Monday, September 30, 2013

Something to Look Forward to...

Photo via here

I know that we have to wait until January, but there is something comforting about knowing this has started in Britain. I can't wait to see what mind is filled with possibilities. And, after last night's final episode of the television show Breaking Bad (I am a big fan), I am craving the relative peace and quiet and civilized pleasures of my favorite show from Britain. Ninety-seven days to go, but who's counting? 

Mother's Day Tea at the Peninsula Hotel, Beverly Hills
May, 2013

In the meantime, we may have to fortify ourselves with tea and scones to get through the long wait. There is rarely an episode of Downton Abbey that doesn't include afternoon tea. Here in Los Angeles many hotels serve beautiful teas. Meeting a friend or celebrating a special occasion over afternoon tea is a peaceful and serene experience that forces us to slow down and relax. It is one of my very favorite things to do.

 Christmas Tea for my Book Club at the Montage Hotel, Beverly Hills
December, 2012

 Tea and scones at home, December, 2011

But you don't need to go out for tea and scones. How about tea and scones in your own kitchen? You can easily enjoy this tradition at home. With October here, cooler weather and homey pleasures are coming up. This is a great time of the year to get into the kitchen and do some baking. One of my favorite recipes for scones is from Elizabeth Alston's book Biscuits and Scones. Easy and delicious, these can be whipped up in no time at all, making it easy to serve a batch of warm scones with your pot of tea. And your kitchen will smell heavenly.

I love the story that Henrietta Garnett tells in the memoir Charleston, Past and Present about her grandmother, the Bloomsbury artist Vanessa Bell, making scones.

"Tea was at five o'clock and, at about half past four, Nessa would go downstairs into the kitchen and put on the kettle. The kitchen was large, ill lit and rather gloomy. It had a concrete floor. Sometimes Nessa would make scones. She would stand at the kitchen table, remove her rings and hoik them up onto a nail above the sink, sift flour through her long fingers and let it drift into the pudding basin. She never spilled the ingredients; never made a mess. The recipe she used was not extravagant. It required a minimum of butter and lacked vanish of egg-yolk. They were plain scones and they were very good."

The story of this daily ritual with everybody stopping what they were doing and gathering for tea amidst all the bohemian chaos at Charleston is one I have always loved. And, really, it is as simple as that -- you can have warm scones from the oven in about an hour's time from start to finish.


Elizabeth Alston's Raisin Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut up
1 cup raisins
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Yolk of 1 egg
3/4 cup buttermilk
White of 1 large egg
Additional sugar for sprinkling

Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Put flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt in large bowl; stir to  mix.  Add butter and cut in with a pastry blender or rub in with your fingers until mixture looks like fine granules. Add raisins and sugar; toss to distribute evenly.
Add egg yolk to buttermilk in measuring cup and whisk with a fork to blend. Pour over the flour mixture and stir with a fork until a soft dough forms.
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and give 10 -12 kneads. Cut dough in half. Knead each half briefly into a ball; turn smooth side up and pat into a 6-inch circle. Cut into 6 wedges, but do not separate wedges. 
In a small bowl, beat the egg white with a fork until just broken up. Brush the top of each scone with egg white and sprinkle lightly with sugar. With a spatula, carefully transfer the two cut circles to an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 18-22 minutes, medium brown. Cool on a wire rack; after 5 minutes pull the wedges apart and cover with a dishtowel. This last step makes the scones especially tender.


And to go with those scones, my favorite tea. You can order it here.

Go here to watch the trailer for Season 4 of "Downton Abbey"

I looked at a few reviews (avoiding all spoilers) and they are glowing about this new season.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Moments Leading Up to the Big Night

On my kitchen table: one of the beautiful centerpieces created by Hollyflora for the Robinson Gardens Gala

Six days ago
THESE arrived for the gift bags

Five days ago
Taking a look at the spectacular Eiffel Tower and overhead lights delivered by the rental company 

 Four days ago
Assembling the table signs

Saturday morning
Placing the flowers, candles, and chocolates on the tables

Saturday afternoon
Swooning over this stunning arrangement by Hollyflora for the entry of the house

Saturday night
The Gala

Just a few of the magical moments getting ready for the Robinson Gardens Gala. I have been working on this fundraiser with my two wonderful co-chairs and a committee of talented women for months. Our theme was "Midnight in Paris" and our goal was to create the ambiance of Paris in the 1920's. Some of the elements of the night: a silent auction (which included a French dinner for 10 cooked by myself and a friend; you may remember the Italian dinner we donated last year), a band playing songs from Paris in the twenties, can-can dancers, a French-themed dinner which included Gougeres and baskets of French Fries with Aioli sauce for dipping, champagne stations, stylish women wearing Jazz Age fashions, and lots of dancing. We served Juice of a Few Flowers, the cocktail that Gerald and Sara Murphy drank with Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald in the south of France. Last week was the final push to get ready and it went by in a flash! Hard to believe it finally happened. The money raised will benefit the restoration and maintenance of this historic property in Los Angeles. It was a magical night...

