Monday, November 30, 2009

Kiss the Cook

As I said, on Thanksgiving I have few duties. I set the table, I buy the ornaments and I make dessert. Sometimes I don't get to make dessert, but that is another story for another day.

This year Mr. Blandings was hunting for recipes for pumpkin creme brulee, but I intervened. "You know your mother really just wants pumpkin pie. I think we should make her a pumpkin pie." "Will you make your pumpkin chiffon pie?" "Um. Sure. You know that recipe is a little wonky."

The recipe comes from a book that I started during a period of passing interest in cooking during my girlhood. (My friend, Stu, is laughing at the misspelling of "abbreviations." She had a front row seat to the year that immediately followed my tenure in a progressive school that found spelling irrelevant. Turns out it wasn't.) Thank heavens for the abbreviations page as these are clearly incredibly obscure shorthands.

Mr. Blandings loves flipping through this book, "What in the world is Coke Salad?" Really, I have no idea. I have absolutely no memory of Coke Salad, though Grandmother Rassmussen's Doughnuts and Five Cup Salad are crystal clear. "Seems you had a bit of a sweet tooth." Not had, have. Still, there is not one savory dish in the book.

Both my grandmother and my mother made Nana's Pumpkin Chiffon Pie. When I made it for the first time as an adult, I was skeptical that my mother actually made this recipe. It calls for the use of a double boiler. I have no recollection of my mother ever using anything as sophisticated as a double boiler. Still, I forged ahead.

There are all kinds of weird things about this recipe. It calls for three egg whites, but later refers to beating the yolks. I have to guess a little. Oddly, the pie turns out great.

Mr. Blandings is particularly charmed by my review at the bottom of the recipe, "Delicious!!!!!!!" "Seven exclamation points. You must have really liked it."

Which reminded me of my copy of Dorothy Rogers's The House in My Head. The book is a wonderful, well, not peek, but full-on expose of a couple building a very thoughtful house. Even if the house they built is not your style, the effort that went into it will garner your respect.

At the back of the book is a collection of Rogers's recipes. In my copy, the book's original owner has written notes on the recipes. "This is perfectly elegant prepared and served in fresh tomato shells." "The flavor is so mild and delicate, the sauce kills it." "This had a rare and tangy flavor we both liked."

Charmingly, I feel like Mrs. Sandy was writing these notes for me. Not the notes she has made of substitutions and how to reduce the recipe, not the cook's tricks, but these reviews feel like something she was providing for the cook who came next. For me. These are absolutely delicious.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


We wrested control of Thanksgiving from Mr. Blandings's mother several years ago. We had a beautiful meal at a lovely table the last time she hosted, but the entire evening was peppered with comments like, "It's so much trouble," and, "Next time maybe we should just go out." As she apologized about the pile of dishes I was gladly tackling (when you don't cook, you should clean up) she said, "I noticed at the grocery store that you can just tell them the number of people and they will make the whole thing. You can pick it up until noon." In a moment of pique, up to my elbows in soap suds I said, "Even better, we could just eat at the cafe tables by the deli and throw the whole mess in the trash when we're finished." Mr. Blandings, ever even, intervened, "Mom, you've done a lot of work for a lot of years, maybe next year we will have Thanksgiving at our house."

There is a time worn tale about Mr. Blandings, who endured many dressed up and formal Thanksgivings at his grandmother's, wondering, "Why can't I have Thanksgiving on my own table?" And now he does. It is the best holiday for cooking. It allows him to plot and plan and test and taste. Our Thanksgiving dinners are not large, but they are homey.

Thanksgiving at my dad's house is very casual and very big. My step-mother comes from a large family and most of her siblings and their spouses and children are there. In addition, my step-mother is one of those women who collects people, so there are usually five or six holiday strays who join in as well. The first Thanksgiving after we were married, Mr. Blandings and I went to Texas to spend Thanksgiving with my folks. Because of the number of people coming in from out of town, the last couple of times that I had been home I had been farmed out. It just seemed that if we were coming home, we should stay at home.

My dad picked us up at the airport and we caught up on who was coming and what was cooking. "We're staying at the house, right?" "Uh, yeah." But there was something. A hesitation. A slight narrowing of his eyes. As we pulled down the windy street and approached the house my pulse began to jump. There was an RV in the driveway. There was an RV in the driveway. "What's that?" "Why don't you just leave your bags in the car for now; I'll bring them in in a bit."

Seething. Furious. Nearly unable to speak, and frankly, a little embarrassed, I led Mr. Blandings into the house. "I simply cannot believe..." But I turned to him and his eyes were sparkling, "You were the one who said you had to stay at the house. Besides, I've never slept in an RV before." No kidding.

