Friday, November 30, 2012

Time for Tea

"Under certain circumstance there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.  There are circumstances in which, whether you partake of the tea or not -- some people of course never do, -- the situation is in itself delightful."
-- Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

via here

Tomorrow is the first day of December.  Every year at about this time I realize that December is a month of sweets -- in terms of food and experiences.  There are so many treats along the way during this month that lead up to the big holiday.  For example, many restaurants put out little evergreen trees as part of their decor in December.  They always make me smile. Seasonal foods begin to appear on their menus such as gingerbread desserts and eggnog ice cream. Bakeries begin to feature peppermint chocolate cookies and yule logs.  And people start to invite you to cookie exchange and tree trimming parties.  Another December tradition that I notice are tea parties.  Many people want to celebrate the season with an afternoon tea.

This week I went to a tea party that was held at a friend's house.  She invited a small group of women to get together in the late afternoon for a glass of champagne followed by scones and finger sandwiches.  We gathered together in the living room and sipped steaming cups of tea and munched on cookies.  It was an intimate group and there was a conviviality and warmth that pervaded the conversation.  We talked about many subjects and no one wanted to leave. Outside the rain had started to fall and, as the afternoon darkened, we were cozily ensconced in the warm environment that our hostess had created.  Her Christmas tree had just gone up, though it hadn't been decorated yet.  The expectations for that bare tree filled my head. As I drove away I thought about the ritual of afternoon tea and how charming it can be.  Especially when you get together with a great group of women.  I know that I have said it before, but there is nothing that a group of women can't get done.  I am always impressed by this dynamic group and all that they do.  There was much laughter and many good stories.

The tradition of teatime has long been a cherished one and many of my favorite images of tea come from novels set in England.   The images evoke feelings of tranquility, delicious and old-fashioned foods such as crumpets and scones, and intimate conversations in front of the fire.  I think about characters in the novels of Charles Dickens or Jane Austen who always seem to be toasting crumpets.  Movies and television shows set in England abound with scenes of afternoon tea parties.  "Downton Abbey" rarely has an episode in which the characters are not partaking in afternoon tea.

Around Christmas time there are plenty of opportunities to go to tea in local hotels, all of which feature afternoon tea in a festive setting.  But nothing beats going to a friend's house and drinking endless cups of tea and eating scones with your friends.  The say that tea nurtures the soul and revives the spirit, so whether you get together with girlfriends over a pot of tea or make one for yourself, be sure to put on the kettle and bring out a pretty cup and saucer.  It will make you feel good.   There is nothing cozier on a gray winter day than hearing the whistle of the tea pot, making a cuppa, and delving into that new book.

And speaking of good books, I have been reading The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James which opens with one of the most famous tea scenes in all of literature.

Lady Grantham from "Downton Abbey"

"In nothing more is the English genius for domesticity more notably declared than in the institution of this festival -- almost one may call it -- of afternoon tea...The mere chink of cups and saucers tunes the mind to happy repose." 
-- George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft

Go here for my favorite recipe for Cranberry Orange Scones.  I have made them many times and they are delicious!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday Morning Recap

How was your weekend?  Did you relax after Thanksgiving?  We had the pleasure of celebrating with a dear friend in Sun Valley, Idaho.  We had a delicious dinner on Thanksgiving which was followed by a weekend of hiking, shopping (books and holiday linens) and relaxing.  I had a lot of time for rereading one of my favorite books -- The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford.  I also found myself engrossed in many interesting magazine and newspaper articles over the weekend.  Don't you just love it when you have all day to read?  Here are a few things I read that got my heart racing...

Winvian Hotel in Litchfield Hills, CT
photo via here

For sheer escapism, I was swooning over an article in the Wall Street Journal on "What are the Coziest Hotels in America?"  You will want to check this out and book your next trip!

photo and one below via here

 In the same newspaper there was an article about Grace Coddington, the inspiring artistic director for Vogue Magazine.  I fell in love with her when I saw the film "The September Issue."  Her fashion layouts in Vogue are beautiful and ethereal, and really works of art.  Remember the recent Edith Wharton spread?  If you saw the movie "The September Issue" you got to know her then.  Now there is more -- she has written an autobiography which has just been published.  I cannot wait to read it!     

