In Florida, late summer days can seem endless - and those same tropical days would seem to have little in common with the little village in Northern France, where Claude Monet lived and painted his most famous works. There are moments, though, when the two places evoke similar feelings during these long, sultry days. The similarities lie in lush gardens, in the deepened hues of August and September flowers and in the light that hints at impending transition in both locations. We tend to our gardens in the early hours before the heat of the day takes its toll.
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Clothing, too, for that matter, is similar in feeling - light, breezy shirts flowing easily over culottes or relaxed, simple sundresses are common in places with more than an ocean between them. Floral patterns are prevalent prints on garments of all silhouettes, perhaps emulating indigenous blooms in both cultures.
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Claude Monet built his gardens as a constant source of ever-changing composition but also as an idyllic setting for entertaining friends and family. In both his flower garden to his Japanese water garden, Monet used his well-planned spaces as an extension of his home, much in the same way we do in Florida.
Monet and his wife, Alice, were gracious hosts, often entertaining fellow artists like Cezanne, Renoir, Rodin, Pissarro Sisley, John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt for Sunday lunches. In the French tradition, meals with the Monets were meticulously planned to include fresh local fare and may have ended in desserts such as meringues, a Tarte Tatin (apple tart) or Lemon Madeleines.
Our Florida gardens may be vast, manicured flower beds with precisely planned and planted varietals or, like Monet, some opt for blooms that are allowed to grow without containment, unfettered and wild, while others of us create ‘garden’ spaces on condo balconies. And while most of us aren't world famous artists painting en plein air, we do use our garden spaces to entertain all year around.
Sunflowers, cosmos and dahlias are still prominent in the late summer garden at Giverny, as are the waterlilies made famous by the artist. And while water lilies are less popular here, Floridians can plant pentas, cossandra, hibiscus, salvia and Birds of Paradise to lend color and form to any outdoor area during hot summer months. When it comes to entertaining friends and family, our garden spaces can be just as festive as Monsieur Monet’s. Perhaps your summer garden party might end with Key Lime Pie for dessert - or maybe you’ll slip on a sundress and be inspired to try something a little more French. We are opting for one of Monet’s favorites: the classic french madeleines.
Classic French Madeleines
- 4 oz (1 stick), plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2/3 cup white sugar
- 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus 1 tablespoon, divided
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- Powdered sugar (optional)
- Small sauce pan
- Small bowl
- 2 medium-sized mixing bowls
- Measuring cups and spoons
- 2 madeleine pans
- Pastry brush
- Small sieve for dusting with powdered sugar, optional
1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Remember that the butter can burn quickly so keep an eye on it! Spoon 3 tablespoons of butter into a small bowl or cup and set aside. Let the rest of the butter cool slightly.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together one cup of the flour and the sugar, and set aside. In another medium bowl, whisk the two eggs with the vanilla, salt, lemon juice, and lemon zest until the eggs are frothy.
3. Next, add the eggs to the flour. Stir until just combined. Add the 4 ounces of melted butter and continue to stir. It may take a minute for the butter to blend into the mixture.
4. Cover the bowl with a plate (or plastic wrap) and place in the refrigerator to rest at least one hour and up to overnight.
5. Add the remaining one tablespoon of flour to the 3 tablespoons reserved butter and stir to combine. Using a pastry brush, brush the interiors of the shells with the butter-flour mixture so that they are well coated. Place the pans in the freezer for at least an hour.
6. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Remove the batter from the refrigerator and one pan from the freezer. Fill each well in the madeleine pan with 1 tablespoon of the batter. Remove the other pan and fill in the same way.
7. Place both pans on a baking sheet. Check after 8 minutes and rotate pans. Check again 5 minutes later. The madeleines should be browning around the edges and puffed up a little in the middle. Using your forefinger, press lightly on the center hump. When the madeleines are ready they should spring back at your touch.
8. Remove the madeleines from the oven and let them cool for 2 minutes. Using a fork, gently loosen the madeleines from their molds and then flip the pan over onto a cooling rack or tea towel. Once cool, dust lightly with powdered sugar and serve. If you are freezing or storing the madeleines, do not dust with the sugar until you are about to serve.
9. Store cooled madeleines in an airtight container for a few days or freeze them in a double wrapping of plastic wrap for several months. Let the cakes defrost before dusting with sugar.
There are so many varieties of madeleines, you can always experiment with Gingerbread for the holidays, Vanilla or Chocolate madeleines anytime of year, Honey madeleines or add some poppyseeds to the lemon recipe above for a Lemon Poppyseed madeleines. Have fun with it!
Wistful for a trip to Giverny? Start planning by looking here.
For a completely different take on the water garden in Giverny, The Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach features Giverny: Journal of an Unseen Garden, by artist Mark Fox, through October 30, 2016.
By: Elisabeth Cook