Friday, August 30, 2013

Summer Cocktail

I hope you are doing something fun this holiday weekend. If you are staying home and cooking, here is a delicious and refreshing cocktail to kick off your festivities. It's called Summer Redhead and was created by the talented Danielle Steckler at Paper Palate Catering. Enjoy your weekend!


2 pounds of strawberries
2/3 cup of sugar
1 cup of vodka
1/4 cup of lime juice
1/3 cup of Riesling

Toss the chopped strawberries in the sugar and let stand for 10 minutes until they exude juice. In a blender combine the strawberries and their juice with the vodka, lime juice, Riesling and ice. Pour into glasses and serve.

See you back here in September!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Book News

September is the month of so many sweet beginnings and fresh arrivals. Fall and new books just seem to go together. The fall season is always a happy time for those who love to read. With September right around the corner, there are some exciting things happening in the book world.  Here are some upcoming books and book-related news that are making my pulse quicken:

Author Jhumpa Lahiri in her apartment in Rome
Photo via here

A new book by Jhumpa Lahiri is truly an occasion and she has a new one coming in September. The Lowland is the second novel by Lahiri and is being called a riveting and sweeping book by those who have read it. The book is about two brothers who are born in Calcutta in the years just before the Partition of India. They become separated by geography and ideology. I am a big fan of Lahiri's books, having loved Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake, and cannot wait to read this new one. It is being called one of the best new books of the fall.

Samantha Shannon, the author of The Bone Season
Photo via here

The "Today" show is starting an Oprah-like Book Club. The first book they are featuring is The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon. Book publishers are understandably ecstatic about this new Book Club since it has the potential to turn books into instant best-sellers. I was fascinated to read about Samantha Shannon, the 21-year old author of the first book. She is just completing her degree at Oxford University and wrote "The Bone Season" between classes and a publishing internship. Shannon showed the work to writer Ali Smith, also in Oxford, who advised her to send it to an agent.

The book is a fantasy novel set in a dystopian future world, London in 2059. Shannon cites characters such as Lucy Snowe from Charlotte Bronte's Villette as inspiration for her main character Paige Mahoney, a 19-year-old clairvoyant. The book is being compared to "The Hunger Games" as well as  the books by J.K. Rowling.  Hopefully this new book club segment on the "Today" show will do for the book industry what the "Oprah" Book Club did years ago.

1953 photo of J.D. Salinger and Emily Maxwell
Photo via here

J.D. Salinger's life and what he has been writing in the half-century since he wrote The Catcher in the Rye has been a mystery. Until now. A new documentary and book, both titled "Salinger," are being released the first week of September. They claim that Salinger had been writing a lot of material during those 50 years and instructed his estate to publish at least five additional books as early as 2015. It will be fascinating to see a film on the life of this famously private author. And the prospect of more books about Holden Caulfield and the Glass family of Franny and Zooey is very exciting. My book club is going to see the movie after reading "The Catcher in the Rye" for our September book. I haven't read this classic since I was a teenager and am looking forward to reading it again.

Oh, I can't wait for this one. I was a big fan of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. This new novel by Gilbert is set in the 18th and 19th centuries and follows a gifted and complicated family around the globe.

Flying home from New York this summer, I watched the film "Bridget Jones" on the plane and should have apologized to those around me because I was laughing the entire time. I have never actually read the "Bridget Jones" books, but loved the Jane Austen parallels in the film I saw. Hugh Grant and Colin Firth's fist fight in the snow over Bridget was hilarious! It will be interesting to see what Bridget is up to in this latest installment.

Ann Patchett is such a good writer. Her book Bel Canto is one of my favorite books of recent years. This new one is a personal memoir about the milestones in her life. Looking forward to anything by Ann Patchett. Three years ago, when Nashville lost its only in-town bookstore, Ann Patchett stepped in and opened her own. Apparently it is thriving!

