It's Finally Here--the Dharma DaDa Erni Bär [Vegetarian] Mail Art Cookbook Series

A couple of months ago, Dharma DaDa sent me an amazing package of foodstuffs with a special "task." The instructions were: "Prepare a meal using the [food enclosed] and do a little documentation for IUOMA to show those guys what real EAT ART is... Good Luck!"

Here's a clip from that original blog post:

An AMAZING PACKAGE that arrived from Dharma dada Erni Bär... Whoa.  If mail art provides me with sustenance for my aesthetic soul, then Erni's package provides me with sustenance for... well, for my tummy!  Having established our similar dietary predilections, Erni has sent me the art materials and a directive for mixing the aesthetics of mail art and food.  WHAT A PROJECT!  And you can bet that I'll have a blast documenting this art undertaking, Erni!

I can tell you right now that a proper work of [food] art is something that should be shared and experienced in good company.  Therefore, I will plan this art project as a dinner party among friends who can participate in its creation and appreciate its fruits (so to speak).  I already have some people in mind, but must wait for one of them to return from a trip at the Karmê Chöling Meditation Retreat Center near Barnet, Vermont.   One of my favorite blessings is to say that, "We eat together in company so that we might hear in the breaking of bread the song of the universe."  Hopefully, we will hear the timbre of mail art, too, Erni!  Danke!

Well, I'm here to tell you that I finally had enough time to call some friends and plan a Friday evening meal together.  Good thing that many of the items that Erni sent have a good long shelf life! I can't quite remember how Erni discovered that I was a vegetarian--I think I sent him some Trashpo Mail Art on the back of some vegetarian food packaging, and that got the ball rolling.  What Erni might not have known is that in one of my past career lifetimes I was a caterer and cook!  And being a vegatarian, one often has to be super creative to find alternatives to the pervasive and homogenized diet of the American Carnivore.  I think I have a pretty good knack for it....

As you might be able to see above, Erni sent several spreads and flavor bases in his package. The challenge came in deciding how to turn those into a full meal.  It would be a lot of flavors to try to meld all together; so I have decided to make several recipes and dinners out of one or two of the items at a time.  By the time we've gotten through several meals, there should be a small cookbook (maybe pamphlet) -worth of recipes.  A good cook knows how to stretch a meal--and BY GUM!--we're gonna make this one stretch over several of them!

This first recipe... are you ready for it???... shall be:

SAVORY BREAD PUDDING WITH GRILLED ASPARAGUS COMPLIMENTED WITH A SAUCE MOUSELEINE

MacPhearson's Fruit and Vegetable stand is about a mile south of me on Beacon Hill in Seattle.  They have the best fruit and vegetable deals in town because they acquire produce directly from local farmers (mostly from the Wenatchee and Yakima Valleys). They also sell surplus from local bakeries and other food sellers.  The other day I bought a Challa loaf of bread for a bargain.  

Challa bread makes for the BEST bread pudding, and I decided the bread would be perfect to use for this first meal. I was going to make this the centerpiece of a main course, though.  So our custard wouldn't have any sugar in it; instead it will have more savory ingredients! Intrigued??

COOKBOOKS??!!  We don't need no stinkin' cookbooks!!

First step, cutting the loaf into cubes and letting them sit out--YES, sit out--the pudding will be better if you let the bread dry-out for a day. (That's why bread pudding dessert is usually made with left-over day-old bread! Why? Because it will soak up the custard base better.)

I had a choice to make between Erni's food gifts.  Several of his items were meant to be "spreads."  But they all were predominant, primary-flavor spreads.  In other words, each was made from a specific vegetable: tomato; green peppercorn; basil; and olive.  I was torn between making our savory bread pudding either tomato, or trying something potentially more distinctive-flavored like the green peppercorn.  I decided on the tomato, so I could include other ingredients and still "marry" things easily.

So, the ingredients are gathered and prepared...

We'll prepare a custard for the bread to soak in... (While I am a vegetarian, I am NOT a vegan, and neither is this recipe--it will include eggs and some dairy products, altough I minimized the dairy by using almond milk.)

A little black pepper...

A little salt (from the Himalayas!!)...

A little thyme...

A little marjoram...

The secret ingredient--ala Dharma Dada--just about a good heaping tablespoon (or two).  Tomato paste would be a completely acceptable replacement...

The second secret ingredient--only about a teaspoon or a short tablespoon, 'cause this stuff'll put out some heat!...

So that mixed together, the custard looks comething like...

I also sautéed some onions, garlic, and mushrooms...

Then all the ingredients are mixed together: the bread, the custard, and the mushroom sauté mixture. Fold it together well, then put in a container or covered ceramic dish. This mixture should sit in the refrigerator overnight or for a day. Yes, REALLY! So that the bread can absorb the custard, and the flavors can mingle...

