Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A New England Fall

"Set free the window. Drink in the day."
- Edith Wharton

The Shakespeare garden at the Mayflower Inn

If there is any season when I am inclined to "drink in the day," it is fall. The lighting, the colors, the feel of the air -- it is delicious. And my favorite place to go in the fall is New England. I don't think there is a prettier place at this time of the year. 

The main house of the Mayflower Inn

A couple of weeks ago we made the trip to Litchfield, Connecticut and stayed at the Mayflower Inn. 
The Mayflower Inn is one of those quintessential country house hotels that happens to be located in one of the most beautiful regions of New England. The county of Litchfield is in northwestern Connecticut, just below the Berkshires in Massachusetts. The hotel is simply stunning.
Beautiful, peaceful and comfortable, it is an inspiring retreat as well as a wonderful location for visiting some of the highlights of the area.

We checked in and took a tour of the place. There are so many public spaces for guests.

This is the gorgeous library

And one of several little sitting rooms, all with fireplaces ablaze

Outside there are many areas for walking

And several gardens; my favorite was the Shakespeare garden 

There is also the American Poets garden

Poetry and gardens just seem to go together

The view from our room in the morning

 On our first day we took a drive to the tiny village of New Preston

Which is lined with fabulous shops, "tiny but mighty," in the words of our concierge.
Pergola shop was the highlight. It is filled with great home and garden decor.

Sweets is a candy store stocked with Halloween delights

The roads in the area are lined with gorgeous trees 

Sometimes we just had to pull over to snap a photo

Lake Waramaug

We drove to the charming village of Litchfield where they really  know how to decorate for fall

 Lunch was at the West Street Grill

We visited the White Flower Farm

Where there were many temptations!

Beautiful mums and ornamental cabbages and kale

I loved this spot under the tree at White Flower Farm

One of the roads nearby

Coming back to the Mayflower and sitting in front of the fire was heavenly

The next day we went to Stockbridge, Massachusetts and admired the decorations

So many beautiful houses

Tucked into exquisite woodsy areas

This is the Stockbridge General Store, part of the famous painting that Norman Rockwell painted of the town

The brilliantly colored leaves were stunning against a blue sky

The veranda of the Mayflower Inn was the perfect place to relax at the end of the day

 Visiting this part of the world is invigorating, nostalgic and restorative. The breathtaking transformation of nature is awe-inspiring. A visit to New England in the fall will definitely get you in the mood for the holidays!

Monday, October 26, 2015


Photo via here

Have you seen the new film "Suffragette" starring Carey Muligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep? I saw it last night and was moved to tears. It tells a story that many people don't know about -- the movement in England in 1912, led by Emmeline Pankhurst, to obtain equality and votes for women. You may remember the brilliant television series "Shoulder to Shoulder" from many years ago which was about this same topic. Women in Britain became frustrated by the lack of progress they were making in obtaining the vote. The laws were made exclusively by men and women had no rights. Upon marriage a woman's property became her husband's and, if she separated from him, her children became his as well. She had absolutely no rights regarding them. For impoverished women, the situation was a nightmare. They worked endless hours in horrible conditions and for little wages; they had to tolerate sexual harassment from men with absolutely no recourse.

When Carey Mulligan's character tells the chief of police of the abuses that she and others have suffered under their male supervisor, he tells her that no one will care what she has to say because she is nothing. And in the eyes of men, that was literally the truth. As Pankhurst concluded, women would have to become militant and partake in violence to draw attention to their battle for the right to vote. After all, nothing had worked up until then. They blew up mail boxes and smashed windows, never harming people, but destroying property. Many of them were incarcerated and went on hunger strikes. They were force fed. This movie tells the story of a group of working class women who got involved in the movement and their contribution to the eventual victory in the fight for women's votes. The cast is fabulous and the story is riveting. I highly recommend it.

Photo via here

This photo (above) is a portrait of the stars of the film, including two members of the Pankhurst family (second and third from the left on the top row), that was taken for International Women's Day which will be celebrated in March. Go here to read more.

I hope you get a chance to see this important film. It will remind you of the brave women who fought and sacrificed for the many rights and freedoms we take for granted today.

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Room for Book Lovers

Decorate with dark color...I have heard this recommendation from many interior designers. But I have never seen it done so well as in the library at the Mayflower Inn in the idyllic town of Washington, CT. We just got back from a wonderful week on the east coast. Once I catch my breath, I will organize my photos and do a full blog post on the trip. But just for now, I wanted to share this photo I took of the library at the Mayflower Inn. This was taken in the late afternoon on a crisp fall day. All of the rooms at the Mayflower Inn are lovely, but this one in particular caught my eye. It just envelops you and invites you to curl up with a good book. And there were so many to choose from. I went with an Anita Brookner title I had never seen before. And though I didn't make a lot of progress, I will try to get a copy now that I'm home so I can read the whole thing.

