Earlier this month, a friend and I took a trip upstate to Saugerties, New York, the hometown of Jimmy Fallon, to explore the incredible sculpture park Opus 40. If you’ve been, you know how incredibly special it is, and if you haven’t seen it, put it on your New York list of field trips!
From the website:
“During a period of 37 years, Harvey Fite created the monumental world-acclaimed 6½-acre bluestone sculpture now known as Opus 40. Constructed by this one man, using dry-key stone techniques adapted from the Mayans, Opus 40 is made from millions of pieces of indigenous bluestone, laid by hand, creating a labyrinthine world of finely fitted stone, swirling with ramps and terraces constructed around pools and trees and fountains, rising out of bedrock a half mile deep.”
Seeing all of the stacked blue stones, the slopes, and waves that Harvey Fite created in Opus 40 was meditative, contemplative, and left me very calm and peaceful. But it also lit a fire inside me, inspiring me to look at my own pursuits and the body of work I’ve created in my 44 years. Do I have an opus? Do you?
We may not be celebrated writers, musicians, artists, or poets with a great masterpiece advertising our genius, but there are many cultural layers to the word opus that we can all apply to our efforts. In Latin an opus is ‘a work, composition, especially a musical one.’ It’s the source of the Italian opera, the French oeuvre. The German root has an agricultural bend: ‘to work, produce in abundance.’ In Sanskrit, opus extends itself to the spiritual world: ‘work, religious act, good deed.’ The Dutch and Danish isn’t even a finished product, it’s a process: ‘to exercise, practice.’ I think my favorite opus origin and the one I identify the most with is from the Old High German: ‘to start work, to practice, to honor.’
So, you see the many layers of the word, but the common denominator is work. We are all working towards something, right? I’m a huge advocate for artistic endeavors, so if you are working on a painting, a novel, practicing for a flute recital, or if you are welding a sculpture, keep going! The world needs your art! But the world needs the non-artistic opus too. What else are you working on? Finishing a degree, paying off a debt, working on your health and wellbeing? Maybe you’re remodeling a room in your house, or working on a new recipe. I say to you as well, ‘keep going!’
We don’t need to stack a bunch of rocks for 37 years to create something meaningful and important. But we can take the lesson from Harvey Fite’s Opus 40 of starting a project, honoring our commitment to practice and work, and then share it with the world. (Even if it is just a good deed. The world needs those most of all!)
I have a culinary opus for you this week: Pumpkin soufflé! I always feel like I’ve accomplished something extraordinary whenever I make soufflé. They are easier than you might think. It’s basically egg whites and air with a flavoring and you have a delicious visual masterpiece on your hands. I found this recipe in Gourmet magazine in 2008 and I’ve been making it every year since then. Tis the season to break out a can of pumpkin purée! Even if you don't make these, make the Bourbon Molasses Sauce, you will put it on every dessert or just eat it with a spoon and call it lunch!
Spiced Pumpkin Soufflé With Bourbon Molasses Sauce
From Gourmet Magazine
Makes 8 servings
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch of ground cloves
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, divided, plus additional for coating ramekins
3/4 cup canned pure pumpkin (from a 15-oz can, not pie filling)
10 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
Garnish: confectioners sugar
Accompaniments: bourbon molasses sauce ; unsweetened whipped cream
Whisk together milk, cornstarch, spices, and 1 tablespoon granulated sugar in a small heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking, then simmer, whisking, 2 minutes.
Remove from heat and whisk in pumpkin. Transfer to a large bowl and cool to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in lower third. Butter 8 (6-ounce) ramekins and coat with granulated sugar, knocking out excess, then put in a large shallow baking pan.
Beat egg whites with salt in another large bowl using an electric mixer until they hold soft peaks. Add remaining 3/4 cup granulated sugar a little at a time, beating, then beat until whites hold stiff, glossy peaks, 1 to 2 minutes more.
Fold one third of whites into cooled pumpkin mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly. Divide mixture among ramekins, mounding it.
Bake soufflés until puffed and golden, 18 to 20 minutes. Dust with confectioners sugar and serve immediately.
•Pumpkin mixture (without egg whites) can be made 1 day ahead and chilled.
•Soufflés can be assembled 1 hour before baking and kept in freezer.
•Baked soufflés can be repuffed if necessary in a 400°F oven 10 to 12 minutes (serve quickly, as they will deflate a little faster the second time around).