Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Delicious News

"Life in Squares," a three part BBC television drama about Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group 

With fall right around the corner, the cultural calendar is heating up and there are so many things to look forward to. Next week I will post some of the events and happenings I am most excited about. But for now, here are some tantalizing pieces of news that have caught my attention. They are all making me smile!

BBC is producing a three-part television drama about Virginia Woolf and her circle called Life in Squares. (See photo above) It will trace the growth of this influential group of artists and writers and their impact on the cultural life of twentieth-century England. Featuring several rising young stars, it is being filmed in London and at Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex. The two actresses Phoebe Fox and Lydia Leonard (pictured above) play sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. The physical resemblance is remarkable! After doing a little research, I learned that the action kicks off in 1901 with the death of Queen Victoria and shows the young writers and artists feeling creative and sexual freedom for the first time. This really seems to be the year for Bloomsbury, with the fashion house Burberry creating an entire collection based on the art at Charleston, as well as the exhibition on Virginia Woolf at the National Portrait Gallery in London. I really hope this BBC drama makes it to American television. Masterpiece Theatre, are you listening?

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in "Sherlock" on Masterpiece Theatre

The next piece of news that caught my eye was about Benedict Cumberbatch who will be starring in a London production of Hamlet one year from now in August 2015. The entire 12-week run sold out in ten minutes. Apparently this is the fastest selling theatrical event in history. Looks like everyone is dying to see this great actor play the most challenging of Shakespeare's leading roles. Fortunately there is some good news for those who couldn't get a ticket: the production is holding back 100 tickets each night that will sell for 10 pounds each. By the way, did you watch the Emmy's last night and see that Benedict and Martin Freeman both won Emmys for their roles on "Sherlock"?!! So happy about that. It's one of the best shows on television and their performances are brilliant.

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan in "The Trip to Italy"

And speaking of talented Brits, the new film The Trip to Italy has just opened. I saw it the other night and loved it. I thought it was just as funny as the first film,"The Trip,"which was set in England. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon basically play themselves taking a road trip, this time in Italy, to do research for a food column they are writing for The Observer. They travel through some gorgeous Italian scenery in a little Mini-Cooper, eventually arriving at the Amalfi Coast. They eat some incredible meals (you will want Italian food afterwards!), drink some great wines, and stay in some glorious hotels. But mostly they talk endlessly and riff on celebrity voices, especially that of Michael Caine. These movies are very funny. If you haven't seen the original, be sure to rent it before seeing this one. You are in for a treat.

And finally, have you seen any of the "Ice Bucket Challenges"? These involve people getting doused with buckets of ice water on video, posting the video on social media, and then nominating others to do the same. It is all in the cause of raising awareness of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. People can either accept the challenge or make a donation to an ALS charity. Many do both. This campaign has been hugely successful. The ALS Association has received $88.5 million in donations compared to $2.6 million during the same time period last year (July 29 - August 26). Benedict Cumberbatch took the ice bucket challenge. But he does it in his own inimitable style, quite fitting for the actor who plays Sherlock Holmes. Just watch this.

Go here to find out how you can get involved in this worthwhile cause

What has been catching your eye lately? 
I would love to know what books you are reading and which movies you have seen.

Next up:  Fall Preview!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Thousand Little Daily Wonders...

Edith Wharton

This summer biographies have taken over my study. I have been reading about some very inspiring women: Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton, to name a few. Their stories are as thrilling as any of their novels. They were visionaries and adventurers, original thinkers and risk-takers. Recently I have been reading about one of the most fascinating: Edith Wharton. Her intellect, energy, and lifelong curiosity were legendary. She was a master storyteller, chronicler of American society, and a supremely gifted writer. This woman was a force to be reckoned with.

Here are some of the highlights:

1866: At age four, the American writer Edith Wharton was taken by her parents for an extended visit to Europe where they stayed until 1872. By the time she was 18 she had lived half her life in Europe and could speak four languages.

1897: Her first book, The Decoration of Houses, written with the Boston architect Ogden Codman, was published by Scribners. Wharton was as passionate and knowledgeable about architecture and interior design as she was about writing novels. Hugely successful, this book had a major impact on interior design both in America and Europe.

1901: Edith purchased a 113-acre property in Lenox, Mass. and began building The Mount, a classical estate modeled after Belton House in England. Edith designed and supervised the building of the house and gardens, using what she had learned from her years of living in Europe. She lived there from 1902-1911. During that time, she entertained many prominent writers, artists and politicians including President Theodore Roosevelt, writer Henry James, diplomat Walter Berry, landscape designer Beatrix Ferrand and sculptor Daniel French. And it is where she wrote The House of Mirth.

1904: Her book Italian Villas and Their Gardens was published. This was a series of articles on Italian architecture and gardens commissioned by Century Magazine. She traveled to Italy and drove all around the countryside looking at villas and doing extensive research. The articles came out in book form with illustrations by her friend the artist Maxfield Parrish.

1905: Her novel The House of Mirth was published in serial form. When it came out in book form, it was an instant bestseller and stayed on the bestseller list until 1906. It established Edith Wharton as America's most admired writer.

1911: She left the Mount for good and moved to France where she lived for the rest of her life. When World War I broke out, Edith put aside her writing and became involved in the war efforts.

1915: She organized the Children of Flanders Rescue Committee to aid Belgian orphans during the war. She also worked to aid tubercular soldiers and visited front lines and battle areas with her lifelong friend Walter Berry.

1916: She was recognized by France for her war efforts and made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, the highest honor that France could award any civilian. She was recognized for "having given all possible assistance to refugees from those areas of France and Belgium invaded by the enemy."

1920:  Her 12th novel The Age of Innocence was published and awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

1923:  She was the first woman to be awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by Yale University

1937:  By the time of her death she had written over a dozen works of non-fiction (design, architecture, travel, memoirs) as well as at least 40 books of fiction (novels, novellas, and short stories). Some of the most famous are: The House of Mirth, Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome, The Custom of the Country, Summer, The Buccaneers, and Old New York.

At age 74 she called herself "an incorrigible life-lover and life-wanderer and adventurer." 

She mused about "this wonderful adventure of living." 

She wrote in her memoir:

"Life is the saddest thing there is, next to death; and yet there are always new countries to see, new books to read, a thousand little daily wonders to marvel at and rejoice in..." 

FASCINATING DETAIL:  She spent the mornings writing in bed, tossing the pages onto the floor for her secretary Anna Bahlmann to type.

LOVE OF HER LIFE:  Walter Berry. Although she had a short love affair with Morton Fullerton during the final years of her marriage to Teddy Wharton, she called Walter Berry "the love of all my life."

Curious and always interested in the world, Edith Wharton lived a full life. She was an adventurer, brilliant and bold, unafraid to take risks and tackle big projects. Luckily for us, she wrote many literary masterpieces that will live on forever. They speak to us because she was so wise about the human heart. Everyone can relate to the heartbreak she describes. She also built The Mount, another creation that will live on forever and a place we can visit and feel her presence. If you haven't been and find yourself in Lenox, Massachusetts, be sure to visit! Go here to find out more.

Now I need to find out about Walter Berry, the "love of all her life"?!! Who exactly was he? 

I would love to know which women writers inspire you?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Summer Lunch

It's hard to believe that August is halfway over and fall is right around the corner. But summer vegetables and fruits are at their peak right now. With the markets fairly bursting with fabulous summer produce, I got inspired the other night to make dinner using everything I bought at my local farmer's market. Peaches, figs, tomatoes, eggplant, lemons, mint, and berries --they all came together for dinner. The abundance and variety of summer produce is so wonderful. It occurred to me that this menu would also make a great summer lunch. So here goes, a summer lunch (or dinner) menu that takes advantage of the fresh produce available right now!

Grilled Peaches

We sliced peaches and brushed them with olive oil, salt and pepper. Then grilled them on an indoor grill pan just until slightly softened and showing grill marks. Topped with a slice of Manchego cheese and a mint leaf, they looked like summer on a plate.

 Figs and Goat Cheese

 Another great summer appetizer is figs served with softened goat cheese, no cooking required! 

Blistered Eggplant with Tomatoes, Olives, and Feta

Next was an eggplant and tomato salad from the September issue of Martha Stewart Living. It was delicious and I loved how fresh and abundant it looked. And it couldn't be easier to make. You simply broil the eggplant which gives it that great "grilled" look. Then, after the eggplant cools down, you layer it with the heirloom tomatoes. Dress the mixture with olive oil, salt and pepper, and scatter parsley, olives and feta cheese on top. This dish is a winner.

It makes a fabulous first course, though if you add a couple slices of sourdough bread, it could easily be a main course. Go here for the recipe.

Linguine with Shrimp and Lemons

The main course was Ina Garten's Linguine with Shrimp, one of my favorite dishes to make in the summer. Sunny and fragrant with lemons, it makes me think of being on vacation in Greece. Go here for the recipe.

Meringues and Berries

And finally, dessert couldn't have been easier. I bought meringues from the bakery at Farm Shop, a restaurant in Santa Monica, and topped them with juicy strawberries and blueberries. Instant summer dessert!

I hope you are enjoying the summer. With fall right around the corner, August is a great month for taking advantage of the best produce at the farmer's markets and cooking easy and simple dishes. You barely need a recipe for showcasing these luscious ingredients! 

Bon Appetit! 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


The garden at Suzanne's Restaurant in Ojai

Where have you been traveling this summer? I have been visiting some of my favorite spots in California. It's been a summer of road trips! After going to Napa in June, my husband and I recently travelled to Ojai and Santa Barbara where we spent four wonderful days. The beauty of these two places took my breath away. It seemed that everywhere I looked there was a garden and/or a view. It didn't hurt that there was also some great shopping!

 Ojai Valley Inn
Many of the cottages look out onto lushly planted courtyards

Ojai is a 90 minute drive north of Los Angeles and is one of the most magical spots to visit in southern California. Positioned at the base of several vast mountain ranges, it is definitely off the beaten track. In fact, it feels like one of those places that time has passed by. There are citrus groves, roadside fruit stands, and an old-fashioned arcade of shops downtown. For the hiker and nature lover, there are myriad trails and glorious sunsets. And if you want to unwind, the spa at the Ojai Valley Inn is one of the best. The hotel also has four swimming pools, a golf course, and absolutely beautiful grounds.  

I love the old Spanish architecture with its archways and intricate gates

The cottages are nestled in groves of old and graceful trees

The beautiful grounds and golf course

Perfect for taking walks at sunset when you can catch a glimpse of Ojai's famous "pink moment"

If you can tear yourself away from the Ojai Valley Inn, downtown Ojai has some great shops and restaurants, as well as some charming houses -- this is the Lavender Inn Bed and Breakfast.

Everyone seems to have a beautiful garden and the Lavender Inn is no exception

Boccali's, a roadside pizza stand, is a favorite spot for lunch
They serve wine from their own vineyard

In addition to fantastic pizzas, sandwiches and pastas, they also have some pretty good desserts

Not to be outdone in the garden department!

Dinner that night was on the patio at Osteria Monte Grappa
This charming restaurant has delicious Italian food

The bruschetta was fabulous

Modern Folk Living was one of the unique little stores I discovered on this trip. They have a beautifully curated selection of women's clothing, jewelry, accessories, and home decor. I especially loved their linen dresses and tops by Nuthatch, a company in Maine.

Our second dinner in Ojai was at Suzanne's where we enjoyed this beautiful view of the garden

On the way to Santa Barbara, it is always fun to stop in Montecito

 The gorgeous Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel in Montecito is a great place for lunch

I loved their summer cocktail menu

 A visit to William Laman is a must in Montecito; he carries great items for the house and garden

And Jenni Kayne Home has one of the most enchanting children's sections I have ever seen

Next stop was Santa Barbara and El Encanto Hotel

 El Encanto Hotel is a Santa Barbara icon that dates from the 1920's. It sits high amid lush gardens and offers a magnificent view of Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean. It has just undergone an extensive renovation and the results are stunning!

The view from the swimming pool

The cottages are are surrounded by beautiful gardens

The famous lily pond

The impressive brick arbors are covered in vines

I loved catching hydrangeas in this gorgeous light on a late afternoon walk

One of our favorite things to do when in Santa Barbara is to take the 40-minute drive to Los Olivos, a charming historic town in the Santa Ynez Valley. The first thing I spotted when we arrived was this rose-covered arbor. So beautiful. Los Olivos is in the center of Santa Barbara's wine country and has extensive views and magnificent scenery. It is a also a great place to do some wine tastings and eat lunch. We dined at Sides Restaurant, an old-fashioned barbecue-style cafe, famous for its house-made bacon. 

A typical wine-tasting room in Los Olivos
I loved its chalkboard message: "Drink wine, Everything will be fine"!

Our last breakfast at El Encanto's beautiful dining room and terrace before returning home

Where have you been traveling this summer? Have you taken any road trips? The best thing about these four days in Ojai and Santa Barbara was that we never had to get on an airplane. Sometimes it's just so much fun to get in the car and explore the wide open roads in your own neck of the woods!