Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

Ready for tonight!

 Turkey Chili for Halloween Dinner  

Butternut Squash Quesadillas, recipe here

Big Caesar Salad

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Frosting for dessert, recipe here

And most importantly, candy for the trick-or-treaters

Have a Happy and Scrumptious Halloween!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Stylish Period Piece

A few weeks ago I promised to review "Rules of Civility."  I don't know about you but I always seem to have three books going at the same time.  Along with "Rules" I have been reading "Of Human Bondage" by W. Somerset Maugham and have just started "Shakespeare and Company" by Sylvia Beach.  I recently finished "Rules of Civility"and found it to be a charming and irresistible read, with real substance and serious issues under the lovely veneer.

It's 1966 and our heroine Katy Kontent is at the Museum of Modern Art in New York with her husband viewing a photography exhibition.  In it she sees an image of a man she knew, Tinker Grey.  It sparks a flashback to the fateful night in 1937 when she met the man who changed her life and the book tells the story of what happened that year as well as the next thirty.

The novel has the satisfying feel of a book by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  With its echoes of "The Great Gatsby" as well as "Breakfast at Tiffany's, this book takes us to familiar and comfortable territory, a place where Holly Golightly might have been living and re-inventing herself.  We are in New York in the 1930's and the heroine Katey Kontent is a working girl with big dreams who lives in a Greenwich Village boarding house with her roommate Eve Ross.  One night at a jazz club they meet Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with Ivy league written all over him who changes both their lives.  The two girls quickly enter his glittering social world and their lives become entwined with surprising results.

Although it is obvious that the real connection is between Tinker and our heroine Katey, Eve is the one with whom he forms a romantic relationship.  This is the result of a tragic occurrence later in the book for which he feels responsible. Katey continues to have deep feelings for him and Eve, and never completely loses touch with either of them.  But as the years go by she forms relationships with other men and ascends the corporate ladder in what is clearly a man's world.  She also quickly and easily enters the upper echelons of New York society that Tinker introduces her to and her social and professional ascent has all the elements of an American fairy tale.

As a narrator, Katey Kontent is one of the best, with an honest and appealing voice.  She is witty, quick-tongued, self-deprecating, descriptive, and fun.  Hers is the voice of a fighter and a survivor.  She not only survives but triumphs in her new environment because of her indomitable and resilient spirit.  She learns some hard lessons about the reality behind the sparkling facade of Tinker Grey and his "godmother" Anne Grandyn.

The writing is quite beautiful and full of hard-earned truths about the world.  Because the story is told in such a sparkling and delightful way and is just plain fun to read with its echoes of Fitzgerald and Capote,  we almost are taken aback by the harsh truths about human nature that the heroine observes throughout.  Many of these lines capture the poignancy and beauty of the world, and many of them express the disappointing reality she discovers about human nature.  We watch as her idealism is dashed against a growing cynicism as she discovers that people she idealized are fakes and frauds.  And yet what keeps us engaged is her general nature which is resilient and hopeful.  The beauty in life that she find outweighs the disappointments and keeps her going.  She absorbs the promise of New York and is able to take advantages of the opportunities that present themselves.  This is one smart cookie and I found myself cheering her on.

As she muses about life and choices near the end of the book she thinks,

"Life doesn't have to provide you any options at all.  It can easily define your course from the outset and keep you in check through all manner of rough and subtle mechanics.  To have even one year when you're presented with choices that can alter your circumstances, your character, your course -- that's by the grace of God alone.  And it shouldn't come without a price.  
I... love my job, and my New York.  I have no doubt that they were the right choices for me.  And at the same time, I know that right choices by definition are the means by which life crystallizes loss."

I could see this book easily being made into a film, maybe in the genre of the classic screwball comedies with Gershwin music playing in the background.  It reminded me of a 40's romantic comedy, with quick and witty repartee, jazz club scenes, lots of youthful hijinks, and romantic mischief.  It also astonished me with with its many beautifully expressed truths about human nature and the course of a life well-lived.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Welcome Autumn

Sometimes it's the simple pleasures in life that make us feel good.  I took this photo last October at the Stonewall Kitchen in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  Looking at it has me longing for Halloween and all the delights of the fall season.  This season always goes by so fast and this year I hope I can slow down and enjoy each precious moment.

Staying at a charming country hotel in New England is a favorite thing to do this time of the year

You are surrounded by all the splendors of nature 

 Country roads beckon 

People go all out to decorate for the fall season.  This scene is from the beautiful village of Woodstock, Vermont.

Store front windows have such charming displays

This is the country store at Shelburne Farms, Vermont

We visit Maine each year and always return to MC Perkins Cove Restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine.  It has great seasonal food, including a delicious clam chowder.

Bates College, my alma mater, is always part of our trip.  Here is the quad in October during Homecoming Weekend.