 Grace Coddington's memoir Grace 

photo via here

In an article in The New York Times, I learned that Martha Stewart is inspiring young entrepreneurs, 20- and 30-somethings, to develop their craft ideas and turn them into a career.  After all this time, she has something to say to the young generation.

photo via here

And at this time of the year there is always news about Charles Dickens.  In an article in The New York Times, we learn about the revival on Broadway of Dickens' unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  This article is filled with fascinating information on Dickens' life and how it is reflected in his unfinished novel.  Did you know that he was on an exhausting book tour and in poor health at the time he was writing it?  He died before finishing at the age of 58.

All of the December issues of my favorite magazines are out, always an occasion.  Lots of great ideas, stories, and inspiration for the holidays.  It's easy to pore over these for hours with a cup of tea.

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

I had forgotten the ending.  Don't you love it when an author surprises you and touches your heart at the same time?

And, of course, all of this reading was accompanied by some really good Thanksgiving leftovers!
How was your weekend?  

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

via here

Most people will tell you that Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday.  With no gifts to worry about, it is a wonderful time to gather with loved ones for a delicious meal.  It is about family and tradition.  And it is a time to be thankful. Normally I would be cooking, but this year my family and I are going to a friend's house to celebrate Thanksgiving.  And I am grateful for that.  I am looking forward to relaxing with family and friends and enjoying all the delicious food we are sure to have.

I hope you are enjoying this special day, eating your favorite Thanksgiving foods, and visiting with loved ones.  I also hope you get to spend the weekend afterwards (one of my favorites) taking it easy, seeing some movies ("Lincoln" is on my list) and starting your holiday shopping.  We are about to enter "the most wonderful time of the year."  Not sure I am quite ready, but I will get there.  How about you?  Are you getting ready?   Let's try to keep calm and enjoy every magical moment!

via here

And I am counting my blessings.  Thank you for visiting my blog over the past two years.  I am so grateful for the opportunity to write it and to have gotten to know so many of you.  The writer Anais Nin said "We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospect." I like to think that we are "tasting life twice" when we write about our passions and the things in life that feed our soul.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share them with you.  My life has been enriched by your comments and learning about the things that inspire you and bring you joy.  And to my fellow bloggers, I have learned so much from you.  I am inspired daily by what you write.  Your thoughtful observations and ideas take me on a little journey every day into your world.  
Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012

November Afternoons

"Everything in the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary."
-- Aaron Rose, film director

I have always loved the lighting at this time of year.  Late November afternoons grow dark around 5:00 pm and the evenings come upon us very fast.  We are turning on lamps and lighting candles and the glow of evening suffuses our house.  There is something thrilling about this time of the day.  It often sends us searching the bookshelves for a new book to read or perusing our cookbooks for a new recipe to cook.  The fireplace is lit and the house feels like a haven. There is an excitement in the air for fall and winter activities.  Suddenly there are excellent movies to see, great ideas for themed dinner parties, engrossing books to read by the fire, and of course the anticipation of the holidays.

 Many writers have described this time of the day and rooms that are illuminated by soft lighting, candles and fireplaces --

"...a table gleaming with the light of candles, the whiteness of napery, the silver of the samovar and the tea service of transparent porcelain." --  Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

The glow of a candlelit dinner
photo via here

"She had forgotten the heavy smoothness with which armchairs ran over the parquet, the sudden muting of steps as one crossed a rug.  The mirrors were bright with reflections of grey-green gardens...Firelight fingered the cups on the tray between the armchairs; arched deep recesses were dark with books...the long pale-green curtains hung from their pelmets like pillars, placidly fluted."
--  Elizabeth Bowen, To the North

The atmosphere of a softly lit library
via here

"The afternoon had faded but the lamps had been brought in, the smell of flowers was in the air and the old house of Plash seemed to recognize the hour that suited it best.  The quiet old lady in the firelight, encompassed with the symbolic security of chintz and water-colour, gave her a sudden vision of how blessed it would be to jump all the middle dangers of life and have arrived at the end, safely, sensibly, with a cap and gloves and consideration and memories."
-- Henry James, A London Life

