Friday, April 3, 2009

On the Menu at The ArtHouse Cafe

If you're a fan of the Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine, then you know she features a recipe in each issue that only has 5 ingredients. Well, I have a recipe that only consists of 4, (courtesy of my grandma) that is so delicious, you'll want to use it all the time.

Warm Sweet and Sour Bacon Dressing

1 head of iceberg lettuce

5 -6 strips of bacon


apple cider vinegar

Cut the bacon into small pieces, about 1/2 inch. Cook in a small pan until fully cooked, but not too crispy. You should have enough bacon grease to serve as the oil in the dressing. Add sugar (about 2 tablespoons to start with) and and about 1/2 cup of the vinegar. Cook over very low heat until the sugar is dissolved. The key to this dressing is to keep tasting it and adding more sugar and vinegar in small increments until you have the right balance of sweet from the sugar and sour from the vinegar. You'll know when you have the right balance. Just simply pour the warm dressing over chopped iceberg lettuce, toss and enjoy!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Happy Birthday, Vincent!!

Today is Vincent Van Gogh's 156th birthday. Our world is a more beautiful place for him having lived in it. Although fame and success eluded him during his tragically short life, he is now one of the most recognizable, influential artists in the world. He began his journey as a minister in a depressed coal mining village in Belgium, but was soon dismissed from his post for "overzealousness" (a character trait that followed him his entire life). He decided to remain there and began painting "slice of life" scenes of the people who lived there. His work during this time was punctuated by somber colors-browns, umbers, ochres-nothing like what we know of his famous work today. Eventually he moved to Paris to be with his brother Theo, an art dealer. While there, he was introduced to the Impressionists, and brightened his color palette and developed that famous frenetic, passionate brushstroke we are all familiar with.

History has labeled him as difficult, selfish, insane, abrasive, and abusive. The idea of the tortured genius seems to have been taylor made for him. In fact, there are medical reasons for his behavior. He was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy, and the famous ear-cutting incident is now believed to have occurred during a seizure, not in a fit of madness and emotional rage. Scholars also believe he was bi-polar, although during Vincent's life, there was no official diagnosis for his periods of frenetic behavior that were often followed by deep depression and suicide attempts. It is also believed he was a victim of Thujone poisoning. Thujone is the main ingredient in absinthe, a very toxic alcoholic drink that was popular with artists of the time for its hallucinogenic properties. Vincent drank absinthe to combat his depression-in reality it aggravated his epilepsy. Finally, it is quite probable that Vincent suffered from lead poisoning. Paint at that time was made with lead, and Vincent had a habit of eating paint chips and nibbling on the ends of his brushes.

It has always been believed that Vincent lived solely for his art, much to the detriment of his relationships and personal well being. His relationship with Theo has always been viewed as one of the loving,long suffering younger brother taking responsibity for the tortured, brilliant older brother who was unable to care for himself. Scholars are now piecing together a different view of that relationship. The commonly held views of the two brothers are now being reversed, to a degree. It is now being suggested that Theo was actually quite wild, having lived with several mistresses and eventually going insane and dying from syphillis, while Vincent, on the other hand, is seen as more savvy and "in control" of how he wanted to be viewed by both his contemporaries and posterity. His suicide attempt from a gunshot did not cause his immediate death, and it is believed that that was intentional on his part. After he shot himself in the chest, he lingered long enough for Theo to arrive and spend his last moments with him-evidence of the enduring love shared between the two.

Whatever the truth may be, Vincent Van Gogh left a prolific amount of work behind, and although he only sold one painting his entire life, he has now taken his rightful place in art history as the brilliant master he always was.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The ArtHouse Cafe Schedule

You may have noticed a lack of postings lately.......well, that's about to change. There will now be a "set in stone" schedule with each weekday being assigned a specific topic. I hope this will encourage you to visit often. So here goes: Mondays will feature an art posting, Tuesday's feature will be literature/original writings/books, etc. Wednesdays will feature music, Thursdays food, and Friday will feature art.... again. It's my favorite topic.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A New Short Story From Gretchen DeStefano

Punchbowl Kiss

She went to the party anyway, despite her better judgment. The couple in the neighboring townhome invited her a week back doing their best to sway her reply with promise of, “a laidback atmosphere, good food and drink, and a few other singles,”... like herself. The “s” word sprung on her like a cat with claws; a reminder of her isolated life in a spotless townhouse working from her home computer day in and out living an unremarkable 35 year-old’s existence. Feeling the pressure of their good-natured invitation, Pamela conceded and rode in the mid-section of Jill and Terry’s mini-van. She listened to their explanation of their choice in vehicles, referring to their want of filling it with many giggly, sticky faces in the near future.