Good books and Masterpiece Theatre just go together. After all, the show has turned some of the most beloved books into great television. This new book about Rebecca Eaton, who helped bring "Upstairs, Downstairs," "Inspector Morse," and "Downton Abbey" to PBS, is a must anyone who loves this television show. I don't want to admit how many years I have been watching it! Rebecca Eaton has been at the center of things for more than 25 years. Her most recent triumph is "Downton Abbey," the most popular show ever aired on PBS. We have the fourth season to look forward to in January, 2014. Making Masterpiece: 25 Years Behind the Scenes at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery will be on my coffee table soon.

Anna Maxwell Martin stars in a dramatization of the book "Death Comes to Pemberley"
Photo via here

And speaking of "Masterpiece Theatre," Anna Maxwell Martin will play Elizabeth Bennett in a new mini-series "Death Comes to Pemberley," based on the Austen-inspired book by P.D. James. It has been filming in York, England and will air on PBS sometime next year. James' novel picks up the story of "Pride and Prejudice" six years after Elizabeth marries Mr. Darcy. Everything has been going well for the couple until a corpse turns up in the garden. I haven't read the book, but hope this new show is good.

You may remember Anna Maxwell Martin from the recent Masterpiece Theatre mini-series "The Bletchley Circle." It was about four women living in London in the 1950's who get involved in solving a murder mystery. They turn out to be quite good at it since during the war they all worked at cracking codes in the espionage department of the government.   

Barbara Pym
Photo via here

And don't forget that this year is the centenary of Barbara Pym's birth. It is a year for discovering and rediscovering her wonderful books. Are you a fan?  This summer I have been rereading her novels. I have gone through three so far: Excellent Women, A Glass of Blessings, and Some Tame Gazelle. If you see me with my nose in a book and a smile on my face, chances are good that I am reading one of Barbara Pym's books. They are gems!

Top photo via Pinterest

Monday, August 19, 2013

Kitchen Gardens and Culinary Heroes

Nigel Slater's London Garden
Photo via here

Where does your eye go in a garden? What draws you in? In my case, there is something about a parterre garden that has always attracted me. Its order and symmetry has a calming effect. For me, it is the equivalent of a chintz-covered armchair in front of a fireplace. My spirits are immediately soothed at the sight of those simple, evergreen shapes. The inside of the planting bed does not have to be orderly. In fact, I love a riot of flowers and plants within these orderly spaces. A loose English cottage garden style is beautiful, especially when planted in multiple areas and borders and given an outline by hedge material.

Upton Gray Garden by Gertrude Jekyll
Photo via here

Gertrude Jekyll designed her gardens that way and so did Vita Sackville-West. They created structure  as well as a romantic, loose arrangement of plant material. They achieved the best of both worlds.

My garden

And so, when it was time for us to design our new garden a few years ago, we said good-bye to the lawn and installed an informal parterre garden with four planting areas. A fountain was at the center  and gravel paths created walkways. We filled the beds with flowering plants and small citrus trees and surrounded them with hedges of Teucrium. Recently we planted a kitchen garden.  

Its location is close to the kitchen, which makes cutting herbs and vegetables for cooking very easy

The tomatoes and vegetables are not yet ready, but the herbs and lettuces are being used daily

We installed stepping stones in order to move around and get to everything easily

One of my culinary heroes, Nigel Slater, was the inspiration. His kitchen garden in London (top photo) is featured in his book Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch and when I first saw the image of that orderly and lush arrangement of vegetables, it took my breath away.  In "Tender," a cookbook that you can read from cover to cover, he recalls the creation of his garden. He is a brilliant food writer and writes exquisite prose about vegetables and cooking in the vein of Elizabeth David and M.F.K. Fisher. There is poetry here, and his descriptions of preparing food and eating it in various settings are as close to a still life painting as a narrative can get. Here he is on eggplant:

"The eggplant seduces. No other vegetable can offer flesh so soft, silken, and tender. You don't so much chew an eggplant as let it dissolve on your tongue. I fell in love at first taste: baked until its flesh has almost melted, heavy with olive oil, musky with cinnamon and allspice, cumin, and ginger, of chocolate, tobacco, and amber, heady with garlic and with a fragrance at once both ancient and mysterious.

