Paper, Scissors, Print–Jennifer D. Anderson Workshop

From complex paper cutting, origami, paper sculpture, to book making, this is an ever-expanding area of design that is gaining in popularity and evolving in new directions.  These intricate paper designs are exhibited in  museums  throughout the world and have become another exciting medium of expression for many designers who wish to combine the digital with more conventional methods of art.

Jennifer D Anderson is an artist and educator who has an innovative style of combining printmaking with paper art techniques including a lacy cutting-style reminiscent of ancient Chinese paper cuts and Mexican wedding banners.  I was fortunate to attend one of her workshops  at Monterey Peninsula College (MPC), and gain a different perspective on paper, how it is made, its physical properties (absorption, weight, sizing, fiber content, machine made vs. handmade) and how to utilize paper for mixed media printmaking.  The two-day workshop started with an overview of European and Asian papermaking, their differences, and different cutting and gluing techniques for each.  For those of you who haven’t tried pasting papers of different types and weights to another sheet of paper, believe me it is not easy! Here is my mixed media piece from the workshop.    

Laminating and pasting were demonstrated in detail (see YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_7JQOtOhoA for step-to-step demos).  The twenty workshop participants learned how to use digital images, laminating several transparent images together, and combine them with traditional printmaking styles (intaglio and woodcut).

Jennifer received her MFA from the University of Georgia and has taught workshops at the J Paul Getty Museum and the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles. Currently assistant professor of art at Hollins University,  those of you in the Bay Area can view her current work of cameo-like prints of anatomical images at “Visceral Intuition,” an exhibition at the MPC Gallery that ends April 13. (Jennifer Anderson’s website is: www.jenniferdanderson.com)

“A Separation”–Between Truth and Lies

I haven’t seen a film from Iran that I have loved as much as “A Separation” since I enjoyed “Children of Heaven”  (1997).  “A Separation”, winner of this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, is an Iranian “Rashomon”.  This masterpiece of cinema lays out multiple stories unfolding from six principal characters.  Stripped of any vestige of a moral absolute, in spite of the low dramatic temperature of the filming, viewers will hang on every scene and every word.  The vast middle ground of truth and falsehood leaves you spellbound.

The storyline is simple.  A young upper class schoolteacher , Simin, yearns for a better life for her daughter, Termeh,  and wants to leave Iran.  Nader, her husband, however, is deeply devoted to his father, who suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s. Consequently, Nader refuses to leave his father behind, knowing that immigration is no longer an option for him.  The couple has a divorce hearing before a magistrate.  With her husband’s permission, Simin is allowed to leave the country but her daughter, Termeh, chooses to stay with her father. The conflict over custody for Termeh unwinds, and with it, their moral convictions.

“A Separation” offers a rare view of ordinary Iranians–both affluent and struggling– in an urban center.  The upscale apartment is contrasted with the grittier working class district in the south.  Simin and Nader’s lives are a world away from the pious, poor districts of Tehran. Thin slivers of religious conviction and family bonds unravel in unexpected and nuanced ways as a desperate married woman (Razieh) offers to become the caretaker for the aged father. Minor misunderstandings morph into a slow-motion nightmare that threatens to destroy everything and everyone in its path.

Hand-held cameras lend a documentary quality and visceral sense of realism throughout. The superb script carefully conceals the central incident so we’re never quite sure who’s telling the truth. We can see the logic of everyone’s position, their good intentions and their emotions while we vacillate on whose version of the truth to believe.  The director’s only agenda seems to be to express empathy. Although the judge may be tending against our own sympathies, we understand why he does so and may be correct to do so. That a director can make such a sympathetic film in such a troubled time is a tribute to his skill.

In this compelling drama about the dissolution of two families, all six characters feel justified in their own particular grievances.  The film accomplishes an extraordinary feat in not selecting sides in the midst of so many moral contradictions.  “A Separation” ultimately separates us from our own need for intellectual clarity and security in our values. Every single performance is noteworthy and natural, perhaps especially  the performances of the two young actresses who play Temreh (the incredible Sarina Farhadi, director Asghar Farhadi’s daughter) and Somayeh (the doe-eyed precocious Kimia Hosseini), the five-year old daughter of the caretaker Razieh.  The film’s ending is so iconic I could think of no alternative that underscores the theme more faithfully—namely, the thin places—the membrane between what is a lie and what is truth– fragile and easily torn.

Seagrass Restaurant: Bon Appétit–Mi Cuit

Last weekend we went to Santa Barbara and had a delightful experience participating in the inaugural cooking lesson by Chef Robert Perez, owner of Seagrass (30 East Ortega Street).  Trained in France, the Netherlands, and as a sous chef at L’Auberge de Soleil, Perez opened his first restaurant Citronée near Sacramento before moving thirteen years later to  Santa Barbara. This intimate family-run restaurant is elegant but not severe, relaxed and informal.  The chef’s wife, Marianna, serves as hostess and his son, Ruben, manages and greets guests.

