Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Transitional Fall Style

As the calendar turns to November, my Mother breathes a sigh of relief.  She reminded me today that she was a Depression Era baby and so she never went out Trick or Treating.  You would think a marauding gang was coming around; the gates are closed and locked, the shutters closed and the lights out.  Yesterday she cut my potted Costco mums back as they had browned, and then hacked my corn stalk arch into the shape of a question mark while I was out walking the dogs.  I mean, she really, really hates Halloween and most fall decor.  For this reason, I bought mostly white pumpkins this year, as they are less antagonizing to Mom.  Each week I have continued to buy gourds and Australian Blue (bottom left) and Fairytale pumpkins.  This was my first real fall style at the Sunday market.  I added in a few beans and carrots; this will be improved upon in the next few weeks as the focus moves to Thanksgiving from Halloween.  For a first effort, everyone at the market loved it. I will show you more of this soon….

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It seems incredible that we are eight weeks out from Christmas, but we are….and in my mind that means setting up Christmas bulbs.  The nice thing about forcing bulbs is that you can enjoy them throughout their stages of growth.  Whether they are blooming or not, they make a great decorative and natural item. I noticed some great terra cotta bulb dishes at Rogers Gardens locally, but they were $95 for the dish alone…Ouch!  I got the same look with a terra cotta saucer planted with paper white bulbs on top of another overturned empty saucer~

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I planted two honey-colored bushel baskets, also with paper whites.  I am going to go heavily into paper whites for this holiday, for the fragrance and the simple beauty of these flowers.  These will go to the markets and a farm to table dinner, as well as our extended holiday celebrations.  Paperwhites are more reliable than amaryllis, it’s true, but you never know when they will be perfectly blooming…..six weeks? Four? Eight?  The best thing is to stagger a series of them. Anyway, I set up these bushel baskets two weeks ago as my early blooms~ 

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I force paper white bulbs every year.  A long time ago in NYC, I used the traditional glass forcing vases.  Now each year I like to use something different, copper pots or the like,  This year I am going very neutral and white; I raided the china cupboard in the dining room, starting with the porcelain lion’s head bowls~

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While I was in the cupboard, I grabbed some ironstone sauce boats~

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I would call it a happy marriage, paperwhites and porcelain~

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But why stop with white?  I planted the cassoulet pot with paperwhites as well, and watered everything with rain barrel water carefully poured from a glass bottle I LOVE that a blogger friend gave me~

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Continuing on the white theme, I planted two giant clam shells, again with paperwhites.  These will be pretty in the living room next to the fireplace even while they are growing~october 2012 064

Even one mini, with three bulbs…..the roots of the bulbs will make the bulbs rise up a little; these will all all be finished with moss and such later, these are just the starts, which you must do about six weeks ahead of time~

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I also set up a footed glass bowl, which will be pretty on the sideboard~

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the sauceboats got just one bulb each….these will be pretty at the market or the farm to table….

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And for a little bit of fun, I planted two English plate teapots found in Amsterdam with one bulb…these will be fun….I’ll show you the finished result in a few weeks…..

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I like to plant paperwhites in several stages, so that I have blooms from late November into January.  Use whatever you have on hand for vessels….next year I might go for all copper, but this year it’s white and neutral.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

French Ghost Stories

While living in Paris, I spent quite a few weekends with friends at their country house north of Paris, which had been in the family since the 1950’s.  The house was originally the carriage house to the neighboring chateau, and it was a beautiful XVIIIC building with a classic broad façade, beautiful windows, shutters, garden and the like.  Filled with a collection of tapestried chairs and mismatched French furniture.  The whole nine yards for a classic French country home.  It was here that I first came to understand traditional French cooking….so many good memories, so many great meals.  It was here that I also came to understand some of the “old” French ideas of country living by the bourgeoisie.  Each weekend each guest had their “place'” at the diner table.  You sat in the same seat for each meal, and you used the same cloth napkin for the entire weekend, folded for reuse after each meal. At the end of the evening, everyone shared a digestif from a small cabinet, and at the end of the night, all the doors were locked with a series of large keys which were then placed under certain silver candlesticks or other locations that few of the guests knew.  Basically, each night, you got locked in.

The house had three floors, the main floor was principally a very large kitchen and large sitting room, second floor a central hallway with bedrooms, and on the third floor, the grenier, what we would call the attic.  A series of tables and a collection of map and books were there, it was the domain of the patriarch of the family, who had passed six months earlier.  We rarely went up to that floor.   