The warmth of a fire burning in the fireplace
Photo via here

"We will each write a ghost story."
--- Lord Byron

 The soft illumination of two lamps in an entryway, implying mystery around the corner
I can imagine Byron and his friends gathering here for their ghost stories
Photo via here


Speaking of gorgeous lighting and atmosphere, the new film adaptation of Anna Karenina has both.  It opened this weekend. Have you seen it?  It is a beautiful film with great acting, magical lighting and exquisite costumes.  It takes you away to another time and place, imperial Russia of the 1870s, and puts you directly into the love affair between Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky and the drama and tragedy that follow.   I felt transported, as if I had fallen into Tolstoy's great novel.  It was a  perfect outing for a November afternoon.

Photo via here

Now that November afternoons are rapidly turning into dark evenings, how do you spend your time?  Movies, cooking, knitting, good books, holiday planning?  I'd love to hear what you are up to on these cozy nights during late November. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Barefoot Contessa Week

Ina Garten was in town this week to promote her newest cookbook Foolproof.  The title could actually be applied to all of her cookbooks (there are now a total of eight) because her recipes are always foolproof and this is probably the distinctive feature that makes her books so popular.  The recipes work so well!  After attending a fabulous event last night here in Los Angeles -- she was interviewed by KCRW's Evan Kleiman at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre -- I can think of two other adjectives that define Ina Garten's success:  elegant and earthy.  She mentioned those two words herself when she explained why she decided to keep the title Barefoot Contessa (she actually inherited it from the previous owner of the East Hampton specialty food store where her culinary career began) as her trademark name.  As she told an audience of about 1,000 enthusiastic fans, "To me it is all about elegance and earthiness."

And that is the perfect way to describe her personality as we saw it onstage last night at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre. Ina Garten is bright, elegant, funny, sophisticated, and down to earth.  The key to her success is that she is the kind of person that everyone can relate to.  She is also the opposite of a fussy cook.  She is just like most of us who are not professional chefs and get a little nervous about entertaining: she makes a cooking schedule when she entertains to alleviate unnecessary stress, doesn't ever try a new recipe on her guests before cooking it first, doesn't like to buy fancy equipment, and prefers recipes whose ingredients can all be purchased at the supermarket.  These are ideas that resonate with home cooks.

"Barefoot Contessa Foolproof" is Ina Garten's eighth cookbook

She came to Los Angeles on Thursday to sign her new cookbook.  Here she is at Williams-Sonoma in Santa Monica. 

The night before the book signing, the store held a cooking class which I attended.  The demonstration class included three recipes from Ina's new cookbook:

Balsamic roasted beet salad

Chicken with wild mushrooms

Salted caramel brownies

They were all delicious and easy dishes you will definitely want to make!


At last night's event at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, Evan Kleiman asked Ina questions that members of the audience had submitted.  We all laughed when Evan told Ina that there was an abundance of  questions about Jeffrey, Ina's husband.  Ina said that if she was hit by a bus, there would be millions of women across the country lining up to bring him roast chicken.  She told us stories about her culinary beginnings and how her love of cooking grew into eight cookbooks and a very popular television show.  These stories are already known to many of us through her cookbooks.  But we learned a few new facts last night:

Her favorite soundtrack to play during her dinner parties is a series of CDs called Hotel Costes
Her favorite skin cream is Roc
She never cooks just for herself; she believes cooking is all about sharing
She got the design ideas for her cookbooks from her travels
The new season of her television show will be premiering in January, 2013 and will feature episodes filmed in Napa and San Francisco

Image via here

We all left the event excited to try the recipes in Ina's newest cookbook and inspired to keep our cooking simple, earthy, elegant, and straight forward.  Just like Ina!

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Happy English Home

"Mrs. Allonby: (surveying the room)  It looks quite the happy English home."
--  "A Woman of No Importance,"  Oscar Wilde

Recently I have been traveling to England without getting on an airplane.  When I want to get away to that "green and pleasant land," I just dip into some of my favorite English design books.  They are a dream for the anglophile in me and also inspire me with some great design ideas.  I have always loved the English country style of decoration, probably fueled by all the novels I have read that are set in the English countryside.  This style just exudes coziness and warmth and the rooms that the designers  create make me want to curl up in front of the fire with a book and a cup of tea.

