Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cake of the Month/Week/Day

Little Kristin is getting married, and she asked me to do her wedding cake. Love to!!! I bought the Martha Stewart Wedding Cakes book (perfect but used, on Alibris) and brought it to her, with the idea that we could sample a "cake of the month" until the wedding approached, which is about a year away. "How about a cake of the day"? asked Little Miss Sweet Tooth. Today we had Martha's devils food cake, which I made last weekend in two versions, with and without sour cream, and was scarfed down in entirety by my family. I made the classic (no cream) French Cocoa (from my favorite shop in Beaune) cake last night, imbibed with Kahlua and frosted with creme Chantilly. The cake had a delicate ribbon border and was topped with flowers from my garden, including pink hydrangeas, white glads and very fragrant plumeria. We also had a sauce made from 3 kinds of chocolate- Valrhona (my fave but not sweet), Ghiradelli, and a Belge milk chocolate. It was all good, and got the thumbs up from the diverse tasting team....

Time to Go to France

It's time to go to France; you know why? Because last night I used up the last of the cocoa powder I bought in Beaune, and I'm out of the sea salt I brought back from the last trip; I buy the same brand here in the same packaging, but it is invariably larger in texture and clumpy. I still contend that they keep the best stuff in France; like the Dutch, making cheese in black or red wax rind to code if it's for domestic consumption or export??
Anyway, here is a photo of my empty cocoa bag from Beaune. I'll stock up in a few weeks...
The pots are for the fresh mustard from Maille in Dijon. Those get consumed or given as gifts very quickly as they have a definite shelf life.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Confrerie of the Prius

I was in Palisades the other week, finishing a sale to a lovely actress client, when Eric came up to the booth and very excitedly said he wanted to show me his new 2010 Prius. "We both have Prius's" (Prii?) I said to the actress. "So do I!" she said, and pointed to her black Prius with gold-package lettering and limo-tint windows which was double-parked on the street a few feet away, next to Eric's. "Oh, that's the same as mine, black with limo-tint," I said. We all had a laugh, I finished the sale, then Eric showed me The Car, which keeps the interior cooled with fans powered by solar panels built in to the roof.
There is a special bond among Prius owners; I call it the Confrerie of the Prius, the Brotherhood of the Prius. I borrow of course from France, where there are so many confreries you can't keep track, including the Confrerie of Bresse Chicken Farmers (loosely! eleveurs). I discoved that this week while planning the trip for next month; I am going to be posting non-stop from France!! The best known I think is the Confrerie des Chevaliers de Tastevin; basically a Bacchanal-style wine club for men; it's complex, and you can look it up, but the the motto is "Never in Vain, Always in Wine." Well, trust me, it acutally rhymes in French...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Jam-packed Sunday

Sunday was jam-packed with interesting images and ideas. It started when I headed north out of town and saw more than a few hundred Pacific Coast Triathlon participants lined up on the sand from El Morro to Crystal Cove; the surf was past its peak but still easily 10ft. Everyone was lined up, in awe of the surf, which was breaking in a long, solid line. Holy crap. I would not want to go in or out of that surf!!! btw they did a half mile swim, 13 mile bike and 3 mile run. I think my sister Janis and and I will try it next year!!
Loretta Lynn was live and Amazing on the radio on E-town during my drive, singing Coal Miner's Daughter; she was totally fab.

The pulse was as strong in Palisades market; it was non-stop from 8am - 1pm. Jonathan came by and gave me a great business idea; the Food Critic came to report on her recent trip to Dijon and to tell me about her visit to the Maille store there, which I recommended. She and I traded stories of Paris and while we had a few common ideas on where to take the Boys in August, she gave me a few new ideas. Love that.....

Pali is a wonderful market; people are well-traveled, well-heeled and well-educated but not snooty. They are a little guarded though; they will hint at what they do (private chef, producer, food critic, designer etc) but not give specifics, and I don't press them for more; I love that they are under-the-radar; speaking of over the radar, Jennifer Garner came through the market Sunday around 10am, followed by a dozen papparazzi. I was in discussion with the Food Critic so I missed it; Ronnie next door was mad at me for "not paying attention" but I was having a great time talking about Paris. Jen, please come back, and I will give you a nice deal on a basket :)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Free Show (Big Waves)

We had huge (15 ft) surf this weekend, from a storm off Tahiti. We usually don't see this kind of swell here, so everyone is down at the beach watching, which might also explain why the traffic at the market this morning at CdM was so light. The pictures (which are not mine; thank you OC Register) say it all; wow!! One bodyboarder was killed when he was thrown onto or into the jetty at the Wedge.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Casual Beauty

