Crazy Yet Glorious Preparation For My First Venice Carnivale

Fitting, preparing and realizing a dream…….

I know I go on about age and time passing by, but more recently I am trying to fulfill lifelong dreams – or as some would say, ticking items off the “bucket list.” One of these is attending Venice Carnivale. This all started last summer with a kind invitation from friends in Verona to join them at the famed Il Ballo Del Doge (Doge Ball.)

“Il Ballo del Doge is not a simple masquerade party: it is the “ball” par excellence, the most luxurious among the Venice Carnival events and one of the most prestigious parties in the world.” You can read more about it here.  ( Their quote, not mine – let’s see, remembering I’m from the ‘show me’ state after all! )

Of course, from a design perspective, Venice, costumes, 17th and 18th century architecture and decor – I needed no encouragement, and it is all there for the picking. 

I had originally planned on four dresses (2 more than what I needed, but….typical designer)  and set out to find suitable fabrics. Boy was I surprised to see the price tag on all those I selected – around $400 a yard! I knew I could do better, so revisited my old haunts on Seventh Ave, and secured some marvelous finds at closer to $6 a yard. These have been combined with gold lace from my previous fashion days (discovered down in my basement), and between a dressmaker in Manhattan, and a costume maker in Verona (I will spare you the exhausting logistical details of these gowns), I now have costumes, ready for the events I’ll be attending. 

The designing of costumes is a lot of fun, the amazing sources of inspiration from the 18th century is fantastic. Originally I was going the purist route for the dresses but carnivale is more than exaggerated, so I took liberties. I need to mention though that the design is only a thought, it is the craft of draping and sewing that is the real magic. I found a fabulous lady to bring my design to life, Maria Marizilli, and shall do a post when I return on this amazing perfectionist and artist – what a talent! I have yet to see my Italian costumer – the first fitting is this week in Verona.

A close up of the beading and details still in fitting stage

A detail of the sleeve

A close up of the detailed work of the lacing in the back

Me with the the masterful Maria looking at?? something

My mask for this gown – made in Italy,  and I added the beading and the ornate jeweled butterfly

The second fitting of the gown – still with pins

These are just a part of the accessories for the 18th c. ballgown. All handmade by Maria!

The divine Casanova mask from Venice that I gave to Simon for Valentine’s Day – just what every guy wants…..

Above : my little quickie video giving the spirit to my upcoming adventure.

I promise to provide you with a full update, and many photos upon my return, and will be posting on Instagram throughout!

Arrivederci, 
cr

P.S. Just two days before my departure I went to a ceremony honoring my mentor, Oscar de la Renta. For all that he represented – his talent, sense of beauty, his humanity and elegance…and as  an immigrant that realized the American Dream, USPS has created 11 beautiful stamps – one with a wonderful image of the man and 10 more featuring elements of his design. The event was emceed by Anderson Cooper and three of his very close friends spoke : former  New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, Vogue Editor Anna Wintour  and Secretary Hillary Clinton. It was quite a gathering and I was happy to be present for his honor.

Secretary Hillary Clinton speaking with great fondness of the man who dressed her throughout her Washington political career

Celebrating St Valentine’s Day in Many Ways and from Seasons Past

For years I celebrated Valentine’s Day with a flamboyant display of my culinary skills, attempting to impress the beau of the moment. Inevitably, I got carried away. One year in particular, with all my fussing in the kitchen, dinner was still not ready an hour before midnight, with the obligatory bottle of champagne getting in the way of my plans! As the candle wax melted and my feet ached from teetering on Manolo Blahnik heels all night, any pretensions to a romantic dinner for two died. My starving date had given up trying to keep me company in the kitchen, settling instead in front of ESPN. With some tact, my friend said he was always pleased when someone cooked an elaborate meal for him, but all he really wanted was a cheeseburger.  I thought, “You want it, you’ve got it, baby…. next year!” No more overcooked pasta and sunken soufflés as I attempted to rekindle the fire, change the CD, or ooh and ahh over a love token. Even though I decided to take him at his word, that doesn’t mean I couldn’t stick to the theme of the heart. So, 12 months later, armed with a set of cookie cutters, I created heart shaped crudités, heart shaped cheeseburgers, heart shaped cottage fries, heart shaped brownies with ice cream and hot fudge. Hardly a gourmet meal, but my date was charmed, and I was spared the exhaustion of trying to do a romantic multicourse dinner for two.