It would be heaven to wander through his garden in the early morning, picking eggplants to cook for supper that night.


Other happenings in the garden -- right now the dahlias and zinnias are exploding!  


One big dahlia

The ever present alstroemerias seem to grow all year

Miniature orange roses

Cut flowers from the garden brighten up the kitchen

In honor of Nigel Slater and the inspiration he provided for the kitchen garden, as soon as the eggplants are ready I plan to pick them in the morning and cook them for dinner later in the day. His recipe for "Eggplants baked with tomatoes and Parmesan" from "Tender" sounds perfect.

By the way, fans of Nigel Slater's cookbooks will be happy to know that his newest book The Kitchen Diaries II: A Year of Simple Suppers is already released in the UK and will be published here in the fall. Happy cooking!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

London's Top Ten

1. Buckingham Palace

Samuel Johnson famously said "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life." I have come to the conclusion that London is my favorite city to visit. And so, recently when a friend said she was going to London this summer for the first time and asked my advice on what she should see, I was excited to talk about London. I put together a list of the most famous and obvious sights, but with a disclaimer that seeing them all would be too exhausting. I suggested that she not attempt to do it all, but instead combine a few of them with some of the smaller gems that London has to offer. And London has plenty of small and historic treasures. I decided to start with the top ten big sights and came up with the following list:

 British Museum, Westminster Abbey, National Gallery, St. Paul's Cathedral, Tower of London, Buckingham Palace,  London Eye, Tate Museums, Natural History Museum, and Victoria and Albert Museum.

The smaller ones would take some thinking. I wanted to be sure I gave her some good advice. And so I made a list of my favorite things to do in London, both big and small. Some of them I have already seen and others I have read about and plan to see on my next trip. And, of course, any list like this is bound to be personal. Mine includes places that would conjure up my favorite writers, artists, politicians, and monarchs. There is so much history in London; if you look hard enough, you will find it everywhere. The city is one thousand years old and there is something thrilling about walking in the footsteps of so many giants of history. I tried to include places that would cover some of them. I couldn't keep it to ten, since it includes both the big sights and the small. So here goes, my personal top fifteen things to do in London (not in any particular order). I would love to know what you would choose!


1.  Buckingham Palace (pictured above)

I am starting with a big one. First occupied by Queen Victoria, Buckingham Palace is home to the present Queen. For eight weeks each year during August and September, the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace are open to the public. Visitors are able to see nineteen state rooms, which are so interesting, as well as a special exhibition. I was there two years ago when the special exhibition was the wedding gown worn by Princess Catherine, as well as other royal wedding memorabilia on display. It was thrilling to see. When you leave the palace, you walk out into the Palace garden which is beautiful; you can take a leisurely stroll through it and see the famous lake. If you are in London during August and September, be sure to take this tour. The Queen's Gallery with its art collection alone is worth the price of the ticket.     

  2. The Tower of London

Another big one. No matter how touristy it might sound, a visit to the Tower of London is worth it. Thinking about how much history happened here is awe-inspiring. The tour guides are fantastic and  will regale you with some of the most fascinating stories of British history. Anne Boleyn, Mary, Queen of Scots and Thomas More were all imprisoned and executed here. Although we already know their stories, there are always new details to learn about and this is the spot where it all took place. It is just so much fun! And, in my opinion, the Tower Bridge is the prettiest bridge in London.

3. The Royal Academy of Arts

The last time I was in London, I stayed in the St. James area and accidentally discovered this gem. A walk on nearby Piccadilly took me past the Royal Academy of Arts and I decided to go in to see the Degas exhibition. It was absolutely stunning. The building is one of the few surviving 17th-century mansions in the Piccadilly area. This prestigious fine arts institute has a magnificent permanent art collection, as well as excellent exhibitions such as the one I saw of Degas. Truly one of the best exhibitions I have ever seen!

