“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?” Vincent Van Gogh
Today is Mother’s Day in France, and I’ve been thinking about my mother. She was less than loving, but fortunately, my grandmother loved me with abandon. It was she who gave me the courage to attempt anything, from leaving home at an early age to eventually moving to France. I’ve always followed a circuitous route instead of a straight path. When I was young I used to sit before a reproduction of a painting by Van Gogh, “A House in Auvers” that my mother treasured, a print she’d purchased when she was designing Hallmark Cards before she met my father.
Last year a friend and I spent a week in Paris. One of the things we wanted to see was the Auberge Ravoux in Auvers-sur-Oise, where Van Gogh lived for seventy days before dying at the age of 37. During this short time he created seventy of his most unbelievably beautiful paintings. It was here he found a modicum of peace.
Auvers-sur-Oise is a small artist’s village about 25 miles from Paris. Visitors can enjoy the same delicious regional menu that Van Gogh ate, in the same room where he took his meals. Posters his paintings are exhibited throughout the village and surrounding countryside. Bronze medallions are set into the pavement so you can stand in his footsteps, and imagine what he must have seen.
When I moved to France, I discovered the pleasures of wandering through flea markets of a Sunday morning. One of the first things that caught my eye was a ceramic blue and white checkered vase. For some inexplicable reason I had to have it and paid 10€, a price some of my new French friends thought was too expensive. This morning I pulled out Van Gogh’s Table, a cookbook with photographs and recipes from the Auberge Ravoux. While thumbing though its pages I was completely surprised to see exactly the same blue and white checkered vase from Van Gogh’s painting, “Still Life with Coffee Pot.”
This morning I experienced a string of meaningful coincidences. Even if every possible coincidences could be scientifically explained, we shouldn’t discount their magic.
GÂTEAU DE POMMES GRAND-MÈRE
GRANDMOTHER’S APPLE CAKE
Sautéing the apples in butter with Calvados before adding them to the batter lends an extra dimension of richness to this very simple apple cake. Enjoy a wedge with a cup of coffee in the morning or as a welcome afternoon snack with tea.
2 tablespoons organic butter
2 large Golden Delicious, Jonagold, or other baking apples, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup Calvados (apple brandy)
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2/3 cup organic plain yogurt
2 cups organic all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup organic vegetable oil
3 large organic eggs
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Generously grease an 8-inch round cake pan (no need to grease if pan is nonstick).
Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the apples, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the Calvados, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, and the cinnamon. Set aside until needed.
Whisk together the yogurt and the remaining sugar in a large bowl, until very smooth, about 2 minutes. Combine the flour and baking soda, then add the oil and eggs, whisking well after each addition. Stir the apple pieces into the batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly. Set on a sturdy baking sheet and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
Note: The cake is best made several hours before serving, or better yet, the night before.