Friday, July 30, 2010

The Highs & Lows

Why is it that the brilliant highs of wonderful events in our lives seem to be followed by those which are equally deep in their tragedy? I guess the highs would not be evident if we didn't experience the lows.The great joy of J, with the wonder of her little infant; A and her recent wedding & parties. Beauty, happiness & hope! Then Y lost her sister very suddenly, and is beyond shattered. Each morning I watch our wild birds at their feeders and taking a bath in the fountain. Sparrows, various finches, robins, doves, and blue jays are there every day by the dozens on the feeders and on the ground:

But then one of the heavy feeders fell off the tree, and managed to strike a female finch, killing her instantly. Happiness to casualty, like that.

The same day I received the news that my friend Djive's Mom had passed; more sad news. Today is the service; Djive asks no black, it's a celebration of the life of a vibrant woman, a talented painter, mother, wife and bonne vivante. What could I do for Djive at this time? It's so hard to know how to help someone grieve, and each person is so different. Djive at least had time to come to grips with the process as it unfolded. I wanted to bring something, and I like to bring something baked, so I got up this morning and made a lemon-lavender pound cake; if you don't use paper molds for baked gifts, you can find them someplace like this. You could take a box cake and brush it with the lavender-infused syrup I did here and it would still be delish and be so is the scratch version, if you would like the recipe let me know:
it was then tied up with petticoat tulle and doilies and bright doubleface satin ribbon (she said No Black!), with no help from Biscuit, who nosed in at the last second:
For many years, I have given a French religious medal to friends who have lost a loved one; this time was no different, except that I had them on a crab claw instead of taped into a card, one for each family member:

It was really all about Djive, though. To try to support her and give her something soothing. She loves orchids, so I got two for her at the market today, and put them in a green tote:
One of the plants was very tiny, but delicate and pretty; it was tagged as a "seasonal":
The other plant had incredible, large, pristine flowers; if there is a dinner-plate orchid this is it:
I put all of that in the tote, with some fresh blackberries to go with the cake. What is best for a gift? There is nothing formulaic, especially for a wake. I hope that Djive appreciated my thought, I think so. She was the picture of grace and composure today, 100% class act, though some of the rest of of us like me were a little teary, for her and for her Mom.

Live well & love!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Calm Before the Storm

Today feels like the calm before the storm. Both orders from Morocco and Madagascar finished production on the same day and will basically arrive soon within a day of each other; hundreds of baskets will need to be unloaded, photographed, tagged and many of them shipped immediately. These orders are waaay past deadlines.

But before I go crazy, I am taking a virtual stroll through the gardens of the Villa Ephrussi on Cap Ferrat, with its amazing view of the bay at Villefranche:
The motor court has a sublime little pond and statue:

There are enormous clipped hedges to greet you; these hedges are a long time in the making~

the garden is actually a series of gardens, most with cool and inviting shaded pathways:
the succulent garden:
the entrance to the Japanese garden:
from the gardens you wind your way up to villa itself; the fountains are spectacular and go off every 20 minutes, set to classical music:
there are roses and manicured gardens close to the house; Madame used to have her staff in naval dress and pom-pom hats to fit the name of the house, which is Ile de France as in the ocean liner:
you wind back through the rest of the gardens, including the stone garden:
a wider view of the back of the villa and the central fountain again:
and when I finish the tour of the garden, I will go down to the port and spend an hour chatting with the fisherman there, who is trilingual. I will pick out some fish he caught that morning to have a lovely early dinner. Oh to be on the Riviera in the summer!
Hope you enjoyed the brief tour!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Homestead Revival Giveaway

I'm a sucker for a great Chicken pic. This one is from one of my new blogging friends and blogroll reads, Amy from Homestead Revival. Amy is hosting a Giveaway of a French Basketeer basket of choice. The contest runs until tomorrow night, so be sure to hop on over to Amy's site to enter and have a little browse around her blog.

