Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Novel Dinner

Come over for dinner at 6:30pm, we told our friends. That way, we can have as much time together as possible. With the kids back in school and everyone finally in the same town again, we can sit down properly and catch up on everybody's summer.

Who's ready for another cucumber martini?
(All photos by LBG.)

Here's the menu I taped to the front door. Did I mention the dinner had a literary theme?

(Created with my Bamboo pen.)

My friend Lucy hosted a wonderful potluck literary dinner recently and I was keen to come up with my own version. I made the same dish I brought to her house, my ridiculously easy "Thomas Hardy" salad, inspired by the wild, earthy Wessex landscape in The Return of the Native

Thomas Hardy Salad  
by A Bloomsbury Life

1 cup cooked quinoa 
1 package wild arugula
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 diced seedless cucumber
1 sliced avocado
1 package edible nasturtium flowers

Toss all ingredients with mustard vinaigrette.  

I asked my husband Piero to come up with titles for his own dishes -- guacamole, roasted salmon and root vegetables -- and I love his choices, don't you?

For dessert, there were two options, one vegan and one decidedly not. For an egg-and-dairy-free friend, I made jam drop cookies that I dubbed "Walden Cookies" for their nutty simplicity (recipe HERE). The second dessert I named "Lady Chatterley's Cake" because it was a highbrow/lowbrow mix of chocolate and dark Guinness ale --  and it really did ooze with sensuality (recipe HERE). 

Listening through the window while getting dinner ready

Tantalizing bits of conversation wafted inside as Piero and I set up the kitchen for a family-style buffet. After a long summer of not doing much besides writing, it felt so wonderful to entertain again. Good friends, good food, good conversation -- as Sybille Bedford wrote in her novel Jigsaw, these are "the pointillist touches" that make life sublime.

  Boy, girl, boy, girl, please

What I treasure about having people over for dinner is the opportunity we get to actually look each other in the eye and talk about absolutely nothing in particular. There's no agenda, there's no plan, and for a brief moment in time, there's no hurry. There are a million definitions of living well, but to me, sharing a meal with friends is way up there.

"Wherever else our evening was spent would be a sense of elation,
 of being en fete, of sharing the pleasure of the moment."

Sybille Bedford, Jigsaw

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Seven Cool Things to Happify Your Brain

Brains need to be nudged every now and then.
Otherwise, they're apt to wind up in front of the television watching god-knows-which incarnation of a housewives reality show.
Not good.

I confess I'm still operating under a slight summer hangover -- which I am unable to blame on caffeine or sugar anymore because I'm on day 16 of Clean. (Apparently, I was really toxic!) Below, a few things to clear your brain, jumpstart your imagination, and reinvigorate your soul.  

1. Watch it.
This video directed by Columbine Goldsmith will give you a case of the shivers in a great way. Starring the glamorous European owners of an enchanted country house in Virginia, it's a delicious manifesto to living creatively. I don't quite know how to describe it...  part Arcadian fairytale, part homage to eccentricity, it has to be seen to be believed. I'm just going to say it: Beatrix Ost is my new role model.
(If the video's not coming up on your RSS feed, click HERE to see it.)

2. Drink it.
Full disclosure: Yerba maté can be an acquired taste. I inherited this cult favorite brand from a friend who thought it had the flavor profile of "front lawn." She's not totally wrong -- it does have an earthy green tea vibe that conjures up the countryside, but on third sip, I started to get into it. (Vanilla almond milk helps too.) Personally, I love that it's rich in antioxidants, gives you that caffeine "focus" without the jitters, and boosts metabolism by helping you burn calories more effectively.

3. Follow it.
I love Instagram, but find it overwhelming at times -- who should I follow? --  so I appreciate it when someone finds a great feed and then gets the word out. Emily Blincoe's poetic still-lifes on Instagram are nothing short of genius. Her encapsulations of candy, farm vegetables and people artfully illustrate that we are what surrounds us.  Someone get this woman a book. Or at least a major ad campaign.

