Friday, September 28, 2012

If You Happen To Be In England in October...

If you happen to be in England in the month of October, I have discovered a delightful field trip for you.  Especially for those of you who share my passion (obsession?) for Bloomsbury.  On Monday, October 22 Country Living Magazine UK in conjunction with Farrow & Ball is hosting a special day at Charleston in East Sussex, the home and country meeting place for the writers, painters, and intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group.  Oh how I wish I could be there!  Charleston is one of my favorite places to visit; it is a house that truly takes you to another time and place, to that era in the early twentieth-century when the bohemian group of artists and writers that included Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Lytton Strachey, and Roger Fry were gathering together to create art and write books -- all different from what had gone before -- in addition to discussing everything under the sun.  Anyone who is interested in art, decoration, gardens or history would love it. Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant lived there and produced art together for fifty years.  All of their friends hung out there. To visit Charleston is to be transported to the incredibly exciting time of the early twentieth-century when modern art was exploding in Paris and influencing artists in England.   Being there is to understand that creativity was truly the heart and soul of the lives that Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and their friends lived on a daily basis.

The Lily Pond Table designed by Roger Fry and painted by Duncan Grant
It is in Maynard Keynes' bedroom at Charleston

The walled garden, the house and its interiors are magical and memorable.  The house is set in a bucolic part of Sussex, surrounded by nature and facing a pond.  The inside is a riot of color and pattern and is decorated with hand painted murals, furniture, mantels, wallpaper, textiles, fabrics, lamp shades, bed frames, and anything else you can think of.  It's an exuberant place, there are flowers and leaves in many of the designs.  These artists were inspired by the beautiful countryside that surrounds the house and the garden was often the subject of paintings done by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.

Charleston has been restored and preserved so that it looks much as it must have looked one hundred years ago when Vanessa and Clive Bell moved in.   The house contains so much history and atmosphere that it feels as if Virginia Woolf might pop in at any minute to visit her sister Vanessa who is probably in the kitchen making her legendary scones for tea.   Duncan Grant may be painting in the garden and Lytton Strachey will most likely be reading in the library.  Maynard Keynes and his new wife the ballerina Lydia Lopokova may drop by to spend the weekend, as his room is always waiting for him.  He was such a frequent guest that he had his own bedroom at Charleston.  It's just above the front door and looks out on the pond.

But back to that field trip on October 22.  This is what Country Living and Farrow & Ball have planned for your day at Charleston.   After enjoying a morning coffee you will hear an informative talk about Charleston by curator Wendy Hitchmough which will be followed by a guided tour through the house and garden.  After a seasonal lunch made with local produce, you will hear a short talk about using color in the home by Joa Studholme, the international color consultant at Farrow & Ball.  After that you can take part in a painting workshop, led by artist Sophie Croyndon, to create your own Charleston-inspired wooden tray.  Doesn't this sound like a perfect day?

Monday, September 24, 2012

What Are You Reading?

Photo via here

Fall is here and it is my favorite time of the year.  It is a great time to read and I am making a list of the books I want to enjoy this season.  This is the time of the year when I go into nesting mode and spend a lot of time at home, especially in my kitchen --  cooking, baking, and anticipating the holidays.  But the other rooms draw me in as well, especially the ones with a comfortable chair and ottoman.  Now that the weather is cooler and the days are shorter, I love to read and have fantasies of sitting with a great book, a cup of tea at my side, and a fire in the fireplace.  I have always loved 19th-century British novels and want a book that will take me away to a place where the fog is rolling over the English moors and chimney smoke is coming out of thatched cottages.  And so this is the time of the year that I like to pick a classic book to read.  Right now a long, sprawling Victorian novel sounds perfect for those afternoons in front of the fire and the one I have decided to read is Middlemarch by George Eliot.

Have you read it?  I have always been intrigued with "Middlemarch" because so many writers have loved it.

Virginia Woolf wrote that George Eliot's power "is at its highest in the mature Middlemarch, the magnificent book which with all its imperfections is one of the few English novels written for grown-up people."

When Emily Dickinson was asked what she thought of "Middlemarch" she answered "What do I think of glory?"

Zadie Smith wrote that "Middlemarch" is one of the books that had the greatest impact on her, calling it "A work of genius.  But more important...a woman wrote it...Eliot was the first woman I read who could go toe-to-toe with, say, Tolstoy."

A.S. Byatt wrote "It is possible to argue that Middlemarch is the greatest English novel."

