For FALL 2010's delicious offerings of books, art, food, film, and unique travel--check out the NEW ISSUE of our online magazine FEAST--you will not go away hungry-- http://www.feastofbooks.com/

Between issues, read our blog posts as we and our special guests share thoughts, ideas, and recommendations about books, art, food, film, and travel. We love to hear from our readers, so please post a comment! Thanks-- Rosemary Carstens, editor

SNAX ONLINE is moving during the first quarter of 2011 -- stay tuned!

Snax Online is undergoing a redesign and will be moving to a new location. Check back from time to time for a link. In its new format, this blog will cover a wider range of topics but also its usual five. In the meantime, keep up with what's happening in the world of books, art, food, film, and travel at http://www.FEASTofBooks.com --

See you in 2011!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2010—Balancing Body, Brain, and Spirit

This is my last post of 2009. I’ve been lucky in that my work has gone well this year. With this economy and the seemingly chaotic state of the world today, I feel grateful that I still have a home, creative work that I love, and that those who matter most to me are doing well. It’s also been a year of personal challenges, with family members fighting illnesses, dealing with my own not-as-reliable body, trying not to be overwhelmed with anxiety about the future. It’s time to reflect on the past 12 months and plan for the months to come. I hope when you’ve read this, you’ll take a moment to comment and let me know at least one thing you plan to strive for this coming year. Put it out there and make it happen!

Many people tell me they don’t like to make New Year’s resolutions because they just feel they’ve failed when they don’t carry through. I’ve always made resolutions, but see them more as an attempt to shape my life’s direction, not as an imperative. And I’m flexible about them—if I start ambitiously down a path and see it’s not for me, I turn back and take another route. Agility not rigidity is the way to go.

The key word for me in 2010 is “BALANCE.” Some years I have burned out completely from too many hours at the computer, too many projects with pressured deadlines, too much “monkey brain” thinking about things I cannot control. In those times, I let my physical fitness slide, don’t paint or draw, scan books instead of absorbing them thoughtfully, drink and eat too much, and leave my spiritual life sitting on the roadside waiting for a long-overdue ride.

It’s said that speaking or writing about your goals helps to solidify them, so here are mine in the three areas I want to balance:

1. BODY: I used to work out five days a week. Now I can’t or the body protests and I end up with injuries. But I’ve worked out a pretty good, doable plan that I’ll try to hold to in 2010. Beginning the week with an active-style yoga, which keeps me pretty much pain free, rest a day, work out in my home gym for an hour, including 30 minutes of aerobics, free weights, abs and pushups, plus stretches at the end. Rest a day, then wind up the work week with either a long walk, a Latin Aerobics class, or some other keepin’-a-move-on activity. And, oh yes, I want to do more motorcycle riding in 2010. Right alongside this admittedly moderate program is its important twin, diet. More fruits and vegetables, less red meat, avoidance of processed foods.

2. BRAIN: Even though I’m blonde, I still want a high level of brain action to go with a functioning body! I get a pretty strong mental workout with my writing and editing and all the books I read to review in FEAST. I edit a lot of scholarly topics, so I’m always learning from experts about topics I’d otherwise know nothing about. But I’d like to take another class, maybe something like Photoshop that requires both brain and hand and eye coordination, something fun but challenging!

3. SPIRIT: This is the one that always seems to slip to the side when I’m busy—and yet it’s probably the most important one. For me, this is not about religion, but it IS about finding ways to find beauty in ordinary things, being inspired to be more content with living more simply, taking in the wonder of the outdoors, listening better, supporting those I love, coming closer to the bar when it comes to living up to my beliefs. I try to feed this part of my life through reading inspirational books, hanging out with people I admire and can learn from, avoiding negative people and activities, looking beyond myself to see if I can make a difference in small ways.

Oh, I know, this looks like a ton of stuff to try to do, but it’s pretty much the same things I put on the list every year. I never get it all just right, but just like with motorcycling, the journey’s the thing, not the destination. I love this journey and hope it continues to shape me, show me the ropes, excite me, and carry me forward for all the years to come!

Now, tell me your dreams for 2010!

Happy New Year!
Rosemary Carstens

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Movie Time: 2009's Best DVDs featured in FEAST

Winter and the quieter time following the holidays--what better time to curl up with a bowl of popcorn and your favorite person and spend an afternoon or evening watching movies. Here are six of my favorite DVDs, featured in FEAST this year, to give you ideas. These are not meant to be "movie of the year" selections, but films that might have had a smaller distribution, been relatively unknown, or perhaps you missed them because they were not surrounded by Hollywood hype. I hope you find something to entertain you--

Iron-Jawed Angels (2004). For 8 years in the early 1920s, a group of determined suffragettes led by Alice Paul (played beautifully by Hilary Swank) and Lucy Burns (Frances O’Connor) organized to pressure the US government to adopt a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote. The abuse and mental and physical challenges they faced are heartbreaking and an important part of our history that should not be overlooked or forgotten. Entering WWI under the guise of bringing democracy to other countries when so many in the US were still disenfranchised is hypocrisy that continues today. The brutality against these women who only wanted some say in their own destiny and that of their children is shocking. But this is no boring, dry documentary, as some are, but instead a beautifully crafted and dramatic film with strong acting that makes the story real for a greater number of people. Not to be missed! An HBO original drama directed by Katja von Garnier. Available on DVD.