A fun and light hearted approach to a Valentine decoration for the table – good any time of the day and for all genders and ages

A simple, American approach to Valentine’s Day. A 3 inch cookie cutter was used for the hamburger, and  the English muffin bun, a 1.5 inch for the cottage fries and 2 inch for the brownie.

       

Given that the hearts-and-flowers frills of Valentine’s Day delight most women, why not celebrate with some girlfriends? Particularly if some of us might not have a current  beau – or if the one you have is forgetful or uncreative.  Design a lunch decorated with all the lacy bits that would be lost on their partners – as each place setting, I pose a carnation and rose heart, constructed on a base of floral foam that they can take home just for themselves or for their own Valentines (it’s a gentle nudge to let the men know how much they are missing or forgot!)

Ladies Valentine’s lunch

A small, heart wreath for each guest

This was something I learnt at a wonderful florist in Paris

On another Valentine’s Day, I decided to include the men, but I knew that I needed to tone down the romantic theme. A drum table with shelves of Moroccan leather-bound books set a more masculine tone when moved beside the Weatherstone center-hall door. The atmospheric background now settled, I decided pastel pinks had best be omitted; with neutral white flowers safer. Crimson glassware, sterling solver flatware and service plates, crisp linens, and black candles suited the setting. But I refused to hide my feminine side completely – arching, whimsical branches of forced Prunus added a dainty touch. As long as I remembered to chill a few extra bottles of champagne, I was sure the men wouldn’t mind. 

A more masculine approach to Valentine’s Day

Neutral, white flowers

Floral foam is a life saver when you need to make quick, theme-based arrangements for all manner of holidays or celebrations. The foam can be purchased from florists, craft stores and craft sections of superstores, in preshaped balls, bricks, topiary cones and hearts, and can be adapted to countless creations; limited only by the sturdiness of the flowers’ stems. Once it has been soaked, floral foam can easily be shaped with a sharp kitchen knife, but keep in mind the foam can crumble if roughly treated. If you are going to hang your creation, consider that the foam absorbs a large quantity of water and can be heavy – you can disguise hanging wire behind a silk ribbon. For better stem stability on larger forms, wrap the foam with chicken wire before placing your flowers. Remember you must let the heart (or any floral foam) drain for a while so as not to ruin a table or wall.

A combination of pink and red carnations on heart shaped floral foam make a beautiful Valentine’s decoration

I am sure some of you will recognize some of these pictures of past Valentine’s Day decorations from my books of long ago. As you might remember, I reintroduced the lowly carnation first as Christmas wreathes, them topiaries and finally the Valentine’s shapes over 20 years ago – where does the time go?!  I still use many of these same elements today – they work, so why not?  

This is from my book, Presentations. I always remember decorating a Valentine’s box with paper doilies, and this is an ode to that memory.

A far more recent discovery of heart shaped pasta inspired the final pictures.  This is what I plan on doing next Tuesday – and I did a trial run yesterday to ensure that the pasta held the heart shape when cooked. Of course many sauces work, but as I want the pasta to be the star, I did a simple sauce of butter, olive oil, garlic, chopped sage and sprinkled Parmesan on top. A fast and simple first course, or even a main, if you are really going for easy!