And recently "The Guardian" published an article listing the ten best closing lines of novels.  "Middlemarch" was one of the chosen along with 'The Great Gatsby," "Ulysses," "Heart of Darkness," "Wuthering Heights," and "To the Lighthouse."

There are also some very exciting new books that have just come out or are coming out this fall that I can't wait to read.  Here are the ones on my list:

Ian McEwan's Sweet Tooth
Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue
Zadie Smith's NW
Hilary Mantel's Bring Up The Bodies

What are you reading?  And are you attracted to the classics at this time of the year?  I would love to hear what you are reading right now and what is on your list for the fall and winter.

By the way, speaking of fantasies, here is the place where I would love to do all this reading.

Photo via here

Happy Fall!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Beautiful New Edition of "Emma"

"Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her." -- Opening line of "Emma" by Jane Austen

Do you have a favorite book by Jane Austen?  "Pride and Prejudice" is the favorite of most people and   "Emma" is the second favorite.  I love them both, but seem to return to "Emma" more often.  Maybe the reason for this is that no matter how misguided Emma is in her matchmaking pursuits, her heart is in the right place.  And I love watching her grow and learn about herself.  Her mistaken interpretations of people and the world around her lead to all kinds of problems, but at the end of the book when she changes and has learned about herself and others, we love her.  And who can resist the moment when Emma realizes she is in love with Mr. Knightley!    If you are a fan of Jane Austen or know someone who is, you will love this new annotated gift edition of "Emma" published by Harvard University Press. It would make a great holiday gift for anyone who loves classic books.

It opens with an old-fashioned map showing us the part of England where the small village of Highbury is supposed to be located.  That is the spot where most of the action of the novel takes place and many of the details of the characters' lives in this small village are discussed in this new edition of "Emma."  Throughout the book are illustrations and notes explaining subjects as varied as the English militia in the nineteenth-century, a woman's dowry, Regency clothing, a game of whist, nineteenth-century Bath, and Austen's use of language.  There are beautiful paintings and illustrations throughout that help us picture the Regency-era world in which "Emma" takes place.   This book is filled with gems.  Look for the two different illustrations of Mr. Knightley's proposal to Emma from 19th-century editions of the book.

This is the kind of book you will want to dip into and read on a chilly fall or winter day, preferably with a cup of tea at your side and a fire burning in the fireplace.  And once you get one for yourself, be sure to add it to your holiday gift list for anyone who loves books.

Tomorrow is the first day of autumn.  Have a great weekend!  

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Library to Love

Edith Wharton's library at The Mount
Photo via here

There has been a lot of news about Edith Wharton lately.  Have you noticed how much attention she is getting?  There are several new books about her and a glamorous photo spread in Vogue magazine (the September issue!).  The attention is not surprising considering that this year is the 150th anniversary of her birth.  And now her home in western Massachusetts is the subject of a new book. Edith Wharton's beautiful library (above) at the Mount, the home she designed and lived in during the early part of the twentieth-century, is featured in a new book that has just been published -- "Edith Wharton at Home: Life at the Mount" by Richard Guy Wilson.

Photo via here

Wharton was as passionate and knowledgeable about architecture and interior design as she was about writing novels. In fact, her first book was "The Decoration of Houses" which she wrote with the architect Ogden Codman, Jr.  It was a book that was critical of Victorian design excesses and promoted a return to classical principles like symmetry. Anyone who is a fan of Edith Wharton's fiction knows that descriptions of her characters' homes and environments are a big part of her books.  We sink contentedly into these environments as we become engrossed in her books.  I love the description of Lawrence Selden's library in "The House of Mirth" when Lily Bart makes her unwise and unchaperoned visit to the bachelor's home.  I feel as if I could walk right into that room, which is how I often feel in my favorite books by Wharton.

"He ushered her into a slip of a hall hung with old prints.  She noticed the letters and notes heaped on the table among his gloves and sticks;  then she found herself in a small library, dark but cheerful, with its walls of books, a pleasantly faded Turkey rug, a littered desk, and, as he had foretold, a tea-tray on a low table near the window.  A breeze had sprung up, swaying inward the muslin curtains, and bringing a fresh scent of mignonette and petunias from the flower-box on the balcony."

That is the kind of library I want.  But Edith Wharton's library at the Mount is a much grander room than Lawrence Selden's cozy library in "The House of Mirth."  It is a beautiful space with bookshelves made out of oak and two doors opening up to the terrace.  And it needed to be grand for it was the room where Wharton would entertain her guests -- which included her good friend the writer Henry James, Theodore Roosevelt, the diplomat Walter Berry, writer and painter Maxfield Parrish and landscape designer Beatrix Farrand --  for drinks and conversation before and after dinner. And when you consider that it now contains Edith Wharton's personal collection of books which were returned to the Mount from Europe in 2006, it is a very special room.

