Celebrating women art patrons: Tōfukumon’in, Empress Consort of Japan

Tōfukumon’in (1607–1678)
Empress Consort of Japan

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Following more than a century of civil war in Japan, Empress Tōfukumon’in played a pivotal role in shaping culture and aesthetic tastes in the peaceful Edo period. Tōfukumon’in used her endowment from Tokugawa leadership to rebuild prominent Kyoto temples and collect art by her era’s leading artisans. She dabbled in creative endeavors herself, writing poetry and experimenting with calligraphy, and she was particularly interested in fashion and textiles.

Together with her husband, Gomizunoo, Tōfukumon’in fostered more direct relationships between the imperial family and artisans. The empress collected pottery by famed ceramicist Nonomura Ninsei, paintings by Tosa Mitsunobu, and works by other prominent artists and workshops of the day, like Tawaraya Sōtsatu and the Kano and Tosa schools. Her chambers featured artworks that mingled classical styles with contemporary scenes featuring warrior figures and commoners.

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Among her most notable commissions are six painted screens by court painter Tosa Mitsuoki that together comprise Flowering Cherry and Autumn Maples with Poem Slips (1654–81). Against the golden silk backdrop, the artist rendered slips of medieval poetry dangling from finely wrought leaves. The work merges Tōfukumon’in’s interests in literature and painting, and also represents the royal couple’s quest for cultural influence in an era when the feudal shogunate increasingly wrestled control from the imperial family.

Christmas Day, Champs-Élysées, Paris. 2018

Christmas afternoon on the Champs-Élysées. Sunny and chilly.  Perfect winter day in the perfect city!




Random things that struck me, found on the Champs-Élysées:










One of the most charming aspects of Christmas in Paris to me is all the hand-painted decorations on the store windows.  Some are really graphic and cool like this one:




But more of them are really sweet and old-fashioned, like the next bunch:






Okay, back to the fun holiday decorations and great architecture of the Champs-Élysées:






















The next set of pictures are of what is to me the most beautiful building on the Champs-Élysées.

























Other striking aspects of the Champs-Élysées:







And, finally, I’ll close this post because this is already so long.  But, before I do, pictures of some of the cool advertising I saw in the subway on my way to the Champs-Élysées:


Oh, and P.S.: here’s a very cool old picture of the layout of this area from the point of view of the Arc de Triomphe.  The Eiffel Tower hadn’t even been dreamed of yet!
















Let’s bake a cake!

Facciamo cuocere una torta!  A torta margherita is a traditional Italian cake. One of the most popular cakes in Italy, it was named after the country’s first Italian queen: Margherita di Savoia.

The first recorded  recipe for the torta was in the 19th century, but it probably had been handed down from mother to daughter for centuries earlier.

I recently baked a yummy torta margherita from a box mix in my Florentine kitchen and next I wanted to try one from scratch.  Here’s my guide.


If you want to try one too, here’s the modern recipe:

5 eggs

180 grams sugar

zest of a lemon to taste

150 grams flour

150 grams potato starch

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

vanilla, 1 Tablespoon I’m guessing


80 grams melted butter, cooled

powdered sugar to sprinkle on top of baked cake

Beat eggs, sugar and zest of a lemon on high until you get a light mixture that looks like the example in the Youtube video.  The mixture should be a pale yellow and hold its form enough that you can “write with it” as la signora says.

Next, with mixer on low, add flour and starch, baking powder, salt and vanilla.  The vanilla in the video is a powdered form available in Italy.  La signora reminds us to only mix the flours, etc., in; you don’t want to lose the lift you got by beating the eggs.

Last, slowly mix in the melted butter.

Pour mixture into a round baking tin, buttered, floured and lined with parchment paper.  Bake at 180 degrees C. for 40 – 50 min.  Sprinkle the cooled cake with powdered sugar.

It worked!  My yummy cake looks like this:


And I eat it like this:



But, you want to make it without potato flour?

Since we, in our American kitchens, don’t typically have potato starch on hand, I believe it is possible to change the recipe slightly, by adding an additional 100 grams of 00 flour.  Here’s another recipe I found on the internet for a Torta Margherita sensa fecola di patate. I haven’t tried it yet, but probably will soon.
Tempo di preparazione: 20 minuti, Tempo di cottura: 40 minuti, Tempo totale: 1 ora
Ingredienti per Torta Margherita senza fecola da 22 cm di diametro
250 g di farina 00)
200 g di zucchero
80 g di burro
4 uova
1 bustina di vanillina
1 bustina di lievito per dolci Paneangeli
120 ml di latte
zucchero a velo vanigliato q.b.

Buona fortuna!

Always on the search for history, I found the following article in the August 2015 issue of BBC History Magazine.

In every issue of BBC History Magazine, picture editor Sam Nott brings you a recipe from the past. In this article, Sam recreates Torta Margherita, a 19th-century cake from Italy that is both gluten and dairy-free.

This recipe comes from Pellegrino Artusi’s 1891 cookbook La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiare Bene (The Science of Cooking and the Art of Fine Dining), and is a cake that has been enjoyed in many Italian households.

Artusi’s introduction to his cookbook gives an insight into the origins of the cake. He originally made it for a friend of his, Antonio Mattei, who took the recipe and, after making a few changes, sold it in his restaurant.

The cake was such a success that it soon became the norm to finish a meal with Torta Margherita. The moral of the story, according to Artusi, is that if you grab opportunities when they arise (as Mattei did) fortune will favour you above someone who merely sits back and waits.

120g of potato starch, sifted
120g of fine white sugar (caster sugar)
4 eggs
Juice or zest of a lemon (optional)
Butter and baking paper (to line the baking tin)

Separate the yolks from the whites and beat the yolks together with the sugar until pale and creamy. Add the lemon (optional) and the potato starch and beat.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then delicately fold the whites through the batter. Place the mixture into a round cake tin (buttered and lined with baking paper). Bake at a moderate heat for about an hour or until golden on top and firm to the touch.

Time: 60 minutes

When I found this recipe I was intrigued: a gluten and dairy-free cake that tastes nice? And with only three ingredients? But the picture in the recipe book looked very enticing so I gave it a try.

And I’m glad I did! I ended up making several of these as they were so delicious; friends and family devoured them all. The cake is incredibly light, goes well with tea or coffee, and takes just an hour to make.

And, alternatively, there is this: http://www.academiabarilla.com/italian-recipes/desserts-fruit/margherita-cake.aspx