Sketches of Frank Gehry (2005). Frank Gehry’s friend and director Sydney Pollack made what could have been a dull tale of history and buildings into a more intimate portrait of a man and his creations. I found it fascinating! Gehry’s story about his life and how he came to create imaginative, magnificent buildings that gleam against their landscape is one of hardship, anti-Semitism, and determination to follow his own dream. Since Pollack was neither knowledgeable about architecture nor a documentarian at the time, he brings a very personal sensibility to the film that I, as a layperson, found totally appealing. Pollack’s recent passing makes this ode to his friend even more poignant.

The Painted Veil (2006). Based on the classic novel by Somerset Maugham, the title of this film is taken from Percy Bysshe Shelley's sonnet that begins “Lift not the painted veil which those who live/call life.” The Painted Veil is a love story set in the 1920s that tells the story of a young English couple, Walter (Edward Norton), a middle class doctor, and Kitty (Naomi Watts), an upper-class woman, who get married for the wrong reasons and relocate to Shanghai, where she falls in love with someone else. When he uncovers her infidelity, in an act of vengeance, he accepts a job in a remote village in China ravaged by a deadly epidemic, and forces her to come along. Their journey brings meaning to their relationship and gives them purpose in a remote and wildly beautiful region. This film is not only visually breathtaking, it is a touching story well acted.

Herb & Dorothy (2009). Directed by first-time filmmaker Megumi Sasaki. To see Herb and Dorothy Vogel today, you’d never guess they have built one of the most important contemporary art collections in the United States. Oh, you say, well, those who have it can do it. But that’s not the case here, which is part of what makes their collection and the two of them so very unique. This is a love story. Herb spent his working years as a postal clerk and Dorothy as a librarian. By living on her paycheck alone, they were able to indulge their interest in Minimalist and Conceptual art by spending his salary on works of unknown artists that they liked. They had two rules: the piece had to be affordable and it had to be small enough to fit into their one-bedroom Manhattan apartment. As time went on, the second of the rules became a challenge as by the time this film was made there was little furniture and only “paths” winding among the more than 2,000 pieces they had accumulated—and they shared the space with 19 turtles, a school of fish, and at least one cat. What they “liked” proved to be prophetic as the chosen artists became better and better known, now sought after at significantly higher prices by other collectors. Today their collection’s value runs into the millions. It’s an uplifting, amazing story and the film has won award after award at the festivals!

Trailer: http://www.metacafe.com/watch/2910339/herb_and_dorothy_movie_trailer/

Swimmers (2005). An indie film set in coastal Maryland. Eleven-year-old Emma needs an expensive operation, which puts mounting pressure on a family barely making ends meet. When underlying tensions start pulling her parents and brothers apart, Emma turns to an emotionally haunted young woman for friendship. This is a fine story about good people who make some bad decisions, and the healing that irreversible family feeling can bring about.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XD-qhHDGuCs

The Secret Life of Words (2005). Directed by Isabel Coixet, starring Sarah Polley and Tim Robbins, with a small part by Julie Christie. A hearing-impaired factory worker, a refugee from former Yogoslavia, gives up her first holiday in years when she volunteers to nurse an accident victim on an oil rig off the coast. Josef (Robbins), who was temporarily blinded during a fire on board, tries to get to know his taciturn nurse. Slowly a strange sort of intimacy develops and they share secrets, lies, truths, humor, and pain, from which neither will emerge unscathed.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dAJUEngedA

Detailed introduction by director Isabel Coixet: http://www.irct.org/news---media/latest-irct-news/the-irct-in-the-media/the-secret-life-of-words/video-isabel-coixet-introducing-the-film.aspx

-- Rosemary Carstens
Editor, FEAST

Sunday, December 13, 2009

NONFICTION for the holidays . . .

Here are six nonfiction books that are among the best featured in FEAST in 2009. Any one of them would make a welcome gift for those that love this genre!

Central Park in the Dark: More Mysteries of Urban Wildlife, Marie Winn. Picador 2009. Remember the story of the Pale Male, the Red-Tailed Hawk in New York City that drew the attention of so many? Marie Winn wrote the book Red-Tails in Love. Now she explores further details of a natural world that flourishes in the midst of a massive city, a world of nocturnal beasts, insects, and slugs, a dark teeming ecosphere hidden twixt and tween the bright lights and traffic of Fifth Avenue and Central Park West. As Elizabeth Royte of the New York Times, says, “I’d follow Winn into the park at any hour.”

Power in the Blood: A Family Narrative, Linda Tate (Ohio University Press 2009). This fascinating new book traces the author’s journey to rediscover the Cherokee-Appalachian branch of her family and provides an unflinching examination of the poverty, discrimination, and family violence that marked their lives. Although it is a memoir, Tate had to “imagine” some of the details of her search for her family’s story. She did it beautifully. With all the facts and memories woven in, her research over many years in Appalachia made the imagined parts more informed than not. She also used pseudonyms for some family members who may not have wanted their stories shared. But, in essence, this is Linda’s story, her life, and her family through generations. The writing is lively and compelling and at times she is painfully honest about childhood events. But it is the spare beauty of that honesty that makes this book extraordinary.