The large oak door opened upon their arrival with a lovely hostess full of hugs and kisses. She was packaged like a cherry chocolate in rich browns all cinched in at her waist with a delicious red bow. Soft jazz rhythms moved with their pace as Pamela towed the line through the long corridor to the dining room. The long narrow room’s expanse was marked with an antique mahogany table filled with platters, plates, and three tiered stands of savories and sweets. A bit of comfort wedged her in as the room projected dim light from a low crystal chandelier and white flickering candles. Party guests bustled and bumped filling their white china plates with small hills of food. As coats were taken, she scoped out a corner chair in the darkest nook of the room which she silently claimed as her spot for the evening. This was as social as she’d gotten for months and the best she could do.

Jill and Terry introduced her as their friend and neighbor to the incoming droves. Flurries of names and titles went passed her like the wind. They waved her after them to a room across the hall with cream colored loungers topped with black licorice throws. Pamela made a gesture to indicate she’d be there in a minute as her neighbors were ushered in by a very large man with a jovial laugh. Nervously smoothing her black satin skirt that stuck to her black hose, she moved around the grazing hub to her marked destination. Feeling clumsy in her new simple black pumps, Pamela reached for the arm of the high-back dining room chair simultaneously as a wooly bearded man turned to exit. A splash of cool, sticky juice fell onto her forearm dotting the sangria colored blouse she wore. Apologies were made as he dabbed at her nervously, shredding the white paper napkin against the frail silk. She gave a reassuring nod and smile sending him on his way sheepishly.

Pamela practically fell into the chair, more self-conscious now, with her newly obtained polka-dot pattern on her right sleeve. She felt better now, a bit safer from the jolly herd and eased into her wallflower position she knew so well. She scanned the room watching the ebb and flow of bodies like an amateur ballroom dance. Funny, she thought, how the dim lights made everyone look so appealing, making their flaws seem like intentional muted beauty. A glimpse of relief doused her thinking her own flaws must be muted too, as she ran a finger lightly over the deep ridge of tough skin traveling from the corner of her right eye to the corner of her mouth. It shadowed the right side of her face like a crescent moon never relinquishing to the sunrise. The scar was the constant reminder of past abuses and hatred masquerading as love and affection. This is what made Pamela accustomed to taking in other’s moments while her own lie buried deep within the rutted skin.

Shifting herself to obtain a better view of the far side of the room, Pamela was suddenly aware of the true villain of her stiffly drying blouse. An enormous punchbowl center pieced a square side table just a few feet from where she sat. The glass bowl was etched with simple flowers and deep grooves that caught the candlelight giving the impression it was on fire. Deep red liquid was heavy on the bottom diffusing upward into various shades of pink and peach. Raspberries floated through its middle suspended in a perfect circle of an ice ring which bobbed as thirsty imbibers ladled through its depths. She was mesmerized by it. So many shades of color poured into a small sparkling cup seemed to add glow to the ones partaking.

Pamela knew she’d have to take the risk and move from her safe perch to get a better look at this simple magic. She moved stiffly, transfixed on her destination. She stood directly in front of the shimmering elixir, as most others had moved on to other rooms. She wondered at the mix of hues and put her hands on the etched bowl. The deeply carved grooves acted as a prism for the low lighting sending a spray of rainbow pattern onto the white tablecloth on which it sat. Again, Pamela ran her finger down the mark on her face wishing it too could reflect the light from an outward source.

Regaining knowledge of her surroundings, she turned to take up her bystander’s post. A gentle tap on her shoulder was felt and Pamela assumed Jill and Terry were doing a check on her social well-being. Turning with a faint smile and a sigh, she saw a sparkling cup of punch held by a man with a closely shaven beard and dark silver streaked hair. She had not noticed him before and saw he too had small dark circles dotting the right sleeve of his crisp white shirt. He offered the small cup but she stood, not engaging. He quickly explained he had noticed her across the room and pointed to the only other lone chair in a diagonal corner.
“I saw you going back to your chair, but you had forgotten your punch,” he offered the cup again, cautiously smiling.