         

So girls, and my handful of sweet guys, happy Valentine’s Day to one and all,
cr

The Quest for Quiet

Happy New Year!!! 2017

Hi I’m Back

There are times in my life when I feel overwhelmed by too much activity, too many commitments and too much noise. At these moments I know it is time for me to disappear  down the rabbit hole. I have done it before (as many of you have been witness to), when I shut down my website, saying “I have gone fishing,” or when I set up my email reply to read “I am currently on sabbatical”. Or in this last month and a half where the blog pots and the Instagrams evaporated. I just needed some time off. This eternal connection to the world which bombards us with too much information in my opinion , most of which at the end of the day is pretty irrelevant, is what I call the incessant noise of the 21st century. News repeating over and over until you want to yell “Okay I got it!” The screaming voices of the media, the every 5 minute breaking news.  Remember when that meant something really important had just happened? Today it is often as breaking as “my aunt broke her finger nail.” The  pundits pontificating over campaigns and the elections, everyone has an outlet for their voice and an opinion and they are  constantly bellowing at me. The year 21016 reached a cacophony that made me scream : stop!  But wait, it is time for me to stop, as I am shouting and ranting just like them. In my opinion this has become a national, perhaps worldwide, malady. So I have taken a breather to also stop and take a deep breath.

Of course this should have been a new year post but  as seems to be the story of my life, it is a month or more late.– but in my new mind set and as I am not doing surgery or something life threatening who cares?  So yes  I am attempting to slow down, breath, and be quiet. Right now I would grade my success at a C+ \ B- (though those who live around me might raise an eyebrow at that.) But I am trying, with the knowledge that, like the ground hog that emerges next week, perhaps it is time to peak out from my hole and say “hi world.”

It seems I am actually on trend with ‘digital detox’ although I had never heard about this concept until a couple of days ago. I couldn’t endorse it more. For me, it is necessary to slow down, reflect and garner inspiration for the year ahead. And that’s not to say it’s easy – I can completely understand the seduction of social media, our reliance on 24/7 news, and the need to constantly check emails and text messages, but it is so refreshing to remember, and prove, we can live without them!

This quiet time has inspired me to do all those things you never quite get around to. Once one slows down, it is so much easier to find moments of pretty, along with newfound delights in the simplest of things .Which brings me to my February 2017 resolution, and that is to make a concerted effort in keeping calm, in finding time to think about things that bring joy, comfort, laughter and beauty, and some much needed quiet into my life, such as:

Reading books for entertainment and for learning

I decided to read Susan Cain’s Quiet : The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking this last month – for those of you unfamiliar with it, it focuses on a time when quiet and reflection was admired, comparing this with the 20th and 21st centuries, and the more recent rise in the extrovert as the ideal.

A new book that I have loved is Belgravia by Julian Fellowes (of Downton Abbey fame.) To me there is nothing better than a tome that you just cannot put down. Do the younger generations still experience such a wonderful addiction? I do hope so.

        

Focusing more on those you love (everyone says that but I am trying to be more mindful than I have been)

Spending more time with my Mom – talking and discussing things with her with her. At a friend’s long ago suggestion, I have just started interviewing her on video her face and her voice documented.

Being with my beloved puppies, who have featured significantly in this quiet January .

Trying to be more  observent and patient with special friends. Even when I don’t agree with them – everyone has a right to their opinion as long as they do not try and force it upon you.

     

Making files for items that make me laugh, inspire or think

A big fan of interesting quotes, I finally compiled some of my favorites, for easy access when I most need them. I always marvel at how writers with their beautiful prose or cleaver humor come up with these things. A couple of lines to capture the essence of something – quite foreign to someone like yours truly who should get the prize for rambling run on sentences.  I have dozens of them but here are just a few.

