While driving to teach at Hofstra University a few months ago, I heard an interview on WNYC about an art exhibit by the African American artist, Faith Ringgold at the New Museum in Lower Manhattan. Her work and life story sounded fascinating and compelling and I made a mental note to visit the museum soon!
Recently, I had a free Saturday morning before an afternoon rehearsal and saw that Faith Ringgold’s exhibit was still at the New Museum. I headed down in my car to the Lower East Side and ended up parking not far from one of my all time favorite places DiPalo’s Fine Foods, also close to the venerable Italian pastry shop Cafe Roma; this was going to be a wonderful food and art expedition!
The New Museum opened in 1977 and was the first museum devoted to contemporary art created by New York City artists. The mission statement of the museum says: “the museum is a catalyst for a broad dialogue between artists and the public by establishing an exhibition, information, and documentation center for contemporary art made within a period of approximately ten years prior to the present.”
Designed by Tokyo-based architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa/SANAA the museum is a seven-story, eight-level structure located at 235 Bowery between Stanton and Rivington Streets in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Faith Ringgold at 91, has enjoyed a long career as an artist, writer, educator and activist. She was at the center of the Harlem Renaissance and her works document her struggles for social justice and equality.
I found the exhibit to be inspiring on many levels; as I viewed the works of art, I felt the rich legacy of black history. I also learned about the activism that Ringgold engaged in during her life in New York City.
I chatted briefly with one of the guards, a middle aged African American woman; she seemed eager to talk about the art work with me and seemed to show a special pride for the exhibition. She also shared information about a recent visit that Ringgold had made to the museum for a reception held in her honor.
I enjoyed viewing a series of works called story quilts that depicted the stories of important figures in the 20th century.
In “The Sunflowers Quilting Bee at Arles”, a quilt is surrounded by famous black luminaries including Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman. To the right stands Van Gogh holding a bunch of sunflowers!
In the story quilt, “Dinner at Gertrude Stein’s” from the French Collection, Part #9 991, the black writers Langston Hughes and Richard Wright sit along side Toklas, Gertrude Stein, Picasso and Ernest Hemingway.
“Bessie’s Blues” portrays the jazz singer Bessie Smith. For this exhibit, the work is own loan from the Art Institute of Chicago. I was drawn to the bold colors and patterns and found this description talking about the parallels between art and music compelling:
“Faith Ringgold employed thick lines and forms to portray the singer Bessie Smith, also known as “Empress of the Blues.” The deliberate dissonance between Smith’s melodies and their musical accompaniment finds a visual echo in Ringgold’s pared-down portrait of the glamorous Smith (known for bespangled dresses and sparkly jewelry). The subtle variations among the repeated portraits hint at the variations in pitch and rhythm in the choruses of Smith’s songs“. Art Institute of Chicago
There was a stunning view of Lower Manhattan from the 7th floor of the museum with the Freedom Tower in the distance. I reflected on our fragile democracy and on it’s resilience. Even with all of it’s flaws and challenges, change is possible; made so clear this past week with the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson!
After experiencing such a beautiful and uplifting exhibit, my spirits were soaring and I was full of energy; ready for the well anticipated culinary part of my expedition!
I headed towards Grand and Mulberry Streets and to Dipalos Fine Foods, which has served the freshest Italian cheeses since 1925.
I love the homey atmosphere of the store; customers range from ultility workers, tourists and fellow foodies! On this particular day, owner Lou Dipalo’s wife brought out a tray of freshly made riggatoni, Italian sausage and tomato sauce. A delicious aroma wafted into the air and there was a collective sigh of appreciation by all of us customers standing in line.
Big hunks of cheese line the counters. Before the pandemic, customers were often treated to tastes of each cheese that they ordered. I ordered my usual; parmesan reggianno and freshly grated pecorino.
The next step was to get a Bubble Tea across the street from DiPalo’s at Ya Ya’s Tea. Often times Bubble Tea is too sweet for my taste, but here they made freshly brewed camomile tea sweetened with a bit of honey. I ordered a large with plenty of ice and with the addition of chewy pearl tapioca bubbles it was irresistible!
My next stop was to Mimi Chengs Dumplings on Broome Street. The plan was to get some dumpling to take home for dinner; I ordered chicken and zucchini and vegetable dumplings; some made it home!
Almost directly across the street is one of the best Italian pastry shops in the city; Cafe Roma. The day had gone so well, I thought I would treat myself to a pastry to eat on the way home.
As I entered the cafe, I was greeted by the heady scent of espresso and pastries. There was quite an assortment of Italian delicacies, but this day I was drawn to the flaky sfogliatelle that sat on top of the counter.
There is a story that the pastry originated on the Amalfi coast and was created by a nun at convent with left over semolina, lemon liqueur, sugar and dried fruit.
Driving home, I enjoyed my sfogliatelle immensely. I bit into the crispy buttery crust; filled with ricotta cheese, semolina and flavored with vanilla and small pieces of lemon citron, it was one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted! I have to say, I did make a bit of a mess; the front of my jacket was covered with powdered sugar and bits of crisp flaky pastry!
Often times when I am walking, my thoughts turn to what I might make for dinner that evening. I will think about what ingredients are on hand and then go from there. On one cold blustery early spring day, I was thinking of making a middle eastern fish stew. I had a nice piece of cod and some oil cured black olives. But when I started to cook, my mood started to shift towards Italian spices and a way to use some of my pungent grated pecorino cheese that I had just purchased from DiPalos. I saw a jar of capers in the fridge and imagined my stew served over whole wheat linguini and in a flash Fish Soup ala Pantelleria was born!
Fish Stew Ala Pantelleria
1 pound cod
1 can diced fire roasted tomatoes
1 medium red potato cut into small pieces
1 onion finely diced
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
4-5 mushrooms sliced
handful of green beans cut into small pieces
handful of lacinato kale, tough core removed and cut into small pieces
1/4 cup pitted oil cured black olives
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup capers , rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
red pepper flakes to taste
water to cover casserole
1/2 box whole wheat linguini
freshly grated pecorino cheese
To Make Fish Stew:
Rinse cod and cut into medium size chunks- set aside.
In a large heavy cast iron pot, add olive oil and heat. Add onions and saute until softened and then add garlic, cook briefly for a minute or so.
Add all other ingredients except the fish and then cover with water. If you have a good white wine on hand, you could add a cup or so here! Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook about 30-40 minutes until the vegetables are soft.
Add fish and cook just a few minutes more until fish flakes easily. Do not overcook the fish!
Serve with freshly ground pepper and grated pecorino.
AND: Here is the “Tree of the Week”
HAPPY SPRING AND STAY SAFE!!