Saturday, August 27, 2011

Words, Glorious Words

The stage in the Pavilion at the Sun Valley Writers' Conference

The theme of this year's Sun Valley Writers' Conference was "Can Literature Bring Us Together"?  As I listened to the many writers that were featured at this year's conference, I decided that the answer is yes.  Because whether these writers are talking about social issues, military history, the migration of African-Americans from the south to the north, leaving one's home in Ireland, or 'Dixie' --  then and now, the essence of their  message always boils down to great stories. And the feeling I took away from this experience was the pleasure and exhilaration we derive from our story tellers, our narrators, and our communicators who tell us stories that help us make sense of our lives, of our experiences, and of the chaotic world we live in.

David Brooks, the op-ed writer for the New York Times talked about his book "The Social Animal: A Story of Love, Character And Achievement."  He told us stories about what makes us tick as people and what makes us successful. His conclusions were surprising --  that emotion and intuition guide our most profound decisions and it is our unconscious brain that is really driving us.

David Brooks

Colum McCann, who wrote the brilliant novel, "Let The Great World Spin," told us about his discovery that getting lost helps one get home.  His illustration was a tale of a bike ride he took across the United States without a map and the feeling of getting through the difficulty and coming out the other end with a new found confidence and truth.  Along the way he was helped by extraordinary people who told him about themselves through stories.  His concluded that you have to get lost to find a home, experience difficulty and sadness to find the truth, and experience storytelling to understand people.

Colum McCann

Isabel Wilkerson, who wrote "The Warmth Of Other Suns" The Epic Story of America's Great Migration," told us amazing stories of African-American families from the south who migrated to the north and the consequences of this Great Migration.  Her own personal story involves her own parents' experiences leaving the rural South.  Her book tells stories of migration that eventually included more than six million African-Americans who left behind all they had known in the hope of better lives outside the South.  This book has been described as a deeply moving work of nonfiction that reads like a novel.

Isabel Wilkerson

As the Israeli author David Grossman told us the basic storyline for his novel "To The End of the Land" I was riveted by this tale. I felt I was listening to a master storyteller who had all of my attention.  There was a comfort in sitting back and becoming immersed in this very intriguing and emotional tale about a mother's love for her son who is going off to war.  I cannot wait to read this book.

David Grossman

Kathryn Stockett told us stories of why she loves the south, where she grew up, and what it still means to her today. At the same time she acknowledged the past sins of this region which she vividly depicted in her bestselling novel "The Help."  I enjoyed hearing her tales of the contradictions and eccentricities of the Dixie she grew up in, and how her relationship with her own maid, who helped raised her, was the genesis for her novel.

Kathryn Stockett

As I stood in front of the pavilion in between lectures I was truly exhilarated by the beautiful words I heard that weekend, words that were chosen, polished, and used carefully by some of the most talented writers that are working today.  These writers are the ones who make our lives come together by telling the stories that inspire, educate, scare, and delight us.  They provide a literary road map for navigating our lives and discovering the essence of who we are. Don't we all wish we had more time to read?

 Me in front of the Pavilion at the Sun Valley Writers' Conference

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hearth and Home in Sun Valley, Idaho

I just got back from our annual trip to Sun Valley, Idaho.  When I go with my family each August to the Sun Valley Writers' Conference and stay with our dear friend who has a beautiful home there, three things inevitably happen to me. First, I am carried away and transported by the words I hear --  the ideas and thoughts of the writers who speak at the conference.  (Once I gather my impressions about what we heard I will blog about it.)  Second, I am refreshed by and in awe of the natural beauty that surrounds us in Sun Valley, Idaho.  And third, I always feel ensconced  and wrapped up in the beautiful and cozy home that we stay in.  There is something so warm and happy about this home, that I bask in its glow for days after I return.

We sit in the living room and build jigsaw puzzles, talk about everything, read, daydream, and feel grateful to have this opportunity to stay in this home and attend the amazing Sun Valley Writers Conference.  We have dinner at the lovely dining room table in the great room, eating luscious vegetarian lasagna, green salad, and drinking a beautiful sauvignon blanc.  We awake each morning and come out to the kitchen where coffee is brewing and fresh peaches are cut up and ready to eat.  Maybe we love this trip because we don't watch television or even read the paper.  Instead each day is about nature and ideas.  I think the best vacations are the ones that take us out of our everyday habits and allow us to just be.  True, we were busy attending the lectures during the days, and we were lucky enough to go on an amazing hike, but when we came home we were truly at peace.  I think the mountains do this for you.

