Mona McPherson, the newest addition to alley art

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Handmade Urban Gardens  Wade Crowder alley gardens

Artist and pop-up shop favorite Wade Crowder, whose fabulous garden was featured on this blog last September (see it here), emailed recently that he had painted a Mona Lisa on his garage in the alley between McPherson and Westminster. Readers may remember seeing a weathered painting of Frida Kahlo, below, gracing another garage in the same alley, photographed on a sunnier day. Art and alley gardens (look here and here) make an expedient way of crisscrossing the neighborhood even more rewarding. Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Handmade Urban Gardens  Wade Crowder alley gardens

In the middle of a muddle…

  Nicki's Central West End Guide Food and Drink

I've never considered myself a hoarder…in fact, just the opposite, until Monday, that is. That's when I decided it was time to go through a pantry drawer that is chock-full of recipes I've torn out of newspapers and magazines over the past many years. My initial inclination was just to toss them all into the recycling bin, but when I mentioned that to Jim in passing, he asked if I was sure. Some of you may know that, while Jim is great at after-dinner clean-up, he has only rarely prepared one of the zillion or so meals we have had together. In fact, that is the subject of a long-running math quiz around our dinner table: we've been married for well over 40 years, and let's assume three meals a day (the old adage "for better, for worse, but not for lunch," does not apply in this household)…times 365! With adjustments for an occasional evening out and vacations, we've never figured out the answer.

I don't know why I let that comment of his sow the seeds of doubt in my mind— but I did, and the result is that this has grown to become a much more time-consuming task than I envisioned. Hmmm, a recipe for slow-braised duck from Daniel Boulud sounds fabulous, but there are 15 recipes for duck in the stack, and how many times have I roasted a duck? Perhaps 5. So, how to decide what to keep and what to pitch?  A recipe for "Paula's Bagels" is definitely headed out the door.

I have almost finished going through the stack, winnowing them down, and in the process found some treasures. A forgotten Laurie Colwin file buried deep in the drawer brought back pleasant memories of her funny and spot-on cooking essays from early issues of Gourmet Magazine.

Another find, this one closer to home, is an Autumn 2002 "Jam Sessions"  newsletter from Companion Bakeshop that I picked up at their Clayton location, long before our own "late and dearly missed" Companion Bakeshop on Maryland came and went. It's for a flatbread that is one of those really easy recipes written in paragraph form. I've copied it below for you to try, and now, I'm going back to sorting through the rest of these recipes.

Tuscan Flatbread Pizzas or Piadini from Companion Bakeshop. Make a simple dough with 00 durum flour, or all purpose flour (2 cups). Use a pinch of sea salt, and half a teaspoon of baking powder, if you want (I did). Add olive oil to the dough, maybe 1/3 cup, and then mix or process with water (no amount was given) until the right consistency. Let it rest for 15 minutes or so.

Roll out eight pieces and then layer each with a different combination of ingredients (and here it gets a little highfalutin): broccoli rabe sauteed with garlic, fresh chanterelles cooked lightly in "French" butter, slices of potatoes cooked in duck fat (you know, the stuff you have in the fridge), shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano…or as we have done, tomato sauce, a little fresh spinach, and slices of mozzarella. Cook in a 500 (in our case, 450) degree oven for just a few minutes. When you remove the flatbread from the oven drizzle with a little olive oil.