When you're ready to bake it, pour it into a prepared, greased baking dish... sprinkle with a little bit of parmesan... 

cover...

and bake @ 350 degrees (Farenheit) for an hour or so...

take the cover off and bake an additional 15-25 minutes so you'll get a little bit of crispy crusting on top...

We had this dinner at the home of my friends, Heather and Michelle.  I got them to assist me with some of the final preparations for this meal...

We were going to make a special sauce for the pudding--a type of butter sauce that is a cross between a hollandaise sauce and a beurre blanc.  It's proper name is Sauce Mousseleine.  It requires whipping cream... Heather originally wanted to do things old-school and thought she might whip it with a fork. Fortunately, we convinced her that the electric beater would save her arm from falling off...

The other part of the sauce is made in a double boiler on the stove...

The gals also made a lovely salad to go with dinner...

The pudding and the grilled asparagus are kept warm in the oven...

Here's what the finished pudding looks like...

Sorry, Sally, this is people food!...

Cutting into it and getting ready for presentation assembly...

First some sauce on the platter...

Then some pudding...

Then the grilled asparagus...

Et voila!... Our meal presented as a PIECE OF ART!  DID YOU EVER THINK MAIL ART COULD TASTE SO GOOD?????

The table is set...

Dig in!!

CHEERS TO DHARMA DADA!!  FEED ART TO THE WORLD!!!!

...and by the way, IT WAS DELICIOUS!!!!!

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Comment by Nancy Bell Scott on April 1, 2012 at 5:08pm

Vegetarian SAUSAGE?! Can't we drop the "s" word altogether? Disgusto stuff.

Comment by Thom Courcelle on April 1, 2012 at 5:07pm

Hey!  Good morning, everyone!  So nice to see all your comments--thank you!  I am glad you are pleased, Erni!  Your gift assortment inspired some creative thinking, and tasty results.

All you people with your invitations should be careful! ...You never know who will show up on your doorstep!!  Nancy--I'd be there in a heartbeat, but I cringe to think of your poor hubby with TWO mail artists in his abode!! LOL.  You and I would have paint and collage materials strewn ALL OVER the place, and I can just see him shaking his head in resignment to the beautiful mess we'd create... Can you imagine the paper maelstrom?

And Kat--I'd be there in as many heartbeats as it took for the flight to get there... painting under the olive trees in a bright sunny backyard with a seaside view?? Dreams are made of that!

DVS--I think Tofurkey and vegetarian sausage are Fluxus things in-and-of their own right!  It's like Fluxus has created an alternate universe and is shooting foodstuffs through the crack in time-space into our own world.  The fact that we are eating it--and enjoying it--and folding it into part of our regular diet and lives is an amazing convergence of the two universes.  There are multiple vegetarian meat plants here in Seattle, and I have become astounded at the variety and mimicry to real meat that has been achieved.  I regularly use Field Roast (brand) Italian Sausage... I'll tell you a secret--my father was a butcher (!) and even I cannnot tell the difference from the real thing.

Comment by Katerina Nikoltsou (MomKat) on April 1, 2012 at 3:37pm

Feed Art to the World!What a performance! Bravo, Thom! And bravo to Erni for sending the Mail Eat Art!

So...this fantastic blog is the FIRST of our MailEatArt Recipe Book, yes? Another meal to come soon?

Thom, as Nancy says, you are a TRIPLE Wow...

and when are you coming to my seaside shack, before or after your visit to Maine?

I'll clear the table for you to work under the olive tree, ok? 

 

Comment by De Villo Sloan on April 1, 2012 at 2:47pm

An incredible DharmaDaDa performance piece taken to unbelievable heights through Thom's participation! Thom, the documentation is just fantastic! Based on an envelope Ruud Janssen sent me last year, I think the work honors to the spirit of Fluxus too:

 

Comment by Nancy Bell Scott on April 1, 2012 at 2:22pm

We can also offer you a bit of studio space. I'm afraid the kitchen is very small, though. 

Comment by Nancy Bell Scott on April 1, 2012 at 2:21pm

We'll give you your own room but you'll have to share a bath.

Comment by Nancy Bell Scott on April 1, 2012 at 2:19pm

There appears to be no end to your creativity, Thom--triple WOW--including your truly great documentation. Did Erni send this mail eat art to the right person or what?! It really does look delicious (and strange foods tend to scare me, so that's a real accomplishment for you). 

This really does it. You make mail art, you write real letters, you knit, and now we know you cook--you're hired. When can you come to Maine and start taking care of us?

Comment by Sarah Churchill on April 1, 2012 at 11:20am
That is an impressive display of cookery skills. I'm sure I wouldn't have had a clue where to start after being presented with that collection. A great post too!

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