Seagrass is rated #1 by Zagat’s, with #2 being Bouchon (where we had an equally phenomenal meal the night before).  What made Seagrass especially memorable for us foodies, is that we had not only the exuberant chef all to ourselves but his sincerity and hospitality in the kitchen made us feel like we were in our own home.  The “coastal cuisine” that Chef Perez specializes in is deserving of the highest praise:  the quality of ingredients includes local shellfish, salmon flown in from New Zealand, locally raised lamb, regional wild boar, and farmers market produce. Together with mostly Santa Barbara County wines, what more could anyone ask for?

Before sitting down to the three-course lunch of soup (cauliflower-puree garnished with a smathering of tiny crispy soba noodles), Alpine salmon, and chocolate mousse with chocolate decadence cake on the side, we had a demonstration of how to prepare this exquisitely designed meal.

For the soup–we watched the chef nurture a classic vichyssoise. Next was the pièce de résistance –the entrée of Alpine Salmon (Mi Cuit –“half-cooked”) with green cabbage “slaw” and tomato basil beurre blanc. (For the truly  curious, check out our YouTube clip at “seagrass cooking demo“).

This unusual salmon entrée is a bridge between sashimi and ceviche.  Semi-cured in olive oil, salmon mi-cuit can be served at room temperature or cold.  Olive oil is heated to 120-130 degrees and then poured over the raw salmon filets, submerging them gently in the pan to soften, retaining an amazingly bright pumpkin color.  Hence, the “mi-cuit“, the half-cooked, half-cured salmon. While the filets soak, the Napa green cabbage “slaw” is lightly sautéed in a pan with carrots (diced into tiny cubes) and then plated first, as a bed for the salmon mi-cuit.  Lastly, an incandescent and translucent tomato beurre blanc is prepared and gently poured over the perfectly bathed salmon.  And voilà– salmon mi- cuit!

For lunch Seagrass paired Melville’s crispy delicate Viognier with cauliflower soup and  Ojai’s gorgeously fruity  Presidio Syrah with the salmon mi cuit.  Each menu item is created, Chef Perez informed us, with wine in mind– nothing too delicate or too spicy to overpower each recommended wine.   Ever since the movie “Sideways”, Santa Barbara is now inseparable from its association with wine and proud of it.  This restaurant has some of the best wines the region has to offer.  Bon Appétit!

 

“Foyle’s War”–Crime Foiled

I am addicted to the series “Foyle’s War” (six extraordinary seasons –2002-2010–on BBC Television) now available through Netflix. Set in a small coastal town, Hastings, in Great Britain during World War II, a middle-aged police chief, Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle (the underrated Michael Kitchen) assumes the responsibility of solving murders in the midst of the confusion of war.  While war rages around the world, perpetrators both civilian and military assume they can commit all sorts of heinous crimes with impunity:  murder, robbery, espionage, black market trade. Foyle has to fight his own war, sometimes losing to the military and political establishments who claim that national security is the higher moral standard, in order to seek justice.

Assisted by his young driver, the charmingly unconventional Samantha “Sam” Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks) and Detective Sergeant Paul Milner (Anthony Howell), Foyle is resolute and tenacious in his commitment to justice.  In the process he is the target of enemies in powerful positions. Foyle argues that the victims of crime cannot be forgotten with the excuse that war trumps all other concerns. As one of the intelligence officers advises Foyle:  “War always hides a great many dirty secrets.”

The incredibly complex storyline never ceases to amaze me, in spite of some common elements that appear in each episode.  There is always at least one local resident who is working class and unaware of his or her vulnerable position.  At least one suspect, usually in a high position within a military or government institution, is either profiteering from the war or has some other heinous action to hide.  Occasionally, the suspect owns a factory or company supplying the war effort. Finally, there is the suspect you can’t figure out–honest or foul?

Creator and writer, Anthony Horowitz, has managed to present tightly woven murder mysteries against the backdrop of what appears to be authentic historical data of the Second World War.  Archival footage is sometimes intertwined with the crime-to-be-solved.  For example, in one episode, “The Casualties of War” (2007), the technology of the “bouncing bomb”, a military device used to destroy German dams for the British war effort, is carefully explained but not in a documentarian fashion.  This is concurrent with the murder of a young scientist in a laboratory where weapons development is taking place. These incredibly complex stories will keep you riveted to the TV or computer screen, as you try to solve the murder alongside Foyle, Stewart, and Milner.