This is where we had dinner

This is the cozy breakfast nook


We did get out in nature one day with a fabulous hike in the Adam's Gulch area.  Here is my daughter Megan happy on the trail!


My favorite store in Sun Valley

And always, each time I am in Sun Valley in late August, I began to think about fall, about hearth and home, about the holidays, and about entertaining. And although I am far from ready to leave summer behind, I do begin to get excited for the upcoming fall season by visiting a little gem of a shop in Ketchum, Idaho -- Maison et Cadeaux -- that inspires me with new ideas for table top and home decor.  And always the theme in this shop is Alpine fall and winter pleasures.  This store has some of the best table top items I have ever seen. These are specialty pieces that come from Switzerland and France and they always make me think of cold weather and warm and cozy interiors.

I walk through the store thinking of fall dinner parties, cooking and baking, and the pleasures of home.  I am excited to feel the spirit of hearth and home that always comes in the fall season.   To stay in a house in the mountains is sweet solace for our crazy urban lives.  I leave feeling refreshed, inspired, and recharged. There's a nostalgic beauty in a place like Sun Valley, Idaho and it is a feeling that keeps me coming back.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Writers and Nature in Sun Valley, Idaho

My trip to Sun Valley, Idaho for the Sun Valley Writers' Conference is coming up soon.  This trip has become a summer tradition.  I am excited to be going there because Sun Valley, Idaho is one of the most beautiful places in the world, with breathtaking scenery and many hiking opportunities.  And the Sun Valley Writers' Conference is an incredibly exciting intellectual experience.

Those who attend hear at least three writers a day talk about the subjects they are passionate about -- politics, history, biography, fiction, poetry, and many other subjects.  In between the big talks that take place in the open air amphitheater, there are "break-out" sessions which involve the writers speaking to smaller groups in more intimate settings.  I'll never forget hearing Frank McCourt talk to us about his favorite books, the ones that made a difference to his life.  Or Ethan Canin tell us the incredibly moving story of how he quit being a doctor to write fiction.   Abraham Verghese talked about his book "Cutting For Stone" and it quickly became one of the best books I read that year.   Then there are the dinners after the evening events where we rehash everything and often run into the writers at the restaurants in Sun Valley.

This year's conference will include David Brooks, Kathryn Stockett, Colum McCann, Calvin Trillin, and David Grossman, just to name a few.  I am especially excited to hear Kathryn Stockett talk about "The Help" and Colum McCann talk about "Let the Great World Spin."  Israeli author David Grossman has written a moving book about Israel that everyone is talking about.  We will have the opportunity to get their books signed and also purchase audiotapes of their lectures.  And I have bought many of these and listened to them after returning home.  Last summer Niall Ferguson, the dynamic author and Harvard business school professor, brought the house down with his talk on the economy. Trust me, although that may sound unlikely, he really made the topic come alive.  And Mary Karr was fascinating as she talked to us about her life and her memoir "Lit."  And the year before Ayaan Hirsi, who wrote "Infidel" had us riveted with the story of her Muslim childhood in Somalia.

I take my camera, my notebook, and my hiking boots.  There is something about experiencing life changing intellectual discovery in this scenic mountain retreat that is magical.  Stay tuned, I will be blogging about this year's conference soon!  

Monday, August 15, 2011

Stylish Saga of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor

Andrea Riseborough as Wallis Simpson and James D'Arcy as King Edward VIII

The last time we saw Wallis Simpson and Kind Edward VIII portrayed in a film was in the wonderful "The King's Speech" last year.  Despite the fact that they were a controversial couple, their romance has caught the popular imagination and many of us are in thrall to the story of King Edward abdicating the throne for the woman he loved. Theirs is one of the most famous love stories of the twentieth century.

"W.E." is the upcoming film directed by Madonna about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.  I spotted these incredible photos by Tom Munro, via "Vanity Fair," which give us a sneak peak into what looks to be an exquisitely beautiful period film and costume drama filled with fashionable clothes, jewelry and gorgeous houses and settings.  No matter how people feel about her, Wallis Simpson has become a style icon in the fashion world.

"W.E." focuses on two love stories.  The first is that of Wallis Simpson  (played by Andrea Riseborough) and Britain's King Edward VIII (played by James D'Arcy), who gave up the throne to marry the twice-divorced American.  After Edward abdicated he and Wallis became the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.  However she was denied the title Her Royal Highness.  The second story is that of a contemporary New Yorker named Wally (Abbie Cornish) who falls for a security guard at Sotheby's and who identifies with that other, most sensational love affair of the 20th century.  For the fashions in the film, costume designer Arianne Phillips worked with such labels as Cartier, Dior, and Dunhill for the film's 60 or so wardrobe changes


Two new biographies on Wallis Simpson have recently been written.  The biographers are taking a new look at her and arguing against many of the popular assumptions about the "American Harlot," as she was known in England.  