More than just a pretty picture, Amy's blog is all about getting back to our roots and encouraging traditional values. Her goals (my summary) are to encourage homemaking, encourage families to live closer to and become stewards of our land, and to leave a legacy and educate our children. That's a shortened version, but her blog is full of all kinds of great tips and advice. It's interesting to me because this was the way my Mom grew up; on a farm outside of Calgary, where they had no choice but to live close to the land and to fully embrace every aspect of homemaking. It's so interesting too to see someone else's blog and have your eyes opened to a new universe of blogs and ideas.

Amy & her husband are also all about good old fashioned work ethics. Her husband applied himself to build a new chicken coop: Bravo to Amy & Hubby for building this:
I'm sure "the girls" are very happy in such a lovely new house!

Thank you, Amy for hosting the giveaway and for introducing me to her blog and so many wonderful ideas!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Age & Grace

I had to rub my eyes at Sunday's market in Rancho Santa Fe. Heels, a turquoise knit dress suit with matching chemise, smart handbag and a pheasant-plumed hat. Had Elizabeth lost weight, ditched the diamonds, and come to the market in her civies? No, she'd be with a pack of Corgis, not a fine apricot poodle:
I asked her for a photo and got her "story." She came to San Diego from Winnipeg in 1964. She is the essence of manners and taste, but she's also got some steel in her: look how she holds the leash even with a handbag draped on her arm; she grooms her beloved Standard Poodle Sandy herself, and he's got a full coat. She walks him twice a day, 4 miles each walk. I wonder if she was an equestrienne in the day, she handles that big dog on his leash with precision, and Sandy knows his Mistress is the boss.

Now that's what I call age & grace; she is fantastic, and so is her Sandy:

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Fete a L'Orange

Our family dinner & party was a lot of fun yesterday, as well as delicious and colorful. My sister showed her photos of her recent trip to France & Germany, we caught up on everyone's news, and my family chowed down. Dinner as usual.

When thinking through menu possibilities, one thing jumped out: Orange!

For decor, I started with the French metis and linen sheets on the tables, then my favorite coral-topped Aidan Grey fragment sticks from Oma at Cargo & Company. I have gotten such use out of those sticks since I bought them last year; love them! All of the flowers and greens came from the garden: Stephanotis, ivy & juniper, piled up for volume against the fragment in the center of the table; a few sea urchin skeletons and bleached seashells plucked from the garden because my Dad loves seashells and they brought out the shades of green & grey:

The tables looked like this early in the afternoon. I set them up early, before the market, then made a few additions and occupied myself in the kitchen in the afternoon after the market:
Here you can see the coral-topped fragments better, and the pile of greens:
My friend Nick gave me a dozen spider lily plants about two years ago; they don't seem to mind neglect, and they are in bloom now with these wonderful long-fingered flowers, which stay fine without water, like the Stephanotis/Madagascar Jasmine:
I had the girls tie the napkins with jute cord, and we added a piece of fern to each one; I later retied all of the napkins a little tighter, to make a "dimple." Like a perfectly-tied man's tie, I think rolled napkins need a dimple.
We carried the flowers over onto the other tables, for appetizers and at the bar:

As always, the changing light later in the day plays with the silver and crystal. I use the same china (white Limoges with Greek Key or Gold Band), same silver, same vintage Baccarat and American crystal, and white napkins most of the time, and they are neutral enough to go with whatever I mix it up with:
here is one table, the sheets draped beautifully:
And the other, this is in the shade, but you can see the drape here too:
Later in the day I decided to throw some of Mom's clementines around; on the bar, in a topiary of fruits and toothpicks; the girls took all of these home at the end of the evening, to eat:
And sprinkled around on the tables; the orange really popped:
here you can see the little clementines and the "dimpled" napkins and the heap of greens at the centerpiece:
As evening grew dark, we added glass votives:
then started with appetizers, various cheeses, and the creamiest artichokes we have had in a long time; from Rancho Santa Fe Market; Jose sells these, we cooked them per his advice: stuff leaves with garlic, drizzle with olive oil, then steam til done; they were fantastic!
The girls helped me all day cooking, and they learned some basics like French Chantilly creme, how to truss a duck, how to sauce & prep. Our main course was Julia's Duck a l'Orange x2. Every time I make it everyone is in food filled with blanched orange rind, with a vaguely sweet & sour Port or Madeira sauce finished with Grand Marnier, and served with more orange rind and fresh orange pieces:
I would serve the sauce alone, over chicken breast, and I'm sure everyone would be in heaven. I get the ducks from 99 Ranch our local Chinese grocer; they come from LA and are fresh, $12 for a 5lb duck. What does it cost for Duck a l"Orange in a restaurant? More than the cost of the whole duck, I expect.