Monday, September 16, 2013

Fall Notebook

The garden all tucked in for fall
November, 2010

I used to keep lists of everything I needed to do in the fall. When my daughters were young, fall was the busiest season and it still is. Their birthdays and the holidays were squeezed into three short months. As they got older and one went to college in Maine and the other worked in New York, we managed to squeeze in a trip to the East coast every October. There was a lot of planning and juggling, and lists were a necessity. Recently I have found some of these old lists and they have brought back wonderful memories.

This year I want to reinstate them and put them together in a notebook, the old lists as well as the new. There is so much to do right now and this season, my favorite, always goes by too fast. The house needs to be spruced up and the garden will need new fall plants. My feeling is that if I get back into the habit of keeping these lists and records again, I will savor every detail. And in the future, I will look back and remember. In the next few months there will be more entertaining than usual as well as holidays to celebrate -- all the things I love. My old lists are filled with flowers to buy, candles to replenish, tablecloths to take out, and recipes to make. I am noticing there are things I still do each year, as well as things I forgot about and want to do again. So I decided this year to keep a fall notebook. This season is filled with so many delights. So here we go. Let the season (and my notebook) begin with Pumpkin Recipes!

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Pumpkin Cream-Cheese Frosting

This is one of the best cakes I make. I found it in a Country Living magazine years ago. Although it looks impressive, it is very easy to make. You mix together an easy batter that produces three layers of the most delicious and moist pumpkin cake you will ever taste. Then you frost them with a rich cream-cheese frosting flavored with pumpkin puree and orange juice. This will become a favorite in your house as it has in mine. Go here for the recipe.

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Frosting

These cupcakes are the creation of Ina Garten. Covered with cream cheese frosting and topped with pieces of Heath Bar, they are as pretty as they are delicious. Go here for the recipe.

Pumpkin Bread

This is the pumpkin bread I have been making forever. I remember cutting it into slices and packing it in my daughters' lunches when they went to school. It is delicious with a cup of coffee in the morning or a cup of tea in the afternoon. This recipe makes two loaves, so you can freeze one for later.

Spiced Pumpkin Bread

3 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
2 and 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup canola or safflower oil
One 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the over to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9 x 5 x 3 - inch loaf pans. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl and set aside. Whisk together the sugar, eggs, and oil in a separate bowl until well blended. Stir in the pumpkin, water, and vanilla and mix well. Add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture and stir just until all the ingredients are moist and blended. Do not overmix. Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans and bake about 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each loaf comes out clean and the top begins to crack slightly. Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before removing from the pans. Serve warm or place on a baking rack to cool.

I love this time of the year. The days get shorter and the weather begins to cool down. We start to see pumpkins and squashes at the farmers' markets. There is an excitement in the air. It's all about celebrating the comforts of home.

Happy Fall!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Porch Love

There are certain words that are filled with nostalgia. I think "porch" is one of them. When I was a child growing up in in western Pennsylvania, I spent many happy hours each summer on my grandparents' porch. I remember pitchers of lemonade, sandwiches of tomatoes picked from the garden, card games, and neighbors dropping by. You see, the thing about a porch that is so different from a patio is that it is in the front of the house and, consequently, a place to watch the world go by. At night, we would drive to a nearby town for ice cream and bring back quarts of our favorite flavors. We scooped it into bowls and took it out to the porch to be enjoyed. It was the quintessential summer place to be.

Although I don't have a porch, I have a patio and I am out there every warm evening of the summer. Now that it is September, nothing has changed and we are all still spending every moment we can outside. Here in Los Angeles, September is often the hottest month of the year. Dinners of grilled fish and bruschetta with chopped tomatoes and basil taste really good eaten outside. As does coffee and breakfast in the morning, a great time to see what is happening in the garden. Our patio has a table for dining, as well as comfy chairs for lounging. Today's patios and porches are a lot more sophisticated in decor than my grandparents' was, but what they all share is comfy seating, inviting spaces and a graciousness that says welcome.