So, our Thanksgivings, the Thanksgivings on Mr. Blandings's table, fall somewhere in between. We are not in sweats, but neither are we in coat and tie. He cooks the meal and I bake the pie and set the table. We have a Thanksgiving tradition of giving each person at our table a Christmas ornament with dessert. It kicks off the next holiday. I'm in charge of these too, though this year I forgot. I've had a couple of big projects in the works and, well, I forgot. Until yesterday when I remembered.

I dashed out to find flowers and ornaments. The last couple of days have been fraught with an odd frustration which has led to an unusual holiday ennui. Dissatisfied with autumnal flowers, I stood at the florists with my arms crossed until I left apologetic and empty handed. The ornament search, which is usually a delight, was illogically frustrating. How could there not be a bear ornament to celebrate the youngest's part in a school play? What could possibly take its place? All was lost.

And so it went until, home again, I began to bring linens from the closet and china from the cabinet. "It's so much trouble," I fretted. "No one notices but me anyway." I set the entire table on a slightly rumpled tablecloth. Not badly rumpled. Slightly. Who would care?

And since yesterday I had been walking past it. Not only un-ironed, the cloth hung a little longer on the right side than the left. Before I went to bed I tucked it behind a chair.

Up early, I stood in the dining room in the dim light with my coffee cupped in both hands. Nonsense. Completely ridiculous to unload all the plates and silver and glasses. Folly. No one would even know. And then I began to stack the place settings on the window seat in the bay and pull the cloth and napkins to take them upstairs to iron them. It does matter. It matters to me, even if the members of the fraternity with whom I reside never notice. This is just where I want us to be, somewhere between a coat and tie and sweats. Somewhere between the country club and an RV.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Whether your Thanksgiving is filled with sterling and squab

or Cornell and carry-out,

we are wishing you

a very happy Thanksgiving.

All images House and Garden, November 1986; consistently, perpetually delicious photography by Oberto Gili. The silver pieces are French, commissioned for the Portuguese court in the 18th century.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Corinthian Hall

A few weeks ago my editor at Spaces, Zim Loy, called to ask if I could bring a couple of my chairs for a shoot. The images would accompany my latest article on collecting, um, chairs.

Absolutely, sure, fine, delighted, where?

"Kansas City Museum," was her reply. I furrowed my brow and Zim read the silence correctly, not a dropped call, but confusion. "You've been there, right?"

"Well, no." "You've never been to the Kansas City Museum?! The Long estate? You'll die."

"Oh. Ok." Robert A. Long made his fortune in lumber long ago. I had been to Longview Farms, which was the Long family's country retreat. Terrific. This would probably be good. I googled it and off I went.

The Beaux Arts home was completed in 1910. It was a private residence for 24 years. After Robert Long and his wife died and his children were hither and yon the house languished for a while until it was purchased to serve as a museum.

The black and white images here show the house when the Longs owned it; the later photos are of the house before the rooms were converted to exhibit space.

The building is currently undergoing an extensive renovation. It was certainly amazing to see it. I did not take pictures while we were there, but you can see the house in its current state here.

One of the initial phases of the renovation was the restoration and protection of the stained glass, which is wonderful, but I could not stop looking at the plaster work. Stunning. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.

For more information on the Long family, the house and the museum check out the Friends of the Kansas City Museum site here. Hard hat tours are available for members.

Images courtesy of the Kansas City Museum.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Britt Invasion

I had coffee with a local home reporter, Stacy Downs, this week and we were talking about design trends from 2009 (be on the lookout for Stacy's article in the Kansas City Star; she is rocking the House and Home section.) Stacy noted the preponderance of black walls which sent me digging through my files.

I have several features from the late 70's with walls clad in inky black, many including punches of white.

One of my favorites is a Kansas City home designed by Tom Britt that appeared in Architectural Digest in November of 1978. Just as I had finished scanning the images I heard the mail drop in the slot. Thunk. Heavy and hard, I knew a magazine would await. And, then whose work appeared in Vogue December 2009?

Mr. Britt, again. This time using black and white as accents in Alexis Swanson's and Trevor Traina's drawing room. Old dog. New tricks.

Photography from AD, Russell McMasters. Photography from Vogue, Francois Halard.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Things We Love

At one point I emailed a fellow blogger whom I admire a great deal. Frustrated and antsy, dissatisfied and disgruntled I lamented every room. "I love everything, but what is wrong?" "I think you need more stuff," or something similar came the reply.

