A new cookbook of the artists personal recipes offers insight into her approach to healthy eating and the meals she shared with Frieda Kahlo

According to Carol Merrill, one of artist Georgia OKeeffes caretakers, being at her table was to be immersed in beauty with few distractions and an unspoken invitation to completely focus on the matter at hand. The fragrance, the presentation, the taste of the fresh food in the simple surroundings was like being surrounded by fine music without audible sound.

Breakfast was a formal affair: She always liked to come over to the dining room. It was a very formal event. We might have a fire for breakfast in the little fireplace in the dining room, Margaret Wood, another of OKeeffes caretakers, remembers.

Lunch was the main meal of the day, and dinner was designed to be light, delicious, and healthy. The perfect day would include productive time in the studio, finished off with an outdoor meal framed by the cliffs above and the expansive mesa beyond.

Known for her interest in healthy eating, OKeeffe clipped and collected recipes throughout her life which she would frequently cook for family and friends. Australian author Robyn Lea dug through her extensive files for a new cookbook of the artists personal recipes, Dinner with Georgia OKeeffe: Recipes, Art and Landscape (Assouline, $50), which offers new insight into the iconic American artist.

Creamy carrot soup

This soup provides the excitement of intense color on the table and is an almost perfect match in hue to one of OKeeffes preferred oil paints: Cadmium Yellow Medium by Winsor & Newton. Several of her paintings feature the color, including Pelvis Series Red and Yellow, 1945; Pedernal from the Ranch II, 1958; and Green, Yellow and Orange, 1960. The soups deep, saturated yellow seems especially striking when served with table decor of otherwise muted tones, or in elegantly simple fine white ceramic soup bowls such as those OKeeffe used, made by Centura by Corning.

For OKeeffe, color was a life force, an elixir, and a deep-seated visual language that she was compelled to express through her work: Color is one of the great things in the world that makes life worth living to me.

Creamy carrot soup: an almost perfect match in hue to one of OKeeffes preferred oil paints. Photograph: Robyn Lea/Assouline

Serves 46

4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 large onion, roughly chopped
4 cups thinly sliced carrots
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 cup milk
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1/2 cup light cream
chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley or chives, for garnish
ground nutmeg, for garnish
freshly ground black pepper

In a large saucepan, melt the butter, then saut the onion, carrots, and garlic, cooking gently over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until slightly softened.

Add the milk, salt, and white pepper and stir to combine. Cover the pan and continue cooking for about 20 minutes, or until the carrots are tender.

Cool slightly; then, with a blender, carefully puree the soup in small batches.

Place the cream in a bowl and whisk in a little of the pureed soup. Add this mixture back into the pan with the remaining soup. Gently heat through on very low heat, without boiling, then divide among bowls.

Garnish with fresh herbs, nutmeg and pepper.

Green chile chicken enchiladas

In 1951, OKeeffe took a six-week trip through Mexico that included an unforgettable lunch with the artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Kahlo and OKeeffe shared a deep interest in good food and the origins of ingredients, which extended to the depiction of raw produce in their artwork.

Many of their preferred recipes and ingredients overlapped, including homemade ice cream, saffron rice, savory corn-based puddings, home-baked bread and enchiladas.

There are dozens of ways to prepare enchiladas. Kahlos recipe for enchiladas tapatias included chicken and queso aejo a traditional aged Mexican cheese made with goats milk and rolled in paprika while OKeeffes recipe featured Monterey Jack or mild cheddar cheese, which were both available from Bodes General Store in Abiqui. The two women liked recipes to be made from scratch, beginning with ingredients in their raw form. OKeeffe was thrilled when one of her Hispanic neighbours in New Mexico prepared tortillas for enchiladas in the traditional way, serving them at a dinner party she attended in 1944: The old lady had ground the corn and made the tortillas herself because she knew that I liked them she is over 80.

On hot summer days in New Mexico, Carol Merrill remembers that they would serve the dish accompanied by small glasses of beer. This recipe can also be prepared sprinkled with finely sliced pickles, red onion, fresh cilantro, ground black pepper, and lime juice.

Green chile chicken enchiladas: OKeeffe took a six-week trip through Mexico that included an unforgettable lunch with the artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Photograph: Robyn Lea/Assouline

Serves 4

1 tbsp vegetable oil, plus more for the tortillas
1/3 cup minced onion
8 medium yellow or blue corn tortillas
2 cups pre-prepared green chile sauce
1 cup sliced or shredded cooked chicken
3/4 cup grated Monterey Jack or mild cheddar cheese, plus more for finishing

In a cast-iron frying pan over medium heat, heat the tablespoon of oil until hot. Saut the onion until softened, then transfer it to a bowl and wipe the pan clean with a paper towel.

Add a little oil to the pan and return it to medium heat. When the oil is hot, quickly heat all of the tortillas on both sides so they are soft and pliable, adding more oil as necessary to prevent them from sticking. Keep the tortillas covered on a plate until ready to use.

Preheat the oven to 350F. For each serving, dip one tortilla into the green chile sauce to lightly coat it. Place it in an oven-safe stoneware dish and spread with one quarter of the chicken, onions, and cheese. Add another tortilla on top and completely cover it with about 1/3 cup of the green chile sauce.

Using a new dish each time, make all four servings, then bake the enchiladas for about 10 minutes, or until the chile sauce begins to bubble. In the last few minutes of cooking, add a little grated cheese on top.

Chocolate & Walnut Brownie

This recipe was handwritten by OKeeffe on Waldorf Astoria Hotel memorandum notepaper. She may have sampled the brownie while staying at the hotel to attend an awards dinner for one thousand guests on April 30, 1963. That night, she received a Creative Arts award from Brandeis University with an address by composer Leonard Bernstein who described her as pioneering a whole new point of view in art as it relates to nature.

Or perhaps OKeeffe wrote down the recipe when staying with her sister Anita in her apartment at the Waldorf Towers in 1958. The two women spent several weeks together there after Anitas husband, Robert R. Young, committed suicide in their Palm Beach mansion in Florida that same year. Robert had suffered from recurring depression since the couples only child, Eleanor, had been killed in a plane accident in 1941.

While it seems unlikely that chocolate brownies would have been paramount in importance for two women in crisis, the OKeeffe siblings were known to use tactics of diversion, repression and denial to avoid open discussion of emotionally traumatic subjects.

In the devastating void created after Roberts death, Georgia attempted to distract Anita, accompanying her to concerts and luncheons and taking her on shopping excursions. Perhaps the serotonin-producing chocolate in this recipe did, in fact, provide a small respite at a deeply upsetting time.

Serves 810

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pan
4 oz semisweet dark chocolate
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups walnuts, chopped
2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

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