Photo via here

Do you enjoy visiting writers' houses?  It is one of my favorite things to do when I am traveling.  A trip to the Berkshires for me has to include a visit to Edith Wharton's home.  In fact, the first time I was there was about fifteen years ago when the house was not yet fully restored and was the home for a theatrical group that staged Henry James' novella "The Turn of the Screw."  Seeing this ghost story  performed in Wharton's home around Halloween was an amazing experience!

The best writers' houses are autobiographical, giving us insight into the person.  The Mount is such a house.  It reveals so much about Edith Wharton.    Every aspect of the estate -- including its gardens, architecture, and interior design -- reflects her spirit.  We sense her presence as we walk through the rooms.   This is where she lived, wrote, and entertained her circle of friends which included some of the most prominent writers and artists of the day.  It contains the bedroom where she wrote "The House of Mirth," writing the book in bed each morning and tossing the pages onto the floor for her assistant to pick up and type.


The library at the Mount, as it was recently photographed for Vogue magazine

And what about Edith Wharton's recent "star" turn in Vogue magazine?  Did you see it?  Wharton and the Mount (with a great scene shot in the library) were featured in the September issue of Vogue magazine.  This gorgeous article and photo spread photographed by Annie Leibovitz and styled by Vogue's art director Grace Coddington on the grounds of the Mount has created a huge buzz.  The article (written by Colm Toibin) tells the story of Edith's love affair with Morton Fullerton, the American expatriate journalist.  Wharton's good friend Henry James was also in love with him. The photos form a gorgeous visual accompaniment illustrating the literary life and love story of Edith Wharton. Everyone who read it was thrilled that the photos featured writers, actors, and artists of today playing Edith's inner circle of friends, including writer Jeffrey Eugenides as Henry James and writer Jonathan Safran Foers as architect Ogden Codman.  One of the scenes was shot in the library (photo above) with actor Jack Huston (from HBO's "Boardwalk Empire") playing Morton Fullerton, model Natalia Vodianova as  Wharton, and Jeffrey Eugenides as Henry James.  Go here to read more.


Photo via here

There is also a new novel about Edith Wharton's life written by Jennie Fields.  In "The Age of Desire" Fields tells the story of Wharton's life through two points of view:  Wharton's own and that of her literary secretary and confidante Anna Bahlmann.  The book recreates Wharton's turn of the century world which consisted of Paris, her country estate in western Massachusetts, and Henry James home in Rye, New York.  I just picked up a copy of this book and can't wait to immerse myself in Edith Wharton's world, as well as read about her love affair with Morton Fullerton and her relationship with Anna Bahlmann.  Apparently, when she was with Fullerton, Wharton revealed a side of herself -- vulnerable and passionate -- that she didn't show to most people.  Henry James, despite his conflicted feelings regarding Fullerton, encouraged her to have the affair.  The story sounds as intriguing as any of her novels.

By the way, now that we are all becoming more familiar with Edith Wharton's life through the new books and articles about her, I wonder if someone will make a movie out of it.  What do you think?  Vogue magazine may have gotten the ball rolling with its luscious reimagining of Wharton's life at the Mount.  It had the feel of a small costume drama. Hmmm...who could play Edith Wharton?  Maybe two actresses, one playing Wharton as a young woman in her twenties, and one playing her later in life, perhaps in her forties.  Rebecca Hall and Emma Thompson?   Just a thought...the casting would be so much fun!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Italian Cocktails and Dinner Outside

Risotto with asparagus, peas and lemon

What is everyone up to this weekend?  I have a suggestion for dinner if you are in the mood for a refreshing Italian cocktail and risotto.  It is still very warm here in Los Angeles and so it was fun last weekend to cook from the great produce that is available and eat dinner outside.  We had our daughter and son-in-law over with some of their friends and we cooked together to create an Italian menu for early September.

  We were the lucky recipients of some fresh tomatoes and basil plucked out of Holly's garden.  With these ingredients and some good olive oil, salt and pepper, we created a big platter of tomatoes and burrata cheese.

Followed by Ina Garten's Spring Green Risotto, it was the perfect meal.  This luscious risotto is loaded with good things such as asparagus, peas, lemon, parmesan and mascarpone cheese.
Recipe here

But the highlight of the evening were these frothy Italian cocktails called Sgroppino from Mario Batali that my daughter made for us.  They really captured all the warm goodness of early September.