4. Bookmark it.
Taking photographs has never been easier, so there's no excuse for poorly composed, out-of-focus shots anymore, especially if you're beaming them to the world. A Beautiful Mess has some great tips on using a flash vs. natural light, finding a color story or composition, when to crop, shooting vignettes and more. Below, a few of my favorite tutorials: 

Tips for Lifestyle Photos
Tips for Food Photography
Tips for Indoor Photos
Photographing Your Home
Ten Things Not to Do
5. Read it.
I bought this book for myself and then made my eleven year old son read it too because I think you're never too young to look at the world through a different lens. Basically, it's a joyful exhortation to dream bigger, try new things, take risks and ignore the herd. (If that's not 6th grade, I don't know what is.) What makes it different from the rest of the books in this genre is that Paul Arden is an ad guy so his examples are short, creative and powerful -- like a quick shot of espresso rather than a carafe of French drip.  Read it in an hour and see how differently you feel.
(Available HERE and HERE)

6. Upload it.
Fancy having a free personal trainer who tells you how far you've run, how many calories you've burned and keeps track of all your workouts? Did I mention it's free? I uploaded Map My Fitness onto my iPhone this summer and have developed quite a soft spot for the kindly woman who gives me an update every time I run another mile -- in fact, sometimes I think I keep on running because of her. Map My Fitness also has a GPS tracker that shows you your real-time route, and seeing that little red line get longer and longer is strangely satisfying.

(Map My Fitness app HERE)

7. Make it.
Chances are you know about this blog already -- Food 52, the brainchild of cookery writers Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs  -- but if you don't, today's your lucky day. Loaded with beautiful photos, well-thought-out recipes and nothing too hard or complicated, it's a hands-down inspirational approach to the pleasures and passions of cooking. I love their "Not Recipes" section where they teach you how to make things without -- you guessed it -- recipes.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Letting the Days Go By

How on earth did it get to be September so quickly?
Below, a recap of how I spent my three weeks of blog vacation.

*Our new garden pergola is slowly becoming a chic new destination for sunset cocktails and lazy Sunday breakfasts. Still on order: French cafe chairs, lanterns, cushions, and some trailing bougainvillea vines.

*Our dining table was a gathering place for some serious quality time with friends. 

*Our formerly-scary garage has been reinvented as a combination yoga/sewing studio (for me) and Playstation nerve center (for Luca).

(All photos by LBG.)

Actually...I did zero travelling this summer; instead, I edited my book and spent my time wandering through over sixty classic novels. But the hills around my house are an architectural treasure trove -- in an hour's hike, it's amazing how many countries you can convince yourself you've visited.

Since so much of my attention was firmly rooted indoors, I couldn't help but update a few things in my immediate sightline:

*The living room daybed is sheathed in a new French ticking stripe made by Sunbrella -- so I can't wait until the first person spills a glass of wine on it and I can sincerely tell them not to give it a second's thought. 

*My $50 flea market chair received a similar striped facelift -- along with a few vintage concert buttons so it doesn't feel too serious.

*The hall bench was recovered in a heavy gray-blue linen and then tufted to add a bit of come-hither appeal.

I didn't read all these books in the last three weeks, but I did read most of them this year.  And oh! the places I've been from my chair in the corner!

Note: If you ever decide you want to read Proust (and FYI,  it's worth it -- the characters are so comic with all of their gossiping and social-climbing and anxiety about being chic and cool -- it's very Woody Allen-ish, actually), I highly recommend these companion volumes:

*A Reader's Guide to The Remembrance of Things Past by Patrick Alexander -- Alexander is the super cool professor who makes sure you don't miss a beat (or theme, symbol, and motif). If you didn't read Proust in college, then you need this book.

*Paintings in Proust by Eric Karpeles -- In Search of Lost Time is such a visual odyssey and this book is lavishly illustrated with all the paintings Proust writes about. It's the next best thing to being there.

*Monsieur Proust by Celeste Albaret -- the tell-all memoir by his personal maid -- and she knew everything.

(And yes, I know Alain de Botton's book on Proust is there, too, but ehhhhh...it didn't move me.)

You know the Talking Heads song that goes:

Letting the days go by, water flowing underground,
Letting the days go by, Once in a lifetime...

Well, that's what I tried to do. Our summer involved a whole lot of nothing that somehow added up to everything.

*and paying for it*
Oh, but there were a lot of desserts this summer: home-made berry crumbles, blondie bars, trifles and more. I'm pretty sure I didn't say no to anything. Now I'm on day seven of Alejandro Junger's twenty-one day Clean cleanse and feeling -- dare I say it? -- as strong as a warrior princess from Game of Thrones. My sluggishness, foggy head and predilection for midday naps has vanished -- maybe because caffeine, sugar, white flour and dairy have too. *sigh* But to be honest, it's all good -- there's no question that my venti black coffee habit needed an intervention.

It's nice to be back.
I missed you.
What's going on? 
Are you getting ready for fall? 



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