Monday, November 29, 2010

Collecting and Decorating with Art

"Cloud Fruit" by Charlene Liu

Collecting art is so personal.  That is obvious.  Like most people, my interests have grown over the years, and with that has come new and exciting explorations of art.  Here is what decorator  Bunny Williams in her new book, "A Scrapbook for Living," says about art in a home, "I am always excited to work with clients who have artwork, as I know that the  house will have  an immediate magic."

My husband and I have always been interested in photography, and so when we first started purchasing art, it was mostly photography.  My favorite is this Henri Cartier-Bresson he gave me for my birthday.  I love the romantic, painterly style of this photograph.

"Queen Charlotte's Ball" by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Bloomsbury art was another interest, especially the work of British artists Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell, and Roger Fry,  and I was lucky enough to find some pieces over the years.

My interest in The Bloomsbury Group began in college with my interest in the British writer Virginia Woolf.  I learned about her circle of family and friends who became known as the Bloomsbury group.  These artists and intellectuals flourished in the early part of the twentieth-century.  Within the group were painters and art critics -- Roger Fry, Clive Bell, Duncan Grant, and Vanessa Bell -- who first came to public attention as leading figures in the introduction into Britain of Post-Impressionism.  In fact, Roger Fry invented the term "Post-Impressionism."

It is easy to see the influence of Post-Impressionisn in their art, though they did not reach the heights of  artists such as Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse.  Still, their art is generally seen as one of the key influences on British art and design in the twentieth-century. Duncan Grant's connections to French art led him to be called the "British Matisse."  His art embodies a love of life and was known for its lightness, quickness, and joyfulness. These were characteristics of his personality as well.

"Ballet Dancers" by Duncan Grant

 "Richard Shone Reading, in the Studio at Charleston" by Duncan Grant

There are two exciting elements for me about this piece.  First, there was a fabulous exhibition of "The Art of Bloomsbury" at the Huntington Art Gallery several years ago. Richard Shone, the art historian, organized that show.  Also, this past summer I visited Charleston House in England, the home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant and saw the painted gramophone cabinet that is depicted in this painting.  It is still in Grant's studio.  I love the informality of this portrait, and the emphasis on the domestic interior. 

Many of my favorite pieces of art were bought on trips, and were unexpected discoveries which now hang in my house, reminding me of special vacations.

This watercolor was bought in a little gallery in Mammoth Mountain, California.

This is a painting of a Maine lighthouse, depicted on a lighthouse reflector, dated 1916.  We found this in an antique store in Portland, Maine.

These three still lifes hang in our kitchen.  They were bought in Los Angeles and Laguna, California.

When my daughter opened her art gallery Taylor De Cordoba, I became acquainted with many emerging artists, some of whom I now collect.  One of my favorites is Charlene Liu. Here are two pieces by Liu that I acquired.

In her works on paper and panel, Liu expresses her interest in the natural landscape in an abstract and dreamlike way.  She combines collaged prints and traditional painting techniques.  I am just wowed by the beauty and the colors of these pieces.

Another artist I have discovered is Kimberly Brooks.  She did this portrait of my daughter Heather Taylor a few years ago and it was part of her exhibition  "Mom's Friends," at Taylor De Cordoba Gallery.  I love her rendering of the dress.

Here are a couple of her paintings from her most recent exhibition, "The Stylist Project."

Art, books, music, conversation...these are the elements that bring magic, life, and warmth into a home.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving


One of the joys of Thanksgiving day is cooking with my family.  Everyone in and out of the kitchen, working on pies, stuffing, potatoes, and all the finishing touches.  After years of cooking this meal, I have learned that it's not about perfection or fussy foods, but about cooking traditional dishes that my family requests every year.    

Table ready!

Megan getting the pecan pie ready to go into oven.

The finished product!

Platters ready for food 

Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving.  Counting my blessings...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Countdown

I love the week of Thanksgiving because I devote the entire week to cooking.  The house smells great and the kitchen counters are overflowing with ingredients for all the dishes we will have on Thursday.  I start cooking on Monday and the first thing I make is Cranberry Chutney.  This is a dish I have been making forever, and it couldn't be easier.

