Autumn is a season, like spring, very closely associated with color.
Where spring is drawn in bright, vivid yellow and purple strokes over swaths of limitless greens, autumn is a season of cooling colors, the reds bleeding into auburns, oranges and brittle browns shading the landscape. From the last gasps of red and yellow tomatoes to the burgeoning colorful fall staples like apples and pumpkins, it is another in a litany of examples of seasons as living, natural works of art.
This weekend brings another tradition of autumnal art as the Country Club Plaza fills with painters, sculptors, photographers and more for the 82nd Annual Plaza Art Fair. The Plaza is one of Kansas City’s living works of art as its streets are lined with Spanish inspired architecture and bubbling fountains that belie the more commercial purpose of its many stores, restaurants and entertainment destinations. It sits a short stones throw from the beatific Shuttlecock and sculpture filled gardens of the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art.
The Art Fair serves as an annual celebration of creativity and commerce. The artist tents line city blocks, paralleled by the Plaza’s many permanent storefronts, alongside booths of Plaza restaurants and taverns serving up festival versions of their menu staples. It is a fantastic opportunity to take in culture while wining and dining in the idyllic setting of a Midwestern autumn evening.
A similar experience of inspiration and community can be had in the busy lanes of the city’s many farmers markets as they fill with fall’s ample bounty replacing the last vestiges of summer. The myriad colors and textures to be found rival even the most striking of painters’ canvases. While summer tints of tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are all still plentifully represented, there is a new palette of color filling the farmers tables.
Greens are scattered, more an accent in the form of leaves atop young beets, rippling skins of bitter melons or an assortment of herbs. Early pumpkins come in as first examples of the varieties of oranges and yellows found in fall and winter squashes. A beautiful range of bright reds that cross into the realm of purple draw the eyes in to tomatoes, yard long beans, beets and even okra.
The varieties of okra presently available are positively breathtaking. The more traditional crisp, smooth green okra types share space with the long, rich purple hued sorts. Okra might not be on your everyday shopping list, but take the opportunity of finding seasonal works of art like these and experiment a bit.
As a cook, I cannot help but be humbled by so much natural inspiration, each ingredient an impetus to creating much grander works on plates. Just as people walk the aisles of an art fair or wander the corridors of a museum, a simple shopping trip at the market can be a way of beautifying everyday life with the always-evolving art present in nature’s colors and tastes.
Looking at your food as living art is also a way of making something more of daily mundane chores like cooking for a family. Read the colors of fruits and vegetables and let them inspire your choices of what to cook.
Cooking does not have to be some rigid process of following rules and recipes. Like art, sometimes the best thing you can do in cooking is choose a palette of the best available colors and treat your plate as a blank canvas of possibilities. The oncoming autumn is a time of inspiration … what plate will you create?The Autumn Flatbread Makes 2-4 servings
This flatbread is meant to work as a blank canvas for whatever the best fall vegetables you can find. Tomatoes, beets and okra are lovely right now, but feel free to get a little creative and customize your flatbread to your tastes. Buy beets with their greens still attached and enjoy every interesting part of the plant. If you don’t like goat cheese, you could substitute feta, gouda or another cheese if you like. This is a chance to have fun and create with your food. Make your own delicious work of art.1 portion basic pizza dough 4 small, roasted beets, skins removed and halved Beet greens, reserved from roasted beets, thinly sliced 4-6 red okra, 1/2 slices, lightly sautéed 6-8 cherry tomatoes (multiple colors, ideally), halved 2 green onions, thinly sliced 4 ounces, goat cheese, crumbled into small bits 3 tablespoons Romesco sauce (Spanish sauce of tomatoes and peppers) or tomato sauce 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Roll out pizza dough on a lightly floured work surface into large, thin oval or rectangular shape. Transfer the dough to a pizza peel or parchment paper lined baking sheet. Spread Romesco or tomato sauce in a thin, even layer to the edges. Follow by sprinkling the beet greens over and then the beets and okra. Evenly distribute the bits of goat cheese over and then a drizzle of the olive oil. Place in oven and bake 5-8 minutes, checking after 5 minutes. Remove from oven. Place halved cherry tomatoes around flatbread followed by sliced green onion and herbs. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil, slice and serve.
Tyler Fox, personal chef/event caterer who emphasizes ‘nose-to-tail’ cooking philosophy as well as vegan and local/farm to table foods.