Monday, September 28, 2009

The Time of Falling Leaves

Back home in the Finger Lakes it is the time of falling leaves. It is a time when all the landscape seems touched by a broad Indian paint brush - gold, orange, and red. This land was once the hunting grounds of the great Seneca chiefs, Red Jacket and Cornplanter.

At the lake, September was always the time to close the cottage for the winter. Overhead flocks of migrating geese would honk their way down the lake, as the grown-ups busied themselves shutting off the water and taking in the boat dock. We kids had other things on our minds. We carefully raked, and laid out the rooms of leaf houses. Later in the day, we piled the leaves into high stacks - just right for running leaps and jumps, or for playing hide and seek. When it got close to dark, my father would rake it all together and set it alight. Together we would watch as fragrant burnt leaf offerings made their way into the night sky.

In town, we kids skipped down the side walks of tree-named streets: Oak, Chestnut, Elm and Maple. Our eyes were ever on the lookout for that perfect leaf specimen, to pin onto Mrs. Collins’ bulletin board. My secret retreat in those early years was the ancient grape arbor at the back of the house. Tucked under its leafy blanket, the scent of ripening grapes foretold the coming harvest, and I would dream of carefree days of apple orchards, homemade cider and moonlit hayrides.

Many leaves later, I am still at it. Each autumn a leaf-longing overtakes me. I keep watch for the first leaves drifting to earth, always searching for that special one.

Still Skipping,

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Big Sur's Artist - Emile Norman

Giant Redwoods, Big Sur 2009

Emile Norman 1918-2009

This American Artist/Designer, a giant in his field, who lived and worked in Big Sur California, passed away September 24, 2009, at age 91. For a glimpse into his world, see his website and the PBS documentary, Emile Norman: By His Own Design, 2006.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

National Blanket Week: A Bedtime Story

Let me tell you a bedtime story.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, before duvets, comforters, eiderdown, and doonas, there was “National Blanket Week.”

My undercover work has revealed the following information: National Blanket Week was a fall promotion of the Nashua Manufacturing Company, of Nashua, New Hampshire. This company which operated from 1823 to 1945, was once the largest maker of woolen blankets in the world.

Do you have a favorite blanky or blanket story?

Here is my personal list of blanket honorees:

  • A baby blanket – one pink for my daughter, and one blue for my son;
  • A blanket of leaves – a Technicolor gift from of Mother Nature;
  • A beach blanket – packed in the car, always at the ready;
  • Beach Blanket Bingo - see Annette and Frankie on this Youtube clip;
  • An electric blanket – invented in 1936, comes in handy during Northern winters;

  • A blanket of flowers – à la Carmel Valley style;
  • A blanket for flowers – the impoverished 17th century Dutch tulip grower who covered his precious plants with his only blanket;

  • A picnic blanket – ‘thee and me’ alfresco dining anytime and anywhere;
  • A horse blanket – a staple of the stable on Mornington Peninsula;
  • A doggie blanket – dogs need blankys too;
  • A blanket of snow –a fluffy white cover;
  • A pig in a blanket- retro kids’ cuisine;
  • A security blanket – everyone needs one these days;
  • A blanket fort - over the clothesline at the cottage;
  • A blanket of fog – toujours in Carmel-by-the-Sea;
  • A blank(et) check - nice work if you can get it;

  • A tartan blanket - plaids and tartans were a specialty of a great-grandfather, who worked in the mills as a weaver;
  • A Native American blanket - the Navajo blanket my grandparents received a as a gift on their wedding day and now hanging on my wall;
  • A boy named Blanket – thankfully not named “Blanky.”

Never having had my own “blanky”, I have been making up for lost time. From the size of my collection, it would appear that I suffer from princess-in-the-pea – or “a gal can never have too many blankets” syndrome. It all began with blankets of the heavy woolen Scottish plaid stadium variety. My latest additions are vintage plaid woolen blankets, stacks of which I found orphaned in Australian op-shops.