Somehow, after the initial awkwardness Pamela felt, their conversation flowed. Paul, as he introduced himself, disarmed her with his gentle speech and interest in her responses. They sipped countless glimmering cups of punch as he refilled each one when they neared emptying. Maybe hours had passed, maybe only minutes, but soon the hallway shook and rattled with sounds of coats sorted and kisses goodbye. She knew, soon, the lights would glare and she would be revealed as damaged. Still, her anxiety seemed at bay; maybe lying under the sloshing beverage filling her stomach.

Paul ladled the last bit of the thick, deep punch from the bowl’s bottom, now peppered with the floating fruit’s seeds. Pamela raised it to her lips for the last sip, ready to dash as she watched the chandelier for her exit cue. Paul gently took the cup out of her hand and placed it on the now stained white tablecloth. Then, he kissed her. A sugary fruit laced kiss, light and tender as he traced the grooved scar along her face. Pamela realized a long trapped moment of her own was escaping under the tough skin and felt a bit of light radiating her face. This punchbowl kiss released a bit of her bitter heart.

Friday, February 6, 2009

On the Menu at the Art House Cafe-Chicken and Canellini Bean Soup with Herbed Puff Pastry Sticks

I love soup! Especially during this time of year, a hot bowl of soup is as comforting as it is yummy-and the best part about it is, you can throw just about anything you want into it. So, here's my idea of a great chicken soup with a little something extra on the side.

2 baked split chicken breasts, shredded

2 carrots cut into 1/2 in pieces

2 stalks of celery cut into 1/2 in pieces

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 onion (yellow or Spanish) minced

2 1qt cans of chicken stock

2 15.5 oz cans of canellini beans, drained

3-4 Tbsp of tomato paste

salt and pepper to taste

1-1/2 tsp dried Italian seasoning

2 Tbsp olive oil

1. Saute the garlic and onions in the olive oil in a large pot or stock pot on medium-low heat until transparent.

2. Add the celery and carrots and saute for a minute or two longer.

3. Add the chicken stock, chicken, tomato paste, and seasonings.

4. Cover and cook on medium-low heat for about an hour.

5. Add the beans and cook for another 20-30 minutes.

Herbed Puff Pastry Sticks

1 sheet of puff pastry dough, thawed

Pinch of coarse salt

1 tsp dried Italian seasoning

Pinch of black pepper

1 Tbsp olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet, then place the sheet of puff pastry on the parchment paper and cut into approximately 1 inch strips. Then separate the strips and place them about an inch apart.

3. Using a mortar and pestal or a bowl and the back of a spoon, gently grind the seasonings together with the olive oil.

4. Brush the mixture over the puff pastry strips and bake for 15 minutes or until golden.


Monday, February 2, 2009

About Pablo

Mention the name Picasso and visions of nearly undecipherable Cubist works and awkwardly abstract, almost nonsensical figures may immediately flood your imagination. You know they are masterpieces, because they were created by Picasso, even though you don't know exactly why. Some of his abstracts look almost naively simplistic-you're pretty confident you could do just as well. But there was genius behind those deceptively simple works, and rigorous training deeply rooted in the basic foundation of drawing. Throughout his career his work was based on remarkable drawing skills and a keen understanding of color. He could paint remarkably realistic figures-so unlike what we automatically think of when we hear his name. It's understood that you can't abstract the human figure in a polished, believable manner until you master the human form itself. Picasso mastered the human form a thousand times over. You can see the genius of his draughtsmanship even in the most simplistic, abstracted paintings. So I invite you to rediscover a Picasso you may not be all that familiar with. Focus on his work from his Blue and Rose Periods, and his harlequin and acrobat pieces. They exude grace and life.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

New at the ArtHouse Cafe- Writings by Gretchen Kuntz De Stefano

Tell Me Baby; What’s Your Story?

I am convinced we all have a story. Most of us have shared excerpts of our lives in numerous ways. We tell our tragedies, victories, and fantasies to close friends over cups of mediocre coffee. We reconnect with relatives catching up at tedious family reunions. Our co-workers go off on monologues of current fiascos and we interrupt with empathic renditions of our own.

These stories, reflections, accounts are our way of communicating our life’s meaning. We want to confirm our being, our existence chronicled some way. Some of us are great story-tellers. The listener can tear up at our latest disappointment by our inflection and tone. They can delight with us in humor as we relay our klutzy behavior at a cocktail party or convey how the piece of spinach remained coating our front teeth while flirting at a bar.