Hmmm...yes. Good stuff. It needs to be culled and collected, gathered and grouped. Never a fan of minimalism, I practiced it for a long time as it did not seem wise to place good things in the reach of curious, and often sticky, fingers. But here, the cup does not runneth over, but the vintage is so good.

Images from The Way We Live with the Things We Love by Stafford Cliff and photographer Gilles de Chabeneix.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Out and About - Barbara Cosgrove Lamps

I admire so much this style of interior.

Clean and clear and graphic.

Lots of black and white.

But left to my own devices I end up with lots of color and plenty of pattern and, well, Legos, but that is not all my fault.

This beautifully edited spot is the home of artist and lamp designer Barbara Cosgrove.

It was a treat to see her home in Spaces last year and it was a treat to meet her and have a tour of her showroom last week.

You can see a few of Barbara's lamps here, but check her site to see the complete selection.

It was so interesting to see her work space. Eco-friendly shades, below, are one new offering.

But it was the shelves filled with wonderful finds that Barbara uses for inspiration that piqued my interest.

We will have to stay-tuned to see if these end up on the production line soon.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Less is Never More, Less is Obviously Less

Several weeks ago a couple of readers emailed to ask, "Why would a blogger pull his blog?!" It seemed Maxminimus was gone. I had some thoughts on why one would give up blogging, but had to sheepishly admit that I had not hit this gentleman's site.

Just when I was just starting to miss him, odd as we had never met, he returned. He weighs in on clothes and books and hotel rooms far and wide and tells charming tales of his daughter. Pretty often there are wonderful rugs. Carpets, not hair pieces. Actually, I think I'm supposed to be looking at the socks and shoes. Anyway, this weekend, he posted this wonderful staircase chocked full of old Vanity Fair caricatures from Birkhall, the former home of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

It looks like there is a piece of molding that runs between the rows of prints. And I'm gobsmacked by the way some of the pieces are framed to accommodate the slant of the stairs.

Queen me.

Images via Maxminimus. The post title is a quote from Michelle Nussbaumer in Elle Decor, November 2009.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I'm Such a Nerd

Is it possible that the installation of a carpet runner would offer such joy? Can you imagine your heart skipping, not a beat, but just skipping?

That is how I felt this week. I snapped the pictures right away before some boy tramples it with muddy shoes or throws up on it or whatever is eventually going to happen that will make it look like the rest of our stuff. Rosie was skittish at first, but now I think appreciates the cushy tread.

Oh, happy day.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Paint the Town

Rose Tarlow says in her book, The Private House, that she can obsess about fabric. She often drives around with it on the dash of her car so she can think about it some more once she leaves the office. I shouldn't drive around with fabric samples in my car as they usually end up trampled by soccer cleats. But, I leave books open on my desk for weeks at a time. Picking things apart. Turning them over.

I've been stuck on this image (top) of Albert Hadley's living room. Arresting in its composition, but also remarkable in the use of this painted canvas. It's just painted blue. Anyone could do that.

I had a friend ask me to paint canvases for her like the ones in my hallway. I assured her that even her children could do that for her. She disagreed. But the panel, top, and the screen, above, and the chairs, below, anyone could do that.

It makes us copy cats, of course, and not design legends, but I never had "design legend" on my list of aspirations anyway so no harm done.

We can draw a lot of inspiration from the high-end magazines even if our budgets are low-end.

All images from Style and Substance, The Best of Elle Decor. Photography from top, Fernando Bengoechea, Simon Upton, William Waldron, Pieter Estersohn and Eric Piasecki. While all the other images could be translated with basically a coat of paint, the bottom image did inspire me to buy a (not inexpensive) sink. I had seen it originally in Pastis and was giddy to find it sourced in Elle Decor; it solved the problem of three boys and one sink quite well.

Its publisher has decided to focus its energy on Elle Decor while retiring Met Home. I subscribed to Met Home and enjoyed many of its features over the years. Best wishes to its staff members.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

At Last Sweet Mystery of Life

I've scoured and searched and begged hither and yon for pictures of George Terbovich's work.

I've hit pay dirt a few times, but George is not all that interested in being published. Not his style.

Speaking of style, I've seen four projects on which George has worked and each is quite distinct. I think I know his personal style, but he is not a designer that one hires for a particular look.

Which you can now see for yourself as he has put a glimpse of his portfolio on-line along with great stuff from his shop.

Click here to see the portfolio; here for the shop.

All images George Terbovich Design. The portfolio is arranged by room, so I have done a little match-making myself. These images may or may not be related.