Crystal Bridges Eats

Just Like Honey

The crowd of 200 plus hungry guests quieted down for a beat and then, once the sign was given, began making a soft, communal “Buzzzzzing” sound that quickly turned into a loud, nearly deafening crescendo for over a dozen seconds.  Was this a world record for the largest human group making bee-like sounds?  Perhaps – but it was actually an exercise in community whimsy that has become just another fun, albeit inexplicable component of the monthly Wednesday Over Water event meant to give an important, informal twist to the intersection of food and art.

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The museum welcomed famed “Honey Sommelier” Marina Marchese for two days of insight and sensory experience situated around the artisanship of beekeeping and evaluating honey.  Of course for WOW, the culinary team devised a beautiful, sublime menu featuring creamy chevre, traditional baklava, and roasted duck (see recipe below), all sharing the diverse virtues and flavor profiles of locally harvested nectar.  Ms. Marchese mesmerized the audience with her life story, which includes two books written on the subject; The Honey Connoisseur Selecting, Tasting, and Pairing Honey, co-authored with Kim Flottum (editor of Bee Culture Magazine), and Honeybee Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper that was published in 2009.   

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I was mesmerized by Marina just in the correspondences we shared prior to her arrival; particularly when she asked if I could procure a special ultra-rare variety of KUDZU honey that was specific to the southern parts of the United States.  “It has a gorgeous, light blue tint in its color,” she described, “and the flavor profile is analogous to a Jolly Rancher candy.”  I immediately went on a search for the elusive prize, blanketing all the local farmers’ markets, independent grocers, and even road side stands, but alas, to no avail. 

Still, Marina was gracious in her storytelling, fondly recounting her love affair with honey bees, the specialized training she received in Italy, and her establishment of the American Honey Tasting Society, the leading resource for honey sensory education in the United States, an entirely new concept for developing a standard method for tasting and evaluating honey. 

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The nuances of honey are as complex as any other organic foodstuff, offering different experiences in color, smell, mouthfeel, and taste based on a nearly infinite number of variables that include terroir, climate, and the flowers themselves; for instance, honey derived from peach and plum orchards are likely to taste of stone fruit, while bees that gather nectar from the Ozark Mountains might yield something that echoes field clover and even blackberries.  Most WOW attendees are informal wine enthusiasts, so the uncanny similarities between the two had everyone BEE-witched, to say the least.

It’s been said that if the honey bee population was to succumb entirely to whatever it is that is forcing its population to decrease, then within a few years later, humans would most certainly follow.  Marina doesn’t necessary adhere to that belief, proclaiming that “…just as with everything else, we would adapt and thrive..”  Regardless of where you land on the debate, one thing is certain:  the world as we know it wouldn’t be remotely as beautiful, fun, or sweet without them. 

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Skin Deep with Dr. Missy Clifton

“The strongest female mentor in my life?  That’s the easiest question of them all; without a doubt my mom, Lynne Gleason Murphy.  She is the most amazing person I know, she’s brilliant….and she’s what all working women aspire to be,“ says Premier Dermatology founder Dr. Missy Clifton, on stage at DISH, breaking her gaze to look down at her mother sitting in the audience.  It’s enough to put a giant lump into the throat of even the most stoic host; but clearly, inspiration has always been an important part of this highly regarded, often out-spoken woman, mother, wife, daughter, and doctor…yes, probably in that order.

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The interesting, inspirational story of DISH started with Dr. Clifton’s upbringing in Dardanelle, Arkansas surrounded by a great family, true southern culture, and without a doubt, incredible food.  Young Missy was raised primarily with an understanding that hard work was a necessity if she were to get ahead in life; and guided by the strong, matriarchal side of her family she was able to obtain the most important, worth-while pursuits in life that include a happy home, children, and thriving practice.  Indeed, she raced through the streets of Dardanelle with the rowdy neighborhood boys, competitive in nature, and even when her grandmother suggested that she might occasionally let the boys win because they “might like her better”, Missy politely nodded and said “yes, ma’am” even though she never ever looked back as she crossed the finish line well before the others.