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor at Ednam Lodge, Sunnydale, in October 1946

Both these books reflect an historical reassessment of Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII.  For example, historians are arguing that King Edward never wanted to be the king and asking the question what happens when you get a monarch who is constitutionally incapable of being one?  As I learned from a recent piece on NPR,

"Simpson's rehabilitation may take time.  As recently as 2008, the historical landmark organization English Heritage refused to put one of its famous blue plaques on the London building where she was courted by a king.  Simpson, it said, was unworthy of that kind of recognition."


Fort Belvedere

King Edward VIII was living at the country home Fort Belvedere when he abdicated the throne.  I was lucky enough to visit it last summer as part of the fabulous garden tour I went on in the English countryside.  The gardens at Fort Belvedere were breathtaking.  Though it was hard not to be overwhelmed by the history that took place here.  We saw the room where Kind Edward signed the document proclaiming that he had abdicated the throne.  (We were not allowed to take photos inside the house)  I had the chills.

Fort Belvedere is a country house on Shrubs Hill in Windsor Great Park, England.  It is a former royal residence -- from 1750 to 1976 -- and is most famous for being the home of King Edward VIII.  The property is currently occupied by private tenants, Canadian businessman Galen Weston and his wife Hilary Weston, the former Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario.

The gardens at Fort Belvedere were lovely and that's what we were there to see, but I was fascinated by all the history that took place at this residence.

Our group was given a proper English tea on this lovely patio under the trees on the gorgeous grounds of Fort Belvedere.


Now that I know about the new books on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor,  I am looking forward to learning more about these two controversial figures, and perhaps seeing another side of the picture.  They had a huge impact on world history and are the subjects of one of the most famous romances of the twentieth century.  And in the fashion world, the Wallis Simpson buzz is building and it looks as if this will be the year, fashion-wise, of Wallis Simpson.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Glamorous Couple, Glamorous Drink

Juice of a Few Flowers Cocktail

Sara and Gerald Murphy were the "it" couple of Paris in the 1920's .  They were one of the most glamorous couples at that time.  They had looks, they had style, they had money, and they had taste.  They were friends and supporters of some of the most talented artists during this time period -- Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso, and Cole Porter. Their generosity to their friends knew no bounds and they were enthusiastic supporters of the arts.  Gerald himself was an artist.

I have been reading the fascinating story of Sara and Gerald Murphy, "Everybody Was So Young" by Amanda Vaill. This biography of the Murphys is also a definitive account of Paris in the '20s, a tale that includes Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso, Cole Porter, Dorothy Parker, and John Dos Passos, all at the exciting time when their careers were taking off.  The Murphys were the golden couple that everyone wanted to be around.  Most of the men were half in love with Sara.  Their parties were legendary.

Gerald Murphy invented a cocktail called "Juice of a Few Flowers" which he would serve to their guests at their villa in the South of France.  I just came upon the recipe in a cookbook by Ina Garten.  She tells the story of the Murphy's inventing this drink and serving it at their parties, limiting the guests to two drinks before dinner.

Gerald and Sara Murphy (seated on the left) with Pauline Pfeiffer, Ernest and Hadley Hemingway

Gerald and Sara Murphy at their beach, La Garoupe, in the south of France

The following passage from "Everybody Was So Young" paints a vivid picture of a day in the life of the Murphys in the south of France:

"Sara had a phrase, 'Dinner-Flowers-Gala,' derived from the notation carried on ships' menus for the captain's dinner: it was Murphy language for any special occasion, and there were many...usually dinners for eight to ten.  First there were Gerald's special cocktails on the terrace, cocktails that he claimed contained 'just the juice of a few flowers,' sometimes a concoction of brandy, liqueur, lemon juice in stemmed glasses whose rims had been rubbed with lemon and dipped in coarse sugar...

These Gerald mixed, Philip Barry said, like a priest preparing Mass, and he served them ritually; you were only allowed two cocktails, and you were not offered anything else to drink before dinner.  During cocktails the children would come down in their bathrobes and sing a song, or dance... afterwards they would go up to bed.  And then there wold be dinner under the linden tree, by candlelight, the women in their beaded dresses and the men in their dinner jackets, with everyone so young and merry and clever."