As Ros Byam Shaw writes in Perfect English Cottage:

 "The word 'cottage' is surrounded by a rosy glow.  Add 'English' and the glow becomes a little rosier."

In this charming book devoted to the English cottage look, the author explores many different examples of this style and ways to create the look in your own home.   The book is divided into chapters:  Romance, Character, Holiday, Simplicity, and Elegance.  At the end of each chapter is a list of distinctive elements that create each of these looks. The books takes us on a leisurely journey through the English countryside and inside some of its most charming homes.  Put on the kettle, make yourself a cup of tea, and curl up with this one.  It will have you longing to visit England.

Houses of The Lake District by Christopher Holliday is a sumptuous book about the distinctive houses and castles of Cumbria, England, the area known as the lake district.  As the writer tells us, these homes are inextricably linked to their beautiful and romantic settings.  This is the region of England where the romantic poets lived and wrote, and where the beloved children's book writer and artist Beatrix Potter lived.  The books tells the story of twenty-one of these houses and the people who lived there.  The Lake District has always been on my wish list of places to visit in England and now, because of this wonderful book on its houses and castles, a trip to this region will be about so much more than just the scenery.  The author has written in great detail about the historic and magnificent houses to see in this region, all of which are open to the public.

The Most Beautiful Country Towns of England is one of those coffee table books that everyone picks up and reads. For the armchair traveller, it is a journey to some of the most beautiful towns in England.  We travel with the author to places such as Ambleside in Cumberland, Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire, Petworth in West Sussex, Shaftesbury in Dorset, and St. Ives in Cornwall.  These are the locations of so many great English novels and it is transporting to be taken there through this beautiful book that is rich with sumptuous photography.

English Decoration by London-based architect and interior designer Ben Pentreath is a new design book about English inspiration for the contemporary home.  In this book we are given a new survey of the best of English style.  The homes in "English Decoration" include Pentreath's own country house in Dorset, which is called the Parsonage, as well as his lovely and sophisticated flat in London.  He writes in his introduction:

"What is it that gives English rooms such character, so that we can know them as well as people; like them and love them; belong in them; feel at ease in them?"  He goes on to identify the ingredients that make the best English rooms: "light, views, the relationship of one room to the next, and the landscape or city beyond; furniture and rugs; books and lamps; plants and flowers; sounds -- the ticking of a clock, or the deep silence of an old room in the country; and scents -- of garden roses, or woodsmoke.  Or maybe it is the personality of the owner that is strongest, woven into every fibre?"

This book contains many great ideas for incorporating the elements of English decoration into our own homes.  Ben Pentreath has a home decor shop in London which I dream of visiting next time I am there, but in the meantime I spend a lot of time on his gorgeous blog.  It was listed by the Telegraph as one of "The 20 best interiors blogs." Readers of it can keep up with his current design projects and also the new products he is carrying in his store.  There are great photos of his country home and London flat and I am always inspired by what I read there.  

And my imaginary voyage to England would not be complete without reading one of the best novels about an English family living in a big sprawling house in the English countryside.   I have been rereading Nancy Mitfotd's The Pursuit of Love.  In her classic comic novel, Mitford satirized upper-class English idiosyncrasies in her depiction of the eccentric Radlett family.  This is one of my favorite books because it always makes me laugh and it feeds my love of British eccentrics and British wit.  I laughed out loud the other day when I read the following description of Alconleigh, the Radletts' Gloucestershire estate.  The narrator is drawing a comparison between the dark and gloomy house that the Radletts live in and that of a neighbor with whom Linda Radlett is spending a lot of time:

"The two men and indeed their two houses and estates, afforded an absolute contrast.  Alconleigh was a large, ugly, north facing, Georgian house, built with only one intention, that of sheltering, when the weather was too bad to be out of doors, a succession of bucolic squires, their wives, their enormous families, their dogs, their horses, and their unmarried sisters.  There was no attempt at decoration...Within, the keynote, the theme, was death.  Not death of maidens, but the deaths of warriors and of animals, stark, real.  On the walls halberds and pikes and ancient muskets were arranged in crude patterns with the heads of beasts slaughtered...all lying together in a timeless jumble.