Roast ducks throw a lot of fat, and we used that for home-made potato chips, made from purple, red and white potatoes from Corona del Mar market; pat off the oil, dust with pepper and sea salt, and they are divine, though not lo-cal. I was right behind Nicole setting this plate down, but the hands were already moving in, top left:
Dessert was individual molten chocolate cakes with creme Chantilly and berries from Corona del Mar market, plated by the girls:
and Julia's chocolate souffle with creme Anglaise spiked with Grand Marnier (it was about orange, right?). It was super delish!
We had dinner until 11 then Mom & I stayed up late cleaning plates and silver. It was a fine affair!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

French Sheeting

I am getting ready for the weekend and tomorrow's dinner for Dad & Honey's birthdays. There is nothing much going on in the garden for table flowers. Seems like something should be going on, except it is a true Mediterranean garden in that in summer is things are taking a rest. I have few roses left, also oleander, lavender and lots of Madagascar jasmine aka Stephanotis, and always lots of greens. I have to see what I can find in the yard, then supplement with flowers from tomorrow's market in Corona del Mar.

I'm taking a break from burlap to use vintage sheets on the twin tables tomorrow. French sheeting is a whole world unto itself. Used yesteryear primarily for bedding, today you see it in use for household, kitchen, bath and upholstery, not to mention on my farmers market tables. Sometimes the dealers here call them "Nun Sheets." The range of creams and greys is pretty on their own, and the textures and weights vary greatly. I love the color and texture set off with more white, and the deep green of Madagascar jasmine leaves:

This pic really works for me; it's going to set the tone for the tables. I was going to do pink plates and export china, but I think we're going to go neutral. I'm thinking deep greens and whites on the neutral cloths now.

There are various fibres used for these sheets and seen in the pic above, including Linen/Lin, Cotton/Coton, Hemp/Chanvre and a cotton & linen blend called Metis, which is pronounced Muh-TEECE and is my favorite; it has the coolness of linen in summer, without too much weight. It has the softness of cotton and the durability of linen.

Linen of course is made from flax fibres. Much stronger than cotton or wool, linen was used for its antibacterial properties and resistance to rot and soil. It was the preferred fabric for dressing wounds as well as wrapping mummies.

In Beaune, I used creamy metis sheeting to slipcover the chairs in the dining room, skirt some kitchen and bath nooks, and plan a shower curtain of metis upstairs. Metis (or linen) will work great for a shower curtain because it is less absorbent than cotton (old French linen actually repels water). It's an inexpensive, all-purpose, durable, organic fabric. I made my original series of rolling cart liners out of metis too before I decided to move on to something else. Metis is as close a word I know to our word "hybrid" so you see it around the French language in reference to more than just sheets.

You'll often find sheets in poor condition and ready to be cut up and re-purposed, in which case you'll see them described as a coupon, just like the grocery coupons, from the French verb to cut, couper. I love the French language, but what is really interesting is how French words made it over into English.

Old French sheets were hand-loomed, which meant they were often seamed down the middle (made from two panels) and hemmed only at the top and bottom, not the selvedge. You'll often find nice little corner initials embroidered on them, to show who made them or who owned them, I suppose.

That's a very short word on vintage French sheets. Check back over the weekend to see what happens with the tablescape.