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On stage, Missy beamed with beauty and charisma, delighting the DISH audience of both men and women with funny, smart anecdotes about growing up in a small town in Arkansas, studying hard in medical school, opening her own practice just after the millennium, and expanding that beauty business to two other cities while raising a healthy, happy family with husband Jeff.  If Missy is charming, pretty then she is equally humble, accessible; stopping to talk to anyone at any given time, even if she doesn’t know them, to hear their own semi-connected stories, or to contemplate ailment inquiries.  As a sponsor of Wednesday Over Water {and now DISH} for several years, Dr. Clifton and her staff are and have been frequent attendees to museum programs, even offering impromptu services when a real life “Is there a Doctor in the house?” moment arrived once a few years ago.  Missy took to her work, stabilized the guest, saw them to the ambulance, then returned to her seat quietly, without a stitch nor hair out of place. 


DISH was poignant, entertaining for myriad of different reason; but in addition to the matriarchal stories, guests were especially intrigued by Dr. Clifton’s response regarding her favorite work in the Crystal Bridges collection as “The Portrait of Professor Benjamin H Rand” by Thomas Eakins.   Missy explained simply, “Dr. Rand, the subject was an anatomy professor, and anatomy is my favorite subject to this day, because studying facial anatomy and symmetry is my obsession. The piece shows him at a messy desk intently studying and patting his cat; and it reminds me of med school studying with papers strewn about and my study dog Jasper always by my side. It also pays homage to the countless hours of study, amazing professors put in to teach and inspire students. It’s a bit of a thankless job but so many professors have made such an impact on all of us...”  You could hear a pin drop as Missy concluded her insights about the Eakins work, clearly impressed with the personal connection she had to this very recognizable portrait; a vibrant example of how art has the potential to affect everyone, even world famous dermatologists.

The evening concluded with the service of Whole Lemon Ice Box Pies, complete with white, pillow like crowns of fresh whipped cream, one of Missy’s favorite desserts from childhood.  As the night began to wind down it became clear that this lineage of inspiration passed down from mother to daughter would undoubtedly continue with Missy’s daughters as they find their passion and cause in life, guided brightly, intently, and beautifully by their own mother’s gift to be what all working women aspire to be. 



Following the March Wednesday over Water (aka, WOW) I found myself picking up a couple late night impromptu foodstuffs for my family at Wholefoods; whereupon I had the fortune of running into iconic restaurateur, food writer Crescent Dragonwagon, who was also shopping after hours.  After a few minutes of catching up, chatting, culinary pontificating, I mentioned that I had just completed a WOW show inspired by the Soul of a Nation exhibition at Crystal Bridges, where we served the traditional one pot South African dish, Bobotie.  I pronounced it “Ba-boo-tee” with an emphasis on the second syllable, almost as if to say, “shake your ba-boo-tie” Crescent, smiled and phonetically uttered the word COMPLETELY different than I had just seconds before – she said, “Bah-Ba-Dee” with more of an inflection on the first syllable, with a cadence of “zip-pa-dee” that could be the beginning or end to a funky, cool scat. 

I immediately blushed; and said, “Wait, is that really how you say it?”  And of course, being the socially gracious, well read, published writer that she is, Dragonwagon winked and said, “Oh, I guess, that’s how you say it…”  I realized that more than likely, the famed James Beard award winning cookbook writer that stood before me, was correct; and that I had just spent an hour and half in front of an audience of 200 museum guests mispronouncing the evening’s featured dish.

It seems that I’ve spent a lifetime mispronouncing or misusing words; and not just the culinary variety; at fifteen years of age, I excruciatingly remember telling my parents that my new high school girlfriend was an “intellect” rather than an “intellectual,” and in hindsight, honestly, she was neither, or wait, is it either?  And that’s not even breaking the surface of the scores of artist names and painting titles I’ve butchered during my eight year tenure at Crystal Bridges.  As a chronic “word butcher,” my advice to anyone who accidentally mispronounces or misuses a word in an embarrassing social situation is to either completely “own” your mistake like a badge of honor, or just simply grin and bare it with just a pinch of humility, which I guess is what this blog is when you get right down to it.    



Regardless, the WOW audience swooned over the centuries old South African minced meat dish that is traditionally made with exotic spices, herbs and an egg topping, similar to Greek Moussaka or British Shepherd’s Pie, sans the potatoes.  It’s really a casserole that can be easily made into one pot, then finished in the oven, a perfect dish for entertaining or feeding the family on a weekday, like perhaps, Wednesday.  We served it alongside a delicious, bright citrus slaw and a slightly spicy mango relish designed with fresh mint and medium heat peppers; the chilled slaw successfully cut through the rich, meatiness of the Bobotie, while the mango relish triggered the myriad herbs and brown spices layered throughout.  The recipe listed here will ensure that your next dinner party will impress even the most discriminating, finicky guest…wait, or is it insure?  Either way, they’re going to love it!       