Inspiration:  “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom,”  Marcel Proust

Wit: “Don’t be so humble – you are not that great,” Golda Meir

“Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile,” Billy Sunday

Humor: “If you’re too open minded, your brains will fall out,” Lawrence Ferlinghetti

“You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper in the world is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy, the tallest guy in the NBA is Chinese, the Swiss hold the America’s Cup, France is accusing the U.S. of arrogance, Germany doesn’t want to go to war and the three most power men in America are named “Bush”, “Dick”, and “Colin,” Need I say more?”  Chris Rock

A modest start at getting organized

When I did allow myself online, it was to clear out my emails, and unsubscribe from as much as I possibly could. All those newsletters – that of course would be interesting should I have the time to read them, but instead hover in my Inbox, making me feel inefficient and overwhelmed and laden with just more stuff. I still love the Happiness Project from Gretchen Rubin…

Paying attention to places that provide a peaceful atmosphere

Usually my time in Manhattan is a hectic jumble of appointments but recently I’ve been trying to not to over book things (something that I am so guilty of throughout my life.) By accident I was early for an appointment – a rare thing indeed – and in this spare moment, discovered a lovely little shop that only sells coffee and petit fours.  It is like stepping back in time, when true, quality ingredients mattered, and providores took pride in the smallest of details. The young owners, also the pastry chef and barista, are both immigrants, fulfilling the American dream, and bringing a touch of magic to the East Side. Bon Vivant feels like a safe, slow, haven, while the world still races by outside.

 

Bon Vivant, 238 E 58th St, New York – just near the D&D Building, so perfect for design types in the area needing a break.

Stop talking about doing something, and to quote Nancy Regan, “Just Do It!”

One of the worst forms of noise is head noise, I am an expert at that unfortunate trait. The constant yakking in the, head “you should do this, you must do that,” those endless voices driving you nuts.. and the image of that wagging finger in your face . So as my mother says “If you really WANT to do it, you will or… let it go.”

For months I have been saying I needed to start my next book which will finally be about my designing career (something i really have not written about) and finally I started this work on the weekend, and strangely the voices stopped yelling at me!

Above: Just the beginning stage of the book process, starting to play with covers. It probably will  not be this, but one starts with an idea, and then the endless project of research and editing begins….

Well dear readers enough of my meandering thoughts. There is just one more thing I would like to say ( I know you are probably rolling your eyes and saying “finally”) – the reason for this very long and personal post is both an explanation and a BIG THANK YOU to the lovely people who sent messages showing concern about my disappearance from social media, and asking if I was okay. Thank you from my heart!–cr

PS Next posts : Valentine’s Day and my dinner with Julian Fellowes.

Timeless Techniques for Christmas

While down in my basement trying to prepare for Christmas (but of course getting sidetracked in that rabbit warren of memories), I came across an old article, circa 2002, where I was suggesting table designs incorporating geographical influences. These seem as relevant now, as they were then….so I’ve decided to share with you.

Because we don’t all enjoy a holiday-card-worthy backdrop of glistening snow and evergreens, these four different tables, are based on the real, wonderful regions of this country. Despite our world getting smaller and smaller, we can still delight in our regional differences, and even more so, in borrowing from other’s traditions, and changing things up a little for the holidays!

I’m preparing for a Charleston Christmas, but will be going mainly with a mix of the Eastern and Southern themes (as defined below), interspersed with some CT and the Midwest, because you know I’m faithful to my roots! I will of course share some pictures after the big day.

Wishing you all peace and love in the lead up to the 25th,
cr

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Above: a close up of the Eastern fruit and flowers

An Eastern Christmas to me can be a more formal occasion, with cities such as Boston, Philadelphia and New York having their history of entertaining more closely tied to Europe, rather than the rugged frontier further west.  My table for the buffet in Charleston will be red, gold and silver with carnations, roses and red fruits (from Trader Joe’s of course!) I have used fruit forever in my table-scapes, first inspired from 17th c. Dutch flower paintings and an old book from Colonial Williamsburg.

Carnations have also been a Christmas staple for me since I featured  them in my first book A Passion for Flowers, published in 1997.  As an aside: the beautiful carnation had been much maligned in America as a cheap flower. After living in France I learned to love this beautiful, clove scented bloom.  When I returned to the States I decided to campaign on behalf of this flower, starting with my first book. Happy to see that 20 years later it no longer has the stigma it did have.