It was the perfect library, deeply atmospheric and enticing. The dark brown of the woodwork, the warm colors of the books, and the patina of the well worn leather chairs and pillows added up to a cozy haven for hiding out on a cold winter night. But the next day I discovered there were other uses for this room. One evening it was closed off for a private dinner party. I peeked in and saw a round table glowing with candlelight and flowers set for about 8 people. I've always thought that a dinner in a library would be delightful. Surrounded by all those great books, conversation would flow. I tucked that idea away for the future: a small dinner party for four or six in our tiny library. There's something very appealing about eating in a room not meant to be used for dining. I love the idea of combining dinner, wine, conversation and good books.

And speaking of good books, I just finished Lauren Groff's new book Fates and Furies on the plane coming home. It was strange, intense, and riveting. It's about a marriage seen from the perspective of both spouses. There seems to be something Shakespearean about this book. I enjoyed it and will write a review soon. Have you read it? I would love to know what you thought.

What have you been reading lately?  

Monday, October 12, 2015

Fall Cookbooks

Happy October! One of my favorite things about fall is getting into the kitchen and cooking seasonal recipes. Using ingredients such as apples, pears, pumpkin, ginger, molasses, butternut squash and fresh sage is my idea of heaven. There are always fabulous new cookbook releases at this time of the year. Here are the ones I am most excited about.

It's wonderful what you can learn from your favorite bloggers. Miranda Mills of Miranda's Notebook is one of mine. For so many reasons, not the least of which is I met her on my last trip to London. It's one of the best parts of blogging, meeting your fellow bloggers. We got together at the very chic Quo Vadis over a glass of wine. Miranda writes about London and personal style in a lovely and refreshing way and, since I adore London, she and I are a natural fit. On our wine date I learned about her love of writing and her dedication to her blog. She writes a post five times a week. As a frequent traveler to London, I am always taking notes on her recommendations of things to do. And I have noticed she often mentions Violet Bakery.

I started following Violet Bakery on instagram and was enchanted by its old-fashioned baked goods as well as tantalizing photos. I learned that the founder is Claire Ptak, a California girl who used to work at Chez Panisse. She has also worked as a food stylist for Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson and others. That sounded like a guarantee her book would be beautiful! I just bought it and I was right. It is truly a little piece of heaven for those of us who love to bake and view the kitchen as the heart of the home. The recipe I am most excited to try is her ginger molasses cake!


Ruth Reichl understands the restorative powers of the kitchen. In fact, that is what her new book is about. It also includes a plethora of fabulous recipes. After Conde Nast closed down Gourmet magazine in 2009, its editor in chief Ruth Reichel floundered for a while. She really only began to heal when she started cooking in her Berkshire country kitchen. This book tells the story of that cooking and healing year, season by season. The recipes look wonderful and her story is fascinating. It begins with this: "Mysterious, misty morning. Crows wheeling, cawing. Storm is on the way. Coffee black. Eggs fried. Toast burnt. Gourmet's over. What now?" During that year of cooking she learned that the secret to life is finding joy in ordinary things.

Of course, Nigella Lawson is the queen of  kitchen coziness. Which is why I have all of her cookbooks. She gets in the kitchen, starts whipping up a chocolate cake, and somehow makes us feel all is right with the world. I have loved her television shows and wonder when she will do another one. My two favorite books, the ones I cook from the most, are Feast and Nigella Christmas. Be sure to try her Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts and Pancetta and all of her chocolate cakes from Feast. She has come out with a new book and it has gone to the top of my Christmas list, if I can wait that long. This would make a great holiday gift for your friends who love to cook. And like all of her other books, this one will be loaded with luscious photos!

She writes, "How do you find a way of incorporating all the different demands that are placed on you in life and still interact with food in a way not just to solve a problem but can actually create joy. So it's finding the quickest, easiest route to a fantastic supper at the end of a long working day or making it easy to invite friends over without it becoming a stress-inducing nightmare."

The Year of Cozy by Adrianna Adarme

Another instrgrammer I follow is Adrianna Adarme, author of the blog A Cozy Kitchen. Her photos have me lusting after her cozy version of life. And now she has a book, The Year of Cozy. The holidays always bring out the nesting instinct in me and the idea of a "year of cozy" sounds pretty good right now. I haven't gotten her book yet, but from what I have read it seems to hit all the right notes for domestic bliss. As she writes on her blog, "The book is really about being happy. I cook and create because nothing makes me happier. And I firmly believe that this is the reason you probably do it, too. These recipes are meant to bring sparks of joy in the midst of our mundane and sometimes challenging lives. We can't always control the larger things in life, like our jobs and relationships and family problems, but we can control how we spend our Saturday morning. This book is about living with a bit of intention."

