Category Archives: San Francisco

Leigh Hyams Critique Group Exhibition

It’s heartening to see my mother’s legacy live on in her students and friends. A group of them, who met more than 20 years ago at her art classes in San Francisco, recently opened an exhibition at Canessa Park Gallery. It’s up through January 30. Hours are noon to 3:00pm on Wednesdays or by appointment by calling 415-885-5695. Their touching and inspiring group artistic statement follows below.

Six Artists: Eclectic Works

The six artists in this show met by chance more than two decades ago, when each of us signed up for a class led by Leigh Hyams. Those first classes were in the former University of California Berkeley Extension campus in San Francisco, a couple of rambling old Spanish-style buildings in the Western Addition. Some of us began in a drawing class, others in painting or mixed media. We worked side by side in crowded rooms, on paper or canvas taped to the walls or on drawing boards on tables or mounted on easels. Leigh encouraged us to paint big and with abandon, and to stand while painting so we could use our whole body. And she encouraged us to live life adventurously, and we did, joining her painting workshops at Esalen and in Greece and Brazil and Mexico and France when we could.

After a few years of studio classes, we felt ready to work on our own, and Leigh encouraged us to carve out space for our art at home or to rent our own studios. But because we still wanted her inspiration and guidance, we formed a critique group that met with her once a month, to help us keep making art and to keep growing as artists. During this time, we also worked with Leigh and other students of hers on her film Making Marks.

Leigh Hyams teaching at the University of California Berkeley Extension campus in San Francisco

When Leigh moved to Mexico in 2001, we continued to meet without her, for we found that we had absorbed her ideas about painting and her teaching about visual language so well that we could critique one another’s work in her absence. She went on to build a live-in studio in San Miguel de Allende and to paint prolifically for the next decade, with solo shows in San Miguel and Querétero. Whenever Leigh visited San Francisco during those years, she arranged to meet with us when possible, and many of her large following of students visited her in Mexico. Her last expansive series of paintings was of giant flowers in her elegant and buoyant gestural style, reveling in color as always. She died in 2013, and at her memorial in San Francisco, her daughter, Gina, gave Leigh’s paintbrushes away to her former students and friends.

Over the years, our group has continued to follow Leigh’s urging to take chances and to experiment with styles, subjects, and mediums. Styles have ranged from abstract to figurative, and subjects from childhood photographs to landscapes, seascapes, and skyscapes, rabbits and fairytales and death boats, glaciers and rocks, real and imagined dramas, self-portraits and dog portraits, horse portraits and night scenes. Painting and drawing mediums have included acrylic paint and watercolor, encaustic, and wood-burning tools. Some members of the group have ventured into sculpture, in mediums that include fabrics, trash from the city dump, garage-sale finds, broken plastic dinnerware, ruined umbrellas, hunks of marble, leather, and cement.

We try, like our teacher, to make work that is surprising and alive. We sell our work, though we remain amateurs, in the best sense of the word. For we believe that art is important, not just to each of us individually and as a group, but to the culture in general and to the random universe. Like our teacher, we believe that art allows us to live more fully, that creativity is the lifeblood of being human, and that every piece of art we create is a kind of miracle: a new thing in the world made by our own hands, and often one we had no idea we were capable of making.

Artists at the opening (left to right): Heidi Sandvoll, Loretta Wolfe, Carolyn Miller, Jane Baker, Jeanine Briggs, Anne Ming Wong.


Woodward’s Garden Restaurant Chef/Owner Dana Tommasino on Pie

Dana Tommasino has been the Chef/Owner of Woodward’s Garden Restaurant in San Francisco for 18 years now, which has been described by food critic Patricia Unterman as “the perfect Parisian restaurant — a small, unpretentious, neighborhood place run by a couple with instinctively good taste.”  I enjoyed a memorable birthday dinner there years ago and was delighted recently to stumble upon her always intriguing and fun voice on Twitter @figmentspot and her “foodish thoughts” blog, Figments.

Dana holds a BA in American Studies from UC Santa Cruz, a Masters degree in Literature from Mills College, and an AA degree from the California Culinary Academy. She lives in San Francisco with her sweetie, her daughter, and their mad Norwich Terrier, Chickpea.

Dana Tommasino Making Pie

Gina: Why do you love pie?