Elements : red grapes, Red Delicious apples, red plums, floral clay, red roses and mini carnations, string.

How To : Pile fruit, in containers of your choice, and hold together with floral clay – draping the grapes over the sides of the container is a nice touch.  Make small nosegays out of red spray roses and mini carnations (I tie the nosegays with string to hold together.)

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Above: a photo from my first book 20 years ago celebrating carnations. As I have always said, “There are no bad flowers, only people who make bad arrangements.”

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Above: a photo of  a detail of the table

Inspired by snow and pine forests, this northern setting is affordable and east to make. I love the scent of pine in the house at Christmas!

Elements : Seckel pears, grapes, apples, crabapples, limes, pinecones, wooden or metal picks for pinecones, evergreen boughs, Oasis, floral clay, floral tape, white spray snow.

How To : Spray the fruit with a heavy coat of white snow.  Spray a lighter coating of snow, on the  evergreen boughs and pinecones. Put a chunk of Oasis into a compote and affix with floral tape and clay as necessary to secure to bowl. Arrange sprayed greens around perimeter of compote and pile fruits in center, using floral clay to anchor them. Put metal or wooden picks in pinecones and affix them to Oasis core, interspersing them throughout centerpiece.

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Above : a close up of the table – the menu cards and place cards carry on the pineapple motif

The pineapple, sourced in the west, (think Hawaii, California and the islands) is a symbolic sign of hospitality all over the States and takes one away from the traditional red and green.

Elements : Boxwood, Oasis, large and miniature pineapples, dried sheet moss, dowels or pencils, decorative baskets, plastic liners for baskets, scissors.

How To : Line baskets with moss and put a plastic liner inside each one. Fill liner with a piece of Oasis that has been soaked in water. Cut sprigs of Boxwood and stick them into Oasis, creating a topiary form. Clip to shape. Insert a wooden dowel or skewer into bottom of each pineapple and then push them into Oasis.

I have made these boxwood topiaries for years and years, and now you can buy the fake ones everywhere. As they are time consuming to make you could buy the fake ones and glue gun a pineapple to the top.

Below: one of my water colors was inspired by both the pineapple and oranges  shaped into a bowl combing the Southern and Western table-scapes. Constant themes and reinterpretations are fun see how things repeat them selves over and over in one’s work.

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Above: a detail of table with a topiary motif in a Versailles box on the menu card

A warmer, Southern climate is reflected in topiaries of kumquats, lemons and limes. A fresh setting that works equally well in or outdoors.

Elements : Kumquats, lemons and lemon leaves, limes, dried sheet moss, spray adhesive, glue, styrofoam balls, floral wire, straight branches.

How To : Spray styrofoam balls with adhesive and cover with moss (the reason I do this is so you won’t see the white or green styrofoam between the kumquats.) Poke a hole in each ball, push in a branch that resembles the trunk of the topiary and glue gun to stabilize (the branch is about 1 inch in diameter and straight). Insert wire into kumquats to hold  them while the glue drys. Affix kumquats to ball and add in lemon leaves for an accent. Anchor topiaries in smaller moss-covered styrofoam ball and place in cachepots. Follow similar procedure for a centerpiece of stacked limes and lemons.

A Long, Artistic Journey

Tomorrow sees me check something off my dream list – I am actually having a small exhibition and sale of prints of my original watercolor illustrations! You, my readers inspired me when so many asked if i would consider doing prints of my watercolors.

The invitation to Mecox Gardens

The invitation to Mecox Gardens

So, it seems appropriate to reflect on the artistic journey that got me to this point, and the message that you never really know where things might lead. As most of you regulars are aware, my love of flowers and gardening started as a child, continued into my adult life, was sidelined by the fashion world for a time, but re-emerged as the motivation for my enlightening apprenticeship in a Parisian flower shop. This of course inspired my book A Passion for Flowers, and nearly everything that’s gone on since. Twenty years later my devotion to flowers continued, and the question arose, where to next?