If you are thinking of decorating your porch or patio, here are some inspiring images to get you started.

Porch at Topping Rose House in Bridgehampton, New York
Hotels often have the best porches!

Photo via here

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Carolyne Roehm's porch
Isn't this gorgeous!

A view of my patio from the garden 

 The weather is warm in early September and porches and patios beckon. Dinner alfresco is still an option. Nothing sounds better than hanging out on your porch or patio with family and friends on a warm and beautiful night! It is an experience guaranteed to produce a little trip down memory lane...

And speaking of the final days of tomato plants are producing a lot of tomatoes! In my search for ways to use them, I found this recipe for a tomato tart that looks delicious.

Heirloom Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart
Recipe here

Hard to believe, but fall is right around the corner...

Images via Pinterest, unless otherwise noted

Monday, September 9, 2013

The New Arts Season

Are you like me, do you get a little thrill when you see the September preview of the new Arts Season in New York? The New York Times publishes this special feature every year at about this time and it always gives me a little jolt of excitement and anticipation for what is coming up in the world of theater, dance, music, fine arts, and film. I make a mental wish list of what I would see if I were in New York in the upcoming season. And then I plot how to get there!

Well, it may or may not happen this time, but I still make a list of my favorites. And, of course, there are new arts season previews to read about in every city. I will be scouring my sources for what is coming up in L.A. But I do have a soft spot for the New York arts scene. Maybe because my mother took me there when I was a teenager to see the Broadway production of "Funny Girl" with Barbara Streisand. The experience left me with a life long love of Broadway. So here goes, my top ten things to see in New York this fall and winter, if I am lucky enough to get there!

I read this fascinating book on Harold Pinter and Antonia Fraser last year


1.  Betrayal by Harold Pinter is being revived on Broadway this fall. It stars Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Rafe Spall and is directed by Mike Nichols. "Betrayal" premiered in London in 1978 with Penelope Wilton (from "Downton Abbey") and Daniel Massey as the married couple Emma and Robert. In 1980, Blythe Danner and Roy Scheider played the married couple on Broadway with Raul Julia as Jerry, Robert's best friend with whom Emma has a long-term affair. Do you remember the film with Jeremy Irons, Patricia Hodge and Ben Kingsley? I loved it. The story moves backwards chronologically and ends with the beginning of the affair. The play examines different levels of betrayal in life as well as the ways people can damage each other and love each other at the same time. It is the sort of deep and intense topic that I love to see in a play combined with witty and literary dialogue. Harold Pinter is considered one of the great playwrights of the twentieth-century and won the Nobel prize for literature. An opportunity to see this play with an incredible cast and talented director would be thrilling.

2.  Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett is also being revived on Broadway this fall. It stars Ian McKellan, Patrick Stewart, and Billy Cruddup. "Waiting for Godot" will play in repertory at the Cort Theatre with No Man's Land, another play by Harold Pinter. Putting these two plays together in repertory is interesting since Pinter was hugely inspired by Beckett as an artist. This theatre season seems to be the season of Harold Pinter!


3.  The world premiere of Shakespeare's The Tempest by the American Ballet Company is set to the music of Sibelius. I saw an excellent production of this play in London a few years ago and would love to see it adapted into a ballet.

"Swan Lake" by the New York City Ballet
Photo via here

4.  Swan Lake by the New York City Ballet. I have seen this one before and would definitely see it again. The production by the New York City Ballet is one of the best you will ever see.

Art Exhibitions

Photo via here

5.  Vermeer, Rembrandt and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting from the Mauritshuis at the Frick Museum will include Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring" and 14 other works from the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis. I will see any exhibition at this exquisite jewel-box of a museum, but this one is a must! It has been traveling around the country while the Mauritshuis is being renovated and this is the last chance to see it in this country.

6.  The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution at the New-York Historical Society Museum. This exhibition revisits the famous 1913 Armory Art Show on its 100th anniversary. In 1913, the International Exhibition of Modern Art came to New York and introduced the American public to European avant-garde painting and sculpture. It included bold innovators from Cezanne to Picasso. This exhibition will examine the ways that the 1913 Armory show influenced American culture, politics, and society. It would be interesting to compare the reactions of the Americans and the Europeans (the French and the British) to this avant-garde art. I wonder which group was more shocked?

7.  Chagall: Love, War and Exile at the Jewish Museum examines the artist's personal and artistic response to the suffering he observed in Europe from the 1930's to 1948. This covers the years leading up to the war as well as the actual war years. The Jewish Museum is another wonderful, small museum  that I always try to visit. I saw a beautiful Pissarro exhibition there a few years ago.


The Morgan Library and Museum
Photo via here

8.  Edgar Allan Poe, Terror of the Soul at The Morgan Library and Museum. This exhibition explores Poe's poetry and fiction and how his work influenced writers such as Dickens and Nabokov. There are many events planned around this show such as screenings of films based on Poe's books as well as readings of his work by other writers. Paul Aster is one of the writers involved in these events. The Morgan has had fabulous exhibitions on writers in the past, such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. It would be so much fun to see this Edgar Allan Poe exhibition around Halloween!


Cafe Carlyle
Photo via here

9.  There are many wonderful Cabaret performances in New York. I love the ones at the Cafe Carlyle. It is such a special part of the New York music scene and I try to go whenever I am there. This place is just filled with history. Woody Allen plays the clarinet at the Carlyle on Monday nights. I would love to go to one of Steve Tyrell's shows. He performs there every December.


The High Line
Photo via here

10.  Though not part of any arts calendar, a walk on the High Line in New York is a special treat and almost a necessity after all the indoor arts events. The gardens are lovely and it is a wonderful place to see the art of landscape design.



In placid hours well-pleased we dream
Of many a brave unbodied scheme.
But form to lend, pulsed life to create,
What unlike things must meet and mate;
A flame to melt -- a wind to freeze;
Sad patience -- joyous energies;
Humility -- yet pride and scorn;
Instinct and study; love and hate;
Audacity -- reverence.  These must mate,
And fuse with Jacob's mystic heart,
To wrestle with the angel -- Art.

-- Herman Melville

It is inspiring to see what is going on in the art world in a place like New York City. And, fortunately, most cities have exciting new arts calendars at this time of the year. Fall always kicks off the best of the best in theater, film, music, dance, and art exhibitions. It is a feast for the senses and a great time to celebrate the arts. What arts events are you looking forward to this fall?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Lovely September

"Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first of September was crisp and golden as an apple..."  -- J.K. Rowling

Being from the East coast originally, I tend to associate the beginning of September with cool and crisp weather and a return to greater activity. There is a desire to get down to business and start new and exciting projects. It feels like the beginning of a new year. But the weather in Los Angeles doesn't cooperate, at least not yet. It is still hot and not at all like fall, or at least the fall of my dreams. But I have no problem moving ahead to cooler days in my imagination. I find a quiet and cool spot in my house and sink into a good novel or a new cookbook.

Looking ahead to fall cooking and baking, I found these recipes for apple cakes, which to me capture the essence of the season. Apples and September just go together. If you have ever been to Maine in the fall, then you know that going to an apple orchard and picking apples is one of those magical fall experiences that you get in New England. I went to a one in Auburn, Maine a few years ago and I will never forget how much fun it was. In the meantime, bake these apple cakes and in no time at all you will be feeling very autumnal!

Upside-Down Apple Cake with Walnuts and Sage
Recipe here

Apple Blackberry Cake
Recipe here

Apple Brownies
Recipe here

Teddie's Apple Cake
Recipe here

 If you are looking for a book to transport you to a place of seasonal beauty, pick up a copy of  The Shell Seekers by Rosamund Pilcher. This is the book I am currently reading and it has swept me away to the Cornish coast of England. A classic, romantic saga, this novel will definitely take you out of the heat of early September and help you feel some autumnal bliss.

And if I am completing this fantasy, I would love to do my reading in this gorgeous room designed by Ben Pentreath. An architect and interior designer working in London, he has a 19th-century country parsonage in Dorset where he spends his weekends. I am in love with the way he has decorated his country house. This room is an absolute beauty. I can't wait to visit his home decor shop when I am in London this fall. Go here to see more of his classic English interiors.

For me, September has always conjured up the feelings associated with the return to school, and even though I haven't been in school for a long time, the feelings of anticipation remain. There is the promise of new beginnings and the start of exciting and creative projects. I am working on a few ideas that I can't wait to share with you...

What books are you drawn to at this time of the year?

September really is a lovely month!

Go here to find out more about the apple orchards in Maine.