Dana: According to Janet Clarkson (Pie: A Global History), every food was once first pie, and pies can be traced back to the Neolithic Period (9500 BC!). Now that’s some history. Crust was the original Le Creuset braiser; lunch box; tupperware.  Food encased made it super transportable, cookable, and a cinch to store to boot.  And then there’s all that intense interior juice becoming le Zen “One” with crisp, chewy starch, and the ability of pies to embody both sweet perfume or earthy savory so beautifully. Pies are brilliant, functional, and delicious. No wonder they caught on.  What’s not to love?

Gina: What is your fondest pie memory?

Dana: Tamale Pie.  A woman cooked hot lunch for us daily at my tiny grade school.  Her weekly pie was all peppers, beef, chilies, olives, and cheese fired under a cornmeal crust. Lord it was good. Wednesdays couldn’t whip around fast enough.  And yes, the cheese was doozy-orange; the olives canned con perfect thumb holes, but it so didn’t matter.  When I dug into this obsession as a trained chef, I found that tamale pie was one of the very cool original pies.

Diana Kennedy includes a recipe for a Mayan “tamale pie” called Muk-Bil Pollo in her dazzling Cusines of Mexico.  It was placed in the earth and long-baked for Mukpipoyo, a day that Indians honor their dead. I, of course, had to make it on-the-spot.  A stew of pork, chicken, chiles, onions, tomatoes, herbs, and garlic is encased in a masa dough brought together with water, rendered lard and its cracklings, then baked for 1 -1/2 hours.

My sweetie said she adored it except for the tough “shingle” outer layer. Yet that rough chewy crust was enigmatic to me; what I most loved about it. It is indeed SO sturdy you can turn the whole pie out of its cooking vessel intact, which is how it originally traveled, tied with banana leaf as a handle (!).  Could there be anything more beautiful on earth than one of these babies approaching in a friend’s hand?

Gina: What is your favorite kind of pie?

Dana: Besides Tamale?  I’m generally far more savory than sweet-inclined.  Chicken Pot with Béchamel, Tarragon, Spring Vegetables; Steak & Kidney; Shepherd’s; any Smoked Fish extravaganza. But don’t misunderstand: neon, viscous berry bubbles busting through a top crust will undo me every time.

Dana's Peach-Cherry Crostata

Gina: What is the oddest pie you’ve made, seen, or heard about?

Dana: The wacky early “animated” pies, used in court entertainments are pretty captivating.  Bottom crusts were filled with live birds then covered only to burst out and fly away when cut open in front of astonished guests: “When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing. Wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the King.”

Gina: Have you ever participated in or judged a pie contest? Please tell me about your experiences. Do you have any competition tips?

Dana: No.  But I’m always free for that sort of thing.

Gina: What criteria should pie judges consider? Is there a proper technique to tasting pie?

Dana: Crust, crust, crust.  Filling, filling, filling.  And attacking said pie is appropriate, but probably not ever “proper.”

Dana's Kabocha-Parmesan Pie

Gina: What is the secret to a perfect crust?

Dana: Lard or butter, I’m not picky.  You can get lovely, crisp crusts from either.  The secret is quick, cool handling.  Shuna Fish Lydon (who is firmly in the butter camp) offers one of the most illuminating pie dough treatise I’ve ever encountered on her lovely blog, Eggbeater.

Gina: Do you think great bakers are born rather than made? Can anybody learn to make pie? What personality traits make for the best pie bakers?

Dana: Anything can be learned!  But baking is perhaps a more exact art than other kinds of cooking, so someone naturally exacting might have an advantage here.

Gina: Why does pie matter today?

Dana: Because it is one of our original foods and it still thrives in spades.

Dana Tommasino Cooking

Dana's Tomato Nicoise Pie Before

Dana's Tomato Nicoise Pie After

Horseradish Apple Slaw

I’ve been craving coleslaw with a horseradish kick lately, nostalgic for Fog City Diner’s spicy version and lamenting that I sold my copy of the Fog City Diner Cookbook when we moved to Mexico 11 years ago, as the recipe doesn’t seem to be online.

The following recipe from a Real Simple e-newsletter appeared in my in-box today. It looks good, though I’ll use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.

Horseradish Apple Slaw

1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1/2 head napa or green cabbage, shredded (4 cups)
2 crisp apples (such as Braeburn or Granny Smith), cut into matchstick-size strips
1 bunch scallions (white and light green parts), thinly sliced

In a large bowl, whisk together the sour cream, horseradish, vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add the cabbage, apples, and scallions and toss.

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