Friday, August 31, 2012

Favorite Finds in Napa

Napa, the famous wine region in northern California, is truly a feast for all the senses.  First there is the beautiful natural scenery.  Country roads that wind through miles and miles of vineyards and trees.  At the end of the afternoon, the lighting is golden and lovely and produces scenes such as the one above.  Then of course there is the wine, some of the best you will ever taste.  And to go with that wine is delicious food at an array of excellent restaurants.  I was there recently and had some fantastic meals.  Foodies will feel like they've gone to heaven here.  The little town of St. Helena is lined with cookware stores featuring every pot, pan, or specialty gadget for home cooking you could think of. Chocolate shops, olive oil purveyors, specialty linens, garden stores, and even a fabulous rare book store are in abundance.  Here are some of the places and products that stood out during a recent visit to Napa:

The food was so good in Napa.  Press is one of the best restaurants in the area.

Sunflowers greet you at the entrance of Press Restaurant

 The meal begins with this delectable bread basket filled with gougeres, brioche rolls and bread sticks

The streets of St. Helena have a great collection of food and wine shops.  Woodhouse Chocolate is one of the prettiest and carries delicious chocolate candy.

The packaging is gorgeous 

Olivier is a purveyor of great food products as well as beautiful ceramic products for the kitchen.  I couldn't resist buying one of the charming olive oil dispensers pictured above.

The St. Helena Olive Oil Company has some of the best olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar I have ever tasted.  I left with a bottle of each.

More gourmet food products at St. Helena Olive Oil Company

They carry many types of gourmet salt

Acres Home and Garden was a treasure trove of everything for the gardener

Every corner of the store was loaded with unusual and beautiful gardening products

It is hard to believe that these flowers are not real

Jan De Luz carries beautiful embroidered linens which they will also monogram for you

A little nook at Jan De Luz for travel books

Another great restaurant for dinner

As the last golden days of summer come to an end, Napa is a great place to spend them.  The country roads and vineyards, the lush natural scenery, the delicious food and the legendary wines all add up to a beautiful trip filled with great inspiration.  It's hard to believe, but fall is right around the corner...

Monday, August 27, 2012

Inspired by "Downton Abbey"

Our favorite television series from England "Downton Abbey" has not been on the air for a few months, but its influence has been huge and its presence continues to linger, especially in some recent magazine articles, photo shoots and fall fashion.  The September issue of Vanity Fair has a piece on actress Jessica Chastain styled as an English duchess and shot in a stately manor house in England's Hampshire countryside. These beautiful photos were taken by renowned photographer Mario Testino.  They are exquisite and conjure up the show as well as paintings by John Singer Sargent and Thomas Gainsborough.  It is not surprising that the opening photo is based on the hunting scene from the final episode of "Downton Abbey's season two,  for who could forget those iconic images from this beautiful show?  If you are a fan of "Downton Abbey," be sure to pick up a copy of the September issue of Vanity Fair; it will remind you of the aesthetic pleasures of this television series from England where every scene looks like a painting.

Photos via here


Lady Mary Crawley, our favorite aristocrat from "Downton Abbey," is featured in the September issue of Harper's Bazaar.  The magazine has an article and photo spread on the English actress Michelle Dockery who plays Lady Mary. The interview with her is fabulous, as are these photos of this very modern looking actress.  She has much to say about the show and its popularity.

Photos via here

Here is my favorite quote from the actress  --  "I think period drama can be quite alienating, but 'Downton' isn't.  This is going to sound quite...pretentious, but someone said that it's like a soap written by a poet."  I learned from the interview that Michelle Dockery will be appearing in the film "Anna Karenina" with Keira Knightley, coming out in November and that she will soon be filming "Restless," a BBC television adaptation of the William Boyd novel.  Pick up the magazine to read the entire article.


And finally, a peak into the Ralph Lauren collection for fall which was inspired by the English countryside life and sumptuous costumes of "Downton Abbey."  The runway show in the spring opened to the theme music from "Downton."   Take a look at some of Ralph Lauren's designs; don't they capture the romance and nostalgia of the hit period drama?

