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Helen Frankenthaler

spring14_helenfrankenthalerAs a teenager in Newark, New Jersey, living in the Colonnade Park Apartments designed by architect Mies Van der Rhoe, my friends and I would have a general meeting spot for outings or meet-ups at “The Blob”. Our parents would say, “meet us at the Frankenthaler, which was the actual name of the colossal painting in the lobby of the building. The painting, “The Bay”, was a master work by Helen Frankenthaler, one of America’s renowned abstract artists. We just called it “The Blob”.

spring14_helen1My path would cross hers again in art school at North Carolina Central University in Durham. In class we were asked to pick an image and paint it in the same style as the artist assigned to us. Of course I wanted Picasso or Matisse, but I was assigned an image that resembled “The Blob”, and of course it was a Frankenthaler.

spring14_helen2I started my research and learned that Helen was born in New York City and she was married to Robert Motherwell whom I absolutely admired. Her approach and technique to what I thought looked like water colors were actually oil paints applied directly to canvas to absorb the color and provide unique form, texture and theme. The technique is known as “soak stain”, and was also used by Jackson Pollack and other artists in mid-century. Of course this was challenging for me as a young painter and I wanted to get a good grade on this project.

spring14_helen3Portfolio day arrived and it was time to show what I had studied and once poked fun at as a growing teen. My exhibit actually won me praise from the faculty and was shown in the annual student exhibition. Another lesson learned that life gives us gifts we may not be aware of until later in life.


Coming into San Diego

It’s not quite the treetop terror of Chicago’s Midway Airport approach, but if you’re the nervous type, you might want to avert your eyes as you make the final approach into San Diego’s Lindbergh Field. The plane has to clear Bankers Hill and Little Italy before it lands on the tarmac.

San DiegoBut unlike Midway, Lindbergh Field lands you right where you want to be—ten minutes from downtown and fifteen minutes from the fabulous beaches of South California. Who needs a big, expansive airport far from town with restaurants and on-site car rentals when you can immerse yourself in the SoCal vibe the minute you leave Lindbergh, turn onto Marine Drive and behold the blue waters and white boats of San Diego Bay.

San DiegoI was in San Diego in February for a rejuvenating sun-splash. I suggest you go right to the beaches after you land. That’s what I did. Head for Ocean Beach first, walk out onto the Ocean Beach Pier, let your cares go, and watch your spirits take flight. The Pier extends more than a third of a mile into the ocean, with a snack shack halfway. Watch the surfers (in wet suits of course, the water is cold) wait for the next big wave. Feel the sun in your face. Inhale the ocean air.

San DiegoThen head south to Sunset Cliffs, park your car and walk down the stairs to the tide pools and check out the sea life. Meet lots of interesting people along the way with big grins on their faces.

Then head further south another fifteen minutes to Point Loma, turn off at the Visitors Center, and take in the spectacular view of Coronado, downtown, and all of San Diego on a clear day.

You’ve arrived. You’re going to have a good time. You’ll come back happy to know this place exists when you really need it.

Recommended Reading

The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation by Mollie Katzen

London Style Guide by Saska Graville

Seasons by Donna Hay

Food and Entertaining

I Learned Vegetarian Cooking from Mollie Katzen

Since a child I loved to hang around the kitchen and help my mother with all of the beautiful things she made in her kitchen.

My mother knew nutritious, healthy foods were essential for a growing family. As I became a teenager my mother would give me two nights a week of “kitchen duty”—two nights that I could cook anything I wanted. I would go through cookbooks and comb magazines for that special recipe. Her favorite expression was “I fly and buy, you cook.” So every week I would give her my carefully crafted list of special ingredients and she would deliver the goods.

spring14_mixedgreensMy friends and I started volunteering at one of the many cool food co-ops near the Duke University campus, long before Whole Foods and other natural and organic food stores were around.

I thought it was very cool that you paid a membership and made decisions about how the co-op was run and what foods were brought in. I loved the fact that I could use ingredients that some people never heard of, unless you were from California.

We had cookbooks, European-style kitchen gadgets, bulk products, especially spices, nuts and cheeses. It became our community hall because we had to work four days a month to sustain a work force to keep the co-op running.

Friendships and relationships came out of this organization that have lasted into my adult life. We would have potluck evenings for our monthly and quarterly meetings, and this gave us opportunities to try out different things.

I was not a vegetarian then and am not now (although vegetables are my favorite food). At the time, a vegetarian was an unknown, mysterious person who didn’t eat meat. Yikes, no one could imagine a person not eating meat, not even chicken? How strange. But friends from the co-op were talking about it, and so I wanted to find out more.

spring14_moosewoodThe first cookbook I purchased was The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen. I was smitten with the hand-written script and the illustrations that adorned the book. I put it to work.

I planned vegetarian pot lucks at home, dining alfresco in my mother’s and grandparents’ beautiful rose and herb garden in the hilly piedmont area of North Carolina, where the sweet smells of pine filled the warm, humid air. We all shared recipes out of Mollie’s new cookbook that changed how people in America cooked and thought about whole and organic food.

spring14_quicheThe green leafy salads, tabouli and marinated vegetables were starters. Noodle Kugel, Arabian Squash Casserole, Swiss Cheese and Mushroom Quiche were my signature dishes. Of course no meal would be complete without dessert— Ukrainian poppy seed cake or Strawberry–Rhubarb Crisp.

The only thing we were missing was the wine, but we were under-aged. Instead, we had herbal iced tea and we compared notes of Mollie Katzen recipes for our next potluck, wherever it would be held.

Molly Katzan is still writing cookbooks. Her website is www.molliekatzen.com. The New York Times featured her in a 2013 story here.

Twelve Things I Can't Live Without (right now)

  1. Votivo # 15A Sea Blue Sky Candles — I purchased the candle and the fragrance at the shops at Hotel Del Coronado. (www.votivo.com)
  2. My Beautiful Print of Henri Matisse (1869-1954) La Tristesse du Roi (1952) — I saw the original at the Pompidou in Paris.
  3. My Nambe dish designed by Neil Cohen — Thanks to Matty and Erica. (www.nambe.com)
  4. Donna Hay Cookbooks — These books have the most stunning photography work and the recipes are clean and fresh. (www.donnahay.com.au )
  5. Nutella hazelnut chocolate spread — I ate so much in Paris my friend Dietra nicknamed me “Joey Nutella.” (www.nutella.com)
  6. Chateau Marjosse Red Bordeaux 2010 — Thanks, Pascal for always introducing great French wines.
  7. Crane Stationary — I love writing hand written notes. My favorite is the soft blue and orange colors. So elegant. (www.crane.com)
  8. Skagen watches are simple and elegant and make me think of Denmark. (www.skagen.com)
  9. I love my collection of Navajo pottery and baskets thanks to our family friend Mary Chee.
  10. The beaches of Del Mar California — what a great place to get winter sun!
  11. Mugler by Thierry Mugler, This is a great fragrance, very clean and fresh. (www.muglerusa.com)
  12. I can never do without my family and friends.