Merlinford (the neighbor's estate) nestled in a valley of south-westerly aspect, among orchards and old mellow farmhouses.  It was a villa, built at about the same time as Alconleigh, but by a very different architect, and with a very different end in view.  It was a house to be lived in, not to rush out from all day to kill enemies and animals...It had Angelica Kauffman ceilings, a Chippendale staircase, furniture by Sheraton and Hepplewhite; in the hall there hung two Watteaus; there was no entrenching tool to be seen, nor the head of any animal."

"There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry."
-- Emily Dickinson

Have you been doing any traveling lately?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Yotam Ottolenghi Comes to Los Angeles

I am a huge fan of Yotam Ottlolenghi and his partner Sami Tamimi.  They are the uber cool chefs behind the Ottlolenghi restaurants in London and the authors of the best selling cookbook Plenty which is widely admired as one of the best vegetable cookbooks to be published in years.  When I heard that Yotam was coming to Los Angeles and cooking a special dinner from his new cookbook Jerusalem, I signed up.  The dinner was held at the cozy and intimate cooking school at Osteria Mozza restaurant in Hollywood.  Yotam was there and cooked much of the meal in front of us with the assistance of the talented cooks from Osteria Mozza.

We sat at several long Tuscan style tables decorated with rustic linen runners in shades of red and gold that were lit by candle light.  The food was served family style in several courses.  We really got to know our fellow diners by passing around the food throughout the meal and the lively conversation included lots of talk about great food.   The food kept coming and the wine was flowing.  The convivial spirit continued the whole evening and included the chef himself sitting with each and every one of us to chat and sign his book.  Everyone was charmed by his down to earth personality as well as his talent and knowledge about the foods, customs and culture of the Middle East.  I had never eaten these foods before and I am now a fan and cannot wait to cook from his new book.  I have started reading the opening chapters (this cookbook is one of those that you can read from cover to cover) and am thoroughly enjoying learning about this region of the world --  its foods, customs and history.  Jerusalem is where Yotam Ottolenghi and his friend and co-author Sami Tamimi grew up.  This cookbook has a strong sense of place and it makes you not only want to cook and eat the foods from this part of the world, but also to travel there.

The super cozy room at Osteria Mozza where the cooking school is located and where these special dinners are held

 Nancy Silverton, co-owner and chef at Osteria Mozza, introducing Yotam Ottolenghi

The menu

The first course:  
Na'ama's Fattoush, pureed beets with yogurt and za'atar, and raw artichoke and herb salad

We watched as the chef prepared the food

The second course:
Cod cakes in tomato sauce, roasted butternut squash and red onion with tahini and za'atar, Chermoula eggplant with bulgur and yogurt

He visited with all of us and then signed his book

The spectacular main course:
Braised eggs with lamb, tahini, and sumac
Served with Mejadra, a side dish of fried onions and lentils

Poached pears in white wine and cardamon
Served with Mutabbaq, a sweet dish made with filo pasty, ricotta cheese, goat cheese, and pistachios

"Jerusalem" is a fabulous new cookbook filled with wonderful stories about this fascinating part of the world, sumptuous photographs, and recipes for many delicious dishes infused with Middle Eastern flavor.  It is a great sequel to "Plenty" and both of these books will open up a new world of culinary adventures for anyone who loves to cook.

Monday, November 5, 2012

To the North

After I finished the novel To the North by Elizabeth Bowen, I realized that one of the most poignant themes in literature is that of the orphan.  The Victorian novelists did it so well -- Charles Dickens in "David Copperfield"  and Charlotte Bronte in "Jane Eyre" are two of the most famous.  "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett and "The House of Mirth" by Edith Wharton are two other books dealing with this theme that come to mind.  More recently, the Harry Potter books revolved around a sympathetic orphan.  I remember reading "The House of Mirth" over the summer and pitying Lily Bart for her lack of family and support system.  The reader watches her make so many mistakes that lead to her downfall;  she would have benefited from a sister, mother or even best friend who could have advised and guided her.  All of these orphans had to rely on the sympathy of distant relations or friends to whom they were a burden.  They were operating in a vacuum with no role modes or instructive parent figures.

