Monday, December 13, 2010

My Best Of 2010

Christmas looms.
Are you ready?
I confess I'm still wrapping my head around it.
(Photo by Graeme Robertson)

Below, a highly personal list of the things that thrilled me, sated me and inspired me this year -- all still deliverable by Christmas if you act promptly. (Note: Links are in orange.)


The subtitle says it all: "How to live creatively with collections, clutter, work, kids, pets, art, etc...and stop worrying about everything being perfectly in its place." Carter is a woman after my own heart -- I have long espoused a similar philosophy. This book (with its gorgeous photos and eclectic soulful homes) is visible proof that tidiness isn't always next to godliness.

Perceptively written by Ingrid Abramovitch, Editor-at-Large of Elle Decor, this is one of those design books you keep near you at all times because leafing through it never fails to instruct and inspire. Lavishly photographed, it's a must-have for anyone seeking to create a home steeped in character, comfort and style (whether it's a house in the city or an apartment in the country).

I bought this book because I wanted to learn more about colors, textures and patterns from the uber-decorators of our time and I wasn't disappointed. From Peter Dunham's cozy Hollywood home to Carolina Irving's Upper East Side aerie to Muriel Brandolini's New York brownstone, each home is a vibrant case study in personal style. Mixing styles from bohemian luxe to neo-traditional, each interior designer offers a revealing glimpse into what works and why.

Carlos Mota, ex-House and Garden editor, shows you how to use blooms from the local deli or garden to create your own couture masterpieces. Quick, simple and beautiful arrangements are easy to put together once you know Mota's secret tips and tricks.

Okay, I haven't read this book yet but I've been obsessed with it ever since The New York Times wrote about it last month (click HERE). Apparently, punch held quite a pedigree back in the 19th century. Who knows, maybe Charles Dickens' flaming punch will become the Cosmopolitan of 2011?

Whether you're a yoga aficionado or you have yet to sign up for your first class, this book by MacSweeney's/Vanity Fair contributor Neal Pollack is one man's very funny journey from "yet another doughy, 35ish white man with a goatee and thinning hair" to a leaner, calmer version of himself (albeit still a self-professed dorky one). He explores everything from kundalini to rockstar yoga to yogathons and corporate yoga and in spite of his confusion and skepticism, the deeper meaning of it all can't help but eventually take hold. I know Neal personally and I have to say, witnessing his physical and spiritual transformation has been nothing short of inspiring.

I have always wanted to feast on chef Skye Gyngell's cuisine at London's Petersham Nurseries, and this book has given me hope that I can do so from the comfort of my own kitchen. Filled with 16 of her most beloved foods, the book offers simple, creative recipes for seasonal eating that's heavy on flavor, not elaborate techniques. I want the Salad of Warm Torn Bread, Poached Egg, and Parmesan Dressing...and I want it now.

Gripping intrigue, nonstop action and brutal passion kept this book about 16th century antihero Thomas Cromwell in my hot little hands from the first page to the last. Hilary Mantel brings Tudor England kicking and screaming to life with her brilliantly atmospheric tale of Cromwell's rise to power in the court of King Henry VIII. It's been four months since I read it and I am still bewitched. Supposedly there's a sequel in the works and all I can say is if you know Hilary personally, don't disturb her.

Eccentric, scandalous and impossibly glamorous, the Marchesa Luisa Casati was the Isabella Blow of her time. Everywhere she went, she inspired and captivated; artists flocked to paint her, poets wrote about her and designers wanted to dress her. I'm fascinated with her metamorphosis from dutiful Italian girl to a flame-haired temptress who wore live snakes as necklaces. "I want to be a living work of art," she said. Mission accomplished.

Antonia Fraser and Harold Pinter found love late, but once discovered, they held on tightly. "Must You Go?" is a portrait of their marriage as revealed through thirty-odd years of Antonia's diary entries and recollections and is a touching testament to the power of domestic happiness. Am reading it now. Don't want it to end.


Compiled from the illustrious sound archives of the British Library, this 3 CD set features rare clips from some of the world's most admired writers like Somerset Maugham, E. M. Forster, Aldous Huxley, Noel Coward, Rebecca West, P. G. Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Virginia Woolf and many more (there are 30 tracks in all). I play it in my car when I'm busy doing errands and believe me, hearing Nancy Mitford's dulcet tones on my surround sound makes going on a grocery run seem a lot more civilized.

If you haven't seen the movie "Birth", Netflix it immediately. If you have seen the movie, then you're in a special little club with me because you know how incredible this score is by French composer Alexandre Desplat. Remember the film's opening scene in snowy Central Park? I must have listened to that song ("Prologue") a thousand times and I still can't get enough of it. Ethereal, dreamy and enigmatic, this album has a classic beauty that stays -and stays - and stays with you. (Note: It's not a new soundtrack, but it was new to me this year.)

