Rondo, by D. M. Norsworthy

 

"Rondo." 16" diameter mandala wallpiece. Mixed media (paper and plant material) collage finished with polyurethane varnish. Hanger fixed on back. $350.00.

 

It seems miraculous to me when I suddenly see something (or someone) common to me in a new way.  This happened to me last year when I was preparing one of my favorite dishes for my friend, Judith, who was coming to lunch.  What I saw suddenly differently was an inedible byproduct of my food production I was about to throw in the trash.  I saw its natural beauty, both sides.  It is now incorporated (or one like it) into the mandala pictured above, which I have given the musical title, “Rondo.”   A rondo, incidentally, is an instrumental musical composition in which the leading theme is repeated alternately with other themes.  And of course the Italian word rondo does somewhat suggest the notion of roundness. 

The regular concentricity of the “Rondo” mandala, combined with the slight variations in the materials, highlight for me how commodities manufactured from natural materials–here, various papers–may through time, use, and exposure, gradually return to nature.  Much of the paper in “Rondo” had a musical use.  One readily recognizes the sheet music embellishing the scalloped border.  Less obvious is the origin of the paper used in the dark outer ring–paper salvaged from disintegrating sheaths that once protected vinyl 78 records in an album.  The paper, worn soft, was extremely absorbent of the varnish I applied at the end; I did not anticipate how much it would darken, but I liked the effect it created.  I also incorporated paper from an old, unused photo album, from a copy of The Oresteia by Aeschylus I found in a dumpster (I already had the play), and from a discarded menu from the restaurant Chino Latino in Minneapolis.  

The almost-finished collage, however, seemed to call for something more at its center.  I studied it a long time, considering various possibilities–freshwater pearls? a piece of glass?  a flat rusty bottle cap from my collection?  

"Rondo." Detail.

 

In the detail of Rondo (left), one may see what I settled upon–a centerpiece that blends without getting lost, that stands out as unique without being ostentatious, that is sufficiently–but not slavishly– symmetrical, and that appears, above all, natural.  That’s because it is.

But what is it? you may wonder.  Or do you know?

What I saved as a byproduct of food preparation, and have been saving ever since, was what remained of the stem of a knob of garlic.  Not all stems look like this one.  Some are smooth.  I find the other side, where the cloves of garlic attach, equally beautiful.  

The recipe, for Roasted Garlic au Gratin, is good too–if you like garlic (and maybe even if you don’t).  My friend Judith, for whom I have made the recipe maybe 10 or 12 times (every time she comes to lunch) once responded to my query that perhaps she would like me to make something different, with a sad-sounding, “What? No garlic?”  Below is the recipe, which is VERY amenable to experimentation.  Creativity is not just for art and artists, but for all of us, and all of life.

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Roasted Garlic au Gratin

Use a small (6″ to 8″ in diameter) ceramic or glass oven-proof dish.  Pour in white or red wine and a little olive oil, enough to cover the bottom of the dish.  

Lay down a layer or two of fresh, whole, peeled garlic cloves. (I’ve used cloves from 4 or 5 or more full knobs of garlic.  As you ready the garlic, be sure to appreciate the beauty of the stems, regardless if you save or discard them.)  Then pour on more wine, maybe some half-and-half, and a little more olive oil.  If you want.

Mix with that pecans or slivered almonds, or other nuts you like.  Or forget the nuts if you don’t like nuts.  Sprinkle that with fresh or dried basil and/or a pinch of some other herb (oregano, dill, rosemary, marjoram, etc.), and a little brown sugar.  Top that with as much parmesan cheese as suits you. If you want to sprinkle on anything more–parmesan, wine, brown sugar, basil–go ahead.  I’ve also put in golden raisins on occasion.  Once I put in figs.  A few times I’ve added diced fresh tomatoes.

Cover with foil or a lid and bake at 350 degrees for 45 or 50 minutes, even an hour. This isn’t rocket science; it isn’t even cake chemistry.  Use your judgment and sense of your own taste (i.e., do you like your cheese dark and crispy, or do you want the whole thing to be pale and juicy?)  When it’s done the garlic cloves should be soft enough to spread.  This dish goes very well with roasted garlic and onion jam.  Serve with bread, pita, or crackers, or whatever else suits you.

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