My wise Mom frequently commented that I never actually stop to smell these roses that so inspire me, and with that I took up painting watercolors. In At Home in the Garden, I attempted to follow the journey of selecting, planting, growing, picking, and finally (after taking a couple of watercolor classes) trying to paint some of the beauty of Mother Nature. As I have mentioned in a previous post, I have always admired the true botanical artists  but discovered in the learning process that as an art form, it is also a scientific approach, and that was not where my heart was. I wanted to use my flowers as the inspiration but I wanted  to show them in vivid color; make my butterflies and insects big and out of scale to play with my painting!  Many, many (sometimes very frustrating) hours later, it turns out that I now use painting as a form of meditation and, like my flowers, can’t ever imagine my life without it – I think proof that you can, indeed, teach an old dog new tricks!

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In my studio

If you happen to be in the Manhattan area, I’d love to see you at Mecox, it would mean a lot to see the friendly faces of some of my readers – as this is a rather nervous moment for me,
cr

PS Maybe in the new year I shall have them for sale online – if I do, you will be the first to know.

From my book At Home in the Garden - explaining the journey from planting, growing, displaying and painting this Fritillaria

From my book At Home in the Garden – explaining the journey from planting, growing, displaying and painting this Fritillaria

Another Frittilaria

Another Fritillaria

Stopping to smell the oranges!

Stopping to smell the oranges!

Nature as a Tonic in Difficult Times

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The passage of time is  fleeting and volatile, I find it going so fast, and this last week’s events, and the rapid change have only reinforced this. Time moves so quickly, what was a current post or theme, in 2 seconds is old news – or actually perhaps it isn’t…..let me explain.

This post first started out as an ode to the spectacular beauty of autumn. Travel, Halloween and various other distractions took over that world, but nothing like the diversion that the national election in America was this past week. As you know, usually I ignore all subjects except design and my concept of beauty, because there are experts in their own fields such as politics, but for all of us living through this election, it has been a disconcerting time, and to not say something about this monumental time would have you believe I’d been living under a rock, and I haven’t.

This was a difficult time in the US, with a level of vitriol and discourse, not witnessed before, at least certainly not in my time. These unchartered waters since November 9 have left many in a state of surprise, and as we are now witnessing, through protests and despair; many in our country are terribly unhappy. A shadow has been left over the nation, and I only hope that some of the remarkable grace shown by Barrack Obama, Hillary Clinton and President Elect Donald Trump since the outcome was announced could be mirrored, enabling us to say we are all together as Americans, and we will try and make this work.

As architect Frank Lloyd Wright said, “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.” When in doubt, or sadness, I still think the beauty of nature is always inspiring and restorative – whether it encourages you to go on and fight for your beliefs, or promote the intention that we will go through a hopefully peaceful transition.

I’m providing these autumnal images as something to ponder, and prepare us for a favorite American holiday, Thanksgiving, as we still do have a lot to be thankful for.

In contemplation and peace,
cr

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Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween!

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My daily lament is “OMG, where has the year gone?” and I know for a fact that I am not alone in this feeling because I hear it from lots of friends and readers as well. It  seems like  Halloween was only yesterday, yet another year has passed since my 2015 Halloween party in Charleston.

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Love this house in Charleston with the huge witches hat on the roof!

It also seems not so very long ago that I was making, along with my mother and grandmother, my Halloween costumes for the elementary school pageant. How I loved planning and preparing “my look“ for the scariest night of the year. As a little girl who adored dress up (and knew at a very early age that she wanted to be a fashion designer) it was heaven for me. I spent hours dreaming of the endless possibilities.

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These were the type of “fairy princess” costumes I made for myself -a nd later – for God daughters

While I let the urge to create and make Halloween costumes wane as I grew older, Charleston reignited the idea and the fun.

