Friday, October 22, 2010

A Salon in Culver City

The idea of the "literary salon" has always appealed to me.  After talking about books for 6 years in college as an English major,  I was eager to continue the conversation.  And so for many years I have been in book groups, gone to literary events, readings, book festivals, such as the Sun Valley Writers' Conference, The Beverly Hills Literary Escape (which is this weekend) and taken more classes.  I have read about the Bloomsbury Group and their Thursday evenings of conversation and recitals, with luminaries such as Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, and Duncan Grant in attendance.   Gertrude Stein had her famous salons in Paris, attended by Picasso and Hemingway. I've always been inspired by the idea of a group of writers, thinkers and artists who met on a regular basis and the artistic creations that came out of this community of kindred spirits.

Dana Goodyear at Taylor De Cordoba

Fortunately the "salon" is still a vibrant idea and Los Angeles is a vibrant community for writers.  On Wednesday night, Taylor De Cordoba gallery in Culver City launched its new reading series: "Eating Our Words," a bi-monthly event that features acclaimed literary and culinary artists sharing words and good food.  This inaugural event featured The New Yorker staff writer Dana Goodyear who read from her selected poetry and non-fiction. She writes the "California Postcards," "Letters from L.A.," and "Annals of Gastronomy" columns for the New Yorker.  Her book of poetry  "Honey and Junk" was published in 2005.  The culinary part of the evening was provided by Patricia Tsai of ChocoVivo.  She is an artisanal chocolate maker and provided sample of her creations throughout the evening.

Gabrielle Calvocoressi and Heather Taylor

The gallery was packed, and the excitement about this new series was obvious as the audience milled around looking at art, sampling chocolate, and chatting.  Gallery owner Heather Taylor (my daughter) and Los Angeles-based poet Gabrielle Calvocoressi are the co-organizers of this series and they did the introductions.  Dana Goodyear sat down and began her reading.  She read from two of her profiles for the New Yorker, interspersed by a few of her poems, which she likened to palate cleansers.

I was particularly struck by her journalistic and narrative skills as she read from her profile of the Briazilian author Paulo Coehlo.  He wrote "The Alchemist."  She told us that for this piece, she had spent a weekend with the writer on a private plane traveling around Europe.  The selections she read  illustrated her essay's theme, which was that Coehlo's readers respond to him as if he is a mystic or a magician and that he cultivates this image.  She told stories about his many adventures, such as one night in Pamplona, Spain when he presided over a magical ceremony performed by a "witch," a performance accompanied by profound statements by Coehlo for his adoring fans.  Her observations and conclusions were fascinating, colorful, and quite funny, and captured the exotic appeal of this man.  I learned so much.

As I sat there listening, I wondered what it is about a reading like this that moves me so. I realize now that it's not just the fact that I heard a very talented writer, but that I watched 30-40 people in the audience absolutely spell-bound and thrilled to be there. I think there is a purity to an experience like this that is hopeful and inspiring. In a city like Los Angeles that many people find scattered and fragmented, it is wonderful to know that there are gathering spots like this where we can come together to exchange ideas and be enlightened.   The challenge is to find them and to go.  These are the experiences that feed the soul.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Fashioning Fashion" at the Resnick Pavilion

Recently I went to the new Resnick Pavilion at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Designed by Renzo Piano, the exhibition space is a single-story 45,000 square foot structure.  It really is stunning.

While at the Resnick, I visited the remarkable exhibition "Fashioning Fashion, European Dress in Detail 1700-1915."  This exhibition showcases about 200 highlights from LACMA's new European collection of rare pieces of historic fashion and accessories. The current exhibition focuses on the details of creating fashionable dress from the Age of Enlightenment to World War I.

There were so many beauties in this show.  Here are some of my personal favorites.

The first piece that struck me was this yellow dress.  It dates from 1827 and is made of silk and cotton gauze.  I was dazzled by the vivid yellow color and the pattern of dancing figures with pigtails, pipes and parasols.  The color and the narrative pattern reminded me of toile which I love and have used in my house.  Here is the yellow couch in my study.