4. The Victoria and Albert Museum
(Photo source unknown)

Ever since I read Lytton Strachey's Biography of Queen Victoria, I have been fascinated by her. Strachey stripped away the monarch's mystique and made Queen Victoria seem like a real person. The story of her  romance with Prince Albert is my favorite part. She was truly in love with him. And this museum, which was named for both the Queen and her beloved Prince Albert, is a gem. It is a museum of decorative arts with a wonderful permanent collection and one of the best museum gift shops.

5. The Courtauld Gallery which is located in Somerset House
Photo via here

The Courtauld Institute of Art is one of the world's most prestigious places to study the history of art. It is a college of the University of London. Within its walls is a true treasure for anyone who loves French modern art -- the Courtauld Gallery. The Courtauld is one of the best small museums in the world with a remarkable art collection, including some of the masterpieces of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. There are famous paintings by Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, and Manet. Manet's painting "Bar at the Folies-Bergere" is there and it took my breath away the first time I saw it in person. 

I love small museums because they are so much easier to deal with. You can find what you are looking for and you can take more time to linger and learn. And if you cannot find something, but know that it is part of the Courtauld's collection, you can make an appointment with a curator and go behind the scenes to see it.  I did that when I was there last. I was searching for some designs for textiles and rugs created by the Bloomsbury artists. I was told that the works were not currently being displayed, but I could come back later to see them. When I arrived for my appointment the next day, I was taken to the display room of the storage facility where a Bloomsbury scholar brought out about twenty works for me to see. She was extremely knowledgeable about Bloomsbury art and we chatted for about an hour. This experience was a highlight of my last trip to London.

6. The National Portrait Gallery
Photo via here

This is one of the best places to visit in London. It is a wonderful gallery that features portraits of some of the most well-known British figures from the past and present. Everywhere you look are the faces of people you have read about. History comes to life here. There are paintings from the Tudor times to the present day -- Queen Elizabeth I, Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh, Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot, to name a few. But my favorite is this portrait of the Bronte sisters. Painted by their brother Branwell Bronte, it was found folded up in a drawer in 1914. Branwell erased his own image from the group. There is something so poignant about this painting with its creases and ghostly image in the background, especially when you think about the Brontes' tragic and short lives on the desolate moors.

7. The Churchill War Rooms
Photo via here

I have a thing for Winston Churchill. By last count, there are at least twenty books on him in my library. He made so many memorable pronouncements. One of my favorites: "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." During World War II, he and his cabinet ministers met in these secret war rooms located beneath the Government Treasury Chambers. You can visit them today and you will find that they look exactly as they did during those tumultuous war years. Amazing to think that you can stand in the very rooms where Churchill and others plotted the course of World War II.

8. Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

This is a recreation of the actual Old Globe theatre in which Shakespeare's plays were performed 500 years ago. It is a breathtaking experience to see one of his plays here. It is an open air space and the seats are benches, just like they were in Shakespeare's time. I saw a fabulous production of Much Ado About Nothing in this theatre a couple of years ago.

9. The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie
Photo via here

And speaking of plays, I have always wanted to see this one and plan to do it next time I visit London. The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie opened in 1952 and is the longest running play in modern history. After being a fan of her books for so many years, I am looking forward to finally seeing this play. Here is an excellent article about it.

10.  St. Martin in the Fields Church
Photo via here

Located in Trafalgar Square, this is one of the most special and intimate spaces to hear a concert in London. There has been a church on this site since the 13th-century, and the present building was designed by James Gibbs in 1726. It has been the location for music events for 250 years. Hearing some Bach or Mozart by candlelight in this exquisite church is a delightful experience. 