The quality and pastel plaids of these lambs wool or Merino sheep blankets are similar to their Welsh cousins, and less costly at around $10 each.

I recently re-established contact with an old acquaintance from my NYC Pier Antiques Show days. Always very gracious and complimentary when she would visit my booth, Laura Fisher is one of the premier New York antique dealers specializing in exquisite antique textiles, including vintage blankets. You might have read one of her many books on quilts, or seen her on Martha. She has a new space called Fisher Heritage at 305 East 61st street, NYC. Long a blanket collector, her current stock includes antique red plaid and checkerboard patterned woolens, and homespuns. She also handles colorful and whimsical Beacon blankets. Here are a few of my favorites:

(The following three images of Beacon Blankets, Courtesy of Laura Fisher, Fisher Heritage)


Coney Island


Snug as a bug,

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dancing Chez Clint's

Diana Vreeland once said: "When I discovered dancing, I learned to dream. "

I have been a dancer my whole life. But never more than this past Friday, when we joined a hundred or so Carmel neighbors dancing the night away at Clint Eastwood's Mission Ranch. It is Monterey Jazz Festival weekend, and the old patio barn at the Ranch rocked to jazz, blues and sixies/seventies tunes played by a group of talented local high school musicians and their teacher. When my good-natured husband tired of the dance, my enthusiastic partner then became a trés elegant gal of seventy or so. All in red from her beret to her socks and shoes, how very Vreeland she was in her choice of color and in her love of dance! The evening ended with chants of "Bring Back the Barn!" So the dance gig may become a regular thing.

Walking back in the dark, we looked up at the sky and could see the Big Dipper for the first time in ten years (since we have been living in the Southern Hemisphere). This beacon guided us home.

In a twist on D.V.'s musing I would add: "I dream of dance, and I dance to dream!"


P.S. The photograph of the can-can dancers is from my collection of antique images. It is by a forties photographer named Tilley. Look closely at the dancers, as they are composed of vegetables-note the jolie cauliflower costumes.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Keeping Them Down On The Farm

They grow them “BIG” in California! Here on the Central Coast they celebrate their diverse agriculture heritage. Lettuce is king in Salinas; artichokes in Castroville; strawberries in Watsonville; and garlic in Gilroy.

Down in the Valley, Carmel Valley that is, Earthbound Farm is queen of the organic harvest. Twenty-five years ago, Drew and Myra Goodman, two transplanted New Yorkers, started their business with only 2 ½ acres of heirloom raspberries and a small farm stand. Today, Earthbound is the largest grower of organic produce in the United States. You probably have seen their packaged baby salad greens at your local grocery store.

Season after season at Earthbound they serve up a bounty of organic produce and related activities for all. This includes “chef walks”, like a recent foray through the fields lead by an Indian curry chef from near-by Quail Lodge. Regular “bug walks” find children buzzing about, and releasing helpful ladybugs into the Farm’s environment.

At the entrance: A burro pulling a tractor, or is it vice-versa?

Fifties-era metal outdoor chair with a tufted cushion of assorted grasses.

You say tomato, I say tomatoe. Either way, it’s heirloom and it’s delicious!

All the usual suspects are in the herb garden. The line-up also includes some lesser known relatives: Hi Ho Silver Thyme, PA Dutch Tea Thyme, Spanish Tarragon, Red Rubin Basil, Kentucky Colonel Mint, and too many others to mention.

Snip your own! More folksy, than Madison Avenue, the signage is simple and colorful. It tempts the palate and the eye.

A blooming business in sunflowers and artichoke florets.

Savor the seasons and protect the earth’s bounty,

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Big Sur Style - Chapter One

Big Sur is calling us.

Down the long and winding road that leads from Carmel to Big Sur we go. This is the land of Kerouac and Miller, Adams and Weston and countless other writers, artists and free thinkers. Though separated geographically by only 26 miles, two places couldn’t be more different. Big Sur is raw and turbulent. It’s the wild-child, to the calm, behaved, and well-groomed Carmel.

