt the butter and gently fry the squash and leek for 3 – 4 minutes. Stir in the herbs, salt and pepper, and cover with tightly fitting lid, lower heat and let the vegetables cook in their own juices for about 20 minutes, until very soft. Discard bay leaf and mash with a fork. Leave to cool completely.
Preheat oven to 200C – hottish. Line a baking tray with baking paper. On a lightly floured surface roll out the pastry to 30 x 15 cms (12 x 6 inches). Cut in half to make two squares. [It surprised me how thin the pastry was, but the squares worked well.] Place on baking tray and prick all over with a fork. Brush with beaten egg (I used the leftover egg for breakfast the next day). Bake for 10 minutes until very lightly browned.
Spread the squash mixture over the pastry, sprinkle with cheese and seeds. Bake for 15 minutes until lightly browned and bubbly. They suggest serving this with green salad or coleslaw.
The recipe gives all sorts of suggestions for using leftover (planned over) cheese, and puff pastry.
Verdict. Filling. Tastes even more delightful with extra cheese!. I also sprinkled poppy seeds too prolifically.