Mispronounced Bobotie 


2 tsp coriander seeds, roasted

1 tsp cumin seeds, roasted 

½ tsp ground allspice 

Pinch of salt

1 tsp curry powder

1 T ginger root, peeled and roughly chopped

1 t turmeric

4 garlic cloves, chopped

½ long green chili, sliced

 1/2 small habanero pepper

2 slices bread

 1/2c milk

 3t vegetable oil

2 onions, finely chopped

 1 ½ lb. ground chuck

 ½ lb. ground lamb

1 green apple, peeled finely diced

1 tbsp. mango Chutney, plus extra to serve

½ c golden raisins, soaked in warm water, drained

½ lemon, juiced

Freshly ground black pepper

¼ c toasted sliced almonds


The Custard

2 large eggs

1 c milk

4 fresh bay leaves


Technique -

Use a spice grinder to ground the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, allspice and salt to a powder. Add the curry powder, ginger, turmeric, garlic and chilies, and pound until a fine paste forms.

Soak the bread in the milk for about 10 minutes, then strain and fluff up bread up with a fork.

Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 5–6 minutes, or until soft. Add the spiced chili paste and cook for 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Increase the heat to high, then add the beef and lamb cook, stirring to break up any lumps, slowly simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the apple, chutney, raisins, lemon juice and mashed bread. Season with salt and pepper and spoon into a shallow baking dish. 

To make the topping, whisk together the eggs and milk and pour over the meat. Place the bay leaves on top and bake for 20 minutes at 325 or until custard is just set. Garnish with toasted almonds

The Art and Science of Aquaoir

The art and science of winemaking can be as complicated and vast as the varietals available to mankind; an infinite number of variables determine the descriptors that define a wine; fragrance, body, mouthfeel, taste are devised by the vintner through a myriad of techniques that can be beautifully subtle, nuanced.  The dirt from which the grapes are grown plays an integral part in that design; the idea of terroir is the belief that the land truly imparts something specific and unique to the grapes, an important layer to the final stratification of experience.

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A relatively new technique known as Aquaoir suggests that aging wine underwater offers yet another interesting component to the art and science of making wine.  But what are its virtues?  Napa Valley’s Mira Winery owner, Jim “Bear” Dyke, believes aging wine beneath the surface of the ocean has potential to have a huge impact on the flavor and complexity.  In fact, Dyke (who was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas) engaged in a test a few years ago in the bay of Charleston, South Carolina, submerging 48 bottles of Mira’s cabernet sauvignon for several months. 


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Of course, it’s not just as simple as throwing a few cases of wine overboard; rather, much work had to be done to ensure the relatively fragile glass bottles could be secured properly in the sometimes harsh subsurface environment, that includes variables for alteration in temperature, pressure, and even water current.  Dyke and team devised a “cage” system made from welded steel, flat bar, and expanded metal to act as a screen that allows the wine to be stored in a modular fashion.

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After four months, the wine was raised from its underwater cellar; an ideal, quiet, and peaceful environment with little light, perfect pressure and temperature, and a consistent motion that seemed to soothe the wine, as if it were a baby being gently rocked to sleep.  Technically speaking, the constant rocking motion helps to keep the yeast particles moving in the wine, which has been an age old issue throughout the history of wine making, suddenly solved by nature.  Who would have ever thought? 

When hatched carefully from the metal cages, the wines were covered in beautiful, bumpy, coarse barnacle like objects, each completely different from the bottle next to it; a final, idiosyncratic display of its new character and metamorphosis.    

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The wine was blind taste tested against the same wine aged on land, and suggested that indeed the two wines were different on both the nose and taste.  Before Dyke could move forward, the federal government put a hold on the project, claiming the wine had been adulterated due to potential contaminates in the bay.  Regardless, Mira intends to pursue the Aquaoir technique in the future; breaking ground in the art and science of making wine.

Napa Valley’s Mira Chardonnay, aged above water, is currently available in Eleven at Crystal Bridges.