The extrovert shares a lot of these antidotes, usually unsolicited. It’s easy to know where they are in life, who they love, how they will bring misery to a foe, or how, when having too many Alabama Slammers, they grabbed the band’s mic and sang “We are Family” at Cousin Marcy’s reception. Of course, it can reach the TMI (too much information) zone. Daily play-by-plays of little Billy’s high scoring at all the soccer games, remodeling plans that involve intricate ceramic tile details, and the foot fungus that plagues them, backed up with visual evidence!

Most of us have experienced the dreaded holiday letter summarizing, in 1,000 words or less, a year’s worth of triumphs and challenges. Mostly triumphs, however. The dream job, vacation of a lifetime...blah, blah. Disgusted or enthralled, we read on and take in another’s words and voice, putting another notch in the timeline and draw our own conclusions of the writer’s intent.

We are not all outspoken, of course. The introvert is journaling in a well-worn spiral notebook from his/her bedside table. A day in the life inked on the paper noting habits, disgraces, and small accomplishments. Forever in print, the realness of their journey takes meaning. Maybe even a hidden desire that someone, in a distant future, will stumble across their memoir and give proclamation to their earthly stint.

The ways of communicating our lives are endless. Texting, e-mailing, blogging, and web pages dedicated to our spaces and our faces are now our tools. Cheers to the person who still sees the charm in archaic ink and parchment! We are still seeking the same age-old result; to tell our story, to have another hear, take interest, and, above all, agree we exist.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On The Menu At The ArtHouse Cafe

Well, here's my first food feature (this is a cafe, afterall!) Now, I don't know about you, but I am always on the lookout for the perfect brownie. It's one of my favorite desserts; it can be casual with a tall glass of cold milk, or sophisticated with a steamy hot espresso-YUM! Here's a recipe I found in a great cookbook called "Ten-All the Foods We Love...and 10 Recipes for Each", by Sheila Lukins, and its actually from a Brooklyn, NY bakery aptly named Baked. ENJOY!!

Brooklyn Brownies

3/4 cups all purpose flour

1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 stick unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the pan

3/4 tsp instant espresso powder

5 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

3/4 c granulated sugar

1/4 c packed light brown sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 tsp vanilla etract

3/4 c semisweet chocolate chips (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8 in.x 8in. baking pan. Line the pan with wax or parchment paper, then butter the paper.

2. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, and salt together in a medium size bowl; set aside.

3. Combine the butter and espresso powder in a large heavy saucepan. Place the pan over low heat and stir until the butter has melted. Add the chocolate and stir constantly until the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add both sugars, stirring until well combined.

4. Add the eggs, one at a time, to the chocolate mixture. Then add the vanilla and continue stirring until it is well incorporated and the mixture no longer appears grainy.

5. Gradually add the flour mixture to the batter, stirring until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips, if using.

6. Scrape the batter into the prepared baking pan. Smooth the top with a spatula or the back of a wooden spoon. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs, 28-30 minutes. Be sure not to overbake the brownie.

7. Let the brownie cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Carefully remove from the pan and peel off the wax paper, cut into 9 squares. Store the brownies, covered with wax paper, in a tightly covered tin in a cool, dry place for up to 1 week.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Are You an Objective Observer? (How Do You Connect To Art?- part two)

In my last post I talked about narrative being an obstacle in fully appreciating a piece of art. Speaking as a painter, if I write about a painting I've done, I am, in a sense influencing you to see the piece as I see it. Should I want to do that? Clyfford Still refused to even title his paintings because he did not want to influence the viewer. He even forbade anyone from writing about his work, which stemmed, in part, from his contempt for art critics, but again, he wanted the viewer to be free to interpret his work. You may think to yourself, "but you painted it, I want to know what it means, and I want to hear your explanation". But I think an artist's life experiences have more value in "explaining" their work than even anything they themselves would write. Our own life experiences allow us to empathize, love, hate, and sympathize with others, and ultimately that serves to connect us in some way. So does an artist's character, personality, life have any bearing on how you connect to their work? Is it possible to separate the artist from the art and be a purely objective viewer? My gut reaction is no, because when someone creates something, be it a painting, sculpture, a book- whatever, a piece of them is in that creation. It's a very personal, courageous way to speak. When you feel yourself drawn to a particular painting, you naturally want to know more about the artist- that's just human nature. For example, the notion of the "tortured artist" is very intriguing, and perhaps it does influence us on some level. Does knowing that an artist suffered from mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction, or some other physical ailment make their work more interesting than the work of a happily married housewife? Perhaps. I think it may depend in part on what you identify with, or what you are drawn to. According to Tom Ludwig (whose article I referred to in the previous post) we need to be objective when viewing art. But let me play devil's advocate here: is it really possible?