Finding Beauty in a Broken World, Terry Tempest Williams. Pantheon 2008. Terry Tempest Williams has written an artful book, fashioned like the mosaics she uses throughout as analogies. At first it may seem that she is writing of disparate topics, yet as the volume continues, the reader begins to see they are all related, all are essential pieces of the whole. She writes openly and honestly about some very difficult personal and global issues—from environmental challenges and prairie dogs at risk of extinction in the United States to repeated genocides in Rwanda, from life-risking efforts to save lives to global indifference at human suffering—and she frames it in terms of the healing that can come from art, love, and compassion. A truly lovely book that provides insight and much to contemplate. For more information on this author: http://www.coyoteclan.com/

The Secret of the Great Pyramid: How One Man’s Obsession led to the Solution of Ancient Egypt’s Greatest Mystery, Bob Brier and Jean-Pierre Houdin. HarperCollins 2008. This is an absolutely fascinating story about how French Architect Jean-Pierre Houdin and his wife became obsessed by the mystery of how the Great Pyramid was built. Using advanced 3-D modeling, Houdin worked ten hours a day for five years to finally discover evidence that the pyramid, contrary to all previous theories, had been built from the inside via a mile-long, corkscrewing ramp, unseen for 4,500 years! I could not set this story down. Through forensic architecture, Houdin and a team of others (who joined the journey as his ideas became known) made discoveries that supported the mounting evidence. The technology alone that is used is amazing and what it will continue to reveal next makes the imagination fly. Easily readable, not at all dry, if you get into this book, don’t skip the appendices OR the end notes—both just add to the experience. A case of truth being stranger (and more absorbing) than fiction.

Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness, Tracy Kidder. Random House 2009. Tracy Kidder, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Robert F. Kennedy Award, and many other literary prizes, is a thorough professional and engaging writer of nonfiction. He picks the hard topics and struggles to portray his subjects without bias, to tell their story instead of his—an exceptional quality in times when personal spin has gained greater acceptance in society. This is an astounding story of one survivor of genocide in the small African country of Berundia—against all odds and through providential events—who manages to escape the violence and come to the United States. Kidder writes a deep exploration of what horror can do to the human psyche, the fight to remain human and to achieve a measure of success in spite of one’s past. The story of Deogratias (Thanks to God) puts an individual human face on events so massive, so brutal, as to be nearly incomprehensible. It is, indeed, a story of a people’s terror and loss, but it is also a story of regeneration and of hope that such stories can one day end.

Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story, Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor. Viking 2009. This book about the power of travel to birth spiritual connections and inspire creativity is jointly written by a mother-daughter team, giving us a generational perspective on a series of events they experienced during travel to France and Greece over a period of years. Sue’s journey begins as she approaches her fiftieth birthday and begins to realize she is ending an era as a younger woman and entering a period of transition that will move her toward her eldest years. She finds herself seeking spiritual guidance from feminine symbols and icons, hoping for new directions in her work, greater understanding and closeness to her daughter, and a graceful entry into the next stage of her life. Ann’s journey is also a period of transition, one from loss and rejection that culminates in a search for the work she is meant to do. The icons and symbols that guide her are different from her mother’s but in their mutual search they discover each other anew as adult women. It’s an inspiring book, thoughtfully written, and one I very much enjoyed. It provides a framework for seeking transitions and destinations for any woman who wants to enhance the meaningfulness of her years.

Happy Holidays to all and happy reading in 2010!

-- Rosemary Carstens
Editor, FEAST

Friday, December 04, 2009

Come Bearing Books at the holidays . . . FICTION

Low-tech gifts may not be in fashion, but the gift of a book opens the gate to another world and allows the most amazing interactive computer of all history—our brains—to enter other worlds, live other lives, and enrich our knowledge of the universe. Through books we can fly far beyond our daily concerns, solve crimes, fall in love, be an adventurer, gain greater understanding of ourselves and others. Books are gifts that require no batteries, have no plastic parts to break off or malfunction, and they remain ever-ready to tell us stories again and again.

Throughout each year, FEAST online magazine suggests books for your enjoyment and we strive to remind you of gems that have fallen from the headlines in a rapidly moving publishing world. We hope you’ll buy books for family, friends, AND yourself this holiday season.

Here ar
e a few of our favorites in FICTION for 2009. Check back next week for our recommendations in nonfiction. If you have others to recommend, please leave us a comment!

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski. HarperCollins 2008. A unique book by an incredible writer, it’s monumental in length at 561 pages and is not a book you race through for story only—it’s stories within stories, each to be savored, if for no other reason than the writing, the descriptive prose, the deft handling of words. Edgar Sawtelle is mute from birth and grows up on a remote farm, an only child, using a personal sign language to communicate with his parents. The Sawtelle’s raise dogs and over generations have created a breed of superior intelligence, temperament, and training. What happens when Edgar’s father dies suddenly under mysterious circumstances and a domino fall of events, including a disliked uncle offering his mother comfort as she grieves, leads Edgar to run away from home with three of his pups trailing behind. The depth of discussion about the dogs, their training, the North Country landscape, and the exploration of love, grief, and loneliness will stay with you long after the last page.