Michael Kitchen is simply brilliant as the sharp, witty, sometimes acerbic, and infinitely perceptive Detective Chief Superintendent (DCS) Foyle.  Distinctly British,  DCS Foyle is always  courteous, with a fastidious punctilious style in speech and dress, never raising his voice or using a harsh word.  Only his hat or his eyebrow shifts position, and even that is almost imperceptible.

“Foyle’s War” is much more than a mystery series.  It is the classic conflict of the scrupulously honest hero outwitting morally vacillating superiors who wish the hero would just walk away. (The TV series “Colombo” is an obvious example of this classic figure).  It is an analysis of human nature as seen through the eyes of the humble but extremely confident Foyle.  He knows folly when he sees it, war or no war.  Only two characters never succumb to betraying their own integrity and self-worth:  Foyle and his trusted driver, Sam.  The others who have moments of weakness are forgiven. This adds, rather than subtracts from plot development.

Because of fervent demand, “Foyle’s War” will be produced again next year with three new episodes to savor.  They will be broadcast on Masterpiece Mystery, so watch this astonishing, intrepid series or watch it again to be better prepared for the next chapter of “Foyle’s War”.

Morimoto–A Culinary Haiku

One of the most extraordinary restaurants I have been to in my life is Morimoto in Napa. I sampled the culinary wizardry of Chef Morimoto during a wonderful spa weekend with my daughter.  This is a must for those who love Japanese food with a unique riff on classical recipes. Imagine a French Laundry for Asian cuisine!

Chef Masaharu Morimoto is well- known as one of the extraordinary Iron Chefs on the Food Channel.  With a touch of the molecular gastronomy Spain made famous (without the ridiculous heights the Spanish sometimes succumb to),   this Riverfront restaurant in downtown Napa was packed to overflowing.

The restaurant is large with several dining rooms that seat perhaps sixty people each, but the decor is an artist’s visual feast, before the gustatory one begins.  Some of the tables are four-inch thick slabs of black walnut, chandeliers are constructed like origami and wall sculptures are twisted twigs, which look like birds perched on branches.  Cases hold glass sculptures and beautiful Japanese ceramics.  The food, of course, is also a series of works of art.

We had beet salad with greens that were very small and perfectly shaped, with delicate shiso leaves no bigger than half an inch.  Some of the greens were not recognizable but the textures and the yuzo-based citrus-flavored dressing were as delicate as the leaves arranged on the plate.

Our next appetizer– toro tartare–basically the filet mignon of the maguro (tuna) was served on what looked like a 2″x3″ cutting board.  At first, I thought the cutting board was painted red.  But, a very smooth layer of toro had been perfectly placed and smoothed out on the board.  Accompanied by six different “toppings”  (wasabi, nori paste, sour cream with wasabi paste, caviar, and a puree of shiso leaves), each of us had a flat spoon/spatula implement to scrape off a portion of toro and then drag it through all six condiments presented on still another signature wooden board.  The dish looked so intricate and beautiful we had to ask our waitress how to eat it!  Unbelievably exquisite toro–every morsel unforgettable.

 

Although we could have been completely satisfied with just one more appetizer, we had no impulse control and ordered five more dishes.  Continuing with oyster foie gras including a dollop of  uni with a  soy-sauce based drizzle (an outrageously innovative and superb combination), our next dish– yose dofu (a type of tofu custard) was steamed and served at the table. The  small plate of hamachi (yellowtail) with togarashi (a semi-spicy red pepper, gin creme fraiche, candied plum) looked like a small Napoleon instead of a sushi-like hors d’oeuvres.  We thought it was dessert when we first saw it at the next table.    We ordered the chef’s medley of seasonal produce (cauliflower, broccoli, assortment of mushrooms, edamame) that was simply steamed with only a hint of either sesame oil or butter.  We kept some of the soy sauce-based dressing from the oysters and lightly sprinkled it over the veggies for perfection.  We think Chef Morimoto should combine the two.  Otherwise, the greens are a bit boring in flavor, though definitely not in texture.

Seriously full (with both the tables on the left and the right of us occupied and emptied twice by other diners), we still had one more dish coming to us: seafood toban yaki (lobster, king crab, mussels, clams, diver scallops, with a spicy red-miso sake broth.  It is the Japanese/Korean rendition of cioppino–a red kimchi-flavored broth steaming with delicate shellfish of just the sublimest  tender morsels arriving piping hot in its classic black iron pot.  (Appropriate for the Iron Chef!) We were so stuffed from all the decadent pleasure of eating a meal that was also part entertainment in its presentation and concept.  Morimoto Napa is a treasure for that special celebration — a memorable experience of a lifetime!