11.  Dennis Severs' House Museum
Photo via here

This is not to be missed. This house  museum is one of the best example of London's little known treasures. It is a painstakingly detailed re-creation of an 18th-century house belonging to a silk weaver and his family in Spitalfields. The house evokes the sense of how it might have looked as it evolved over the centuries. Dennis Severs is the American expat who created this wonderful place. There is such an immediacy to the way the rooms are decorated that you have the sense the inhabitants just stepped out for a moment. If you want to understand everyday life in London in the 18th-century, this is the place to visit.

12.   Hatchards Bookstore

Hatchards is the oldest surviving bookstore in London. Its customers have included some of Britain's most famous figures: Benjamin Disraeli, Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde, and Lord Byron, to name just a few. It has every book you can imagine and often ones that have not come out yet in the U.S. If you love bookstores, you will spend many happy hours browsing among the stacks. Notice how the books you have purchased in the U.S. have a different cover in the U.K. You may be tempted to buy the British edition of a book you already own because the dust jackets are so attractive. 

13. Tea at the Connaught Hotel

You must have a proper afternoon tea while in London. The Connaught Hotel has one of the best.

14. The Charles Dickens Museum
Photo via here

In December of 2012, the Charles Dickens museum at 48 Doughty Street, his only surviving London home, reopened after a three year, $5-million refurbishment and restoration. It was the home of Charles Dickens from 1837-1839 and the site where he wrote Nicholas Nickelby and Oliver Twist. It contains many personal items from Dickens' life, including a set of bars from the Marshalsea prison where his father was imprisoned for his debts. I visited the original museum years ago and now can't wait to see the newly restored home of one of the giants of English literature.

15.  Rules Restaurant
Photo via here

It might seem strange to put a restaurant on the list. But it is the oldest restaurant in London, having opened in 1798. This place just exudes atmosphere. Here are some of the people who ate at Rules:  Charles Dickens, Edward VII, his mistress Lillie Langtry, Graham Greene, and the Poet John Betjeman. The walls are covered with images of old England. The atmosphere is Victorian with dark wood panelling and the traditional English food is very good. Do you remember the episode on "Downton Abbey" when Lady Edith and her publisher met for lunch? They met at Rules. It really is an amazing place and so very English. Anglophiles will be in heaven. was a challenge to narrow it down to fifteen choices! There are so many things I could add. What would be on your London's Top Ten (or fifteen) list? I am planning a trip to London in the fall and would love to hear your suggestions!

Unless otherwise noted, photos by Sunday Taylor

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Touch of Tartan

"And proud she was of heart, when clad / In crimson stockings, tartan plaid..."
-- William Wordsworth, "Memorials of a Tour in Scotland"

I have to admit, I am starting to get a little excited about fall. Do you feel that way?

And right now tartan looks really good to me. I love these rooms decorated with plaid. They feel fresh, crisp, tailored, and very cozy. All the qualities of of fall. In my opinion, many rooms can benefit from a touch of tartan. It adds a warmth and welcoming quality to a space. For some reason, tartan always makes us feel good.

Anta plates

Recently I discovered Anta of Scotland, a company that has been around for  25 years and specializes in contemporary Scottish home decor. It was founded by Annie and Lachlan Stewart in in the north of Scotland to produce their contemporary twist on old tartans, using antique weaving machines. They make fabrics, throws, furniture, rugs, stoneware and accessories. Everything from Anta is made in Scotland. The woolen yarn used for the carpets and tweeds is sourced in the Western Isles and is woven in the Borders. The artisans at Anta paint tartan on ceramics for their stoneware collection. Take a look at their entire collection online. You will be impressed with the quality and charming look of their products.

Couches, pillows and throws

More pillows


Beautiful throws

Luscious fabrics! A small couch in one of these plaids would warm up any room.

Tartan ceramics



Anta's Highland showroom

Take a look at their entire collection online. It will have you dreaming of a trip to Scotland and maybe adding a touch of tartan plaid to your home.

All photos via here