Goldengrove, Francine Prose. HarperCollins 2008. Goldengrove is a finely written literary tale about a young girl who loses her closest and dearest friend—her sister—and what the unthinkable does to her and her family. It’s a story of becoming unmoored, of drifting rudderless through unfamiliar and unimaginable events, of learning to go on when there is a hole in your heart, in your family, that can never be entirely stitched back together again. Told from the viewpoint of Niko, a thirteen-year-old girl, Prose writes brilliantly and deeply about loss, love, and the mysteries of death.

Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese. Knopf 2009. An engaging family saga. Even at more than 500 pages from its opening prologue to the very last word of his attributions, this author will capture your attention. He framed his story of this family in two unique ways: through the history and culture of Ethiopia and through the history and development of certain aspects of medicine. Not only is this the story of two boys born to a nun, fathered by a surgeon, and left behind to grow up in a warm adoptive family as part of a medical community in a country at war with itself, but it is the story of becoming a stranger in your own land. These are well-developed characters you care deeply about, yet at times despise their weaknesses. It is a story of compassion, betrayal, family love, and, above all, the flawed but magnificent qualities of being human. Author’s website: http://www.abrahamverghese.com

Home, Marilynne Robinson. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 2008. If you love to linger over excellent writing and character development, I promise you a thought-provoking book you’ll long remember. This is a story about the conflicts of love when children are not who we think they should be, when a child feels alien in a family even though it’s a loving one. Robinson explores the struggles of a minister to love all of his children equally, even his prodigal son. And her key character, the man’s youngest daughter, finds herself a bridge between father and son even as she fears she may have to let go of her own long-held dreams to give them hope.

The Madonnas of Leningrad, Debra Dean. William Morrow 2006. A delightful discovery! While this is ostensibly a story about one young woman’s dire circumstances during the Siege of Leningrad, it is more deeply a story about the power of the mind, the richness that can still be present when all else fades away. Carefully researched, it provides remarkable detail about the lives of a small group of workers who stayed on throughout the siege at the Hermitage Museum, the deprivations they suffered, the efforts of some to retain “memory palaces” of all the magnificent art that once hung on its walls, and the effects on all of a once vibrant city brought to its knees by the Germans during the harshest winter on record.

Little Bee, Chris Cleave. Simon & Schuster 2008. An unusual story of life and payback, sacrifice and self-interest, woven around a violent chance meeting between two women on a beach in Nigeria. Chance can test your mettle, polish it or tarnish it—the tale of how these two women’s lives intermingled and the complexities of survival will give you plenty to think about long after the outcome is known. Cleave leads readers to reach a specific conclusion about events and then, drop by drop, bit by bit, provides detail that forces a reevaluation. Deep and provocative, a complete page turner. Author’s website: http://www.chriscleave.com

The Spare Room, Helen Garner. Henry Holt 2008. This small book is a rare jewel. Although fiction, it is written so directly, and so honestly that it rings with truth. Naming the main character “Helen,” the author makes us believe this is her story, and maybe it is. Maybe it is potentially the story of all of us. Helen’s friend Nicole comes to Melbourne to stay for two weeks and seek alternative therapy for serious illness. Becoming nurse, advisor, perhaps protector of Nicole are not roles Helen relishes and she finds her emotional and physical energy depleted as her reactions swing from outright rage to unbearable grief. Here a caretaker speaks openly about feelings we seldom hear discussed, using fiction as a vehicle for discussing our universal difficulties in dealing with death. Very moving, very compelling—a story beautifully told.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford. Ballentine 2009. Story, story, story—combined with skillful writing, it is story that draws people in and makes them care about a book’s characters. Beyond that, a new spin on a topic long discussed can make us think freshly about historical events and their impacts. Jamie Ford does all of this in his debut novel about a young Chinese boy, whose father is vehemently against all things Japanese because of brutal Japanese attacks on his homeland, and a young Japanese girl whose family becomes caught up in WWII internment raids in Seattle. In the opening scene, Henry (the boy, now in his fifties and a widower) is sharply reminded of an earlier era when a basement full of Japanese belongings is discovered during a construction project at the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. Following Henry’s story as Ford moves agilely back and forth between present and forty years earlier, we gather insight into the difficulties for all families of Asian descent in a country at war and the extreme tactics employed to “defend the US against attack.” A marvelous story—warm, insightful, and filled with hope that love can survive against all odds. Author’s website: http://www.jamieford.com

Secret Son, Laila Lalami. Algonquin 2009. Raised in the slums of Casablanca, Youssef El Mekki has been told all his life his father died when he was very young. Youssef longs for a father’s love and influence in his life and dreams of a future when, with an education, he can escape the stench and poverty of his neighborhood. One day, by chance, he discovers that his father is not dead, but instead a wealthy, married businessman who abandoned his mother when she became pregnant. Youssef, too, abandons her as he moves toward what he thinks will be a brighter future under the guidance of a suave and sophisticated father. But events and vested interests beyond his control or knowledge reverse his circumstances and he is once more back hanging around on the street corner with his unemployed childhood friends. What happens to a young man who has seen the careless extravagance of wealth and privilege in a society with deep class divisions, where the poor bear the burdens of indifference? Lalami explores this highly pertinent issue in a story that will answer questions about the seemingly siren call of extremism at the same time that it breaks your heart. Author’s website: http://www.lailalalami.com


-- Rosemary Carstens
Editor, FEAST

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cooking Up Holiday Gifts . . .