Recently,  I spotted this gorgeous purse by Goyard and its golden yellow color was reminiscent of that of the dress.

The second piece I fell in love with is this hooded cape from Provence, France.  Brown in color and printed with pink and green floral motifs, it was absolutely beautiful.  It made me think of Meryl Streep in the "The French Lieutenant's Woman."  This kind of cape was worn by the women in Provence from about 1700 - 1830.

Here are some other beauties from this show:

I have been noticing that some of the shoes from the current fall season have a certain romance and drama about them, which made me think that they could have been worn with some of the clothing in the exhibition at LACMA.  For example, wouldn't these shoes by Nina Ricci look great worn with some of these clothes?

And how about these, by Christian Louboutin (from a few seasons ago)?

And these boots from L'Wren Scott?

If you have a chance to visit "Fashioning Fashion" at the Resnick Pavilion, be sure to purchase the beautiful book that accompanies the exhibition.  It would make a great coffee table book or a very special holiday gift.

It will have you thinking about fashion, past and present, and why fashion designers often look to the past for inspiration.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Fall Entertaining and Oeufs a la Neige

I cannot resist a cooking class called "Fall Entertaining."  And so yesterday I found myself at the beautiful Virginia Robinson Gardens  in Beverly Hills.

The wonderful Peggy Dark of The Kitchen for Exploring Foods in Pasadena was teaching the class.  For those of us in Los Angeles and Pasadena, she is our very own Barefoot Contessa.  Warm and engaging, she cooks delicious, unfussy, comfort food and is one of the most popular and successful caterers in Southern California.

During the class I felt as if I was sitting with Peggy in her cozy office at The Kitchen in Pasadena,  just us girls having a gabfest.   Along with her fabulous recipes, she entertained us with charming stories about her business, life, travels, and food, which she is passionate about.  After all, she's been in the catering business for 30 years.  Her book "Fabulous Parties" was published in 2008.

The Menu
Asian Pear, Persimmon, and Marcona Almond Salad
Roasted Butternut Squash with Chickpeas and Cumin
Lolipop Lamb Chops with Fresh Mint Relish (recipe can be found in "Fabulous Parties")

Here is the recipe for  Roasted Butternut Squash with Chickpeas and Cumin:

  • 2 pounds of butternut squash, cut into cubes
  • olive oil
  • 4 scallions
  • 1 fresh red chili
  • 4 tablespoons cooked chickpeas
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 5 ounces vegetable stock
  • large pinch of salt
  • pomegranate seeds

Toss the squash with the olive oil in an oven dish and roast it in a moderate to hot oven until tender and beginning to caramelize at the edges.

Slice the scallions into long diagonal pieces; slice the chili into thin rounds.  Put these in a pan with chickpeas and the cumin.  Add two tablespoons of the olive oil and the stock, and a large pinch of salt.  Bring this to a boil, simmer for one minute, then pour the contents of the pan over the roasted squash.  Return the pan to the oven for 5 minutes.  Garnish with pomegranate seeds.

Peggy began to talk about our dessert, "Snow Pudding," otherwise know as "Oeufs a la Neige."  Most of us were unfamiliar with the dessert.  Her assistant walked out with a martini glass filled with creme anglaise, lovely but no showstopper.  We had all been wondering about the roasting pan on the table filled with a mysterious, but delicious-looking concoction, brown and toasty on the surface.

This was meringue that had been baked in an unusual way, but according to Peggy it really works.  She then scooped out large dollops of the meringue and laid it on top of the creme anglaise, topping it all with a gooseberry.

Is this not a thing of beauty? 

Here is the recipe for Oeufs a la Neige


  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 2/3 cup superfine sugar
  • 1 pint fresh red berries of your choice

Preheat the oven 375 degrees.  Beat the egg whites until foamy.  Add the vanilla, cream of tartar, and salt, and beat until thick and glossy peaks form.  Transfer the mixture to a baking pan.  Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes until golden brown.

