Friday, April 29, 2011

The Happy Couple

How beautiful is this!

   Have a great weekend!

Monday, April 25, 2011

England's Hideaways

Le Manoir Aux Quat' Saisons 

What is it about being on a vacation that inspires me to go on future vacations?  Silly question, I know the answer.  I always, always find a cozy book store where ever I am and browse to my heart's content.  And this weekend in Montecito was no exception. When we visit here, we always make a beeline to our favorite independent book store, Tecolote Books in a charming little shopping center in Montecito, near Santa Barbara, California.  And this is where I spotted the beautiful book "England's Hideaways," published by Rizzoli.

I really haven't recovered from the euphoria generated by last summer's trip to the Cotswolds.  I know I have written about it on my blog and shown some of the images from the glorious gardens and properties we saw.  But for me it just whetted my appetite for more trips to England.  And this book is the perfect guide.

First of all, can we talk about the cover?  This is Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons hotel in Oxfordshire where I stayed for a couple of nights last summer.  Our room was "Hollyhock" which is pictured in the book.  It was beautifully English and soothingly traditional.  This hotel is stunning; it is a Victorian English country-house hotel that is famous for its fine dining restaurant.  It is nestled in the Oxfordshire countryside and the property abounds in gorgeous gardens. And this is what so many of these properties feature --  exquisite archictecture, bountiful gardens, and beautiful interior design.

Hollyhock guest room at Le Manoir Aux' Quat Saisons

Barnsley House where legendary gardener Rosemary Verey lived

Whatley Manor, Easton Grey, Malmesbury

Sitting Room at Hambleton Hall Hotel, Oakham, Rutland

The author, Meg Nolan Van Reesma, writes in the introduction about the interior design focus in this book.   "England's Hideaways" is not just a collection of beautiful places to stay in England, but it is also a book about the classic, traditional decor that is known as English style.  All of the hotels in the book are decorated in this English Country style and exude coziness and warmth.  These are the kinds of rooms that make you want to curl up in front of the fire with a book and a cup of tea and never leave.  The author writes,

"From the floral wallpapers and beloved chintz to the gleaming walnut furnishings of Queen Anne and oak-panelled walls of the Tudor reign, English design has not only existed since the beginning of time but has also withstood the test of it.  I believe the country's recipe for success is its ability to evolve and stay fresh and sophisticated while maintaining a strong sentiment of home."

The Blue Room, Hambleton Hall Hotel

The magnificent rose gardens behind Stone Easton Park, near Bath, Somerset

This book will not only entice you to make a trip to England, but it will also inspire you with its great  design ideas for your own home.  Many of us aspire to make our homes welcoming retreats and soothing havens -- this book is filled with ideas for accomplishing that goal.  At the same time we get to be an armchair traveller and visit the great country-house hotels of England.  Trust me, you will want to be planning your next trip!


Friday, April 22, 2011

Fabulous New "Bon Appetit"

"Bon Appetit," the venerable food magazine that along with "Food and Wine," and "Fine Cooking" ("Gourmet" being no longer with us) has been my go-to source for recipes for many years, has been redesigned by its new editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport.  The verdict -- it's exciting, fresh, hip and gorgeous.  The first issue is dedicated to Italy and is filled with all kinds of Italian-style food inspiration.

I have two three-ring notebooks that are bulging with recipes torn our of "Bon Appetit" that I cook from all the time.   I have been reading this magazine for thirty years at least. These recipes are tried and true, and I know they will always turn out well.  When I heard that the magazine was being redesigned I was excited.  Why not?  Everything can use a little freshening up, and this redesign is a wonderful new interpretation of the format.  As Rappoport says in his first "Letter from the Editor," 

"the core of what has made the magazine so strong for 55 years won't change.  Bon Appetit is still going to be about cooking.  But how we present this information will differ a bit.  We don't want to just tell you what to cook -- we want to tell you how to cook it, and why to cook it, now.  In May, 2011."

Cooking for me is all about comfort and deliciousness.  Being in my kitchen is pure happiness, surrounded by my cookbooks and notebooks full of magazine recipes.  I sit with a cup of coffee and my recipes, and plan a future dinner party.  I love going to my tried and true recipes and I also love trying new things.  I have many cookbooks in my kitchen and I try to use as many as I can, though I frequently rely on just a few.  But every now and then I branch out and cook from the ones that don't get used that often.  It's an adventure.

Here are some of my favorite "Bon Appetit" recipes from years past:

And now I can't wait to tackle some of the Italian recipes from this new issue.