COOKBOOKS MAKE GREAT HOLIDAY GIFTS for those who love to entertain or are simply interested in the joy of preparing fine, interesting food for their families. Often, a cookbook tells stories (my favorite kind) about the author and the recipes, the countries and people the recipes originated with, or the experiment that yielded a favorite meal. Others are guides to ingredient sources along with creative recipes. Available through any independent bookstore, here are five that I especially enjoyed this year and will include among the gifts I give:

A PLATTER OF FIGS and Other Recipes, David Tanis (Artisan Books 2009). Six months of each year, David Tanis is head chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA, where he’s worked since the 1980s for legendary Alice Waters. The other half of the year he’s in Paris preparing meals in a 6x10-foot galley kitchen in his 17th-century apartment. This book was conceived from his belief that the best meals are simple, easily prepared, and served without too much fuss. I blogged about this book earlier this year at http://carstensfeast.blogspot.com/2009/07/platter-of-figs-joy-of-eating.html. Check out his recipe for festive, juicy Scallops a la plancha.

CLEAN FOOD: A Seasonal Guide to Eating Close to the Source, Terry Walters (Sterling Epicure 2009). Thinking it’s time to break away from processed foods loaded with preservatives and other chemicals? Walters has written an easy-to-follow guide to eating closer to food sources, cooking and preparing meals based on the best and freshest locally grown ingredients. Includes an introduction about various foods to help you understand why choosing organic over conventionally produced foods is more healthful and how even small changes, over time, can make a difference in how you feel. The recipes are the frosting on the cake! To learn more about Walters: http://www.terryskitchen.net and click HERE for a delicious recipe for Roasted Squash with Fennel & Asparagus.

A HOMEMADE LIFE: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, Molly Wizenberg (Simon & Schuster 2009). This entertaining narrative cookbook comes to you from the enormously successful, award-winning blog Orangette (http://orangette.blogspot.com) and is a heartwarming tale of Wizenberg’s family, her search for the right career, and a new romance. It comes laced with mouth-watering recipes, clearly set forth and easy to prepare for even the beginning cook. This book was featured in FEAST; you can access a scrumptious deep chocolate cake recipe HERE

RAW ENERGY: 125 Food Recipes for Energy Bars, Smoothies, and Other Snacks to Supercharge Your Body, Stephanie Tourles (Storey Publishing 2010). This book is due out in January, so may not be available yet, but can be pre-ordered. Eating raw has been shown to be a positive addition to a healthy lifestyle, and even if you don’t want to completely leave cooking and meats behind, this book provides a roadmap for combining ingredients to create “enzyme-rich and irresistible organic foods of fresh, raw fruits and vegetables, sprouted seeds, nuts, and legumes.” Tourles is a licensed holistic esthetician who has been practicing and teaching healthy living for more than 20 years. Her website: http://www.stephanietourles.com/

Another book, about that Queen of Cooks, Julia Child, has risen to the top of a lot of reading lists this year as a result of the resounding success of the film Julia/Julie with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. I think anyone who loves food and books would enjoy finding this one under their tree:

MY LIFE IN FRANCE, Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme (Reissued by Knopf 2009). The totally fascinating story of Julia Child’s years in France, where she fell in love with a country and discovered her professional destiny. It’s a tender story in many ways about a woman who finds her way, sometimes humorously, sometimes against great odds, always with the support of her loving husband Paul, to become one of the best known celebrity cooks of all time. This book is now available in various editions plus audio.

I’d love to know what cookbooks are on YOUR gift list this year—??

-- Rosemary Carstens

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Artistry of Painter Kevin Red Star & Earth Magic Media . . .

The 34th Annual American Indian Film Festival will take place in San Francisco, November 6-14, 2009. National American Indian Heritage Month is celebrated every year in the month of November to honor and recognize the original peoples of this land, and, since 1975, the American Indian Film Festival has displayed over 2000 films providing inspiration and support for Native film projects.

The festival encourages filmmakers to present Native voices, viewpoints, and stories that have been historically excluded from mainstream media; to develop Indian and non-Indian audiences for this work; and to advocate tirelessly for authentic representations of Indians in the media. This year the festival will premiere over 80 new feature films, shorts, public service announcements, music videos, and documentaries from US American Indian and Canada First Nation communities.

A highlight of this year's events will be a 24-minute documentary short on American Indian artist KEVIN RED STAR created by Earth Magic Media, a Canadian film company. It is one of seven half-hour documentaries produced for the From the Spirit series III.

The Kevin Red Star film is the first about a US Native American and the team is thrilled it was selected for festival screening. Earth Magic’s team consists of Raymond Yakeleya, an award-winning Dene television producer, director, and writer originally from Tulita (formally Fort Norman) in the central Northwest Territories; Bill Stewart, a producer, writer, and director based in Edmonton with over 35 years experience in the film and television industry; and Carol Chapelski, production coordinator, with over 12 years of experience in the television industry.