Gerald and Sara Murphy with Cole Porter in Venice in 1923

The Murphys were generous hosts to their friends, giving parties that were the stuff of legend.
Antibes, France which the Murphys helped put on the map as a glamorous destination 

At their Villa America in Antibes they hosted Picasso, the Fitzgeralds, Hemingway, Cole Porter and others and gave them an enchanting experience on the French Riviera, an experience that many of these writers immortalized in their books.  The Murphys often put their friends up at  nearby hotels and payed for it themselves. Their generosity knew no bounds.  When Hadley and Ernest Hemingway arrived at Villa America with their sick son, the Murphys paid all of their expenses including the child's doctor's bills.  They are credited with making the Cote d'Azure chic. Before they moved there, no one came to the French Riviera in the summer.  The Murphys made it the glamorous spot that is is today.

Here is a description of a typical day with the Murphys at their beach in Antibes from "Everyone Was So Young."  Vaill is using quotes from Fitzgerald's novel "Tender is the Night" which was based on the Murphys.

"It was their friend F. Scott Fitzgerald who described the Murphys best.  There was Sara, her face 'hard and lovely and pitiful,' her bathing suit 'pulled off her shoulders' and her brown back gleaming under her rope of pearls, 'making out a list of things from a book on the open sand.'  And there was Gerald, her husband, tall and lean in his striped maillot and a knitted cap, gravely raking the seaweed from the beach....  On the 'bright tan prayer rug of the beach,' they and their friends swim, sunbathe, drink sherry and nibble crackers, trade jokes....'  Their very presence is 'an act of creation'; to be included in their world is, Fitzgerald says, 'a remarkable experience.'" 

Linda and Cole Porter

Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald


So come on, let's add a touch of glamour to our weekend!  A chilled "Juice of a Few Flowers" should get us off to a good start.

Juice of a Few Flowers Cocktail

1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 cup good vodka, such as Grey Goose
Extra lemon juice
Granulated sugar
Fresh mint sprigs

Combine the orange juice, grapefruit juice, lemon juice, lime juice, and vodka in a pitcher.  Dip the rims of 4 martini glasses first in a dish with lemon juice and then in a dish with sugar.
When ready to serve, place ice cubes in a cocktail shaker, add the cocktail mixture to fill the shaker three-quarters full, and shake for about 30 seconds.  Pour into the sugared martini glasses and garnish with a sprig of mint.  Serve ice-cold.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Chez Panisse Celebrates Its 40th-Anniversary

It is so inspiring to celebrate women who make a difference.  This summer on August 28 the legendary restaurant Chez Panisse turns 40!  Alice Waters' landmark restaurant in Berkeley, California started many movements in the food industry which have become standard, such as the ongoing farmers' market movement,  California cuisine, and the local-seasonal-orgnanic food philosophy that most chefs have adopted.

Alice at the launch of Chez Panisse in 1971
photo from "Food and Wine"

In the early days Alice worked mostly as a waitress
photo from "Food and Wine"

She pioneered the edible schoolyard garden movement in 2006
photo from "Food and Wine"

Alice Waters once famously gave Bill Clinton a perfect peach as he exited a fundraiser.  "I was sure if I fed the president a perfect peach," Waters writes, "it would bring him to a new understanding of the politics of food."  Alice Waters has for 40 years given us the gift of nurturing our culinary abilities and helping us adopt a healthier life style. And along the way she has inspired many of the cooks amongst us to stretch ourselves and cook from what is seasonally fresh, rather than just from recipes which often call for what is not in season.

A new book is coming out this month on the history of the restaurant with recollections from the generations of Chez Panisse chefs, farmers, purveyors, and friends who have contributed to its success.


We were lucky enough to eat at Chez Panisse this summer and I was thrilled that the restaurant was celebrating Bastille Day with a menu inspired by the recipes of Paula Wolfert.

  Here are some of the dishes we enjoyed:

Shaved zucchini salad with black olives, preserved lemon, and feta

Pizzetta with tomato sauce, squid, and hot pepper

House-made spaghetti all Norma

Grilled quail with fried squash blossoms

Becker Lane Farm pork cooked in milk with lemon, garlic, spinach, and peas


This is what I bought at my farmer's market recently: 

 I made a tomato salad and turkey tacos with these beautiful heirloom tomatoes and organic avocados:

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Blue Cheese

Turkey Tacos

Because of Alice Waters many of us now buy organic produce at farmers' markets.  This month we can celebrate the woman who started it all!