Photos via here

The third season of "Downton Abbey" will air in the U.S. in January.  While we wait for the next season to begin in January and the Emmy Awards to air in September -- the series is nominated for sixteen awards -- there is no shortage of "Downton Abbey" inspired articles, photography and fashion to enjoy!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Book Clubs

With September right around the corner and the promise of a fall lineup of exciting cultural events in Los Angeles, book clubs all around the city are also swinging into gear and putting together their book selections for the fall.  So far, my two book clubs have their September selections in place --  "Lady Chatterly's Lover" by D.H. Lawrence and "The Snow Child" by Eowyn Ivey.  We are working on selecting additional titles for the upcoming months.

Book clubs are truly a phenomenon at this point.  Everyone I know is in one.  Most of the women I know love to read and they are passionate about their book clubs.  Publishers know that book clubs can help create best sellers -- "The Help" and "The Kite Runner" became bestsellers due to their popularity among book clubs all over the country.  For women, book groups satisfy two needs;  a love of reading and a love of getting together with other women. The ability to gather with friends for a scheduled monthly meeting over dinner or lunch and a good book is one of the pleasures of life.  I often picture some of my favorite scenes from "Howards End" by E.M. Forster when I think about my book clubs:  the cultured and idealistic Schlegel sisters meeting with their friends for discussions of set topics over dinner and wine. Conversations are flowing and people are laughing, arguing, agreeing and ultimately being enriched.  I like to think that the women in my groups are continuing that tradition.    

I am in two book clubs and each one has a distinct personality and unique way of functioning.  The group I have been in the longest was formed by myself and a friend 18 years ago out of a group of women at my daughter's school who wanted to meet on a regular basis to talk about books.  We meet in the evenings over dinner at a member's house. There is a lot of laughter and friendship here as we have been together for many years.  We all catch up on life for a while and then get down to the business of discussing the book selection.  We do not have a facilitator but run the meetings ourselves with each of us taking turns selecting a book and coming to the meeting prepared with discussion topics and background material on the author.  Over the almost twenty years we have been together we have read some amazing books!  Our tastes are eclectic, we read novels (classic and contemporary), memoirs, and biographies. Here are a few that stand out in my memory (in no particular order);  they were great books that led to exciting discussions:

"Everybody Was So Young" by Amanda Vaill
"The Shooting Party" by Isabel Colegate
"Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford
"Fifth Business" by Robertson Davies
"The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes
"Wolf Hall" by Hillary Mantel
"Adam Bede" by George Eliot
"Any Human Heart" by William Boyd
"The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion
"Scoop" by Evelyn Waugh
"Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette" by Judith Thurman

My other book club is a newer group for me -- I joined about 4 years ago -- and it also has wonderful qualities.  We have a facilitator who guides our book choices and also the discussion.  This is a good thing as this group is large, with at least 15 members in attendance at most times, and discussions can get unruly if everyone wants to be heard at the same time.  We meet over lunch at a member's home and we have incredible book discussions with our bright and engaging facilitator leading the way.  She brings her vast literary knowledge as well as background information on the author to the table.  The members bring their life experiences and opinions about the books.  It all adds up to stimulating and lively discussions.

Favorite books read by this group in recent years:

"By Nightfall" by Michael Cunningham
"The Age of Innocence" by Edith Wharton
"The Rules of Civility" by Amor Towles
"Old Filth" and "The Man in the Wooden Hat" by Jane Gardam
"Defending Jacob" by William Landay
"The Paris Wife" by Paula McCain
"Major Pettigrew's Last Stand" by Helen Simonson
"Let The Great World Spin" by Colum McCann
"Cutting For Stone" by Abraham Verghese
"The Invisible Bridge" by Julie Orringer


Here are some exciting literary events coming up this fall in Los Angeles:

The Hammer Museum:  "Some Favorite Writers" is a regular reading series at the Hammer.  It will feature the writer Michael Chabon on September 13.

Literary Affairs:  "Sex, Lies and Literature" is a four-part lecture series on the novels "Lady Chatterly's Lover," "Madame Bovary," "Lolita," and "The Lover."  It starts in September.