I will definitely be making the cover recipe for "Pasta Al Pomodoro"

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Picnic in the Garden

Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure I am not dreaming when I attend some of the delightful events held at Robinson Gardens in Beverly Hills.  This enchanting estate with its acres of gorgeous gardens is a Los Angeles treasure and when I am there I feel as if I am wandering in one of the Italian gardens that Edith Wharton wrote about in her book Italian Villas And Their Gardens.  This weekend was one of those times.  At 4:00pm I went to a picnic to celebrate the blossoming of the coral tree on the grounds of the gardens.   This is not just any coral tree, this is the "mother" tree to all those beautiful coral trees that line San Vicente Boulevard from Brentwood to Santa Monica.

And so on a gorgeous, very warm, almost hot April afternoon I found myself walking into the grounds of Robinson Gardens.  I knew that we were gathering to view and celebrate the blossoming of this important tree on the grounds of the estate.  

I never tire of walking through this beautiful gate to get the first glimpse of the Great Lawn and back patio of the house.   Isn't this what the best of gardens contain, a slow reveal of all the myriad charms to be found?

 The back patio where the festivities were beginning

A Blood Orange Prosecco cocktail was the perfect accompaniment for this pastoral afternoon

Musicians serenading us

The view from the patio, with the coal tree in sight, behind the two cypress trees

Our leisurely stroll begins

A plein-air artist capturing one of the rustic scenes 

More steps to descend

A lovely spot to rest

One of the sights along the way

Close up of the coral tree with its orange blossoms

As Edith Wharton wrote in Italian Villas And Their Gardens, a guest might leave this picnic at Robinson Gardens "with his eyes and imagination full of the ineffable Italian garden-magic, knowing vaguely that the enchantment exists; that he has been under its spell, and that it is more potent, more enduring, and more intoxicating to every sense than the most elaborate and glowing effects of modern horticulture; but he may not have found the key to the mystery..."  That mystery and beauty can only exist in a garden, and this kind of an afternoon provided "garden- magic" and inspiration to the guests who were lucky enough to be there.

Friday, April 15, 2011

"Only Connect"

I just returned from a lecture on "Howards End" put on by Julie Robinson's group Literary Affairs.   This was the first of a three-part series called "The Moderns: Bloomsbury." The lecturer was John Romano, Ph.D.  It was an engrossing and brilliant discussion of this literary masterpiece, and I could barely contain my excitement at all the nuggets of brilliance that were flying around the room.  But before I even go into some of the themes of his lecture, I have to say that I was thrilled to be sitting next to Lisa Borgnes Giramonti from A Bloomsbury Life Blog.

I first discovered Lisa's blog when my daughter  called me a couple of years ago and said, "Mom, did you know that there is a blog called "A Bloomsbury Life"?  She and anyone who knows me well would realize that I would need to be told about such a blog, because I have been obsessed with Bloomsbury art and literature, not to mention the biographies and memoirs of the members of this group ever since...well forever.

I love Lisa's blog.  She is a very talented writer and I have enjoyed reading about her quest to live "a bloomsbury life" in 21st century Hollywood and all the inspiring passion, intellectual curiosity, and humor that she brings to that quest. Not only is her blog one of the most literate and witty ones that I read, but it is often about topics that I love -- travel, literature, art, home and garden, style and of course Bloomsbury.  And so today I was thrilled that she was able to attend the talk on "Howards End" and I think we both left feeling happy and inspired.


Our lecturer John Romano began by passing around a book "The Art of Bloomsbury" by Richard Shone so we could see what kind of art Forster was looking at when he wrote "Howards End" in 1910 and also the people who were his friends.  His friends and acquaintances included the writers Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf, Clive Bell and Maynard Keynes and the artists Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell. 

      "The Memoir Club" by Vanessa Bell, containing many members of the Bloomsbury Group
E. M. Forster is on the right

Romano argued that he could actually give two separate lectures on "Howard End."  The first would be about the deliciousness of the novel, like taking a walk through Sussex or Hertforshire, then taking a train into London to discuss music and books with intellectual kindred spirits.  This book is an Anglophile's dream, an adoration of England's green and pleasant land.  The book has many Austen - like qualities --  it is about letters, sisters, property, and inheritance.  It is a social comedy about the inability of the middle class to see beauty.  E. M. Forster loved Jane Austen.

