The most recent Wednesday Over Water event (WOW) featured a fun, whimsical, and informative dialog between Margi Conrads, Head of Curatorial Affairs at Crystal Bridges, and myself about the lesser known, and perhaps more salacious bits of “behind the scenes” information regarding several works from the permanent collection.
As this was Dr. Conrad’s inaugural WOW, I thought it only fitting that we open the show with a fast-paced game of ten questions to help the boisterous crowd become better acquainted with the Museum’s matriarch curator. The questions ranged from “Where were you born?” to “Do you believe in Bigfoot?” and “Imagine that you are a new addition to a crayon box—what color would you be and why?” Margi was certainly a good sport, offering up quick, clever, and insightful answers that perfectly set the tone for an entertaining and informative conversation between culinarian and curator.
The dialog included insights into artists such as Francis Guy, John Singer Sargent, and Faith Ringgold—whose artwork Maya’s Quilt of Life recently joined the Crystal Bridges collection. (And serving as a pre-cursor to Ringgold’s visit to Crystal Bridges scheduled for March of 2016.)
Since the the evening was all about “chewing the Proverbial Fat,” I thought it only appropriate to serve a “Fat-Washed” cocktail we dubbed the Scuttlebutt, featuring walnut-oil-washed vodka, pear juice, bitters, and Arkansas black-walnut and fresh thyme simple syrup. The presence of an Arkansas black-walnut and salted-maple-syrup brittle seemed to perfectly cap the WOW event, bringing a stylized flavor of High South Cuisine to the table.
Salted Maple and Toasted Black Walnut Brittle
1/4 c real maple syrup
1 c granulated white sugar
1 c butter, cut into chunks
1/4 c water
2 c black walnut pieces [TOASTED]
Add walnuts to a dry skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and beginning to brown. Immediately remove from the skillet to a plate to cool. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. In thick-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, stir together maple syrup, white sugar, butter, and water until melted and creamy. Once mixture comes to a boil, refrain from stirring. Attach a candy thermometer to saucepan and continue to gently boil until thermometer reaches 300°F or “hard crack” stage. Immediately stir in walnuts until well coated. Gently pour the hot brittle mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and spread out to a thin layer with a wooden or stainless spoon. Sprinkle top with a bit of coarse salt, such as Maldon or Himalayan Pink, if desired. Allow to cool completely. Break into large pieces and store in an airtight container.
1.5 oz walnut-oil-washed vodka
1.5 oz Looza pear juice
.25 oz black-walnut-thyme simple syrup
2 dashes aromatic bitters
1 sprig of thyme
Combine all ingredients in coarse salt (optional) an iced mixing glass. Shake vigorously for 17 seconds then pour into a chilled martini glass. Serve with a garnish of fresh thyme.