Maple by Katie Webster

And, finally, any cookbook based on maple syrup will win me over since I am a New Englander at heart. This one gives us the history of maple syrup as well as 100 sweet and savory recipes featuring this luscious ingredient. The author Katie Webster is a food stylist from Vermont and knows a thing or two about ways to use maple syrup in the kitchen. I have read that two of the best recipes are the maple and Meyer lemon whiskey sour and a German potato salad made with maple syrup.

I would say that all of these cookbooks are guaranteed to bring "sparks of joy" to the holiday season!
Happy cooking!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Revisiting a Favorite Book

The 2002 film adaption of "Howards End"

"Dearest Meg,
It isn't going to be what we expected. It is old and little, and altogether delightful -- red brick. We can scarcely pack in as it is, and the dear knows what will happen when Paul arrives tomorrow. From hall you go right or left into dining-room or drawing-room. Hall itself is practically a room. You open another door in it, and there are the stairs going up in a sort of tunnel to the first floor. Three bedrooms in a row there, and three attics in a row above. That isn't all the house really, but it's all that one notices -- nine windows as you look up from the front garden."  E. M. Forster, Howards End

Howards End by E.M. Forster is one of those books I reread every year or so. It feels like an old friend. Each time I read it I discover some new pearl of wisdom. I picked it up over the summer and read it in a few days. I wondered what made me pull it down this time.

Maybe it's because I have been spending a lot of time at home and this book is very much about the love of a house.

"You are coming to sleep, dear, too. It is in the morning that my house is most beautiful. I cannot show you my meadow properly except at sunrise."

Maybe it's because it was summer and the roses were blooming. Dog-roses play a prominent role on the old brick walls of Howards End.

"The dog-roses are too sweet. There is a great hedge of them over the lawn -- magnificently tall, so that they fall down in garlands, and nice and thin at the bottom, so that you can see ducks through it and a cow."

It could be because I went to England and Scotland in June. We took a train from London to Edinburgh and this book celebrates the romance of train travel.

"Like many others who have lived in a great capital, she had strong feelings about the various railway termini. They are our gates to the glorious and the unknown. Through them we pass out into adventure and sunshine, to them, alas! we return. In Paddington all Cornwall is latent and the remoter west; down the inclines of Liverpool Street lie fenlands and the illimitable Broads; Scotland is through the pylons of Euston; Wessex behind the poised chaos of Waterloo...And he is a chilly Londoner who does not endow his stations with some personality, and extend to them, however shyly, the emotions of fear and love."

It may be that I am craving the kinds of discussions that Margaret and Helen Schlegel host at their London home. My book club's Christmas tea is always so much fun.

"The sisters went out to dinner full of their adventure, and when they were both full of the same subject there were few dinner parties that could stand up against them. This particular one, which was all ladies, had more kick in it than most, but succumbed after a struggle...The dinner party was really an informal discussion club; there was a paper after it, read amid coffee-cups and laughter in the drawing-room, but dealing more or less thoughtfully with some topic of general interest."

It could be because Margaret and Helen Schlegel are two of my favorite heroines. I read Jane Austen in the spring and noticed the trend of sisters with different temperaments appearing in so many classic books. The Schlegel sisters and the Dashwood sisters are probably my two favorite sister acts.

"Helen advanced along the same lines, though with a more irresponsible tread. In character she resembled her sister, but she was pretty, and so apt to have a more amusing time. People gathered round her more readily, especially when they were new acquaintances, and she did enjoy a little homage very much. When their father died and they ruled alone at Wickham Place, she often absorbed the whole of the company, while Margaret -- both were tremendous talkers -- fell flat. Neither sister bothered about this, Helen never apologized afterwards, Margaret did not feel the slightest rancour..." 

Of course it may be the Beethoven concert scene, one of my favorites (especially in the beautiful film adaptation of the book). We booked tickets for a Beethoven concert at the Disney Hall in October.

Photo via here

"It will be generally admitted that Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is the most sublime noise that ever penetrated the ear of man."

But it is probably because Howards End is a classic and classics never go out of style. You can reread them and see something new each time, as well as savor the beauty and universal truths that you already knew were there.

Happy reading. What classic book do you like to revisit?

P.S. I was sad to read about the passing of E.M. Forster's biographer P.N. Furbank last summer. Many years ago when I was just starting out as a freelance book reviewer, one of my first assignments was to review Furbank's landmark biography of Forster for the San Francisco Review of Books. I'll never forget how excited I was to get that job. It was the moment I fell in love with E.M. Forster and his books.