But there is a second lecture that could be given, about the darker side of the book, and that is the idea that the characters get knocked out  of the comfort of being smart and clever art lovers, concert goers, and members of literary discussion groups. They have to deal with the damage that can be done to others.  And this is what happens when the well-meaning and rich Schlegel sisters decide to try to help lower class Leonard Bast. After receiving a tip from Henry Wilcox that  Leonard Bast's place of employment, an insurance company, is about to go bust, they advise him to clear out.  This "act of kindness" leads to the downfall of Leonard Bast.

Margaret, Helen, and Tibby Schlegel in the film "Howards End"

Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter 

The sisters are two of my favorite literary characters,  two Austen-like figures, each representing  different sensibilities.  Helen the younger one is passionate, liberal, and unyielding in her principles, abhorring people like the Wilcox family.  Margaret is more sensible and understands that without the world of the Wilcoxes who are the financial movers and shakers,  the comfortable world of the Schlgels would not exist.  Margaret realizes that people need to be brought together in an understanding of their differences and to connect,  if there is to be any way out of all the "panic and emptiness" that is threatened by the fragmented modern world.  Her advice is to "only connect."  And the surprising ending occurs when she is able to "connect" two different classes by bequeathing Howards End to her nephew, the son of her sister Helen and Leonard Bast. This is  an amazing connection between two very distant social classes, and through that inheritance the son of a poor man will inherit an important property in England.  "Only connect" is a mantra throughout the book.

E.M. Forster, aged 36

"E.M. Forster" painted by Roger Fry in 1911

Our lecturer reminded us that "Only Connect" is written on E.M Forster's tombstone and I know those words had much personal meaning for this brilliant writer and esteemed humanist.  When he attended King's College, Cambridge E.M. Forster discovered his spiritual home; he had a lifelong connection with King's and was elected to an Honorary Fellowship in 1946.  He lived there during the last years of his life.  As a student  he came under the influence of the philosopher G.E.  Moore, whose "Principia Ethica" (1903) argued that affectionate personal relations and the contemplation of beauty will lead to a happy state of mind.  Moore's theories were enthusiastically embraced by the members of the Bloomsbury Group, and became a sort of credo for the group.  Friendship for Forster was a supreme value in life and he was an extremely loyal friend.  It seems that "only connect" was a guiding philosophy for Forster's life, as well as the theme of "Howards End."

Monday, April 11, 2011

Bloomsbury Literary Series

E.M. Forster painted by the artist Carrington

This Thursday, April 14  I am going to a lecture on the English novel Howards End by E. M. Forster at the Beverly Hills Country Club.  This is the first of a three-part series called The Moderns: Bloomsbury  organized by Julie Robinson of Literary Affairs.  The other two lectures in this series will be on  Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford.  I have enjoyed many of the Classic Literary Luncheons that Julie has put on, and I am especially excited about this one.  John Romano, Ph.D. will be the lecturer.  Howards End is one of my favorite books and I have just reread it and watched the movie.  I have fallen in love with this book all over again.  At the heart of this book, published in 1910, is the love of a house and the love of England.   If you have a chance to read it and come to the lecture,  it should be a an illuminating and enjoyable experience.  If  you would like to purchase tickets, you can click here.

E.M. Forster (on right) with Mary Hutchinson, Clive Bell, and Duncan Grant

Thursday, April 7, 2011

An Ode to Vegetables

Just in time for Spring produce I discovered the most amazing cookbook that is exclusively about vegetables.  I had never heard of Ottolenghi, the specialty food stores and restaurant in London, until I recently sat down with Peggy Dark from The Kitchen in Pasadena.  She is the caterer for Robinson Gardens "into the garden Tour" each year.  I always meet with her prior to our big event to plan the menu. She had an older cookbook, "Ottolenghi: The Cookbook" that we flipped through and chose one of its dishes for our event.  Then at my local book store I stumbled upon the newest cookbook "Plenty, Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi" and bought it and have been immersed in this ode to vegetables.  I can't wait to cook so many of these gorgeous recipes.

Potato, onion, and cherry tomato tatin

I have never seen so many luscious and mouth-watering vegetable recipes in one book. Each chapter is divided by ingredients.  This is the concept of the book.  As Yotam Ottlolenghi  says in the introduction, "At the center of every dish, at the beginning of the thought process, is an ingredient, one ingredient -- not just any ingredient but one of my favorite ingredients.  I tend to set off with this central element and then try to elaborate on it, enhance it, bring it out in a new way, while still keeping it in the center, at the heart of the final dish."  Hence the chapters "Roots," "Mushrooms," "Peppers," "Green Things," "Grains," and "Pasta, Polenta, Couscous."