Creme Anglaise:

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup of sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 cups of hot milk
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup pureed raspberries

Over a double boiler, whisk the egg yolks adding the sugar gradually, until the mixture is fluffy and pale yellow.  Whisk in the milk and vanilla.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter.  Let cool and fold in the raspberry puree.
Spoon into the martini glasses.  Top with a large scoop of meringue and garnish with fresh berries.

This class was a gem.  What a great kick-off to the fall entertaining season!

Monday, October 11, 2010

British Wit and "Mapp and Lucia"

After visiting the Cotswolds in England this summer, I became curious about the British series of novels "Mapp and Lucia" by E.F. Benson.  The books were written in the 1920's and 1930's and set in a village in the Cotswolds and a village in Sussex.

I had been watching the riveting and intense HBO series "The Wire" on DVD.  After making my way through the fourth season, I decided I needed a break and specifically some comic relief.  I ordered the DVD of the 1985 and 1986 television show 
"Mapp and Lucia."

I watched all ten episodes (there are only ten!) and could  not get enough of this hilarious, laugh out loud comic masterpiece.  The story revolves around the social rivalry between the two main characters, Elizabeth Mapp and Emmeline Lucas (Lucia) and their struggle for power in an idyllic English village.  Prior to Lucia moving to the village, Elizabeth had been the social queen.  Her position is threatened by Lucia who is richer, more sophisticated, and more confident than Mapp, and peppers her conversation with Italian phrases and bon mots, such as "Au Reservoir," when saying good-bye.  Two great actresses play the leads:  Geraldine McEwan as Lucia and Prunella Scales as Mapp. Nigel Hawthorne and many other familiar British actors round out the cast.

Anyone who is a fan of British humor will enjoy this gem of a television show.  For me it is in the company of "Love in a Cold Climate" and "Jeeves and Wooster," two other excellent television adaptations of comic British novels.

I was excited to read in the November issue of "Town and Country" that there are a number of witty books by British authors coming out next month.

"Wait for Me" by Deborah Mitford, about her life with her famous sisters

"The Noel Coward Reader," a collection of his best works 

"Must you Go" by Antonia Fraser, a remembrance of her life with her late husband, playwright Harold Pinter   

A reissue of the novels of Nancy Mitford 

Anglophiles can anticipate a rich winter season of reading.  

I will be doing mine right here. 

Au Reservoir

Monday, October 4, 2010

Collecting and Decorating with Books

A portrait of Chattie Salaman by Duncan Grant

I love my books and although I know I will someday purchase a Kindle, I am still a book girl and continue to purchase them, doing my part to help preserve our independent bookstores. As an English major at UCLA, I discovered Virginia Woolf and she is still my favorite writer.  In 1975 my mother-in-law gave me the first volume of "The Letters of Virginia Woolf" and I proceeded to devour all six volumes.  That beloved first copy, which sits proudly in my library with the other five volumes, inspired my passion for colletcing old and sometimes rare editions of my favorite books. 

For me nothing makes a room warmer than a personal collection of books.  I love going into someone's home and seeing their books displayed.  Here are some of my favorites that I've displayed around my house.

These wonderful books, one by Vita Sackville-West, the other by Edith Sitwell, are from the "Britain in Pictures" series.

Another one by Elizabeth Bowen.

Some special books published by Virginia and Leonard Woolf's Hogarth Press.

 On the right is an American edition of "Seducers in Ecuador" by Vita Sackville-West.

Yesterday I made a book store run to our neighborhood Diesel Books looking for "My Hollywood" by Mona Simpson.  It was sold out (yay, Mona!) and instead bought this luscious looking stack of books: "A Gate at the Stairs" by Lorrie Moore, the new translation of "Madame Bovary," and "The Cookbook Collector" by Allegra Goodman.

 How beautiful is this dust jacket for  Lydia Davis' new translation of "Madame Bovary."

And finally what could be a cozier sight than a special nook in your kitchen for all your favorite cookbooks!