Eating Our Words:  Taylor de Cordoba art gallery in Culver City presents a bi-monthly series that features acclaimed literary and culinary artists sharing words and food.  Recently they presented Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling book "Wild," and two Los Angeles artisanal dessert makers.  Their fall schedule should be coming out soon.

Over one hundred years ago Virginia Woolf, her sister Vanessa Bell and their brothers Thoby and Adrian Stephen moved to 46 Gordon Square in the London district of Bloomsbury.  It was there that they got together with their young artistic and intellectual friends for regular evening meetings to talk about their favorite topics:  books, art, and life. Book clubs are continuing the tradition of literary salons and discussion groups that have been going on forever...

Are you in a book club?  What are some of the best books you have read lately?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, Julia Child!

Photo via here

Happy Birthday, Julia!  August 15 would have been Julia Child's 100th birthday.  An American icon, Julia Child is credited with starting the public conversation about food, a conversation that continues today in so many ways, including professional food writing and the Food Network.  Her original goal was to teach Americans how to cook French food.  When she wrote her culinary masterpiece "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in 1961, most home cooks had never attempted to make French food at home.  Julia was out to change all that.  She was the one who introduced French cooking to all of us and made it accessible in our home kitchens.  She was the original television cooking teacher many years before the Food Network began.  And she was teaching us about kitchen skills many years before Martha Stewart began writing books on the domestic arts.  She was a true original and for that alone we can celebrate her birthday and say thank you, Julia, for giving us so much culinary inspiration.

Photo via here

Her book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" was very important to many of us.  It had a great impact on my life because it was the book that taught me how to cook.  Fresh out of college and newly married I read this book cover to cover and learned how to cook French food. Along the way I also sought out more basic cookbooks like "Better Homes and Gardens" and "The Joy of Cooking." But French food was what I was really interested in.  And Julia's recipes were so instructive and detailed that there was no way to fail.  I will never forget my first Quiche Lorraine or Boeuf Bourguignon.   Those early dinner parties almost always featured French food.

And there was so much more to love about the book.  There was Julia's own story about how she came to France and learned how to cook French food.  Her story was inspiring; it was about finding her passion and taking steps to make it a reality.  We could all learn from this.  She took classes at the prestigious Cordon Bleu cooking school in France and founded a cooking school in Paris.  Growing up in Pasadena in the fifties, Julia had never tasted French food before she lived in France.  When she married Paul Child and they moved to Paris, the food was a revelation to her.  She fell in love with it.  She decided to master French cooking herself, learning everything she could and then share her knowledge with others.  And so her book was born, followed by many others, as well as her iconic television show "The French Chef."

Meryl Streep as Julia Child in the film "Julie and Julia"
Photo via here

Many people are celebrating the occasion of her birthday by making something from one of her cookbooks this week. There are so many great dishes to choose from.  I would probably celebrate the occasion with a Quiche Lorraine since it is one of the very first things I made from her "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."  I also loved her Coq au Vin.  I have fond memories of her French Potato Salad and her Gratin Dauphinois (potato gratin).  Her Salade Nicoise would be perfect for a summer lunch.   And for dessert I would love to make her Chocolate Mousse or Tarte Tatin.  

How about you?  Were Julia Child's cookbooks and television shows a part of your life and do you have favorite recipes from her books?

Julia passed away two days before her 92nd birthday.  Her last meal was homemade French onion soup.  Julia, you are one of the stars of the culinary world and had a great impact on so many of us.  Happy, happy birthday!  Go here to learn more about Julia Child's life on her 100th birthday. 

Bon Appetit! 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Edith Wharton in Vogue Magazine

The September Issue of Vogue Magazine has just hit the stands and it includes a fascinating essay on Edith Wharton written by Colm Toibin and a gorgeous photo spread by Annie Leibovitz shot at The Mount, Edith Wharton's home in Lenox, Massachusetts. This really is Edith Wharton's year!  It is the 150th anniversary of her birth, there are celebrations all over the country, especially at The Mount, and now she's in Vogue.   Shot on the grounds of the beautiful Berkshire retreat that Wharton designed and lived in from 1903 until 1908, these photos taken by photographer Annie Leibovitz and styled by Vogue's creative director Grace Coddington capture the gracious beauty of this autobiographical home and its grounds.  It is truly one of this country's historical and literary treasures.  President Theodore Roosevelt, diplomat Water Berry, writer Henry James, and sculptor Daniel Chester French were all part of Wharton's inner circle and came to stay with her there.  If you get a chance to visit this area of western Massachusetts (a great destination with Tanglewood nearby and the Williamstown Theatre Festival not faraway), be sure to visit The Mount.  The house and the gardens are magnificent and it is where Edith Wharton wrote her masterpiece "The House of Mirth."