Fall with all its bounty has definitely arrived here in Los Angeles and it almost seems to have snuck in and appeared when I wasn't paying attention.  Just the other day I noticed that the stores are stocked with squashes and pumpkins of all kinds, the weather has cooled down, and my neighbors have artfully arranged pumpkins on their porches.  I decided to get busy and do some fall decorating of my own.

The front door of my house is now ready for trick-or-treaters and Thanksgiving guests

 Flowers bring in the palette of fall and create a mood of celebration in the house

These yellow roses in the hallway add some golden fall color

I love these cheerful dahlias in the kitchen

I bought these cookie cutters last November in San Francisco and my goal this autumn season is to make shortbread cookies in these shapes and dip them in chocolate.  I think they will make great hostess gifts.   A platter of shortbread cookies served with butter pecan ice cream and caramel sauce would be a delicious dessert for a cozy dinner at home.

We all know it will speed by, so let's try to enjoy every wonderful moment of the season.  This time of year is all about the comforts of home.  I would love to know --  how do you decorate your house for fall and what recipes are you cooking now that there's a chill in the air?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Martha's New Book on Entertaining

Thirty years after her first book "Entertaining" was published, Martha Stewart has written a new book on entertaining and it hits the bookstores on October 25.  "Martha's Entertaining,  A Year of Celebrations" has been eagerly awaited and is now available for all of us to enjoy for the holiday season.   I have always been a fan of Martha's and in the early years of her magazine and television show I learned many things about home and garden from her. She really was and always has been a marvelous teacher.

When we designed our home in Los Angeles, I was inspired by many of the architectural and design features of her home in Connecticut that she shared with her readers over the years.  I grew up in New England and her seasonal and classic approach to cooking, gardening, and decorating always resonated with me.  I was often homesick for that part of the world and her show allowed me to be an armchair traveller and to experience all of the New England seasons while living in Los Angeles.  I loved watching her snowy Christmases and her cozy and autumnal Thanksgivings.  Her books on holiday entertaining were always excellent, and I still pull them out for decorating ideas around the holidays.

Here is a sneak peak at Martha's new book via "martha moments"

Martha's Peony Party at Bedford

Biscuits and Scones on the porch at Bedford

Autumn arrangement 

Christmas Dinner

In writing about the new book in the November issue of her magazine "Living," she says that while the basic tenets have stayed the same, there are lots of secrets and shortcuts, tips and hints, easy instructions, fabulous recipes, and new inspiration for more extraordinary and more innovative gatherings.  I for one can't wait to buy Martha's new book on entertaining and be inspired for the upcoming holidays.

 "Entertaining" by Martha Stewart has been on my kitchen bookshelf for many years

Monday, October 17, 2011

Monday Morning Inspiration

Mornings have always been my favorite part of the day and my daily ritual of freshly brewed coffee and the New York Times often brings with it an "Aha" moment of inspiration.  That happened last week when I read this terrific story about a young woman in New York who is doing her best to keep the independent book industry alive.  Her name is Sarah McNally and she owns McNally Jackson Books on Prince Street in New York City.  This thriving store is known for its exciting program of events and its 8,30-title literature collection, organized by geography.  For example, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese writers are kept in one section, and Germans and Austrians are in another.  In an attempt to battle Amazon and the e-book business, she has a print-right-now bookmaker called the Espresso Book Machine. From a cloud library of seven million titles, it prints one book at a time, and can download, bind and trim a paperback in minutes, for a price comparable to that of a typical paperback.  The bookstore also offers an online service, so you can shop from home.  McNally Jackson seems to have all its bases covered.

But there is so much more that makes this bookstore in Soho very appealing --  many exciting things are happening there!  It has an enormous inventory of books, a great events calendar, readings by authors, an engaged staff, chaise lounges for customers who want to browse and a bustling coffee shop.  It is my dream book store.  We need more of these!  You can read more about Sarah McNally and her exciting bookstore here.  As I saw on their website, McNally Jackson "aspires to be the center of Manhattan's literary culture."  That is exactly what bookstores used to be.  Please let's have more stores like McNally Jackson!


The following day I read here (The New York Times) about another inspiring woman of letters who has certainly done her share to keep the genre of mystery writing alive.   The prolific British mystery writer P.D. James, at age 91,  has written another book, this one a sequel to "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen.  It comes out in early December.

P.D. James

"Death Comes to Pemberly" is a murder mystery set in 1803, when Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy have been married for six years and are the proud parents of two young sons.  Drama arrives in the form of Elizabeth's sister, Lydia Wickham, who turns up at Pemberley - Mr. Darcy's country estate - with the shocking news that her husband has been murdered.  

Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth in the 1995 television series "Pride and Prejudice"

The press release from Faber and Faber says, "The year is 1803, and Darcy and Elizabeth have been married for six years.  There are now two handsome and healthy sons in the Pemberley nursery, Elizabeth's beloved sister Jane and her husband Bingley live within 17 miles, the ordered and secure life of Pemberley seems unassailable, and Elizabeth's happiness in her marriage is complete.
But their peace is threatened and old sins and misunderstandings are rekindled on the eve of the annual Autumn Ball. The Darcys and their guests are preparing to retire for the night when a chaise appears, rocking down the path from Pemberley's wild woodland, and as it pulls up, Lydia Wickham, an uninvited guest, tumbles out, screaming that her husband has been murdered."

P.D. James has said about this new book:  "It has been a joy to revisit 'Pride and Prejudice' and to discover, as one always does, new delights and fresh insights.  I have to apologize to Jane Austen for involving her beloved Elizabeth in a murder investigation but this fusion of my two enthusiasms -- for the novels of Jane Austen and for writing detective stories -- has given me great pleasure which I hope will be shared by my readers."

As a big fan of Jane Austen, as well as P.D. James (there is no one who is better in the mystery/detective genre), I am looking forward to reading "Death Comes to Pemberly."  There have been many rewritings of Austen classics in the past few years -- "The Cookbook Collector" by Allegra Goodman and "The Three Weissmanns of Westport" by Cathleen Schine are two examples.  They received mixed reviews, though I personally enjoyed "The Cookbook Collector."  But this new book by James is a sequel as well as a mystery written by a master of the craft.  My mind is filled with all kinds of speculations -- will Lizzie Bennet be the sleuth who solves the crime, will the suspects come from Wickham's group of disreputable friends, or will James create some new Austen-like characters to fill the roles of detective and red herrings?   I have a feeling this will be a fresh and original take on a beloved classic.  If anyone can pull this off, it is P.D. James.

Thriving independent bookstores and a sequel to "Pride and Prejudice."  Those are the kinds of stories that get my day rolling and make me feel very good about life.  One thing is obvious to me, women of all ages are doing amazing things and there is no end to the satisfying feeling of reading about their accomplishments and being inspired to follow our dreams.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Behind the Scenes at the Courtauld Gallery

A new rug by Christopher Farr inspired by a design from the Omega Workshop, photo via "Elle Decor"
I saw the original Omega design at the Courtauld Gallery 

Somerset House, the home of The Courtauld Gallery in London

Did  you know that if you want to see an art work at the Courtauld Gallery that is currently not being exhibited, you can make an appointment with a curator and go behind the scenes to see it?  This is what I did on my recent trip to London, and it was one of the highlights of the trip!

It all started with the October issue of Elle Decor.  I was browsing through it while still in Los Angeles and was stopped in my tracks by an article called "Charmed Circle:  A new collection of rugs based on their designs proves that for the artists of the Bloomsbury group, the home was a compelling canvas."

It turns out that Christopher Farr Rugs, located in London and Los Angeles, is issuing limited editions of rugs based on five designs created by Bloomsbury artists for the Omega Workshop.  The Omega Workshop was founded in London in 1913 by artist and art critic Roger Fry as an enterprise that would allow his fellow Bloomsbury artists  to design furniture, textiles, rugs, ceramics, lampshades and other home accessories in the same spirit of modernism that they were displaying in their art work.  The Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Roger Fry were greatly influenced by the developments occurring in the art world of Paris in the early twentieth-century.  In fact, they were responsible for bringing works by these European artists, such as Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso to London and thus introducing the age of modernism to England.  At the same time, their own work was greatly affected by what they saw in Paris.

Being a forward thinker, Roger Fry was also anxious to bring this spirit of modern art to the world of home decor.  And so the the Omega Workshop was born as an atelier in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of London, a place where these artists were given the opportunity to design home furnishings with the same free hand that they brought to their bright, expressive paintings. 

Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex

I was in just in London a couple of weeks ago and had the opportunity to visit Charleston in Sussex, the country home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.  Our tour guide pointed out many objects in the house that had come from the Omega Workshops -- the chairs around the dining room table, a "Lily Pond" table in Maynard Keynes room, and several different fabric designs that were designed by Bell and Grant. 

Duncan Grant's studio at Charleston, his country home that he shared with Vanessa Bell.  Many of the items in Charleston were designed by the Omega Workshop.  Photo via "Elle Decor"

A Farr rug with a design attributed to Vanessa Bell, photo via "Elle Decor"

A Christopher Farr Omega design in Hand-knotted wool and mohair, photo via "Elle Decor"
I saw this original design at the Courtauld Gallery

According to the article in Elle Decor, these designs were at the Courtauld Gallery and since I was going to London I made up my mind to seek them out.  So one of the first places I went when I arrived in London was the Courtuald to search for these designs.  I couldn't find them and when I asked a young woman for some assistance she told me they were not out at the moment.  But would I like to make an appointment to return at a later date to see the pieces.  Yes, I would!  So on a Thursday afternoon I had an appointment at the Courtauld to see some of the Omega designs.  I was able to take a few photos as long as there was no flash,  but unfortunately my flash started going off and I was unable to snap the photos of the two designs that I did see for the rugs that Christopher Farr has brought out.  