Kevin Red Star, a member of the Crow tribe, was born and lives and paints today in Lodge Grass, Montana. This film traces his journey as an artist from Montana to Santa Fe's American Indian Art Institute, to the San Francisco Art Institute and 1969's Woodstock, and back home to Montana. He works primarily in acrylic, ink, and collage, and, as can be seen by the photo above, creates bold, evocative images (with a contemporary twist) of his ancestral Crow tribe, culture, and history. His work is available in galleries across the western United States (a listing of representatives and many original works and prints can be seen by visiting his website.

The Kevin Red Star film will screen Wednesday, Nov. 11, 7:00 p.m. at the Landmark Embarcadero Center Cinema. Prices are $8 general / $7 students and seniors.
For a full schedule of events, go to http://www.aifisf.com/

-- Rosemary Carstens
Carstens Communications

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Warm Winter Dreams . . . Mexico says “Hola!”

I don’t know about you, but as I sit here at my computer today, the skies outside are darkening and a winter snow storm is moving into the Rocky Mountain foothills. Brrrrr—I’m not ready! As every year, I begin to dream of warm, turquoise waters, powdery white sand beaches, icy margaritas served in a pool-side cabana, and hot, tropical nights under a vast panorama of star-studded sky. For me, this means it’s MEXICO time!

Among the ideal choices for a resort vacation in the Yucatan region of Mexico are the all-inclusive REAL RESORTS. They have two resorts in Cancun and three in Playa del Carmen, each with its own special vacation options—from family fun to a romantic escape for two, or a well-earned, quiet retreat just for you. What they all have in common is great service, attention to detail, and staff with a genuine desire to please.

In Cancun there is the GRAN CARIBE REAL, a deluxe 5-star beachfront property catering to families and offering a plethora of activities for all ages—all served up in a luxurious atmosphere. The ROYAL offers casual elegance for adults only and romance is on the menu 24/7. Indulge you and your significant other in their outstanding facilities and exceptional amenities—relax, dream, renew.

In Playa del Carmen, there are three resorts to choose from: the 4-star REAL PLAYA DEL CARMEN, a traditional Mexican-style hotel in a village setting; the 5-star GRAN PORTO REAL RESORT & SPA, architecturally reminiscent of a fine hacienda and located steps from elegant shops and restaurants; and the ROYAL PLAYA DEL CARMEN, with all the warm hospitality offered by all of the Real properties plus the spectacular SPAzul.

These five destination resorts shimmer in the sun; each has its own unique character and beckons those who love luxury and fine service.
All offer all-inclusive programs and those exceptional qualities that bring visitors back again and again.

Ah, yes—dream on. Sorry, old man winter—guess I’m on the next flight south!

For full information, rates and programs: http://www.realresorts.com/

--Rosemary Carstens
Carstens Communications

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Pomegranates and Greek Goddesses . . .

There are times in our lives when we feel restless, without purpose or direction. Often these occur at decade-birthday milestones—most of us remember how OLD it felt to turn THIRTY! We find we are reevaluating how we spend our time, wondering what we should be doing to extend our achievements beyond ourselves to include a spiritual dimension. We question how quickly the years are passing.

In her new book, TRAVELING WITH POMEGRANATES: A MOTHER-DAUGHTER STORY (Viking 2009), Sue Monk Kidd, author of best-selling The Secret Lives of Bees and The Mermaid Chair, has collaborated with her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor, to write a fascinating memoir and travel journal. Their story explores the power of travel to birth spiritual connections and inspire creativity, and it gives us a generational perspective on a series of events the two experienced during travel to France and Greece over a period of years.

Sue’s journey begins as she approaches her fiftieth birthday and begins to realize she is ending an era as a younger woman and entering a transition period that will move her toward her eldest years. She finds herself seeking spiritual guidance from feminine symbols and icons, hoping for new directions in her work, greater understanding and closeness to her daughter, and a graceful entry into the next stage of her life. She writes about how she came to write The Secret Lives of Bees after years of writing nonfiction.

Ann’s journey is also a period of transition

one from loss and rejection that culminates in a search for the work she is meant to do, to finding her path amidst many. The icons and symbols that guide Ann are different from her mother’s but in their mutual search they discover each other as adult women and find surprising fresh means of communication and friendship.

Traveling with Pomegranates
is an inspiring book
, thoughtfully written, and one I very much enjoyed. It provides a framework for seeking transitions and destinations for any woman who wants to enhance the meaningfulness of her years.

For more on the two authors:

--Rosemary Carstens
Carstens Communications

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Horses Reign: From conquistadors to cowboys, to Western culture

Horses are synonymous with most of the world’s perceptions about the American West. When Spanish explorers reintroduced them in North America in the 1500s, horses had not been on the continent for thousands of years. But once reintroduced, they quickly became highly prized and admired for their strength, speed, and innate intelligence, not to mention their natural beauty. They changed Native American cultures, played an important role in the opening of the West to immigrant settlers, and, since those days, they have often served as iconic images in film and fiction. The presence of horses that still run wild and free in some pockets of the West fires imaginations and animal rights advocates even today.