I have just discovered another author who deals with the theme of the orphan in a powerful and brilliant manner -- Elizabeth Bowen.  In her 1932 novel "To the North" she tells the story of two young women who are thrown together by tragedy.  Cecilia Summers is a young widow who has recently lost her husband Henry after just one year of marriage. Henry's sister Emmeline Summers (Henry and Emmeline are both orphans since childhood), who is now entirely without family, forms a bond with Cecilia after Henry's death.   The two young women decide to live together and move into a sweet little house with French windows and flower filled rooms in the St. John's Wood neighborhood of London. It is there that they lead their lives, independent but finding comfort in each other's company.  Their world is the other side of "Downton Abbey."  Young girls living independently in London in the 1920's, they belong more to the avant-garde world of Bloomsbury than Downton Abbey.  This world is vividly brought to life on the pages of this book by Bowen's exquisite prose. The girls are bright young things, attending sparkling parties, going away for country weekends, and having romances, but not quite on a firm footing with anything.  And certainly not anchored down by a family like the Crawleys (from "Downton Abbey").   Emmeline has a career about which she is passionate, but there is a vague, unknown quality to these girls and their world, and hence an ominous feeling pervades our perception of their future.

From the beginning we know that Cecilia does not have a "nice character." In the very first scene of the book she meets and befriends a man who seems slightly disreputable on the train from Milan to London.  She doesn't really care about this stranger at all, but she often makes decisions out of boredom and with little thought as to consequences. They exchange information and she worries that he may contact her in London.  And it turns out that this man, Markie Linkwater, will play a large part in the lives of these two women.  Emmeline will uncharacteristically fall head over heels in love with him.  And Cecilia is so wrapped up in her own life that she never notices.

And so from the beginning we wonder what kind of influence Cecilia can have over the younger and innocent Emmeline, whom she really should be watching over.  She is five years older than Emmeline and has been married; surely, we think, she can offer her some guidance and instruction about life.  Though she cares deeply for her sister-m-law,  Cecilia is not able to overcome her own selfishness and shallowness to be of any real help.  At first we are not particularly worried about Emmeline, who is truly the more admirable character of the two.  She is independent, happy, and runs a boutique travel agency with a friend in Bloomsbury.  Her self-reliance and sense of contentment cause the reader to fall into the same trap that Cecilia does, not worrying about Emmeline.  But Bowen's genius from the beginning of this book is to set up a foreboding of disaster that is present throughout.    

"To the North" is an amazing book.  It is short and powerful, and contains insights into human nature that are so true as to make us gasp with recognition.  One of the most outstanding features of this book is the writing.  Time and again I found passages of astounding beauty.  I frequently thought:  here is a great quote about love, friendship or loneliness, just to name a few of the topics Bowen writes about.

And there is wit as well.  Cecilia is hosting a luncheon party at her house when she receives a telephone call from Justin Towers, the many whom she may marry; she has a tense conversation with him.  She takes the call in another room and suddenly realizes she has left the door open.

"Cecilia's lunch party, having heard through the open door the first phase of the interlude, had exchanged less than a glance and, all raising their voices, maintained a strenuous conversation till she came back.  They were not English for nothing." 

"To the North" is a brilliant book about love and its destructive possibilities.  The ending will have you on the edge of your seat.  This book is a gem by the great writer Elizabeth Bowen and validates the notion of visiting books from the past by writers that are not widely read and not letting these books be forgotten.  The exciting thing is discovering how many treasures there are to be found.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Table for One

I love to cook for my family and friends.  I have my favorite cookbook authors whom I always rely on for recipes and inspiration.  Julia Child, Elizabeth David, James Beard, and M.F.K. Fisher are iconic food writers of the past whose cookbooks are on my bookshelves.  I also adore Laurie Colwin's books Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. She was a food writer for Gourmet Magazine and her  warm and funny essays on cooking have been collected into two books.  Nigella Lawson, Ina Garten, Claudia Roden, Dorie Greenspan, and Nigel Slater are favorite food writers of today who give me great inspiration.  The owners of Ottolenghi in London have written the fabulous vegetable cookbook Plenty which is now one of my go-to sources for inspiration.  I am cooking meat less and less and love to discover interesting recipes for vegetables.  But recently I have discovered another food writer --  Judith Jones, whose book The Pleasures of Cooking for One has become one of my favorites.