When we arrived we were met by the charming assistant who had set up our appointment.  We were then taken to the display room of the storage facility at the Courtauld where a Bloomsbury scholar brought out about twenty works for us to see.  

We were given magnifying glasses to see these rug designs closely

Rug design from the Omega Workshop

Rug designs from the Omega Workshop

Rug design from the Omega Workshop

This hour spent behind the scenes at the Courtauld Gallery with a curator who shares my love of the Bloomsbury Group was one of the best of my trip.  In addition to seeing some of the treasures of this art museum, I got to chat with a lovely American scholar about all things Bloomsbury.  It was truly a highlight of my visit to London.  Now I cannot wait to see the actual rugs at Christopher Farr!

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Very British Affair

I took this photo of a window display in the St. James neighborhood where we stayed on our recent trip to London.  I just love this.  Our first full day in London proved to be filled with all kinds of quintessential British experiences -- old book stores, the Royal Academy of Art, history, the Thames River, and Shakespeare.   And despite the fact that I was not wearing tweed, cashmere and pearls, I felt very British indeed.

Each day we would start out from this street where our hotel was located.  History seemed to echo from the walls of this charming little neighborhood.  Even though our hotel was close to bustling St. James and Piccadilly streets, it was tucked away in this lovely little side street, St. James Place.

This is the entrance to The Stafford Hotel where we stayed.  I love this hotel because it is friendly, intimate, and has an atmosphere that is very English.  The main building at The Stafford was originally a grand late-17th century townhouse with a stable courtyard at the rear.  The stables were converted into 12 Carriage House rooms, which is where we stayed.  The American Bar located within the hotel is famous and is decorated with baseball caps, yachting pennants and other memorabilia donated by the hotels guests.  During World War II, the Stafford served as a club for American and Canadian officers, and today their pictures still grace the walls of the bar.  We had dinner at the American Bar one night and it was a very cozy experience.

Some of the pennants and memorabilia on the wall of The American Bar at The Stafford Hotel

Taking the short walk to Piccadilly street, I discovered that Hatchards was right around the corner.  This is my favorite bookstore in London, and I spent some happy time there browsing amongst the stacks and buying some wonderful books.  Hatchards, booksellers since 1797, is the oldest surviving bookshop in London.  Its customers have included some of Britain's greatest political, social, and literary figures -- from Queen Charlotte, Disraeli and Wellington to Kipling, Wilde, and Lord Byron.  Not only is it the oldest book store in London, but it is filled with all kinds of books that just don't exist in the U.S.  At least not yet.  And if they do, they often have different dust jackets.

The Royal Academy of Art was also close by.  We saw an exquisite Degas exhibition there, more on that later!

The bookseller at this rare book store pulled out many books for us to see, including a very scarce collection of woodcuts -- "Twelve Woodcuts" --  by the Bloomsbury artist and art critic Roger Fry.  It was obvious that we were in a literary neighborhood steeped in history when he mentioned that Nancy Mitford used to work at Heywood Hill, another bookseller, right around the corner.  When the owner Heywood was called up to serve in the War in 1942, Nancy worked at the store and was responsible for keeping it going.  A visit to London always includes hearing stories about famous writers, artists, and politicians who lived or worked "right around the corner."  We were walking in their footsteps.

And of course where ever you are in London, you are bound to see these iconic blue plaques which indicate the residence of a notable writer, statesman, or in this case, a musician.  That blue door is so typical of London --  I love the doors and the vibrant colors they are painted throughout the city.

So  much history here

That night we took a taxi to the Shakespeare Globe theatre to see "Much Ado About Nothing."  This was a wonderful experience that I will never forget.  I felt that I had gone back in time to the sixteenth-century when Shakespeare wrote the plays.  This theatre is an exciting space to see a Shakespeare play, as it is a recreation of the actual Old Globe theatre in London where the plays were originally performed.

The theatre from the outside

This is the stage just before the play began.  The theatre is an open air space, with only part of it covered.    The seats are benches, but you can buy a cushion for comfort.   

Before the play we enjoyed this amazing view of the river at the Bankside Pier, just across from the Globe Theatre.  I loved the mood created by the dark and cloudy sky and the reflections of the buildings and lights in the water.

That night as I went to sleep my head was filled with images of London with its 2,000-year history and  love of pageantry and tradition.  It was obvious to me, this was going to be a very good trip!