Brown sugar, granulated sugar, apples, raisins and spices are added to the cranberries

Mixture simmers for 30 minutes

Here is the recipe for Cranberry Chutney

1 pound cranberries
1 cup chopped, cored, pared cooking apples
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup raisins
2 tsp.s cinnamon
1 & 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. allspice
1 cup water
1 Tb. butter
3/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery

Simmer cranberries, apples, sugars, raisins, spices and water uncovered in a saucepan over medium heat, until the juice is released from berries.
Cook onion and celery in butter until tender.
Add onion mixture to cranberries and simmer, uncovered, until thickened, stirring frequently.  This takes about 30 minutes.  Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

I also make my pie dough on Monday because it can be made two days before using it for my pies.  I make Martha Stewart's recipe.  She calls it "Pate Brisee" in her "Baking Handbook." 

  The dough is easy when you do it in the food processor.

Easy food processor method

Patting the dough into discs makes it easier to roll out later

What a comforting sight

I can't wait to turn these into apple, pumpkin, and pecan pies.  That will happen on Wednesday.

The last thing I do on this first day of cooking is make my croutons for my Chestnut and Apple stuffing.  I buy two big loaves of French bread, cut the bread into cubes and dry them in the oven.

Most of my Thanksgiving recipes come from a well-known Los Angeles cooking teacher, Carolyn Thacker, who taught for many years at Montana Mercantile cooking school (anyone remember that wonderful place?) and also at Santa Monica College.  I would be lost without her fabulous recipes and make them every year.

One of the joys of a week like this is looking at all the old recipes and cookbooks, with their handwritten notes and instructions.  It's a nostalgic week as well as a culinary one.

More to do in the days ahead...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"All I Really Need To Know I Learned From Jane Austen"

I have always loved the novels of Jane Austen.  My favorites are "Emma," "Pride and Prejudice," and "Sense and Sensibility."  I have often been amazed that a woman who rarely ventured beyond her small village in England could write about important issues filtered through the  microcosm of her small, circumscribed world.  She wrote with humor, irony, and sharp insights into human nature and filled her novels with unforgettable characters.

When I heard that UCLA professor Charles Linwood Batten was giving a talk on Jane Austen entitled, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned From Jane Austen, " and that it was being held at the beautiful Robinson Gardens in Beverly Hills, I signed up.

Pool Pavilion at Robinson Gardens

I have heard Professor Batten speak on many different topics, but my favorite is his lecture on Jane Austen.  

Charles Batten

Professor Batten manages to be both an erudite scholar and a witty storyteller, with a twinkle in his eye and a wonderful sense of humor.  He is someone you'd love to have at a dinner party.   In his lecture he asks the question, why do movie makers and television producers continue to make films out of Jane Austen's books and life and why do writers continue to rewrite her novels?  ("The Three Weissmanns of Westport" by Cathleen Schine and "The Cookbook Collector" by Allegra Goodman are two recent examples of books.) What is Jane Austen doing that is so universally and timelessly appealing?

The 1996 film version of "Emma" with Gwyneth Paltrow

The 1995 film version of "Sense and Sensibility"with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet

The 1995 television production of "Pride and Prejudice" with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth 

The 2007 film "Becoming Jane," with Anne Hathaway

Professor Batten argues that she is giving us truths about life.  Truths about people, human behavior, and self-knowledge.  In our own lives we know the people that populate Austen's novels.  These are characters we recognize as being true.  We face many of the same challenges her characters face.  Considering that in her whole life, Jane Austen never travelled further than one hundred and fifty miles from home, it's amazing that she knew so much about life and human nature.   As readers, we have the satisfying experience of watching the education of Austen's characters, and at the same time, of gaining wisdom to apply to our own lives.

Batten challenged us to list all the characters from Jane Austen's novels and to find their counterpart in our own lives.  The way a birdwatcher, after spotting a bird, checks it off his list, we could do the same with her characters.  We all know a Mrs. Bennett, Emma Woodhouse, Harriet Smith, Marianne Dashwood, or Mrs. Elton.  I've started my own list, and it's amazing to discover how many people I know that are similar to the characters in her books.  I challenge you to start your own.  It's a revelation and a lot of fun.

I guess you could say that "It is a truth universally acknowledged" that if Professor Batten is speaking about Jane Austen, laughter, education, and insight will prevail.  Now I just have to figure out, which Jane Austen character am I?  Hmmm...  


