Updated: Nov 8, 2019
There's just something special that happens when people sit down to eat together. And when the food that is served has been cooked with love and attention, that is some alchemy right there. The food serves as a common bond, and from there, the connections are made, the conversation flows, and you are feeding more than just bellies.
From the beginning of this eat.paint.love adventure, food and art have brought us together. Kelly and I were virtual strangers, but on-line "art friends" when we met in person at her first Portugal retreat. We bonded over art, Outlander, and the most delicious little spicy clams in a heavenly broth that I still dream about. That was really the beginning of eat.paint.love! Every meal in Portugal was a sensuous melange of flavors and textures (and mostly homey and dirt cheap), from the aforementioned clams to the sun warmed figs we picked off our hostess's tree for breakfast. And thus the precedent was set, that each of our retreats while ostensibly an art retreat, was also about feeding and nurturing our bodies with delicious, healthful, locally sourced, and often home cooked meals that also embraced local specialties and the culture of the area. Some of our favorite meals while traveling are thanks to our beautiful Marie, who has introduced us to the real french food, like our picnic in the park of baguettes, a favorite cheese and the sweetest little mountain strawberries bought in a fabulous market nearby. And her family in France who welcomed us and stuffed us with delicious duck confit and potatoes and wine until we could barely move. Kelly, Marie and I all love to cook for our retreat artists. You don't want to miss Kelly's breakfast hash, or Marie's baked feta in lemon and rosemary, not to mention her killer brownies. And of course, my dad who comes over to the beach one evening during our Outer Banks Retreats to cook shrimp for us and charm us with his stories, three years in a row now. Needless to say, no starving artists here!
As our retreats have evolved, I've taken on more of the responsibility of our meal planning, shopping and cooking. I love it! I've always enjoyed cooking as a creative outlet but I've learned so much more over the last almost 4 years while cooking for these retreats. Menu selection, shopping and planning ahead when the nearest grocery store is almost an hour each way. I have developed an extensive 4 page, double columned and sorted grocery list I keep and then adjust depending on our menu, location, and what's available in the markets. Cooking for our groups of lovely women is great fun and I get the chance to experiment with beautiful ingredients. And because I don't want to make something for the very first time for our retreat artists, I practice recipes at home and bring the results to my "real" job working nights as a NICU RN. My coworkers seem pretty appreciative of my efforts and give great feedback on which recipes are a "keeper." A built-in test audience!
West Coast flavors coming up next
With our next retreat in May 2020 on the beautiful Mendocino Coast of Northern California, we will be able to focus on some great ingredients, sourced from local organic farms and an abundance of farmer's markets, not to mention the fresh seafood available down the road from our lighthouse cottages. My hairdresser knows the best local fishing captain and where we can meet him when his boat pulls in and get the freshest catch of the day. I can see that I'm going to have to up my seafood repertoire in preparation. For the Mendocino retreat I think I'll do my best take on local wine country cuisine and "farm to table" and and "sea to table." I've already started researching recipes and have a lot of ideas!
Now I wouldn't go on and on about food and not share a recipe. So below is my recipe for Corn and Crab Chowder with a Cajun Touch. This lovely soup is pretty easy to put together and was much appreciated by both my coworkers and the OBX Beach Girls this past September at our last retreat.
And finally, this thought... really, isn't cooking an art form and isn't feeding people an act of love?
That is the essence of eat.paint.love!
Corn and Crab Chowder with a Cajun Touch
-1 lb or more fresh lump crab meat picked over. Do not use fake crab!
-6 ears fresh corn, shucked and cut from cob.
-1 med onion diced small
-1 med red bell pepper diced small
-4-6 stalks celery diced small
- 1/2 jalapeño diced fine
-6 medium Yukon potatoes diced 1/2in cubes (Can add more potatoes if you want it more potatoe-y)
-1/2 tsp celery seed
-1 tbsp fresh thyme chopped
-1 tsp or a bit more of Cajun seasoning
-1/4 tsp cayenne
-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
-fresh ground pepper
-2 Bay leaves
-chives chopped fine for garnish
-32 oz container of organic chicken stock or broth.
-1 qt heavy cream ( can use half this amount if desired or use half-n-half)
-2 tbsp butter
In a heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, melt butter, add onion, bell pepper, celery, jalapeño and sauté on medium until veggies are soft/onions translucent. Add potatoes and sauté for five minutes. Add all seasonings and stir. Add chicken broth and simmer until potatoes are just soft enough to eat. Add crab, corn, and cream, stir and heat on medium until it starts to simmer. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Adjust seasonings and simmer a few min more if needed. Serve garnished with fresh chives.
Note: This soup reheats well, although when reheating, you may need to add a bit more broth or cream, if it gets too salty from the crab.
(Variation: you could also use bacon fat instead of butter to sauté the veg and save the bacon to crumble as garnish, but I wanted the crab and fresh corn to shine)
Serve with good sourdough bread and a a great salad. I did a spinach salad with warm bacon dressing.