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Santa Fe, N.M. • Georgia O'Keeffe is best known for her paintings of large-scale flowers and Southwestern landscapes. But few realize that the artist who made her home in northern New Mexico also was a "foodie."
"She would have fit in with today's healthful, organic movement," said Margaret Wood, a caregiver and companion to O'Keeffe during the last years of the artist's life. Just as O'Keeffe was meticulous about her artwork "there was a particular way she wanted her food," Wood told members of the Association of Food Journalists during its recent conference.
Wood had just moved to New Mexico in 1977, when a friend contacted her about the caregiver job. At the time, O'Keeffe was in her 90s and losing her eyesight. Wood was just 24.
"I was so excited. But that was balanced with intimidation," said Wood, a Nebraska native and a weaver. "She (O'Keefe) was very regal and precise and she expected things to be done that way."
Wood chronicles the five years she spent with O'Keeffe in A Painter's Kitchen: Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O'Keeffe (Museum of New Mexico Press, $20). The collection includes simple recipes that Wood prepared while working for the painter. Some recipes were O'Keeffe's creations, while others were contributed by the fellow employees who worked in her kitchens. The cookbook was published in 1997, with a second edition issued in 2009.
Wood worked the night shift, arriving at O'Keeffe's home in Abiquiu each day at 5 p.m. She cooked dinner, read and walked with O'Keeffe before the artist went to bed. Wood slept in the studio next to O'Keeffe's bedroom and left around 9 a.m. when the daytime workers arrived.
O'Keeffe's first home was at Ghost Ranch about 15 miles away, but she specifically purchased the property in Abiquiu so she could have a garden, Wood said. O'Keeffe grew vegetables, fruit trees, flowers and numerous herbs; and she loved to collect the watercress that grew wild along the banks of two nearby springs. Much of what was harvested was dried, frozen or canned for winter use.
Each day, as soon as Wood's shift began, the women would go to the garden or orchard and "pick what was ripe for dinner," said Wood. One day that might mean harvesting corn and onions for a soup. Another day they collected crisp greens and fresh herbs, including lovage, basil, dill and sorrel, for a salad.
O'Keeffe ate meat in moderation, usually with her noon meal and it was ordered from a particular Santa Fe market. All the food was simple, but nutritious and, as one would expect, beautifully presented on simple dinnerware in her sparsely decorated home.
Wood said the disparity between her age and O'Keeffe's created an interesting dynamic.
"It was a lesson in patience and learning," she remembered. "She was bending me to be what she wanted. At first, I resisted, but that was pointless."
Wood said it took nine months before she had become friends with the eccentric painter, who died in March 1986 at the age of 98.
However, the experience may have shaped Wood's ultimate career choice. Today, she is a speech-language pathologist with a focus on the elderly.
While eating fresh, organically grown food, is a popular movement today, it was "counter-intuitive" for the time, said Wood. "Everyone else was going toward convenience food."
Ironically, while O'Keeffe was fastidious about food, she rarely used it as a subject in her paintings, said Judy Lopez, the historic properties director at Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe.
"She did paint some apples, avocados and grapes," said Lopez. "But those were done early on." Once she moved to Sante Fe, she focused on the large-scale flowers and the Southwestern landscape.
Like Wood, Lopez took care of O'Keeffe on nights and weekends for several years. In 1978, she became O'Keeffe's secretary. While O'Keeffe was ahead of her time in thinking about fresh, organic food, "it wasn't intentional," Lopez said. "That's just who she was."
firstname.lastname@example.org "Spinach was a vegetable that Miss O'Keeffe could eat three times a day. One favorite summer breakfast was a poached egg on a bed of steamed spinach, often known as Eggs Florentine."
1 egg, per serving
Herb salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Radishes, as accompaniment
Whole-wheat toast, as accompaniment
Butter a shallow poaching cup, add the egg. Poach for 5 minutes or to taste. While the egg is poaching, add the spinach to a simmering steamer for 3 to 4 minutes. When the spinach is done, arrange 1/2 cup or more on a warmed plate. Cut it into slightly smaller pieces, then place poached egg on top. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve with sweet radishes and whole wheat toast on the side.
Servings • 1
Source: A Painter's Kitchen: Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O'Keeffe, by Margaret Wood "On cold nights by fire and candlelight, this almond soup was delicate, but substantial."
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup whole, blanched almonds
2 tablespoons safflower oil
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon herb salt, or to taste
Parsley, for garnish
Freshly ground pepper
Using a heavy skilled, slowly saute the onion and almonds in the oil until golden. Puree the onions and almonds, the chicken broth and milk in the blender at a high setting until the almonds are finely ground. Heat and season with herb salt to taste. Do not simmer this soup. Garnish with finely chopped parsley and a little freshly ground pepper.
Servings • 4 to 6
Source: A Painter's Kitchen: Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O'Keeffe, by Margaret Wood "On Miss O'Keeffe's Abiquiu land, she claimed to have "the best applesauce tree around." It bore yellow apples usually in late September."
3 pounds of tart and sweet apples, yellow, red or green
Sugar, to taste
Lemon juice, to taste
Wash and quarter apples. Do not peel or core them. Place in a large kettle with a small amount of water. Simmer until soft. Cool apples to lukewarm, then press them through a coarse strainer with a pestle. (Or put them through a food mill.) Add sugar to taste and a touch of lemon juice if apples are not tart enough. Serve warmed, with a pinch of cinnamon. Applesauce can be canned or frozen. Servings • 4
Source: A Painter's Kitchen: Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O'Keeffe, by Margaret Wood