Friday, November 12, 2010


On the first day of my recent trip to San Francisco with my sisters, we had a wonderful lunch at Zuni Cafe.  Afterwards we decided to search for the elusive Bell'occhio specialty store. After driving around for a good 15 minutes, we finally found that it was across the street from Zuni Cafe, tucked onto a small side street called Brady.  Needless to say, we could have walked.

But the adventure of searching for this store made the finding of it all the more special. And when we entered we were dazzled by the treasure trove we had discovered.

Bell'occhio is Italian for "beautiful eye."  It is obvious that a someone with a "beautiful eye" selected these goods.  Everywhere we looked we saw gorgeous ribbons, twine, boxes, jewelry, cake stands, sewing kits, even specialty scissors for cutting fringe. Bell'occhio describes itself as being a specialty shop offering antiques and curiosities as well as rarefied merchandise produced by historic ateliers.

The smallness of the store with its jewel-like beauty and attention to detail reminded me of specialty stores in Paris.  And its old-fashioned ambiance made me think of the gift shop in "She Loves Me," the musical based on the movie, "The Shop Around the Corner" from 1940.

My brain went into overdrive with ideas for wrapping presents, storage for my closet, and decorating my study.

Stacked boxes
I bought these in Tiffany blue trimmed in red.

Striped string for wrapping parcels or holiday gifts

Small round  box with ribbon

Great storage boxes for the closet

Floral sprigged ribbon made in France

More fabulous storage boxes

Hampers for storing papers and photos

Boxwood garland for wrapping gifts

A visit to Bell'occhio is a delightful treat around the holiday season.  You will be inspired!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Holiday Inspiration

With the holidays coming up and their sensory feast of colors, foods, and decor, I have found myself inspired by several recent experiences:  reading "The Cookbook Collector" by Allegra Goodman, a visit to a bookstore in Vermont which involved a cookbook shopping spree, and a recent visit to the Ferry Building in San Francisco on Farmers' Market Day.  Maybe I'm overly excited for the upcoming festivities, but every where I look I see a "still life," as gorgeous as any painting by the Dutch masters.

Let's start with "The Cookbook Collector."  It didn't hurt that I read the book at the beautiful Pitcher Inn in Vermont.  This book is a delightful romantic comedy in the spirit of Jane Austen, with a heroine we love who is watched over by her more sensible older sister.  At the same time the book contains a serious examination of the dot-com rise and fall of the early 21st century.  Jess, the heroine, works at a used book store named Yoricks, which is owned by George, a wealthy bachelor who discovers a collection of rare cookbooks.  The descriptions of the books and the recipes are written with the sensibility of a book lover who also loves food.  In fact, all the descriptions in "The Cookbook Collector" of the meals, the houses, and the natural scenery are sensual and ravishing. The still life on the cover foretells the luscious world awaiting the reader.

Regarding the cookbook shopping spree in Vermont, we went to Tempest Bookshop in Waitsfield, where I discovered three wonderful cookbooks that were published a few years ago but are still available.

"Elizabeth David's Christmas"

I am in love with the green of the cover as well as the pretty design.  Here are the endpapers, what a beautiful touch.
It turns out that renowned British food writer Elizabeth David had over the years collected recipes, essays, and notes in a box marked "Christmas."  Her literary executor and agent compiled the contents of the box into this charming book.

"Paris Sweets" by Dorie Greenspan

"Confessions of a French Baker" by Peter Mayle and Gerard Auzet

I confess I bought these books as much for their physical beauty as for their content. Just looking at them makes me smile.  They evoke warm holidays, baking, Paris, and Provence.

I have to mention these brand new cookbooks written by two of my favorite food writers.

"Barefoot Contessa, How Easy is That" by Ina Garten

"Nigella Kitchen" by Nigella Lawson

All of these books will provide inspiration for Fall and Holiday entertaining.

I just spent a fabulous weekend in San Francisco and one of the highlights was a visit to the Ferry Building and the Farmers' Market that is held there on Saturdays.

Ferry Building

Here are some of the "still lifes" I encountered:

Persimmons, pears, and pomegranates at Farmer's Market

Fall display from McEvoy Ranch

Cups and Pitcher from Culinaire Antiques

Table setting from Culinaire Antiques

Chocolate Filled Cookie Cutters