Saturday, July 30, 2011

Assistance Needed

If I have ever been close to the breaking point, this was it.  I can pinpoint the exact moment, on my knees on the driveway over a pile of vintage Christmas lights, removing the bulbs, while my brother stood over me and said I was not mucking the house out fast enough for his likes.  Preparing for my Father’s birthday party, running a business or three, family in town and a magazine shoot in two days’ time along with all of the normal goings on would probably push one to the edge.  Yes, I have been to that edge and looked over the precipice.

That same week, I read an article in Vogue magazine about the wedding of Dylan Lauren (Ralph’s daughter) and something about her giving something to one of her assistants.  Plural.  This stuck in my mind like a tiny fish bone in the throat, annoying me.  I got on the phone with Raquel, our Sunday market manager, and said, “Raquel, I need an assistant!”  Oh, she proceeded to tell me, so-and-so the musician got a free intern on CraigsList and so she got a free intern that same day also by CraigsList to help run the market.  Talk about a light bulb going off; seems there are lots of kids coming out of college with no experience; experience wanted….

The next morning I placed an online ad for an internship with commission, with a listing of Import/Export Wholesale/Retail.  And oh my, I got an absolute blizzard of responses.  A few caught my eye, and in the end I found my favorite; meet Kerry, my new Assistant~


Somewhere in our conversation she said the magic words: “My schedule is wide open and I am available to help you.”  Imagine!  No, really, I can’t.  In two days, Kerry has helped me run errands, fill orders, and give me a bit of my life back. She is a recent grad from University of Wisconsin-Madison (R’s undergrad and grad school; I am a bit biased; go Badgers!) with a degree in Retail.  She understands my demographic and was perfect and appropriate today at the booth; Kerry’s Mom, are you listening, you have raised a great daughter!!


In addition to the baskets, Kerry is taking ownership of our new Maggies’ Farms organic lettuces venture.  Today was the third week at Corona del Mar and each week we have doubled sales.  Here is today’s sample, arugula with olive oil, a spritz of lemon juice and a dash of French sea salt and pepper.  Delish; all gone~


Kerry took to the market with ease.  She listed “visiting farmers markets” on her c.v. which caught my eye; she will do just fine as she and I grow the business~


As I bring Kerry up to speed on the various aspects of the basket and greens business, she will be a huge help to me.  And let me catch up on back orders etc.  And give me a little sanity back.  Eventually I hope she will run the businesses while I am in France for 6 months.

We will continue to tune up the greens and herbs for the market.

You can contact Kerry at if I am lame and you can’t reach me! Or you can copy both of us.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

South Coast Farms

One of my local favorites is South Coast Farms, in San Juan Capistrano.  Their produce is top notch, especially the berries.  The cat at the register sets the relaxed tone~


The display is simple, yet well done~


They make good use of chalkboard paint above the refrigerated display~


They have added in French Basketeer baskets and hundreds of net bags to this mix~


They have one of the BEST csa progams I  know; more on that soon.  I am not exactly a “cat person” but I loved this one!  I encourage you to support your local farms!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Retail Therapy

I have barely recovered from the big birthday party, magazine shoot and basement muck-out.  Dad is ready to visit a few of his kids and muck out their homes.  Needing a little down-time and since the house is so much lighter, why not do a little shopping?  One of my favorite French antiques dealers is Sara from C’est La Vie Antiques in north San Diego.  If you are in the area, be sure to stop by. You can also shop online.  I would kill to have this, a Parisian marble-top island~


love the mirrors~

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love the mix~


Sara goes to Europe more than any dealer I know; she has great stuff, authentic, not copies~


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She said this was “light” on merch, but there was lots of great stuff; the next container will arrive soon, she has many throughout the year~

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this meridienne or chaise longue is on my list~


as well as this Italian commode, fab~


There is lots of other goodness to be found~


Be sure to visit Sara if you are in town; I will blog on her new merch later. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Trash or Treasure

The weekend of my father’s 80th birthday was more than just a birthday celebration.  I’m being polite. My only brother said that he would come from Denver with his family to “help out” and paint, but mostly he wanted to “get a dumpster” and “de-clutter” our parents’ house.  He is Mr. Clean Surfaces and keeps a clutter- and antique-free home. 