Natalia Vodianova plays Edith Wharton and actress Juno Temple plays Edith's secretary Anna Bahlmann

This story in Vogue is a beautiful and creative piece and one of the best magazine layouts I have seen in a long time. The art direction and styling are simply brilliant.  Entitled "Custom of the Country," it recreates Edith Wharton's inner circle by casting writers, artists and actors of today such as Jeffrey Eugenides, Elijah Wood, Jack Huston, Mamie Gummer, and Juno Temple to play Wharton's friends and colleagues who would have spent time with her at the Mount. These romantic and evocative vignettes include vintage cars, costumes, and even current Edwardian fashions off the runway.  I am wondering if "Downton Abbey" influenced some of the designers this year.

Writer Jeffrey Eugenides plays Henry James; actor Elijah Wood plays Wharton's chauffeur; and actor Jack Huston plays Morton Fullerton, the man whom Wharton loved

Near the Mount is Chesterwood, the home and studio of sculptor Daniel Chester French, played here by artist Nate Lowman

This scene recreates a picnic between Henry James, Morton Fullerton and Wharton

Wharton's niece landscape designer Beatrix Farrand, played here by actress Mamie Gummer; diplomat Walter Barry, played by writer Junot Diaz; architect Ogden Codman Jr., played by writer Jonathan Safran Foer; and painter Maxfield Parrish, played by actor Max Minghella


Pick up this issue -- if you are a fan of Edith Wharton you will love the way her life at the Mount has been reimagined by Annie Leibovitz and Grace Coddington in the pages of Vogue.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Eye Candy

I have been working on organizing my study, a room that has been taken over by too many books!  My study was supposed to be a room for reading and writing, an orderly room where you could find a book if you needed to or locate an article on that writer that you love.  The dream was that books would fill the book shelves and files provided with inspiration would fill the cabinets.  When we moved to our house ten years ago I unpacked a lot of things from the old house and stored them in those study cabinets, meaning to get to them one day and replace them with files, but somehow never got to it.  Ten years have passed and the files have never been made.  And books have been piling up all over the place.

A couple of weeks ago I made up my mind to begin this project.  I started by going through everything in those cabinet drawers, which included many treasures from the past:  articles, magazines, catalogues, stationary, cards, everything I had been collecting over the years.  To keep or throw away, that was the question.  The goal was to clean out the drawers and make space for the files.  Oh the amount of things I threw away!  But, there were also many treasures -- one of my favorite discoveries were the postcards and catalogues I have been collecting over the years from our travels and visits to museums, art galleries, and historic houses.  I put some of them out on my desk and I loved the collage they made.  A friend of mine described them as "eye candy."  And she was right.  I just love them!

Here are some of my favorites:

Duncan Grant, "At the Ballet" (1938) from The Bloomsbury Workshop in London

This  London gallery had an exhibition of works by Vanessa Bell, many years ago
I probably received this invitation in the mail

Vanessa Bell, "Self Portrait" (c.1958) from Charleston in Sussex, England

Catalogue for an exhibition of works by Roger Fry at The Bloomsbury Workshop

Notecard with a drawing of Knole, the ancestral home of Vita Sackville-West in Kent, England

Painting of Lady Ottoline Morrell by Simon Bussy (1920) at the National Portrait Gallery in London

The Bronte sisters, oil painting by Branwell Bronte at the National Portrait Gallery

Bloomsbury Silhouettes, 5 postcards by Anna Fewster, bought at Charleston last year

Snapshots into the past and reminders of travels and interests from many years ago -- these are just some of the souvenirs I have discovered during my adventures in cleaning up my study.  It feels a bit like a travel diary.  And there is so much more...I had no idea this would be so much fun!