  Roasted butternut squash with sweet spices, lime and green chile

The recipes reflect the backgrounds of Ottolenghi and his partner Sami Tamimi.  They were brought up in Israel and Palestine and were exposed to the multitudes of vegetables, pulses and grains that are celebrated in the region's different cuisines. Ottolenghi writes, "The food I had growing up was a huge mixture of diverse culinary cultures -- European at home and Middle Eastern all around -- with an abundance of easily sourced fresh ingredients."

Roasted parsnips and sweet potatoes with caper vinaigrette

He writes about the current trend of cutting back on meat consumption and increasing vegetables and grains, without becoming a vegetarian in the strictest sense.  He definitely touched a nerve with me as I have been trying to do the same thing.  He calls this pragmatic vegetarianism, a cutting back on meats or fish for health and environmental reasons.  

Mushroom and herb polenta

I will definitely be cooking a lot from this book, mostly because I have never seen vegetable dishes look as enticing and delicious as those that fill the pages of "Plenty." And with spring produce now becoming available, my trips to the farmers markets will be focused on the recipes from this book.  I am so inspired! 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Invitations Have Arrived!

Botanical print used for Robinson Gardens invitation

I have been getting invitations to the Virginia Robinson Gardens "into the garden" Tour for many years. And yet the excitement never diminishes when the invitation arrives in the mail, because inevitably it is beautiful and always based on an antique botanical print. This year was no exception and I love the orange and green colors and the beautiful, classic illustration. This year I am co-chairing the event on May 13 and I am very excited about our "Under the Tuscan Sun" theme.  As usual we will have five exquisite private gardens to tour, as well as our garden party on the grounds of the historic Robinson Estate in Beverly Hills.

Front of the invitation

Inside information

Virginia Robinson Gardens is a hidden gem in Beverly Hills, six acres of gorgeous gardens and a Beaux-Arts mansion that was built in 1911.  Owned by Virginia and Harry Robinson, the estate was once the site of lavish Hollywood parties, whose attendees included Marlene Dietrich, Fred Astaire, Sophia Loren, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.  Shortly before her death, Virginia Robinson bequeathed the estate to Los Angeles County.  The County, along with the not-for-profit group Friends of Robinson Gardens, preserve and maintain the estate and the gardens.

Virginia Robinson Estate

Each year in May the Friends of Robinson Gardens put on their one and only fundraiser, the Robinson Gardens "into the garden Tour."  This is a beautiful all day event, starting with five exquisite private gardens in West Los Angeles to tour.  After this, the guests arrive at the estate in Beverly Hills and enjoy a tour of the house, which includes viewing the rooms that have been decorated by Los Angeles Florists and Designers.  This year Suzanne Rheinstein of Hollyhock will be decorating the Library.

Mrs. Robinson's bedroom decorated for Garden Tour by Barbara Barry, Inc.  and Silver Birches

Library decorated for Garden Tour by Chistofle Paris and Luna Gardens Events

After viewing the house, guests walk out to the Great Lawn where they enjoy a wonderful Garden Party that includes a sumptuous lunch, a fashion show, floral demonstrations, a boutique, book signings, and a high tea.  
If you live in Los Angeles or are visiting L.A. around May 13, and you enjoy gardens and garden parties, you should come to this event.  There is really nothing else like it in Los Angeles.
If you would like to order tickets, click here.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Poem for a Sister

Photo by Caren Levin

My daughter Heather Taylor is getting married in June.  Of course I have been filled with great happiness in anticipation of the big event.  The wedding season officially kicked into gear last week with a wedding shower for Heather that was given by my cousin who is also my dear, dear friend.  Heather's younger sister Megan Taylor was asked to write a poem in honor of Heather to read at the shower.  The poem was so wonderful that I wanted to share it with you.


In your name is the Earth.
The place I go when I need
to be grounded.  The place
you put your hands when
I need to be reminded:
everything's going to be ok.

Heather is a flower, a lush
consistent hush, a mountain,
a hill, a seaside room: for us.

There in it, we will play forever
speak a secret sound forever,
rule the town forever.  It's big
enough for the two us, we've
known such things since the 
beginning of time, when holding
hands who knew which were yours
and which were mine.

And of this other word I found 
inside your name: "he."  Him, his.
Alex.  Of his name I see the world
a circle, a cycle, the round of your 
ground.  I see all.  In this world 
of unknowns and uncertainties
I see everything in you.

All the answers, perfect timing,
sisters by the seaside
when holding hands, 
there is no question,
whether yours or mine,
we are together, intertwined
in this world that is forever ours.

--written by Megan Taylor
on the occasion of Heather's wedding shower