Our first stop is the fabled Big Sur Inn, the thirties-era creation of the eccentric Helmut Deetjen and his wife Helen. This historic compound of cabins and a café/restaurant is nestled in Castro Canyon. The overall rustic style is reminiscent of Deetjen’s native Norway. Both the architecture and surrounding landscape feature imaginative and funky found elements.

Welcome to the heart of Big Sur Bohemia.

Bien Sûr! The charming gardener at Deetjen's is French.

This lounge chair carved from a tree trunk has a natural elegance.

“Kitty please come home!”

A psychedelic collage of jewel-like mosaic pieces on the wall of the old laundry shed.

The bleached vertebra of a whale found on a near-by beach is given new life as a garden ornament.

A literary corner in the cozy interior of the café decorated with memorabilia- vintage photographs, manuscripts and a sculpture bust, honors two contemporaries: the poet, Robinson Jeffers and Deetjen.

(To be continued...)

Sur la route,

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Language of Bread

Just call me “Little Miss Sunbeam Bread”. When I was little, this doll-like icon with the yellow Betty Grable curls and plump cheeks was my ideal of girlish beauty. But when it came to choosing my “pain quotidien”, it was Wonder Bread everyday.

Ironically, I was raised in a family of good bakers. Each fall and winter, Aunt Margaret’s Vermont kitchen would be full of the scent of her homemade donuts. Grandma Goodrich was queen of the pies; and one year she taught me the tricks of the trade. The result of our first collaboration, miniature sour cherry pies, was the gourmet hit of the church Strawberry Festival. Grandpa Goodrich, on special occasions, would channel his French/Canadian ancestry, and serve up his famous crepes. Aunt Lois, a Southerner, introduced me to the delights of Sally Lunn bread and seven layer cake. However, no one in our family baked bread until along came “moi.”

Once a week, the children and I would take down the big yellow mixing bowl, flour-up, and produce four loaves of bread. The hands-on favorite was Challah or Sabbath loaf (House and Garden’s New Cookbook, p.257). My little apprentices became expert at punching down the giant yeast puffball, and braiding the three pieces of dough into exquisitely tressed creations. Sometimes, just to put a little pizzazz into our routine, we would add raisins and a topping of sugar glaze, or grated cheese. I even attempted, and mastered Julia’s French baguette recipe.

When we went to live in Europe, I hung up my apron because there was so much good local bread to be found. How could I possibly compete with the brot from the bakkerijs in Belgium, or the pain from the boulangeries in France and Switzerland! When in Paris, we would always beat a path to Poilâne on Cherche-Midi, for some of the best rustic loaves and apple tarts ever. Back home in Belgium, we discovered that the same local monasteries so praised for their beer, also made heavenly bread.

European style bread-making has even come to my hometown in Upstate New York. The new kid on the block is Dustin Cutler, whose shop, Normal Bread, is located at 111 Washington Street, Geneva, NY. Dustin apprenticed to Richard Rice at the North Head Bakery in Grand Manan, New Brunswick, and has been in his present location for two years. He uses only 100% organic flour, and almost no sugar or oils. The bread is fermented overnight, and then baked in a four deck steam tube oven.

Et voilà, out comes his crusty signature Levain de pâte and assorted other breads. (Photos courtesy of Doug Reilly/Dandelion Empire.)

Bread culture and history is celebrated around the globe. For a list of bread museums, see (Use the search term "bread" under Food Museums.)

For example, Save the Bakehouses is a unique movement to protect and preserve the old baking huts of Belgium. These historic structures are disappearing quickly. Thus far, 2903 examples have been inventoried. For a complete list and slide show see:

It’s a Wonder-ful World,

Labor Day at the Lake

Have a seat in one of the old white chairs at the lake.
Savor the final days of summer.

Happy Labor Day!