One evening after dinner, I sat on the stairs just below the grenier, chatting with our hostess for the weekend, whose husband’s family owned this house.  In the middle of our conversation, we heard footsteps coming across the narrow floor of the grenier, towards us.  Not just footsteps, they were boots.  On hardwood.  Like slow, deliberate marching boots hitting the hardwood floors…..Gulp….  the steps were coming across the room and seemed to be just around the corner from us.  The photos in this post are all of my own home, but they are suggestive of that house north of Paris.  I am not kidding you, it was just around the corner from us.   K and I looked at each other, then she instinctively raised her fist in the air and yelled “I’M NOT AFRAID OF YOU!!!”ghost5

I soon learned that the Nazi’s had occupied the house during WWII.  I don’t know if it was a German ghost or the patriarch.  All I can tell you is Don’t Feed The Animals and Don’t Taunt the Ghosts.  Those boots were so close and so real it made me freeze; I expected to see them on the landing in a moment, but when K yelled at them, they stopped.ghost9

That was it for the activity for the weekend, I think we left for Paris the next morning.  But a few weeks later, we returned.  This time, the housekeeper from Paris came with us, a young woman from the Philippines, and a devout Catholic.  As with many French homes, there was something religious in each bedroom, usually a crucifix.  At the time I thought this was devotional, but in retrospect I think it was to protect the guests.


We were awoken by a scream about 4am.  The housekeeper claimed that someone has punched her in the stomach while she slept in her bed in her room. Not once, but twice.  She saw a face over her while the assault happened, then it disappeared.  We managed to calm her down and she spent the rest of the night in another room.  But in the morning she woke and recognized the face as someone in a photo on the wall~ghost7

It was barely 8am when she had her bag packed and we dropped her off for the train back to Paris. No, she never came back to the house.  Upon our next visit, the entire group of us went out for a walk.  It is so good to leave the bustle of the city and be in the calm country.  Very similar to NYC, for many wealthy Parisians, it’s a welcome respite to get out of the close quarters of Paris and into the spacious country home…..  anyway, that day the caretaker/cook was out running errands or doing shopping, and so there was no one at home.  We approached the house from the garden, coming up the walk, when suddenly a glass oil lamp came flying out of the little window of the grenier, and smashed on the walk in front of us.  


This was a totally bizarre event, and we went as a group into the house and up to the grenier.  There was no one, though the little window there was open.

A month or so later, we returned, with a group of young girls, friends of the daughter of our hosts, to celebrate a birthday.  The girls were young, maybe eight years old.  There were six of them, and we had a lovely dinner and small party, then card games and such.  Into the evening, the girls went to bed, all in the same room.

At around 6am, at the first light, our hostess, mother of one of the girls, came to wake me.  She had “smelled gas” and so had risen early (normally a 10am  sleeper).  On descending the staircase, she saw one of the girls – one of her guests – asleep on a bench outside on the terrace.  And then she came and woke me and her husband. 

Every door in the house was locked….ferme a cle as the French say.  And all the keys were hidden.  The only opening was in the grenier, a window open on a very steeply pitched roof that no person could have walked on~


This young girl was asleep on a wooden bench outside the door when we woke her.  She was still wearing her linen nightgown, with lacey detail, and she was cold. 


She had long brown hair, which was full of bits of fresh green fern and leaves and bark.  It was as if she was whisked out of the house and whirled through the garden.  This was not at all consistent with how they retired to their room, the girls having had their bath and playing games in the room….ghost18

The girl had no idea how she got outside, and why she was sleeping on the bench.  Of course, she was cold, but she was asleep none the less….If I didn’t see it with my own eyes I would not have believed it…..this was bad energy….using a child.  And yes. That was enough for me.  That was my last visit.

Do not taunt the ghosts…..Enjoy the gentle spirits and remember those who have passed,, but please do not provoke the bad ones…..

Enough for now….there are my French ghost stories…..

Monday, October 29, 2012

American Ghost Stories

As Halloween approaches, it’s the one correct time of the year to tell ghost stories.  Do you have any of your own?  I have a few, and when my brother visited a few weeks ago I thought it odd that he specifically mentioned that one of the things he wanted to do during his visit was hear my ghost stories.  I didn’t ask him who told him I had anything to tell, but I figured it was probably through his son Rick, via cousin Dennis, who used to jokingly ask me to tell him ghost stories…..until one evening I did.  Dennis refuses to sleep overnight in this house, but he will come for dinner. 

I think I have a good psychic sense, though information comes through a certain amount of coffee filters; I’ll leave it at that.  I wish I had more time to devote to calming my mind and tuning in with the Universe, but at the moment I do not. At other times in my past, though, I have definitely had contact with spirits who are still on this plane, and when it happens, there is always a little moment when you say….wait…did I just see that?  Hear that?  Smell that? 

One of my first experiences was rather innocuous.  I was visiting a friend in her historic cottage in Maine for the weekend and we were sitting at the dinner table after a lovely meal.  The cottage had recently been renovated into a lovely open format on the ground floor, the kitchen in plain view from the dining table.  After the meal, I was seated on the far side of the table, facing the kitchen.  The others had their back to the kitchen.  Suddenly in one movement, the cabinet door opened and the trash can came flying out, tipping over on the floor. There was no one in the kitchen let alone at the cupboard.  It was as if someone had kicked the trash can from the inside, it was that forceful, to open the cabinet and eject the can.  The hostess’ father who was the previous occupant had passed…but I have not been back to verify….I just say..hmmmm…..

No one else was facing the kitchen and saw it, but there it was, the trash can on the floor.  I can’t explain it, but I saw it and heard it.  The cabinet in Maine was similar to ours in Laguna; funny how as soon as I focus in on an area for a photo, the dogs are right there……hehe….but you get the idea; the can came flying out~


Several years later, I returned to Laguna and to our family home, which was built in 1923.

When you have known a house your entire life, you know every nook and cranny, you know all the quirks and creaks.  My room is the original master bedroom of the house, at the top of the long staircase.  I know when someone comes up the stairs, and I can tell you who comes up the stair based on their weight.  I know when Mom comes up or down the stairs, and when Dad comes up or down the stairs.  Each step has its own creak, and the sound is different for 120 versus 185 pounds and if you are ascending or descending~


Not long after I came back from New York, a handful of years ago, I started to hear sounds in the night.  Someone was coming up the stairs!!!  My beloved terrier Napoleon, sleeping at the foot of my bed didn’t sense an intruder, but I clearly heard it; my guess was someone about 140 pounds, coming up the stairs in the middle of the night.  I can compare it to someone running their fingers along the piano keys….when you have heard the range of notes, you know each one.  This was unmistakably someone on the stair, coming up not down~


This would happen from time to time, every two or three weeks.  Each time for the first half dozen experiences, I would leap out of bed and turn on the lights and loose the dog….to find an empty stair.  My parents, each time, fast asleep in their beds in the next bedroom around the corner at the top of the stair. 

I am going to guess that this happened on and off for about 8 months.  As a little bit of an insomniac, I can say that I really really heard these sounds.  However, the last time I heard the steps on the stairs, I was awake in bed, and a few moments later I felt someone sit down on the lower left side of my bed.  I am not kidding you, I felt the weight of someone sit on my bed, and I said….”Mom?”  I rolled over and on went the light.  Personne.

Over the same period, though never at the same time, I would from time to time smell a strong perfume at the base of the stairs, and if I sniffed around, it was most strong in the corner, where Dad’s wing chair is now.  I have never smelled this perfume before; it’s not my Grandmother, it’s not my Mom’s.  Strong and floral, but nothing that I recognized.  In the early evening hours, always.  Around 6 or 7pm, right in this corner~


During this same period I was in the middle of some significant research on the house and the original owners.  It was fascinating to me that we knew so little about the original couple who built the house in 1923.  Over a period of about two years, I discovered some truly amazing information about this couple.  It seemed to me that as soon as I solidified the identity of this couple, both of whom also passed in the house, the activity seemed to slow down and then stop.  Our house is the love of Hiel Gilbert Rider, son of a prominent physician from Rochester, New York.  A Cornell-educated lawyer; he was more interested in birds and agriculture than law.  He traveled to Europe with his father when he was a teen to enjoy the classic Grand Tour that eventually influenced the multiple homes he built in Laguna, of which ours was his crown jewel.   He was also somewhat anxious, having “paced back and forth to wear down the carpet in front of a large Chesterfield.”  And maybe up and down the stairs?  I eventually confirmed via a passport application that he was 5”7” tall and of slight build….so I think it was he on the stair….. here is the single photo I have of Hiel Gilbert Rider~    


His bride was Ms. Edna Lee Luttrell Rider.  She came from humble beginnings in Tennessee, but became a classically trained ballerina, dancing with the New York Metropolitan Opera.  In Laguna, they established a large estate and had birds in every room that would sing in unison.  Eventually I made contact with a neighbor, Jane, who had taken ballet and dance lessons (for free, for the local girls) from Mrs. Rider and who provided me with dozens of interesting stories.  Here is Mrs. Rider with her beloved pet Macaw, “Mac” in “Spanish Costume” in our local paper, 1926~


According to Jane, Mrs. Rider’s favorite spot in the house was….tah dah….guess where…at the base of the stairs adjacent to the upright piano which a woman would play during lessons.  The entire room was her ballet studio, now our living room.  And that is precisely where the wing chair now sits~


I have never felt any angst or threat from these sounds or smells or “ghosts” if you will….  I think that the Riders  wanted to be known, to be discovered, to have someone understand them.  Incidentally, they both passed in the house, in my parents’ room, Within three months of each other. 

As the pieces began to fall into place, I felt the presence of the Riders ebb, and I would like to think they felt more ready to move on as they went from being anonymous figures to persons whose backgrounds and motivations were understood.  The story of the house is a much longer one, but I felt that I was finally able to give them credit for what they had built and created, and why….

My French ghost stories are much more dramatic, and I will get to those before Halloween….

p.s. my photos today are all via Instagram, Inkwell black & white for effect…..more on Instagram soon!

My thoughts are with so many friends on the East Coast with Hurricane Sandy… safe……

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Costco Party

Following my last post, I started to think about how to better spend $50 per head for a party for 150, or how to significantly lower the cost of an event that could be had at home.  Could I lower the cost of and reallocate the budget for something better?  Heck yeah.  I’d reallocate those funds for a Chanel Jumbo pour moi and give the guests some stuff from Costco before I’d pay $50 per head for catered rubber chicken.  I guess It’s all a matter of value.   I have a lambskin 2.55 but one of these days I’m going to buy a Jumbo….Instead of rubber chicken for you all….haha that is a semi-joke, but you see, we can all be really happy…..

Chanel Jumbo Classic Flap Bag

Let’s go find out what we can do for less than $50.  If I wanted an easy option and great food, that is to do no cooking at all, I would have Daniel roll up with his rotisserie chicken truck, Rollswisserie; he will charge you a flat fee of about $300 plus $12 per rotisserie chicken with a side of potatoes.  Daniel is Swiss and knows how to serve with flair, and his organic rotiss chickens are the best ~


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But a friend of Sis’ had a Cajun food truck for a party a few weeks before and so Sis rejected this idea.  I don’t know….to me this is miles ahead of what we ate, and significantly less expensive!  I’d just have desserts and drinks to worry about…

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My parents love Costco, and there are certainly a lot of things I love about it too.  We saw a show on TV a few weeks ago about how rigorous the Costco buyers are, especially for their Kirkland Signature Brand.  They talked a lot about their wines.  How about give your guests a bottle of wine, with a nice custom label on the reverse of the bottle for an event? Or serve an especially good wine at dinner?  This Bordeaux is $9~


And for $50 per head, everyone could drink the best champagne.  Servez-vous-meme of course….you do not need a server if you pour Veuve Clicquot…about $33 per bottle….buy a limited amount and when it’s gone it is gone….


So in this tv show they went on about the Kirkland brand.  So in my research, I saw this rose champagne, which would also be great with a second custom label on top (e.g. for a wedding)~

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With visions of one of my favorite Champagnes, Gosset Rose, dancing in my head, I brought a bottle home to try~

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I would serve it with a French Camembert….which Costco carries….ah~

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However, it was a a bust….not good at all for the $23 bottle.  Better to buy Veuve Clicquot in limited quantity and run out.  BTW it is ok to run out of food or drink at a party in my mind.  It is not unlimited…..

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So back to Costco, you can get the best French (Burgundy) cheeses there; this one is always one of the favorites in my house~

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Pair it with a firm Comte~

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And Brie, even if they are pasteurized, they are great; wonderful with seasonal toppings like apples or figs~

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For a main course, I would shy away from the prepared/frozen foods and focus on the wonderful ingredients which Costco carries.  They have a great parmegiano reggiano cheese~

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wonderful with some dried pastas from Italy; this could be made ahead of time and put in large trays to heat and serve~

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Costco has a great rotisserie chicken for $5; why not pre-order several dozen for a large party?  If you want to cook, there is also organic or commercial chickens~

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or pork tenderloin~

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for dessert I would do pears facon belle helene~

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OR a  big candy bar display.  this would be the ticket~ with fancy glass jars and glasses….I could do this one up with what I have on hand if I had to….get some printed bags for bride & groom for a wedding….so good, so fun, so inexpensive…..

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the fresh fruit at Costco is fine if used right away…..raspberry butter?….raspberries on top of a frozen dessert, or even ice cream?

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My relatives in Calgary tend to do big breakfasts, they think nothing of hosting 100 for breakfast, and none of it catered.  Costco bacon, yes…..and eggs by the crate~

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waffles and pancakes with cream? x 100?  No problem~

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There are so many good things at Costco, like pine nuts and walnuts…..all makes for a great meal at a lower cost~

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If I had a choice, of Costco vs. catering, I’d choose Costco any day.  I can think of ten local ladies I know who would love to earn a little extra money and help out serving or putting food on a buffet table.  There are unlimited meatballs, Mozzarella cheese sticks, teriyaki chicken and other quality appetizers at Costco….no fear guests will be eating HotPockets for a dinner.  My friend Monica recently prepared food for 150 for a wedding, chicken with pesto, salad etc from Costco…Yes, keep an eye on your food costs and you can prepare great food at a cost less than a catererer….so you can save the money or treat yourself to something nice. 

Next up, a trip to the 99Cent store, then some French ghost stories in time for Halloween…