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I am showing you a glimpse of  my last halloween in Charleston where this fun holiday seems to be a big thing. This was evidenced when we estimated that close to 300 kids came to our front door for trick or treat! In all my years of “tricker treaters” I have never experienced anything like it. Not even in the heyday of the 50’s and 60’s when a more innocent era encouraged this type of pastime.

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Charleston 2015

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Charleston 2015

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Celebrating Charleston style

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Charleston trick or treaters 2015

There seem to be a plethora of Halloween stores in the south and I have had a ball visiting them, and find myself agog at how times have changed! No more little do it yourself thing where an old sheet with 2 cut outs for eyes became an instant ghost!

My first stop into a “pop up” Halloween mart and I was off and running without all of the major work of the bygone days. I decided to not do “pretty” but “silly and goofy” with rats, snakes, skulls, spiders, skeletons and haunted creatures — it was so much fun.

Fast forward to three weeks ago and the “Grim Reaper” in the guise of Hurricane Matthew blew into town.  I waded into the basement after the deluge and found Halloween and Christmas decorations floating in two feet of water. We saved what we could  but any goblins that moved, talked or breathed smoke were toast.

Taking what was salvaged and adding a bit this year we are back up in business and getting ready for Halloween 2016.

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Love all the masks that one can so easily find. I placed a mask at every place setting in case some one had not come in costume – no one escapes!

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Masks for the ladies

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and masks for the Gents

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Masks and hats even for the skeletons

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For those who do not know, I do not have a specific dining room in either Weatherstone nor Chisholm House . These rooms are converted upon need. The library in Charleston turns into the dining room, with the library table becoming the dinning table.

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I even made my busts of Tommy Jefferson and Ben Franklin wear hats or masks

I mounded the table with all of my halloween paraphernalia, lit everything by candlelight and served a menu I thought fitting for the occasion. I am still working on this year’s menu but have discovered pumpkin cakes by mail, and will have those as well as our homemade  desserts as the finale.

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Loved these rodents and skulls (only on Halloween!) – this year I added to the collection with rats and bats that have blinking eyes!

Last year I went as a flapper gal and this year I will be a Chinoiserie figure on the 31st and a good witch (although I shall be in black and hopefully not looking like Margaret Hamilton – the wicked witch) on the 30th. Why celebrate on one day when you can do two—right?

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The priest and the nun are saving me from the grasping skeleton!

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Friends in gala garb!

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.  Hope you have fun – and Happy Halloween!  – cr

P.S. Just returned to Charleston today and found this on my gate :

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Love this town for these kind of things!

Corn Time in Connecticut

The mighty corn

The mighty corn

August and September are the height of the corn season.  We eat freshly picked corn everyday and  the kitchen is abuzz with preparations to freeze  enough to get me through the colder months ahead. Not wanting to start World War 3 (let’s face it, an area that definitely doesn’t need any assistance from me) I am putting it out there – I happen to believe Connecticut sweet corn is the best in the USA, if not the world. Several states claim theirs is the best but I maintain, after much sampling, that my vote is for Connecticut!

Starshine corn used to be grown at Weatherstone, but it takes up so much space, and with superb growers locall, there is really no need. When in season, I could eat it every day, either on the cob, in a chowder, muffins or bread. I tend to prefer the varieties  Butter and Sugar, but also enjoy Bodacious Yellow and Cotton Candy. The season usually lasts here from late July right through to October….so no chance it would be “as high as an elephant’s eye by the 4th July” – Oklahoma we are not!

Recently I held a birthday luncheon for a friend, with the corn as the star. Starting with a corn chowder recipe from Nancy Quattrini, my former chef at Weatherstone. This soup is equally delicious hot or cold, and freezes well, allowing one to satisfy corn cravings all year long.