Celebrated equine photographer JOHN S. HOCKENSMITH’s new book, Spanish Mustangs in the Great
American West: Return of the Horse to America (University of Oklahoma Press 2009) features stunning, full-color photographs of modern horses that “carry the distinctive traits of their Spanish, Arab, and Barb forebears.” Hockensmith captures these moving, dramatic images in the Rocky Mountain region and on the rolling grassy plains of the West, and focuses a spotlight on their magnificence and continued presence even as many oppose the wild horse herds and others fight to maintain them.

Not only is Kentuckian John Hockensmith an inspiring photographer, but he paints and sculpts, writes both prose and poetry. He’s garnered significant recognition in all categories. His co-writer, Michele MacDonald is a professional journalist and media relations consultant who has been devoted to horses all her life and international racing is her best known venue. This is her second collaboration with Hockensmith. I have to say, they are a winning team!

This is a must-have holiday gift for any horse lover, or for anyone who feels strongly about preserving wild life.

For more on John S. Hockensmith

-- Rosemary Carstens
Carstens Communications

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Little Book and Farm That Could . . .

JAN POGUE and her husband, John Walter, now deceased, had more than seventy years combined experience in editing and publishing when they founded their small publishing company, VINEYARD STORIES, in 2005. Well suited for the task and highly familiar with the importance of excellence in books, they had held high-level editing jobs at such well-regarded newspapers as USA Today, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. In addition, Ms. Pogue had fifteen years in book publishing. As she expresses it:

Vineyard Stories is a full-service publisher, creating high-quality books for and about Martha’s Vineyard. . . . We are focused primarily on telling Island stories. To do this, we pursue outstanding writing, editing, photography and illustration, design and manufacture. Then, to make sure your book is seen and read, we offer distribution and promotional services.
Recently MORNING GLORY FARM and the family that feeds an island, text by Tom Dunlop and photos by Alison Shaw, one of Vineyard Stories very special books, went global—or at least national—in a surprising series of events that included the attention of Michelle Obama and coverage in the New York Times. The book is about the Athearn family’s Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown, MA, and features 70 recipes organized by season. As Pogue says, “They were sustainable before there was sustainable.”

This wonderful story opens when a young husband and wife, from very different backgrounds and disparate world views, begin battling the woodlands near Martha’s Vineyard to plant and harvest what turned out to be a crop of wormy corn. Thirty years later their farmstand is the source of a cornucopia of fruits, vegetables, prepared dishes and baked goods and people come from all around to stand on line waiting to stock up.

This book is an homage to eating sustainably and nutritiously and to the glory of beautifully prepared food consumed
surrounded by family and friends.

For more information and images:



Thursday, August 13, 2009

Playing with Fire is HOT!

Stieg Larsson’s second book in his Millennium Trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire (Knopf 2009, translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland) has been on my “books to watch for” list since I turned the last page of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He has developed a unique and absolutely fascinating character in Lisbeth Salander, a brilliant antisocial and unconventional woman who has a heightened and personal sense of fairness that requires her to carry out her own brand of justice. And she is extremely innovative when doling out pay back.

Larsson not only brings back Salander and journalist, publisher, and crusader Mikael Blomkvist, plus assorted other members of Dragon Tattoo’s cast, but he delves more deeply into the psyche of each, and most particularly of Salander. The book is laced with absorbing detail about high level mathematics and new adventures in the world of Internet security, hacking, and the manipulation of data to create new “truths.” As we learn Salander’s tragic backstory and her efforts to overcome it, we are carried away once again by the plots, subplots, and mystery and suspense for which Larsson is known. If you like a down and gritty action book that pulls you along breathlessly, filled out with engaging tech drama, this is a book you won’t want to miss!

Now, when is the next one due out? Ah, yes, January 2010: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Can’t wait!

Author’s website: http://www.stieglarsson.com

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Platter of Figs . . . the JOY of eating!

A Platter of Figs and other recipes, DAVID TANIS. Artisan 2009. Six months of each year, David Tanis is head chef at Chez Panisse in Berkely, California, where he’s worked since the 1980s for legendary Alice Waters. The other half of the year he’s in Paris preparing meals in a 6x10 foot galley kitchen in his 17th century apartment.

This book was conceived from Tanis's belief that the best meals are simple, easily prepared, and served without too much fuss.
A meal should not take all day to make. The “platter of figs” symbolizes the idea of eating with the seasons and is a metaphor for the food Tanis enjoys most: fresh, abundant, luxurious, fleeting, and innately beautiful.

Twenty-four seasonal menus designed for 8-10, easily halved or increased, includes such enticements as “
Salmon on My Mind,” “Yellow Hunger,” “A Simple Morrocan Supper,” and “Slow Beef.” For each section, Tanis writes as much about eating as about cooking, about his inspirations, techniques, and infinite joy in the kitchen.

This is my favorite cookbook so far this year! Here’s a selection from the book that is simple yet superb. Bon appétit!

Sea Scallops a la Plancha

One of the delights of the winter season is the availability of good shellfish
, especially sea scallops. Ask your fishmonger for freshly shucked scallops, often called “diver” scallops. A good way to cook them is a la plancha, on a hot griddle or cast-iron pan, which caramelizes the exterior and keeps them juicy inside.

1 pound large sea scallops, about 16

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

Green Sauce (recipe follows)

Lime wedges

Remove the “feet”—the tough muscle that attaches scallops to their shell—and discard (or add them to a fish stock). Season the scallops on both sides with salt and pepper and drizzle lightly with olive oil.