I arrived back from San Diego late Friday morning after picking up the ceviche for the party to find most of the contents of the basement strewn about on the driveway.  A pair of mattresses here, a few carpet remnants, open crates and lamps over there.  My golf clubs were next to what was called the “trash pile”~


At the sight of my beloved golf clubs, I told my brother and accomplice sister to slow down.  Right now.  Those are MY golf clubs, and the putter & driver covers were well-loved by our Grandmother “Nana.”  Our parents, who were away for the day, are not hoarders, no; it’s just that they have a lot of space that they have lived in for over 40 years.  My Dad is a Depression-era baby, and when a broom is used he cuts off the handle and stores it in the rafters of the basement.  Dad also has a large collection of books, road maps and National Geographic magazines, now pulled out for the trash pile.  Along with some of Dad’s Army gear.  “He’s not dead,” I said, “It’s his birthday.”  That stuff is important to him, and you have no right to throw it away. Back it went. I tasked them with cleaning out the old magazines and papers in his office instead~


Yes, I know, stuff is stuff, and if you lost everything, in the end it’s only stuff.  But I like to surround myself with the things I love, objects I appreciate. So do my parents.  My brother has no idea of the real or sentimental value of my Vuitton pieces; he would think they were just old suitcases~


Or my little collection of Eiffel Towers.  I don’t think these mean anything to the rest of my family, but they didn’t live in Paris. Looking at these on my desk remind me of some wonderful years of my life.  My parents’ objects and Army gear are of personal importance to them, which is why I don’t ever touch their stuff~


He probably thinks those shells in a footed pedestal are just dust catchers, but they are from various seaside trips around the world, and I love their texture and weathered colors~

IMG_8424High on a shelf out of reach of the cleaning crew sits a monkey from my Great-Grandmother; She had a pet organ grinder monkey. Until it  tore her kitchen apart one day and flour went everywhere.  Away went the monkey and someone gave her this instead.  I love his handmade look, before sock monkeys, in addition to his heirloom value~


Run and hide, Mr. Poppin’ Fresh~ the cleaning crew is in town!


In order to defuse the dumpster idea on the weekend of a big party, and since my Brother was only here for three short days, I decided to have a garage sale on the morning of the party. Maybe this would make him feel like there was some “cleaning out” being done…?  I spent a month carefully gleaning, recycling and evaluating “stuff,” rather than having a big grab through the house by my brother and sisters who came to town with the promise of “helping.”  By the time everyone came into town on Friday, I had assembled a large amount of things to sell and the house was mostly in order.  But no, my Brother said, “you aren’t doing it fast enough” as he emerged from the basement with all of the vintage Christmas light strands and threw them on the trash pile.  That put me over the edge; I was mad and in tears, after spending so much time and effort getting ready for this weekend.

The Christmas lights were just a metaphor for the chasm in my family.  Some look at them and think the wiring is old and so they need to go in the trash.  I think lovingly of the many years my parents and grandparents and I strung these up around the house and yard. The topic was hotly debated during the day with some sisters and most of the nieces agreeing with my recycle efforts.  I pulled the strands off the pile and got my nephews to help me take the bulbs off.  Old Christmas lights are sought out for sale on Ebay, without the cords. R has begged for these strands for years; he’ll use them, and I will save them for him.  I love the idea that someone will use and want these vintage lights; they don’t belong buried in the trash.  To me, it’s like throwing my childhood in the dump.


I wonder if my brother has issues with his childhood or just doesn’t like “old” stuff; throwing out the Christmas lights, wanted to throw away the very nice WWI and WWII model airplanes he made with our Dad (until Jacquie talked him out of it and left them hanging up).  I had arranged the family collection of baseballs and softballs in a basket; these really should go to a studio art class somewhere; the light went on in Jacquie’s head when I said that and she brought them all back to Minneapolis to display in her son’s room, who is a huge baseball fan~


She also took a nice little basket purse I had set out for the garage sale; the hinge is broken, but she will use it for a bike basket for her daughter; loved to hear her think like that~


I rose at 4am to do more preparations for the sale, which was from 7am – 10am.  Yes, this was before I hosted 25+ for the birthday party after noon.  Thank goodness for my niece Nicole who spent the night and helped me run the sale.  The first early-bird shopper was a local teacher; she almost cried when I gave her the stacks of National Geographic (the ones for which there is no shelf space in the house).  She scours garage sales for them to buy, and the kids cut them up for projects.  Much better than going to the dump, right?  The mattresses, carpet remnants and various other “free stuff” all disappeared by 9am.  


My neighbor stopped by later in the day and asked how the sale went.  He calls the alley behind his house “the Redistribution Center.”  Anything set out there soon disappears.  No matter what it is.  Maybe it goes to Santa Ana to someone else’s garage sale.  Maybe it goes to Mexico.  I don’t know, all I know is that it’s better in the hands of someone who can reuse it than it is buried at the dump.  Trash or treasure?  Seems it is all in the eye of the beholder.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

How to Make an Entry

A well-done entry instantly sets the tone for any party or event.  Last weekend, I decorated our stone arch in summer greens & flowers for my Dad’s birthday party.  I thought it was festive and cheery, very summery~


For Christmas, I dress the same arch with remnant pieces of cedar garland and free cuttings gathered when I get the Christmas tree.  Tip: take as many free tree cuttings as you can; you will use them.  Greens from the garden like California Pepper, Toyon and pine fill out the arch, giving it a slightly shaggy look I love; it’s not meant to be perfectly composed, I like a natural look~


Sometimes I use a burlap or tartan bow; for the Romantic Homes shoot, the Phoenix palms offered the perfect alternative to a bow; a large cluster of dates~


I add in Christmas lights for the short days; nothing puts guests in the holiday spirit like walking through an arch like this on a cool winter evening… as well as fresh apples & citrus from the farmers market, cinnamon sticks tied together and Toyon berries (no wonder the shrub is commonly known as California Holly!).  This will last for the season in cool weather, even in Southern California~


I have since cut back to the ground this bougainvilla that used to grow over the arch; too messy; but it was pretty at the time against the immature dates. This was really a gift from my garden just for the magazine shoot; last year the date clusters came a month after Christmas~


You can get a similar effect for any archway, railing, arbor, gate, pillar, or other fixed object in your entry or your home.  Let me show you how I do this and you can adapt it for your house or maybe a friend’s house…..

Create a structure to hold greens in place using any sticks, branches or boughs; pliant boughs such as Eucalyptus work very well.  See what you can find in your garden to use; the more branches the better as it will give you a fuller shape.  I use two bunches of curly willow, which cost me $16 at a local florist; this is usually my only expense when making the arch.  This willow is fresh as it is still green; it will brown up when it dries, but it is less pliant then.  Tie the willow to the arch or other structure using florist wire (wire, not tape); I start the strand on the white gate hinge, but you can start anywhere, secure at the bottom of your structure and just wind around enough times to secure the willow; for this arch there are 6 or 7 turns around the arch.  You can see here that some of the willow is clustered at the bottom of the arch, but some of it gets lashed to the arch closer to the top, so that some of the willow crosses at the top.  I had my Denver-based nieces Katie and Julia help me make the arch for Grampy’s party~ 


Generally when I scout for greens to use, I look for what needs a haircut in the garden and what is seasonal.  Definitely pine, cedar, eucalyptus and juniper for Christmas.  This time I decided to use a very old rosemary bush that was recently cleared of overrunning geranium.  I cut a lot off but it basically still looks like this~


We gathered the rosemary in two large baskets, and wove it into the arch with a few sprigs of myrtle left over from the house flowers.  Both were very fragrant as you passed under, the desired effect.  You can see now that the curly willow is hardly visible.  But the willow has given structure to the greens layered on top~


The greens need to be placed in one direction; either facing down, like a moustache, or up, like a laurel wreath.  For this arch, the top half faced down and the bottom half faced up.  Best to decide how you want it to look before you start tucking in the greens so it looks somewhat uniform.  Try to use several kinds of greens and aim for variety, texture, fragrance or volume with each green used.  On top of the rosemary we layered Pittosporum, which is a nice green shrub or tree; this is it with the green seed pods; it gave volume and filled out the arch well~


Instead of a bow, we used fresh sunflowers, tucked into the top of the arch without water.  They lasted until the party ended.


They were like a little smile at the gate to welcome guests~


But I decided they weren’t enough, so I added fresh lavender on both sides; the combination rosemary, lavender, pittosporum fragrance in the hot sun was heavenly…maybe I could have added a bow, but I thought this was enough~


To disguise the bottom of the curly willow, I used antique French grain buckets filled with more cut Pittosporum at the back and all sunflowers in the front of the buckets.  You can see the florist wire crossing the bottom of the curly willow here at left.  The flowers were yet more cheer for the entry~


I usually do all of this by myself, but if you have someone to help you, this whole setup will take you about half an hour for a small project like this.  And if you have a garden or friends with gardens, it can be free!!  The arch is still up now, one week after the party, and the greens have just now started to brown a little due to the heat.  My nephew will come this week to take the willow because he thinks “it’s cool” and he will put them in the corner of his room, my gift as a treat for helping me lash the willow to the arch.

I hope you will consider these techniques and whatever your garden offers you for creating a lovely feature for your next party or perhaps for Christmas 2011…there are so many possibilities…lights, ribbons, bows, flowers, fruits etc….email me or comment if you need any other information or assistance….

Friday, July 22, 2011

My Dad’s 80th

80 years of age is a nice milestone, and of course our entire family came together to celebrate.  All five kids were in town for the week, and arriving at the gate Saturday afternoon, you knew it was a party; I always dress the stone arch for Christmas, but rarely in summer, but this was a special occasion; tutorial on how to do this festive arrival soon~


Dad didn’t want a huge crowd; we had about 35 people, mostly family, and started at noon; fresh goat cheese from Nicolau Farms got dressed up with herbs from the garden and rosemary walnut bread or crackers~


Lots of fresh shrimp and slices of Reed Avocado from Corona del Mar market, and Ceviche from James of Ceviche Shack, San Diego; he’s been at our Sunday market for a few weeks and the halibut ceviche is my favorite; this was a big hit with the crowd~


A few days earlier, Dad said that this party was not for him, it was for us.  What he meant was that all those pink flowers spread around the house were my Mom’s idea, and he was right, of course~


I made a run to the LA Flower Mart the week before at my Mom’s request, and filled the house and patio with lots of potted and cut flowers.  She wanted lots of fragrance and pretty flowers, and I did it all for her~

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Yes, I cater to my parents…..if an abundance of fresh flowers make Mom happy, I do it; this mirror was done with the assistance of tall Nick, our first guest; more sparse than my usual on the mirror but it was pretty~

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Wanting to capture summer in its prime, I spent weeks preparing a full bar of infused vodkas and farmers market fruit syrups, each labeled, each taken at the peak, and most with an herb component.  Blackberry-Mint and Blackberry-Rosemary were the most popular syrups, on top of iced vodka or with tonic or Perrier for a virgin drink~


Among the infused vodkas, the Lemon won hands down among this crowd; it was clean and guests added various fruit syrups to it. The Blueberry vodka was pretty, Strawberry and Peach were also fantastic~


Everyone did a fine job creating their own drink concoctions based on the materials set out, and it freed me up to spend time with guests instead of tending bar~


I set an 18 foot table with washed burlap cloth under the loggia; the newly re-done black & white chairs on one side were sharp~

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I debated candelabra and fancier affair, but in the end I quickly cut Stefanotis and common fern from the garden to fill the length of the table, and added ivory pillars under hurricane shades.  The Stephanotis was at its perfection; it was a simple yet elegant table.  It was all that was needed~


For our main course, we had a poached half salmon (which I could prepare in the morning), a baked potato bar, and Dad wanted steaks on the BBQ. Here he is preparing them with assistance from my sister Jacquie, using the largest meat platter I have, an English platter from the NYC 26th Street Flea~


While the party was in swing, we had a series of photo shoots, Dad with the kids, grandgirls and boys.  Then it was time to sit down, with toast after toast~


For dessert, I made Dad’s traditional birthday cake: homemade Devil’s Food with Buttercream Frosting and Coconut.  In 80 years he has never had a store-bought cake, and with good reason, the cake was devoured by all!  Because he also adores ice cream, we had a full ice cream bar.  I debated bamboo or simpler utensils, but in the end I brought out Limoges berry bowls and Vielliard 19thC vermeil spoons~


And French sterling spoons circa 1798; even if you have an ice cream bar, why not have fancy spoons?~


I have been making ice cream for weeks, many flavors from David Liebovitz’ book Perfect Scoop, and most with natural flavors that I had hoped to blog about by now but I will get to soon.  Here is a partial list: Vanilla Bean, Chocolate, Chocolate with Peanut Butter Chips, Rocky Road, Rose, Rose Tea, Jasmin, Fresh Mint with White Chocolate, Peach, Honey, Honey-Lavender, and Blackberry. 


Along with the ice cream we had a variety of toppings: cherries in red wine, pralined almonds (Perfect Scoop), Chocolate, Cinnamon and raw almonds from Hopkins, and lots of Sees candy on the side~


I wish I had taken more pics, but I was tending to guests and by the evening hours I was uncharacteristically exhausted.  In the end, the party was a big success, everyone left with full tummies and happy thoughts.  I fell into bed ready to work the next day on the magazine shoot in two day’s time.  More soon~~~