My husband Piero and I listened to this on a drive up to San Francisco a few weeks ago and it's the only time I've ever not complained about spending six hours on the I-5. I actually couldn't wait to get back in the car on Sunday for the return trip home. Keith's tales of sex, drugs, rock and roll will keep your mouth hanging open and Johnny Depp's velvety tones add a sly drollery that make his portion of the narration very, very funny.


A friend of mine gave me this linen tea chest a few years ago and I had such fun working my way through the enticing (and generous) variety of teas inside. For the longest time, they were out of stock, but no more. And they've reissued it in red just in time for the holidays.

This delicate pink-wrapped libation has been making frequent appearances at The Kenmore Arms lately. It's festive, it's light and it's perfect for dinner parties or just sitting down to watch new episodes of "House Hunters International" (is anyone as obsessed as my husband and I are with that show?).

Add one of these edible hibiscus flowers to a glass of sparkling wine or champagne and watch as it unfolds its crimson glory. It's been quite a hit with our friends, especially as the flower tastes not unlike red licorice.

I had a champagne cocktail at the Tower Bar recently and the drop of bitters the bartender added to it had the most seductive scent of cardamom. My search for a similar tincture resulted in the discovery of this handmade line of organic bitters devised from old world recipes. Flavors include lavender, chocolate, orange and celery...and yes, cardamom.


1-14 February, 2011

If your pockets are slightly deeper, then I can't imagine a more transformative adventure for the spirit than discovering Mother India with celebrated "Slow Love" author Dominique Browning. I've been fortunate enough to visit India twice and I still think about it every day. I've also been fortunate enough to meet Dominique recently at a book signing and she was just as warm, gracious and funny as I hoped she would be. The combination of these two forces sounds pretty life-changing, don't you think?


Jennifer Ament said...

Oh Lisa!! You and I are very similar in our tastes,my friend...I cannot wait to go and get some of your recommended books! When really I should be thinking about my loved ones gifts, I always seem to grab a few for myself! Shame on me! xo-Jen

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Jennifer: I know, it's sooo hard, isn't it? Glad I'm not alone in always wanting to chuck a few things in my cart for myself, too..! xx

LPC said...

I'm reading Wolf Hall right now, and will make sure to invest enough time to get myself really into it. Thank you.

Julie Anne Rhodes said...

Even though I don't drink - I must throw a party for my friends who do. That hibiscus flower in the champagne is too divine to ignore! I lurve your style. xo

quintessence said...

What a fabulous collection of (potential) gifts. I'm with Jennifer - and evidently you too - the problem with tempting lists like this is they frequently end up being one for me, one for my recipient. Had several on my list but several were also new to me. Thanks for the enlightenment!

Reggie Darling said...

What a marvelous Christmas gift of a list you have put together for us. Thank you. Speaking of Mr. Wondrich, do try Ransom Old Tom Gin, which I recently discovered. It is made by a small distillary in Oregon, inspired by the gins of pre-prohibition, and was mixed with the input of Wondrich, who consulted on it. Delicious and unexpectedly rich woody. Reggie

DM said...

Problem: Solved!

I've been looking for orange bitters forever!

And that BBC audio is going straight in my personal collection...thanks!

Jessica Thor-Miller said...

The books! THE BOOKS! After having a bit of a quarrel with the boyfriend last weekend over my Virgo perfectionist tendencies, I believe the Mary Randolph Carter book is a must. I wonder if it's too late to slip it onto my Christmas list? I'm currently reading Keith's autobiography and gaining a rather overdeveloped forearm from carrying the tome everywhere I go.


Bart Boehlert said...

Hi Lisa, I love your list here, so much to read and do!
I wonder, have you read the Duchess of Devonshire's book? I would like to get that too.
Happy Holidays,

Emma said...

Lisa, what a coincidence! I'm reading Must You Go right now too, and am slowing down as I come to the end...

Vava (aka Virginia) said...

What a GIFT this list is to all of us!!!! I was thrilled as I have two recipients that are impossible to thril with the "perfect gift." Thank you for making my Christmas much merrier!!! xoxo

Hausfrau said...

You've given me some great ideas! I recently bought A Perfectly Kept House, and I love it as much as I knew I would.

Oh, and since you mentioned House Hunters International--my family will be featured on the brand-new Jan. 1 episode. I hope we won't look like complete fools!

Captcha below: "dippy"--hmmmm.

Unknown said...