Heat a large griddle or cast-iron skillet to nearly smoking. Add the scallops in one layer, being careful not to crowd them. Brown the scallops well, letting them cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the scallops over and cook for another 2 minutes.
Put the scallops on a platter and spoon a little green sauce onto each one. Surround with lime wedges.

Green Sauce:
Put 1 small bunch cilantro, leaves and tender stems roughly chopped, 2 chopped garlic cloves, 1 sliced serrano chile, and 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground, in a blender. Season lightly with salt and add 1 cup olive oil. Blend to a smooth puree. Makes about 1 cup. (Excerpted from A PLATTER OF FIGS by David Tanis [Artisan Books]. Copyright 2008. Christopher Hirsheimer, photographer)

Friday, July 17, 2009

At the Edge of the Spotlight: Canadian artist Emily Carr

The Forest Lover (Viking 2004) by Susan Vreeland, is a page-turner if you love art history and always long to know more about the painter behind the image. This is the captivating story of legendary painter, Canadian artist Emily Carr, who was passionate about recording the totems and lives of the native peoples of British Columbia in the early part of the 20th century. Carr has been compared to Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keefe (see Carr, O’Keefe, Kahlo: Places of Their Own [Yale University Press 2001]) and her work is exceptional and surrealistic in both content and style. She garnered little recognition in her lifetime because of her unusual subject matter and unorthodox lifestyle, and because she brought sophisticated techniques of surrealism learned during a stay in Paris to what was essentially an artistic backwater.

The author, Susan Vreeland, has written several “imagined” biographies either about famous artists or people in their closest circle. Her best known may be Girl in Hyacinth Blue, the imagined story of the girl in Vermeer’s painting by the same name. Perhaps the author’s greatest strength is found in her ability to turn well-grounded and thorough research into a compelling story—in this case, a story about a woman artist struggling to follow her passion, relieve her personal sense of isolation, and gain recognition for her talent.

Vreeland tells us in her own words what her research into her topics has taught her:

“Entering the mind and heart of painters has taught me to see, and to be more appreciative of the beauties of the visible world. . . . people are hungry for [the] real lives behind . . . paintings. . . . . And [I’ve especially learned] this: Thanks to art, instead of seeing only one world and time period, our own, we see it multiplied and can peer into other times, other worlds which offer windows to other lives. Each time we enter imaginatively into the life of another, it's a small step upwards in the elevation of the human race. . . . Where there is no imagination of others' lives, there is no human connection. Where there is no human connection, there is no chance for compassion to govern. Without compassion, then loving kindness, human understanding, peace all shrivel. Individuals become isolated, and the isolated can turn resentful, narrow, cruel; they can become blinded, and that's where prejudice, holocausts, terrorism, and tragedy hover. Art—and literature—are antidotes to that.”

It’s an insightful philosophy and one I have certainly connected with in my own writing and reading experiences. Watch for Vreeland's next enticing book, titled In Tiffany’s Shadow (due out 2010), about Louis Comfort Tiffany the glass artist whose windows, lamps, and mosaics blended Art Nouveau and the Aesthetics Movement to produce a unique style all his own.

For more information: http://www.svreeland.com/

Monday, July 06, 2009

1/500th of a second . . . An Unlikely Weapon

AN UNLIKELY WEAPON: The Eddie Adams Story (2009). This exceptional documentary about the life of an award-winning photographer premieres this week in Denver at the Starz FilmCenter, July 3-9. Go to http://www.anunlikelyweapon.com for times and directions. Opening nationwide throughout the summer.

Legendary photographer Eddie Adams, famously seen lurking in war zones, at celebrity shoots, and on the streets of New York, photographed 13 wars, six US presidents and every major film star in the last 50 years. His career and reputation exploded into world renown when, in Vietnam in 1968, Eddie shot what is considered by many to be the definitive war photograph: General Loan, the Saigon police chief shooting a Vietcong prisoner point-blank in the head. “Saigon Execution” won Eddie a Pulitzer Prize and was credited with changing public opinion to help end the Vietnam War.

Eddie was a guy who lived hard and played harder. Enormously ambitious and driven, rough talking, notoriously dissatisfied with his achievements, he documented the plight of refugees around the world, jumped aboard a boat load of Vietnamese headed out to sea with only some rice and a few hundred dollars worth of gasoline, and faced off Fidel Castro until the two went on an unlikely duck hunting trip together, among other risky ventures. In this documentary, journalists such as Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, and Morley Safer speak about Eddie with a measure of awe and respect. As Safer says, “Eddie was not your typical sedate, thoughtful photographer . . . He looked for trouble both on and off the job.”

Later in life Eddie turned to photographing celebrities, resulting in stunning and unique shots, signatures of his skill and experienced eye for the money shot. There were many sides to this talented man: war photographer, human rights activist, teacher, competitive and aggressive artist; most of all, he was deeply human and fully engaged in life.

SUSAN MORGAN COOPER is the brilliant filmmaker who produced this exceptional documentary. The road to its completion was long and not always smooth—but she had promised Eddie, and she kept that promise, in spades. This is a DO NOT MISS film!

-- Rosemary Carstens


View trailer: