Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Fall Happenings...

Garden roses from Hollyflora

I have been working on the second installment of my English countryside trip, but going through my photos is taking longer than I thought. I promise to finish it soon! In the meantime, fall is here and there are so many sweet moments to enjoy. Here are a few that are happening around my house. 


Rustic Autumn Vegetable Tart
Photo via Fine Cooking

This is my favorite time of the year for cooking. The markets are fairly bursting with fabulous fall produce. I love the apples, butternut squash, carrots, and parsnips available now. I look in food magazines such as Fine Cooking or Food and Wine for recipes that use the best available fall produce. I recently found a recipe that has become a new favorite: Rustic Autumn Vegetable Tart. Celebrate fall with this delicious seasonal main course. I served Tomato and Fennel Soup from Melissa Clark to start and then followed with a generous slice of the vegetable tart and a green salad on the side. It was a perfect recipe for a cozy weekend dinner. Make this one and I promise you will be adding it to your fall favorites. A warm slice of pumpkin bread topped with vanilla ice cream would be the perfect dessert. 

My version turned out great! (via Instagram)


LA-based florists Holly Vesecky and Rebecca Uchtman are the creative and talented co-owners of Hollyflora and have just opened up their first boutique: the Hollyflora Market and Courtyard. They sell everything you might need for holiday entertaining -- ceramics, vases, linens, candles, lanterns, garden ornaments, and buckets and buckets of gorgeous flowers. I went to the grand opening last weekend and it was absolutely stunning. There were beautiful fall vignettes wherever I looked. If you live in Los Angeles, or are visiting, be sure to stop by. You will find so much inspiration for your home and garden. Go here to learn more.

I brought home pink garden roses and orange marigolds


My books have started arriving from England and it feels as if Christmas has come early. It was thrilling to find some of these books in England since so many are not available here. And I love the English editions of my favorite books.

This is a very special garden book that has just been published. I found it at John Sandoe Books in London. Written by Sarah Raven who is married to Vita's grandson, Vita Sackville-West's Sissinghurst showcases Vita's own writing about gardening and includes sumptuous vintage and new photographs of what has to be one of the prettiest gardens in the world. 


It looks like this is where I will be doing some of that reading. The new chair in the guest bedroom will be the perfect spot to while away some hours on a fall afternoon. I ordered it a long time ago and when it arrived I had to smile since it reminded me of our trip to the English countryside.

Next up, English Countryside, Part Two -- Devon and the Cotswolds!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Book of the Month

Today I am starting a new feature on the blog called the "Book of the Month." Each month I will highlight an outstanding book I have read and write a review. It may be a new book or a classic that deserves a revisit. I will continue to talk about books during the rest of the month, but this will be the stand-out book for me. I am hoping to hear from you about your recommendations and also how you liked this one. I realize that this is what we've been doing on the blog all along. I have gotten so many wonderful suggestions from you over the years. And thanks to many of you for your great tips last time on books set in Cornwall. I have already ordered titles by Rosamunde Pilcher and Mary Wesley. So here goes, the October Book of the Month!


What a pleasure it was to read Ian McEwan's most recent book. He is simply one of the best writers working today. His book The Children Act accomplishes so much in a relatively slim volume. It combines beautiful writing with provocative ideas, a compelling narrative and a fascinating central character. In fact, it is one of those books that offers so many topics for discussion that it just might be the best book club choice of the year. If you are in a book club, read this. I guarantee there will be multiple subjects to discuss -- marriage, religion, the law, children's rights -- just to name a few. There is a beautiful poem by Yeats that runs throughout; the lines are lyrical and haunting, capturing many of the qualities of the book. The poem is about regret which is one of the themes explored by Ian McEwan in this excellent book.

Fiona Maye is a High Court judge in the Family Division in London. She is brilliant, clear-headed, disciplined, analytical and highly respected. She is also a lover of music and poetry and a talented pianist. She has risen to the top tier of her field. Along the way she has made sacrifices. As the years passed by and her career flourished, there never seemed to be a good time to have children. She is suffering some regret on that account. And now her marriage is at a crossroads. In the opening chapter her husband delivers an ultimatum. He intends to have an affair with another woman unless their relationship improves. On the same night she receives a call about a 17-year old boy with advanced leukemia who is refusing a life-saving blood transfusion for religious reasons. He and his family are devout Jehovah's Witnesses. Fiona must rule on the boy's fate as well as decide what to do about her marriage. Along the way, she will make many other decisions as a judge as well as perform in a pivotal piano recital for her colleagues at Gray's Inn. It is one of those scene-stealers that take a book beyond the ordinary to extraordinary. My heart was pounding. How McEwan managed to write such a powerful book in just 213 pages is nothing short of miraculous.

Having a judge as its central character makes this book stand out from others. There are not many novels about judges. Fiona is a complicated character and her story helps us see the human side of the law. She handles family cases and spends a lot of time protecting the welfare of children. She needs to keep her mind sharp and have her analytical faculties in hand at all times. But she is also dealing with a crisis in her marriage. The tension is palpable. Mostly, she stays incredibly focused and professional. She is a lover of the arts and during her leisure time has a tendency to get carried away by a beautiful piece of music or poetry. The fact that she does not have children is often in her thoughts. It has created a gap in her life that seems to propel her towards the young man at the center of the medical case and boundaries get crossed. I spent most of the book marveling at what an extraordinary woman she was as she balanced so many balls in the air.

Ian McEwan does a skillful job depicting his character's inner life. Fiona's thoughts and preoccupations have a richness and authenticity. We learn the back story of her career and floundering marriage. Memories, laments, and meditations on her life and personal choices are seamlessly woven throughout. I felt that I knew this woman. The central theme of the book is powerful: judges have personal crises and distractions and yet are in charge of momentous decisions that can transform a person's life. In the case of the young man with leukemia, the decision can mean the difference between life and death. This is one of those books you won't forget. It will make you wonder "what would I have done"?

Monday, October 13, 2014

English Countryside, Part One

St. Mawes, Cornwall

If you believe that places can be muses than you would love Cornwall. An Englishman we met during our trip to England used a phrase to describe what we were looking at one day which has stuck with me. He described the scene as "achingly beautiful." I agreed. When you combine glorious weather, the English countryside and picture postcard scenery, you have a winner. The beauty is simply off the charts. Somehow your heart gets involved and you fall in love with a place. This happened to me in Cornwall.

Checking into the hotel in the early evening

I couldn't wait to get to Cornwall. I knew that it was a muse for Virginia Woolf. She had spent childhood summers in St. Ives and "To The Lighthouse" was based on her happy memories of those vacations. The lighthouse of the novel is based on the Godrevy lighthouse in St. Ives.

Other writers had been inspired by its beauty. Daphne du Maurier's "Rebecca" had been set there. There were also the swashbuckling "Poldark" books. I remembered a dashing hero, devious smugglers, battles over the land, betrayal and romance. They were made into a popular television series which I watched many years ago. And more recently there was "Doc Martin," a television series I loved. But still, I was unprepared for the beauty I would discover.

 St. Mawes

After six days in London, we drove to Cornwall arriving late in the day. Our drive had been on narrow, winding roads bordered by hedgerows and the countryside was storybook. We checked into our hotel and unpacked. It was a short walk to dinner as we were eating in the hotel that night. The next day we awoke to foggy skies and the sound of seagulls and a fog horn. A walk outside revealed the view (see photo above), though admittedly it was much grayer and more overcast than this. This is what it looked like in the afternoon. The experience reminded me of the scene in "The Enchanted April" when the English women, who arrive in Italy at night, throw open the shutters the next morning to discover the stunning view. This is the road leading into the little village of St. Mawes where we would be spending the next three days.

The road to town

The first day was spent exploring the village. The main road is lined with quaint cottages, art galleries, and little shops. We walked into town passing little cottages along the way. It looked very much like the setting of "Doc Martin."

Each cottage is out of a storybook

They all have names; this is the Pink Cottage

We stopped at St. Mawes Dairy to see the selection of cheeses
Miss Muffet looked enticing

And arrived at the little harbor

There were benches for sitting and taking in the view

We stumbled upon The Idle Rocks, a beautiful hotel right on the water. Lunch was on the terrace and while we ate our meal the sun came out. This was a place to linger. As the afternoon progressed, more and more boats appeared, the water began to sparkle, and it became a scene to inspire a painter.

The lobby was lovely, with an understated elegance

 Next was a walk through the countryside, passing St. Mawes Castle on the way

We took the path along the sea, passing beautiful homes and huge hydrangea bushes

I loved the lush hydrangeas against sparkling Falmouth Bay

As the afternoon wore on, more sailboats began to appear -- another painting

We opened this gate

Leading into a neighboring field where we had a lovely walk

We retraced our steps back to this hydrangea-lined lane leading to the castle

 We bought a ticket and went on the tour

St. Mawes Castle is known as Henry VIII's most picturesque fortress. Built in the sixteenth-century, it was one of the king's defenses against European invaders.

 It's hard to beat a castle on the water; the views were incredible!

The flag was flying

There were cannons

Narrow stairwells

A clover-leaf design

And tiny doors

We walked through the gun rooms, governor's quarters, barracks and kitchen.

So far Cornwall was proving to be deeply atmospheric. Between the castle, the ancient stone walls, diminutive cottages, seagulls, foghorns, blue skies, puffy clouds, sparkling water and sailboats, this was a magical place. It was easy to imagine a writer or an artist coming here for inspiration.


The next day we went to St. Ives which is about an hour away. We were headed to the Tate St. Ives and the Barbara Hepworth Museum to see the art. I was also hoping to get a glimpse of Virginia Woolf's lighthouse. The drive was lovely through narrow and winding roads bordered by hedgerows. We passed miles of untouched green countryside that looked as if it were out of a Thomas Hardy novel.

We took a ferry across the River Fall which we were told is very deep. This is the view from the car. We continued driving on the famously narrow Cornish roads, finally arriving at beautiful St. Ives.

St. Ives

St. Ives is a port and resort area that was the center of the fishing industry in the 19th-century. It was also a gathering spot for artists who were inspired by the beautiful light. Today it continues to be a community for artists and art lovers.

The Tate Gallery in London opened a small branch here. This beautiful little museum is a beacon of modern art with a breathtaking setting right across from Porthminster beach. If you go, be sure to take a leisurely stroll through the museum and then visit the cafe on the top floor to enjoy the panoramic ocean views.

Barbara Hepworth Museum

Our next stop was The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. It is located in her home in St. Ives. She was a sculptor at the center of the mid-20th-century arts scene in this Cornish town. Her art is beautiful and fits so perfectly in this space. We walked through several rooms containing her abstract works.

The lush garden contains some of her larger works

It was a lovely place to linger

Each piece is enhanced by the garden setting

The charming town of St. Ives

The town of St. Ives is a warren of little streets lined with tall and narrow buildings, a very pretty church, candy stores, an excellent book store, a war memorial, and little gardens. Everywhere you look you can catch a glimpse of the stunning seaside.

Some Cornish Specialties

Sea Salt is a wonderful gear store with everything you might need for the inclement weather

The St. Ives church with its pots of flowers and a glimpse of the ocean

The war memorial

 We even spotted Virginia Woolf's lighthouse before leaving!

 Is there a place that has cast its spell on you? And can you imagine it inspiring writers and artists?
Please send me your recommendations for books that are set in Cornwall. I can't wait to read more!