As Judith Jones writes in her book, there are nights when we are home alone for dinner and we don't feel like bringing in prepared food. We just want to cook a good meal for ourselves.  Getting into my kitchen and cooking just for me is something I enjoy. The problem is finding recipes that work for one person.  I had heard of Judith Jones' book The Pleasures of Cooking for One and decided to order it.  Judith Jones is the legendary editor of Julia Child and is famous for her role in publishing Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking as well as her other books.  (Did you know that she also discovered The Diary of Anne Frank while working for Doubleday in Paris and was responsible for it being published?) When I heard about this cookbook, I was intrigued and interested to know what Jones' cooking routines were when she wanted to cook for herself.  The best cookbooks are always about more than cooking; they reflect a philosophy about life and Judith Jones' book is no exception.  Her excitement about the pleasures of cooking and treating herself well are contagious.  What an inspiring cookbook this is!

She writes about organizing her cooking so she has something good to eat all week.  She gives us great tips about portions, cooking equipment, and planning ahead for the week.  Many of these recipes will have some leftovers and she has interesting ideas for using them in new ways.  After trying her Mushroom Risotto, I recognized that it is really enough for two normal portions (though you might want to double it if you want more substantial portions) and that this book could also be useful for the "empty-nesters" out there.  When the kids move away and it is just the two of you at home, these recipes would work beautifully.   Her photos show that she sets a lovely table and pours herself a glass of wine even when it is just for herself.  I love that.  

I decided to make her Mushroom Risotto.  I was not used to cooking risotto with only 2/3 of a cup of Arborio rice and just two cups of chicken broth.  But it worked, and the risotto was delicious.  It also felt relatively healthy since it did not call for much butter or oil, and no cream.

Mushroom Risotto from Judith Jones' "The Pleasures of Cooking for One"

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad from Ina Garten's "Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics"

I also decided to make Roasted Butternut Squash Salad from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa.  The two dishes made a great vegetarian (if you use the vegetable broth) combination.  With a glass of sauvignon blanc, I was in heaven.

 The great English food writer Elizabeth David in the book Elizabeth David's Christmas wrote about eating alone during the hectic build-up to the holiday season:

"On at least one day during the 'Great Too Long Stretch' I stay in bed, making myself lunch on a tray.  Smoked salmon, home-made bread, butter, lovely cold white Alsace wine.  A glorious way to celebrate Christmas."

She makes it sound elegant and oh so civilized.  And that is exactly how it should be.  Judith Jones' book will give you many delicious and elegant ideas for cooking for one (or two).  

Here is Judith Jones' recipe for Mushroom Risotto 

1/4 cup dried mushrooms, such as porcini, morels, or hen of the woods
1/2 cup warm water
1 and 1/2 cups of flavorful broth (chicken, duck, goose or vegetable) -- I ended up using 2 cups broth  
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
2/3 cup Arborio rice
A generous splash of white wine
1/4 cup fresh mushrooms
1 tablespoon butter
A sprinkling of grated Parmesan

Soak the dried mushrooms in the warm water for 30 minutes.  Strain over a small pan to catch the soaking liquid, then pour in the broth, and heat just to a simmer.  Meanwhile, heat the oil in a small, heavy pot, and saute the shallots slowly for 4-5 minutes.  Add the rice, and let it glaze as you stir it -  about 1 minute.  Pour in the wine, and reduce it until it's absorbed.  Now start adding the hot broth liquid about 1/3 cup at a time, stirring and scraping the rice from the bottom.  After each addition of liquid is absorbed, add the next, stirring frequently.

Meanwhile, in another small pan, saute the fresh mushrooms in 2 teaspoons of the butter.  When they have released their liquid, add the drained dried mushrooms and stir together.  When the rice has cooked about 20 minutes (I cooked it for about 25 minutes) and has absorbed most of the hot liquid, toss the mushrooms in with the rice.  Add the remaining liquid, and let everything cook together for another 4-5 minutes.  Remove from the heat, and fold in the remaining teaspoon of butter and the Parmesan.  Spoon into a warm bowl, and relish every mouthful of this creamy, earthy dish.

Bon Appetit!