I love uncomposed, spontaneous composition; here is a photo of a basket purchased by a client this weekend in Palisades; she bought the basket, put her flowers in just like this, then went off to collect a few other purchases.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Les Ciseaux

I don't need many tools. A credit card machine, and a good pair of scissors to trim any errant fibres or price tags from the baskets. I love my scissors and they have to be of a high quality. Don't go buy a pair at Staples, they are total junk. As most scissors are pretty lame and I am the French Basketeer, I have a few pairs of French ciseaux in my daily gear. I want to thank Alyson from Felt & Wire for her post this week, so I am going to send her my pair of Eiffel Tower ciseaux, and hope that she gets them before she sees this post. It's important to thank people!

I have a others, but here is a bird/heron (new) in vermeil style, with the screw cleverly positioned as the bird's eye, and my favorite Tour Eiffel ciseaux (not new).

What can I say, happy cutting!!!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Les Incoruptibles et Laghet

In the middle of everything going on lately, I am finishing the itinerary for France. We will be moving around a bit, mostly 2 days in each place, which will be some driving for me, but will let me show the boys various regions. The final reservations I am fixing are for Provence and the Riviera. I wanted to book into a place I've had on my list for some time, the Benedictine (fomerly Carmelite) monestary of Laghet. The nuns there rent out little rooms, which are just what you'd expect for a convent; spartan. The building dates from the late 17th century, and has a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary which has facilitated many miracles, as confirmed by an extensive collection of ex-votos. The ex-votos (gifts as sort of a thank you to the Virgin for answering a prayer) include a lot of detailed drawings depicting events from which someone was saved, a woman's leg in argent massif from a princess for curing her sciatica, and a gold baby (en or massif), a gift from a nobleman following the miraculous cure of his infant son; the gold baby was made to the same weight as the son, about 8 pounds. There are crutches and various surgical appliances and the like, but those are the highlights. So I'm looking foward to seeing all of this...
The boys are in Catholic school now, so I thought I would show them a few interesting Catholic things in addition to ancient Catholic buildings. So I am going to take them to the rue du Bac in Paris, to see the Chapel where the Virgin Mary appeared to Catherine Laboure in 1830 (it will be right on our way as we go to Deyrolles and one of my favorite home shops and chocolate shops, so we can pop in). It was after these visits that Catherine facilitated the creation of the Miraculous Medal, arguably the most widely-distributed religious medal after the crucifix. There you can also see the body of Catherine, which has never decomposed and looks like the day she died, though she was buried and then exhumed 30 years later. There are a series of these saints and holies around the world, but mostly in France and Italy. Some people accuse them of being a hoax, saying they are just embalmed like Lenin, but les croyants say the bodies actually give off a sweet smell, not that of embalming fluids. You'll have to google it to get the rest of the story, I just thought the boys would find the whole concept interesting, and something that does not exist in the U.S. Bernadette from Lourdes is also in an uncorrupted state, and she is in Nevers, not far from Burgundy. I'm debating if we'll go there, but not sure; I don't know how close you can get to the glass coffin. R accuses me of having a fascination with the macabre; maybe a little; I confess I have walked by the chapel on rue du Bac a thousand times and never went in; there are too many pilgrims going in and out and too many panhandlers at the door... Anyway here is a photo of Bernadette. I read that she had a "very light" wax applied to her skin and hands, but she does look peacefully asleep, doesn't she?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

{Your Boutique} Produce Bag Bundles

This morning I dropped off the last of the baskets for the Paula trunk show, as well as the custom net bag bundles I made up for them. Phyllis was a quick adopter of the net bags at the farmers market, and she also wanted them for the trunk show; I asked her for some extra business cards, to use as hang tags for the bundles. She and Paula have unusual round business cards, with the usual coordinates on the back. They really look sharp with the net bags, don't they? I used orange paper raffia ribbon for them. Usually I do two colors of ribbons, but I didn't want to compete with the Paula logo.
I've used my own business card and my own hang tags, and done sets up for party favors and baby shower favors. But this gives me a big new set of ideas about where to go with it.
After I left Paula, I went over to the Farmers market 2 blocks away. I met the market manager, who runs another market I had wanted to get in to; she is totally full at that market and didn't seem to want to hear any of my story. She directed me to another bag vendor at the market today. That vendor sells one small net bag (identique) for $5!!!!!!! I sell 3 for $7 and that includes the tax! The net bags are great, but I think you get a lot of resistance at $5 for a little tiny net bag. I want to sell them cheap and get them out there. As far as I know there are 3 of us in the entire US who have bought the same kind of bag from several manufacturers. When you resell them a few times, the last sucker on the totem pole ends up selling them for $5 each. Those margins and price points just don't work. That gave me some other really great ideas. I wish I had enough time to follow thorough on all of my "good" ideas, but I think I'll get some help to implement.....wheels working.....

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Trunk Show at Paula

Sounds like I'm having a party at my girlfriend's place, doesn't it!? She doesn't have any beds in the store, but you would be plenty comfortable moving into the Paula store in Tustin!
Paula and Paula Home are actually two joined stores, and while there is a real Paula (we met today), her partner is Phyllis, and the store is a mix of both their tastes; a wonderful example of how two partners working together really get it right.
It's hard to define the store, and I had been through their website ahead of time, but it focuses on clothing; Paula is a real candy store: there are lots of clothes (upscale casual, a little avant garde, but all quality), accessories like hats and pareos and scarves; furniture, a splash of vintage handbags & mirrored compacts, chunky jewelry pieces, also an awesome collection of books, various decorative accessories and lots of French-themed items. That's a very short list. What I really liked about the store is that they appreciate quality but realize it doesn't have to be expensive. They aren't into Chinese merchandise (with the exception of a few parasols hanging from the ceiling). They make a point to buy French, American, some Indian and some Moroccan merchandise.
I met Phyllis a few weeks ago and she had the idea to do a trunk show, so today I dropped off a lot of merchandise and the show will be over the next two days. The baskets are a perfect addition to the store; I'm looking forward to hearing the feedback. Phyllis and I started a new project too, that has me really excited and I'll post on in a few weeks. On the way home today I also had the thought to ask them if they'd like to have the Tour Eiffel there for a few weeks on consignment; it would be perfect in the space! Anyway, the store is on 1st Street in Tustin, a few doors west of Prospect. Keep it in mind for gifts and unusual items....and come to the trunk show!

Bastille Day

We're having a low-key Bastille Day today. The can-can music is still going around in my head from the French Festival this weekend, and I got my fill of Eiffel-Tower-everything. The only thing to do now is just go to France. One month until we leave.
I always enjoyed Bastille Day in Paris. There is a wonderful military parade up the Champs Elysee, which is quite serious and somewhat somber. The various groups of the armed forces and military schools parade past the President and the dignitaries, after the President rides up the Champs Elysee in his Jeep. I was there in the final Mitterand years, and first year or so of Chirac. I remember Mitterand in his last years standing in the Jeep with his wrists strapped to the roll bar so he would be able to hang on; he was quite frail at that time. The show ends with the PAF (French equivalent of the Blue Angels) flying low overhead in precision formation, streaming blue, white and red smoke. In New York one of the focal points for Bastille Day is a party on the block in front of Provence restaurant, but of course it's nothing like being in Paris so I went once and never again.
I LOVE French silver, and my latest purchase is some argent massif cake forks, with vermeil tines, and we'll use those tonight. I was disappointed to not find anyone selling French flags at the Festival, but I did find these little ones, and put them on the cake for tonight.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Better in a Basket

Today I was in Studio City Farmer's market. It was my first time back in quite a few months, and many of the early-bird regulars were firm yet polite: "You're back! Where have you been? I keep telling people about you! We've been looking for you!" and when I said I've been in Palisades on Sundays, "We want you in this market." It was very hot today, but we still had great sales, and I will be back as long as there is space for us.
On my way in, I noticed an herb vendor. Now most every market has an herb vendor, and I keep walking, but this one had a trio of herbs in a basket, dusted with fine mulch. He had a set of 4 such baskets on the walk in a nice grouping, but by the time I returned for a photo, they were gone. But I got this lovely shot of the 4 baskets in the shelf, and I took two of them. 3 x $2 for the herbs and $1 for the basket. Sold! I would put a ribbon on it and Rogers-ize it. But for the farmer's market, an unadorned basket is perfect, especially for $7.
In France, most vendors display their produce in baskets, a few in wooden crates and occassionally in plastic crates. I have used this mushroom shot many times (R's photography), and it shows the effortless way the French's not contrived, it's second nature. From a display standpoint, if you didn't know, everything looks better in basket. Want to get them to buy, put it in a basket.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Show Stopper

We were set up in our booth at the French Festival today, when "it" arrived; le Tour Eiffel en bouchon. (It is not completely finished as the top is now a nest for a wine bottle, but that will be finished this week.) There was immediately a buzz around our booth, which continued all afternoon. Hundreds of photos were taken, many questions were posed, and more than a few people grabbed parasols from the bin, took a quick souvenir snap in front of the tower, then put the parasols back and left. I quickly tired of taking photos of people taking photos, so there is just one here; to show the awe of the crowd. Attention all proprietors of wine stores, restaurants, specialty grocery and vignobles: if you want to draw a crowd and have a true piece of interest, commission an Eiffel Tower made of recycled wine corks! I happen to have one for sale, if it does not go tomorrow at the festival. I will gladly refer to Steven, the artist! A group of girls came by with matching red berets; they were adorable and I asked them for a photo for the blog; they agreed as long as I would call them "The French Girls," so here they are! Today, everyone was French!

There was a ton of authentic food, as I had a salade avec saumon at 11am for breakfast. Overall, it was an authentic event, we really enjoyed the can-can troupes (three troupes, including our favorite, a ballet troupe, each performed several times during the day), but there were also classical dance groups (learn le minuet et la valse), or more likely, watch someone else learn it! At 6pm there was a drag revue, which was very entertaining; we were 20 yards from the all the acts on our stage today so that was fun. I am sorry I will not be there tomorrow for the Moroccan (belly) dancing; today there was a little Tahitian music and dancing; I heard it but did not see it. There were fresh lavender bundles for sale which I really wanted to have in the booth, but they came with fresh bees, so I held off.....

If this event were held in LA, it would be very slick, but in SB it's very much in keeping with the city; low key; old school, which also makes it kinda French. But it is an authentic event, which is why this is the 22nd year. Even if you are not French, everyone would like to be a little French. I will be in LA tomorrow at two markets with Nicole and Kailea; Erin and Miranda will close down SB.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Le Courk Eiffel

Two weeks ago, I was in Palisades market and I had my niece Nicole along for the day. I dropped her off with our gear, then went to park the van. When I returned, she was deep in conversation with our neighbor (to my irk; I thought she would be setting up!) , who was selling Italian sauces and fresh pasta. "Steven," not Steve, greeted me in a straw fedora and with a perfect British accent (though he is American, he has flair and is a great salesman!), and I then asked Nicole, "do you know each other from school?" No, they had just met, but had quickly found a common love in San Francisco, where Nicole is at USF.

We chatted throughout the day, and got back on the San Francisco topic. Steven is going there to try to close a deal he's working on. Most of the people selling at the market have several jobs, or at least two; Steven sculpts in wine corks, and he is trying to close a deal to create a scale replica of the Golden Gate Bridge out of used wine corks. My wheels work pretty fast, so I suggested that while he's there, he can do some reconnaissance for me at the markets and a few stores. We agreed on a few key markets.

As the conversation progressed, between sales, I asked about his cork sculptures. His first and favorite was an Eiffel Tower. The wheels got working again, since I was going to the French Festival in 2 weeks. "Can you make an Eiffel Tower by the 11th, I asked, or rather, a pair?" His first was more than 8 ft tall, but I was thinking of something more saleable. Steven went on to explain some of the geometry of the Eiffel Tower, he works off the math of the tower; it really works well in large scale when you're working with cork, but then if you look at his pieces on his website you will quickly see that he just loves high impact important pieces!

In the end, I commissioned a 5 and 1/2 ft tall Eiffel Tower, plus a mini if he could complete it. Here are a few pics of the work in progress. Fascinating (at least to me)!!! I love that it is handmade, a piece of art; love the herringbone base, which goes with my St. Tropez basket....

So, tomorrow we are off to the French Festival, and Steven will meet us there; I told him to bring as many of his other large pieces as he can; it will be a draw for the booth, it's totally French on several levels, and it's just plain fun! If he can sell a few pieces, all the better.... Le Courk Eiffel is Steven's name for the tower; in French a cork is a "bouchon". If there is a lot of traffic, you say it is "bouche" (accent aigu), or corked up. But le Tour en bouchons doesn't quite grab it with les Americains...

See you all at the Santa Barbara French Festival!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hands Free

I was on my way home tonight, and talking on my beloved blackberry, at the merge of the 91 and the 55. Suddenly I noticed a CHP car next to me, though he was not looking over at me. He passed me, then turned on his lights and made like he was doing a traffic break, then pulled over to the shoulder.

When a CHP is in traffic, it has the same effect as a shark in a small pool. Everyone else is immediately aware and tense, and drivers slow down. Sometimes there is an idiot zipping through traffic, making unsafe lane changes, unaware of the CHP; that's a sure way to get pulled over. On early morning weekends, I drive as fast as the rest of traffic, which is about 80 or 85mph. I keep an eye out for the CHP, but today I was not looking, I guess, and I was at the merge.

Anyway, the car then came behind me, and turned on his lights, so I pulled over. The officer came to my passenger window, made eye contact, then slowly looked around at the back of my car; the rear seats are flat and it's stuffed to the ceiling with baskets. "You look like a very busy lady" he said. "That's a gross understatment, Officer" I replied. He said he had seen me on my phone, and that "they are looking for that;" I said I had been on speaker. No matter, you can't be on speaker if it's in your hand; it has to be on the seat or on your lap; he advised me to get an earbud. Has to be truly hands free.

I have a softspot for the CHP since an episode a few weeks ago, when Erin and Kailea were on their way to Santa Barbara for me and they got a flat tire on the 105 in Inglewood. A CHP was not far behind them and saw them trying to merge to the shoulder; he called for the roving emergency team and Erin called AAA; the CHP waited behind them until help arrived. I really appreciated that and sent a note to the Inglewood area CHP.

btw in France there are a lot of automatic controles now, new since Sarko was the Minister of the Interior. You basically can't speed around France anymore. In Paris, people used to whip around the peripherique, but not now. Even on the way to Burgundy, there are automatic speed controls which will ticket you, but not if you are in a rental car :).

So, today I got a pass; I guess tomorrow I have to go get an earbud, so that's tops on my list!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Red, White & Blue Jay

Happy Independence Day!

I am thoroughly enjoying the weekend, especially since yesterday was my first "real" day off in I don't know how long; about a year I think. I ran a few errands, went to see my good friend Leah, but mostly was able to be around the house. Ahhh. I had an early dinner with R, then went to bed at 8pm, and slept until 5am at first light.
I really enjoy the birds we have at our house. The original builders had Macaws, several enormous aviaries, and a bird cage in every room, so birds have been a big theme here. My mom and I have thought about having caged birds, but we always enjoy the wild ones; how could I have a prisionier bird? Even if it had a palace for a cage, it would not be like our wild birds.

This afternoon, I got a nice shot of one of my favorite birds, one of a pair of big blue jays; ths is the female, considerably smaller than her mate. We have a bird feeder, and the house finches are usually there, but when the blue jays arrive, which are easily 3x the size of the finches, the finches scatter. The mourning doves are also here a lot, at the feeder. The little white cap sparrows are on the ground cleaning up, as long as the neighbors' cats are not around. I also have a sock with nyjer seed, and that attracts a lot of tiny yellow finches, which I call lemon finches, but the bigger house finches love to poke holes in the sock and eat there too. There is a fountain nearby, and they usually like to have a bath and a meal.

But when a person or the dog walks by, everyone scatters. I have wondered if I could tame the finches, but that was a quick thought; it's their instinct to flight. Then today, I saw something I have never seen: the sock and feeder were full of two dozen birds, and suddenly there was a large shadow, and a large hawk swooped in quickly, but everyone scattered seconds before, and it took them a while for them to return. I didn't think the hawk was predatory toward the other little birds, but I'll have to read up. It was still an incredible sight!
We had a lovely day at CdM market today, then home; the ocean was a beautiful blue (see my shot on the way home at El Moro) and now I am making ribs and chicken for dinner, before the fireworks at 9pm.
Today I also think of my suppliers in Madagascar and Morocco; what a wonderful thing it is to be independent, though independence brings its own problems. They have been independent about 50 years, which would be like us having independence at the WWII era, so people would be around to remember.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Baby Osprey

I went to the grocery store around 7pm to get some wine for the gang at the house tonight; on the 3 blocks to the store, I saw a crowd of 20 people assembled, around what we thought was an Osprey or Sea-Hawk. It dropped a 16" leopard shark on the wall across the street (see photo; it looks fake but that's a leopard shark!). This was a baby bird, we thought, but still totally magnificent.
It was still there on my way home.
My mom likes those cardboard 6-pack wine carriers, but I love a basket I have from France. It's made in Morocco, and fits 6 bottles nicely, see photo. If you are concerned about construction and durability, don't be: this basket carries the weight of 6 bottles with no problem. Welcome to the European way....