Colorful Sensations

Artist Joy Gardner brings her talent and creativity to both the palette and palate. She enjoys painting as a passion and profession and cooking and entertaining for pleasure. She says the two skills are often intertwined. “For me, like art, cooking is as much about the visual as anything else, ” Gardner says. “It’s important to me what a dish looks like, the color and texture. It is as much about the presentation as it is about the food.

“I am also inspired by smells, in my painting and in my cooking.” Gardner’s maternal grandmother painted with oils all her life, therefore that distinctive scent of oil paints reminds her of her grandmother and her artistic heritage. Similarly, other ideas arise from the fragrances of nature – flowers, leaves, and earth – and the seasons.

“I love the bleak winter’s grays and purples, then the earliest signs of spring with its emerging marsh grass and colorful wildflowers.” These themes are readily reflected in Gardner’s art. She is known for her ethereal, somewhat abstract, nature-inspired works. In the kitchen, she celebrates seasonal foods, experimenting with what’s ripe and at its peak. “In painting, I don’t follow a strict recipe, same with cooking. I’m not afraid to try new things.”

Like her beloved grandmother, Gardner has painted since childhood. A former paralegal, she has only recently embraced painting as a profession. She now hones her crafts in a delightfully unique space. Her studio is one of seven located in the former St. Joan of Arc School in the Oakleigh Garden District. It is a hotbed of artistic activity. Gardner shares the cleverly repurposed classrooms with several locally loved artists including Kathy Whitinger, Stephanie Morris, Kate Seawell and jewelry designer Kem McLean. She says the beauty of the building is that it not only gives her the privacy of a studio, but also a sense of camaraderie with the other creatives, who offer her friendship and feedback. Gardner’s works are shown and sold at Ashland Gallery, Lyons Share, and various locations throughout Mississippi, Louisiana and Georgia.

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Sun-Dried Tomato Dip

For colorful contrast, Joy Gardner serves a delectable duo of dips – sun-dried tomato and ­green herb – together with an array of vibrantly hued vegetables.

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil,  drained and chopped
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
10 dashes hot pepper sauce (Joy uses Tabasco.)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 green onions, thinly sliced (using white and green parts)

1. Blend the tomatoes, cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, hot sauce, salt and pepper in a food processor fitted with a metal blade.
2. When well combined, add the green onions and pulse twice. Serve at room temperature. Makes about 2 cups.

Green Herb Dip

8 ounces of cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
4 green onions, minced (using both white and green parts)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1. Place all ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.
2. Blend until smooth. Serve at room temperature. Makes about 2 cups.

Smoked Salmon Tea Sandwiches

These dainty, delicious sandwiches make a marvelous, mess-free, savory appetizer.

1/2 pound unsalted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced green onions (white and green parts)
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
1 tablespoon minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 slices bread (Joy uses Pepperidge
Farm Very Thin Whole Wheat.)
8 slices smoked salmon

1. Combine butter, garlic, green onions, dill, parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat until well combined, but not whipped. 
2. Place 4 slices of bread on a baking sheet and spread them all with a thin layer of butter mixture.
3. Place a couple of slices of smoked salmon on half of the bread slices.
4. Top with the other 4 slices of bread, butter side down.
5. Wrap plastic wrap over sandwiches on baking sheet. Refrigerate until the butter is very cold.
6. Place the sandwiches on a cutting board. With a very sharp knife, cut off the crusts, then cut each cut sandwich diagonally twice to make a total of 4 small triangles. Serve chilled. Makes 16 sandwiches.

Open-Face BLT Rounds

These tasty tomato round pick-ups are a tremendous crowd-pleaser. Joy originally got the idea for this app from her dear friend, Mary McGowin.

8 plum or Campari tomatoes, sliced
1 Vidalia onion, peeled, sliced and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 pound bacon
2 – 3 cups good mayonnaise (Joy uses Hellman’s.)
1 (7-ounce) package toasted French bread rounds, approximately 35 – 40 (Joy gets them at the Fresh Market but feel free to make your own.)
fresh basil, torn or julienned,  optional for garnish

1. Marinate tomato slices with onions in oil, salt and pepper overnight.
2. Cook 1 pound of bacon, cool, crumble and mix with 2 – 3 cups mayonnaise.
3. Remove tomato slices from marinade. Reserve onions.
4. Spread French bread rounds with bacon and mayonnaise mixture and top with a tomato slice.
5. Sprinkle tops with fresh basil, if desired. (Joy says you can also add a piece or 2 of marinated onion, if desired, to kick up the flavor.) Makes approximately 35 – 40. 

Peppered Walnuts

Joy likes to serve these splendid nibbles with a glass of wine, but she says that they are a terrific addition to a green salad as well.

4 cups walnut halves
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper

1. Combine nuts and sugar with butter in non-stick skillet. Cook walnuts and sugar over medium heat and stir with wooden spoon until sugar starts to dissolve. 
2. Keep stirring, adding salt and pepper. 
3. When sugar has melted and nuts are well coated, pour onto waxed paper and cool. Store in airtight container. Keeps for weeks at room temperature or freeze for several months. Makes 4 cups.

Purchase One of Joy’s Works

Ashland Gallery • 2321 Old Shell Road. 479-3548.
Lyons Share Gallery • 330 De La Mare Ave., Fairhope. 928-2507.

text and styling by Sallye Irvine

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