Your list is very close to mine! And yet so many inspirations from your book titles! Actually just ordered
'Must You go?' And I love 'A Perfect House is the Sign of a Misspent Life'....I'll get the BBC audios! Great tip!

Happy holidays to you!
Bloomsbury Life has been on my Best of 2010 list....

xoxo Victoria

Acanthus and Acorn said...

I knew there would holiday cheer waiting in all forms for me here! As a fellow recovering perfectionist, I probably need the first book, but truly want all the others! I could go broke reading your blog, but certainly will have had a ton of fun in the process!

Loretta a/k/a Mrs. Pom said...

What an exquisite list! So ironic to see the listing for the BBC. I just listened to the BBC Bloomsbury Writers, and the first thing I thought of was, "I wonder if A Bloomsbury Life knows about this"! Listening to the voice of Virginia Woolf as you drive to work is quite the thrill! I am off to order the design books and the soundtrack. Thanks for sharing your lovely life and taste with us.

helen tilston said...

What temptation! I want all of your suggestions. Thank you for providing the perfect gift for a friend,( who is as she self proclaims an AngloBanglo..born in Calcutta of English parentage) Skye Gyngell's book.Will definitely visit the Nursery when next in England. Now I am going to order the hibiscus flowers for New Years. Gratefully yours, Helen Tilston

Unknown said...

Forgot: Do you want to join in my first give away?
Check it out, if you have a moment!!

Laura Trevey said...

Great picks! I definitely want to get the 1st one ~~


Slim Paley said...

What a great list Lisa!
and thank you for reminding me of the first book- I saw it in our local book store in Montecito and forgot to add it to my own "Wish List"- it's a book I'd love to have thought of myself! I'm the messiest, most disorganized Virgo on the planet
Wolf Hall- I gave to my father for Christmas last year. He said he didn't have the patience to keep up with all the characters so I've nicked it back. Sadly, there is so little free time to read these days. I saw those little blooming flowers in our brand new "Bevmo" store, but was worried they looked too syrupy- I'm going to try them now, on your rec. "Restoring a House in the City" sounds fun and I'd buy "My Favourite Ingredients" just based on the book cover alone!
I always love your choices and taste, so many thanks again and Top of The Season to You and your family!

mosaicology said...

This is an amazing post. We need to read more and blog less.

Paul said...

What's your Christmas destination this year?

CashmereLibrarian said...

Thank you! Wonderful recommendations all. Now that I've wrapped up the semester and have some time off, I look forward to exploring your list!

Sarah Greenman said...

Marvelous post!

Jet said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Reggie Darling: Will try the Ransom Old Tom Gin. Feel sure my husband would love it. Thanks awfully for the suggestion! xx

The Hausfrau: I am so excited to watch your episode on January 1st -- it's bound to be wonderful, I'm sure! Thank you for the heads-up. xx

hintstoladytravellers said...

Let me just say that if (when!) you finally make it to Petersham Nurseries you won't be disappointed. I had a very special lunch there with two of my best friends: rose petal bellinis and a salt cod brandade that was so delicately delicious I almost wept.

24 Corners said...

This is going to be my shopping list (for me) in 2011...maybe a little for 2010, there's still time!
Thank you for intriguing me this past year with so many delightful must read's, must taste's, must sip's, must visit's, and all the must're a wealth of wonderful information and we are so blessed that you share it all with us!
Mostly though...thank you for your brilliant writing and all the rabbit holes you've ventured down...taking us along with you!

Wishing you and your 'men' a very Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with much love & happiness!
xoxo Jessica~

Modern Country Lady said...

What a host of gorgeous suggestions.. I wish I has seen this all I have asked for for Christmas is a freestanding Kitchenaid... hahahaha :-) O dear !!

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas

Lucindaville said...

Punch, My Favourite Ingredients, Marchesa Casati, The spoken Word...even Scrappy's Bitters are high on my list!

Relyn Lawson said...

I absolutely adored this post and spent quite a bit of time on my library's website requesting most of them. Thank you.

bigBANG studio said...

I'm living in Rajasthan this year (to Focus on Marriage and Make Art, respectively), so I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of Slow Love! I'm so curious about other Westerner's reactions to life in India.

Also, Lisa, you might be interested in some of the artist residencies here in India...come on over for a quick look at the place I'm working now if you'd like (they would DIE over your loom work!); it's an old spice warehouse that's been converted into a group of gorgeous studios for mostly Indian and some international artist. Working here has been one of the more eye-opening, enriching experiences I've had as an artist, period.

xo! and Happy New Year!

StuckInABook said...

So late to this post, to say how much I love Birth. I saw it on my 19th birthday, and thought it was brilliant - have seen a couple of times since; must rewatch now. That opening scene in Central Park is very striking.


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