Friday, January 23, 2009

How Do You Connect To Art?

I recently read an article by Tom Ludwig entitled "The importance of flatness and self-containment in the visual arts". Quite a long essay, but he addressed some very important points about the relationship between the artist and viewer, the role of the critic, new expectations that have been placed upon the artist, what we should expect from the visual arts and how these factors influence how we connect to art. I must quote Tom Ludwig's opening sentence, because it sums up what I feel has been lost in contemporary times. He states, "In the best art, the image triumphs over the narrative; the visual triumphs over the cerebral." As artists, (and I'm not speaking soley about visual artists, because I imagine musicians face the same expectations as well), it seems that the image (or the piece of music) is no longer enough- it seems like connecting to a work of art purely on an emotional level no longer suffices. As a visual artist, I am expected to write an "artist's statement"-an explanation of what influences my work, what I am exploring through my work, why I paint the way I paint, what that says about my work....(you get the picture). I'm fine with that-it's kind of an introduction to me and to my work. But I think that's where the "narrative" should stop. Because now, a great deal of importance is placed on an explanation of each individual painting. The end product isn't permitted to speak for itself, now we need to explain all the reasons we had for creating the piece in the first place and what we are trying to say, why we chose red paint over blue paint, etc. all to aid the viewer in connecting to the work itself. WHAT? In this case, words just get in the way. To be honest, sometimes I'm not trying to say anything, and I don't have a particular reason for painting a certain piece other than I just felt like it. Of course, something obviously inspired me to paint a particular piece, but as the person looking at the painting do you really need a written explanation about all that in order to fully appreciate it? I don't think the viewer is being given much credit here. Aside from the fact that I painted the piece, leave me out of it. Just look at the painting and let it say to you whatever it wants to say. Connect to it on whatever level your emotions guide you to. Isn't that the true role of art? There's so much that can be debated about this topic, I may have to continue in another post, but in the mean time-what do you think?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Abstract Expressionism

I recently read an article in the latest issue of ArtNews about Clyfford Still, the Abstract Expressionist painter and it got me thinking about that movement as a whole. Now, I have to admit, that Abstract Expressionism was never a movement that particularly interested me (from a stylistic perspective), but I appreciate the fact that it was a purely American movement, and I understand the desire the Abstract Expressionists had to break free of the viewed constraints of representational art and embrace a new approach . I think abstract art requires a very open mind to be fully appreciated, and I've heard countless people say, "I don't get it". At times I've agreed with them (I hate to admit). On a recent trip to New York I had the opportunity to go to the MoMA and the Metropolitan and stand face to face with some monumental Abstract Expressionist works. It's a breathtaking moment when you see paintings that, until that very moment, you've only seen in books. It's quite easy to overlook a painting that's represented by an 2 in. by 2 in. picture, but in person, they take on an entirely new meaning for you, and in that one trip I think I gained a whole new perspective on Abstract Expressionism. Whether it be the spontaneity of Pollack, the spirituality of Rothko, the grotesque figures of Kandinsky's Woman series, or the flames of color bursting through the canvases of Clyfford Still, I suddenly felt like "I got it". For someone who somewhat favors representational art, and whose own art falls under that category, abstract art can be a challenge to understand. What I think the great thing about Abstract Expressionism is, is that it doesn't really need grandiose explanations or interpretations. All that's required is that you open your eyes and your mind and feel. Here's a quote by Clyfford still that I just love: "To be stopped by a frame's edge is intolerable" . If you look at his art, you'll know exactly what he meant.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Welcome to the ArtHouse Cafe

If there was one thing I could choose to do in addition to painting, it would be to own my own cafe. In my dream I would make the food (nothing too elaborate, but sophisticated and scrumptious all the same), play really cool music, create an eclectic atmosphere with cozy lived in furniture, my own original artwork (as well as that of other local artists) peppering the walls, and an ever-changing, ever-growing library of books and magazines for my patrons to enjoy as they sat back and experienced the ambiance.

So, this is the next best thing. I've decided not to wait around for a "brick and mortar" building to house my dream cafe. This blog will do quite nicely. This will be the place where all my interests will converge-music, food, books and articles, and especially art. In the coming weeks I'll be posting new works of art, talking about food (and offering the occasional recipe), and discussing music and books. I hope you'll join me!