They are a delicious lemony concoction made with lemon gelato, ice cold vodka, prosecco, and ice.  Here's how you make them:

  Pour one cup of iced vodka into a blender.  Add one pint of lemon gelato, one half bottle of prosecco, and one cup of ice cubes and blend until frothy and smooth.  Pour into iced Champagne flutes.  Make these, I promise you will love them.  They are somewhere between a dessert and an icy refreshing drink.

  Have a great weekend!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Can We Feel It Yet?

Photo via here

You know what I'm talking about.  That wonderful feeling we start to get at this time of the year.  The crispness, the coziness, and the promise of autumn.  There is so much to look forward to. 

Fall produce starts to appear at the farmer's markets

Everywhere we look we find inspiration

Our color palette changes: earthy brown dishes from Heath Ceramics look really good for fall

Seasonal jams, honey, and homemade baked goods start to appear

A great cheese board and a glass of wine is what we want to eat 

Antique stores are filled with beautiful items

We want to be out in the countryside

Staying at a country inn

Photo via here

Walking through the trees

We want to decorate with pumpkins

 Bake pumpkin bread

 Make a bowl of warm and nourishing soup
Photo and recipe via here

And nothing sounds better than staying home and being cozy

It's all coming up, there's an excitement in the air.  Stay tuned, fall is filled with inspiration...

Friday, September 7, 2012

Heather Taylor's New Style Series

Heather Taylor of L.A. In Bloom and handbag designer Clare Vivier

This is a big week for my daughter Heather Taylor.  Heather writes the lifestyle blog L.A. In Bloom where she features a webisode series about how to work all day and still enjoy cozy pleasures such as entertaining, cooking, flowers, home, and garden.  She has come up with easy and doable projects that make it all possible for a working girl with limited time.  This summer she has been working on a  project which she has just launched -- a new Style series in collaboration with Look TV  and  I wanted to share the first episode with you!

For her new series she moves out of the kitchen and into the stylish world of Los Angeles.  She visits her friend handbag designer Clare Vivier's newly opened flagship boutique in Silverlake and gets a tour of this beautiful new space.  She and Clare show us the new and exciting handbag designs that the store carries.  Heather has made six of these episodes on style and I hope you will stay tuned for future episodes; they will air every Wednesday on her blog and on Look TV.   The topics will include how to go from a daytime to an evening look in five minutes or less, a make-up tutorial, and how to shop at a flea market.  I am so proud of her!  Please click below to watch the first episode.  I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

New Costume Drama from England

I have just heard some very exciting news for fans of British television.  Are you a fan?  I have been one for as long as I can remember!   A lovely reader from England has written me that a new five- part television series called "Parade's End" starring Benedict Cumberbatch has just begun to air in England. This new mini-series is scheduled to begin here at the end of the year.  It is based on Ford Maddox Ford's quartet of novels "Parade's End" about Britons during the First World War.  Adapted for television by playwright Tom Stoppard, who has also written the screenplay for the upcoming film "Anna Karenina" (can't wait!),  it has an incredible cast which includes Rebecca Hall, Rupert Everett, Miranda Richardson, and Janet McTeer.  Here are some of the luscious images from this new Edwardian mini-series. It looks gorgeous with its English countryside setting and grand country houses; it just may ease our impatience while we wait for "Downton Abbey" to return.

After a little research I learned the following about the story:  Benedict Cumberbatch plays Christopher Tietjens, a government statistician from a wealthy family who is serving in the British army during World War I.  While he is away at war his socialite wife Sylvia, played by Rebecca Hall (above), is a  deeply flawed character who seems intent on ruining her husband.  The other main character is a woman with whom Tietjens is in love, a young suffragette named Valentine played by actress Adelaide Clemens.  "Parade's End" is a love story set during the Great War as well as a portrait of British society before, during, and after the war.   It sounds promising.  While waiting for this series to begin, I would love to read the novels by Ford Maddox Ford on which it is based.   

By the way, are you a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch?  I think he is one of the most fascinating actors to watch and loved him in the recent series "Sherlock" on Masterpiece Mystery.  I wrote about it here.   Cumberbatch gave a fabulous performance as Sherlock Holmes which he delivered with humor and intelligence.  I can't wait to see what he does in this new mini-series currently airing in England.   

I am very excited for this one!  It just might be the new "Downton Abbey."

All photos from here