Simple ingredients make for a special soup

Corn Soup with Red Pepper Puree – Serves 6
4 tablespoons butter
2 cups chopped shallots
6 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
4 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf
¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons heavy cream
½ cup milk
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 large red peppers, roasted, skinned and seeded
1 teaspoon white vinegar

  1. In a medium soup pot over medium heat, melt butter. Add shallots and sauté until translucent. Add corn, chicken broth and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. Cool soup, and puree in a food processor or blender and put through a sieve.
  3. Return soup to pot and add ¼ cup heavy cream, milk, salt, pepper and chili powder. Return to medium heat and cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Put roasted peppers in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Add 3 tablespoons heavy cream, salt and pepper to taste, and vinegar. Blend until smooth.
  5. Pour soup into bowls and drizzle pepper puree.

Red pepper puree ingredients.
Of course with my love of dinnerware, I have managed to use corn as another excuse for a range specific to serving this divine yellow vegetable. Majolica (ceramics glazed with tin enamel) is originally from the Renaissance period, but gaining much popularity in 19th century Britain, it is often called Victorian majolica. The green leaf plates are a mix of old and new and several  are a gift from my mother. All so colorful, that I can’t help but smile as I set a table with them. I love the little corn pitcher and corn plate. The flatware is made with blonde wood, from somewhere in France, but so old I can’t recall the exact manufacturer. The green glasses seem to be everywhere in stores both in glass and great looking plastic, and the raffia runner and the raffia edged napkins are from France as well.

A selection of my corn-friendly dinnerware

The final product

The final product – corn soup with red pepper puree on a  19th c. majolica plate

The green theme continues, with the table decor. With my hosta in peak season it seems a natural to use these glorious variegated ones as a bouquet. I love the various patterns and colors of the leaves teamed with green apples for the table decoration. Remember a table is most exciting when it tells a story. This one  is a story of vibrant greens, many textures and using what is peaking in the garden at the moment.

I love to tie colors and tastes together

I love to tie colors and tastes together – the majolica variegated hosta leaves from the shade garden are mixed with green apples

Hope the video clarifies the thoughts!

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As you may know, at least those who have read my posts before, gift wrapping is a big love of mine. I even did a book on the subject – and it is still one of my favorites! I think in the telling of the “story” it is important to follow through with the theme by coordinating the gift wrap to the table. Pictured above is a gift wrapped with colors of the table and in  the spirit of the table.

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Decorated sugar cookies were served with coffee. I cheated here though, purchasing from my favorite Charleston providore Southern Seasons.

Hope you are enjoying the start of early fall as much as I am. Hope you enjoy the video.  Until next time – cr

A Short Post to Bid Farewell to Summer!

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A refreshing green and cooling blue table immediately encourages one to partake in an unhurried afternoon

It is the end of August and as Labor Day approaches I bid farewell to what I call summer, although it really ends later in September (for those in the Northern Hemisphere).  That glorious season brings so many beautiful things to us – fresh produce, longer days, a breezy freedom in terms of how we live, what we do with our time, and how we entertain. It is one of the reasons I love a dramatic seasonal change. It inspires one to create with a fresh eye, informed by the nuances found in nature. This change keeps the eyes, the brain and creativity from getting lulled into complacency. From the fabrics we choose to decorate with, what we wear, the plants we select to feature in both our gardens and interiors, the food we cook – even the colors we bring to our creative endeavors and the scents we use in our homes and on our bodies. This transition is exciting, each season presents endless possibilities with which to celebrate the time of the year, a place and an environment, even our mood. The easy change in season offers us the possibility of expressing our vision of the moment, and of course to be reminded of, and honor Mother Nature’s perfection in timing.

Refreshing lemon sorbet - reminds me of Italian summers!

Refreshing lemon sorbet – reminds me of Italian summers! It works beautifully with lime (shown below) and orange also.

Lime sorbet

Lime sorbet – I learned to do this simple but elegant dessert years ago and it is always a hit.

Lemon or Lime Sorbet 
1 x lemon or lime peel, finely diced
2 cups of warm water
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups lemon or lime juice (from the scooped pulp)
2 egg whites, lightly whisked

For the shells :
4 lemons or limes
Slice the top off, about 1/4 of the way down, so you have a lid.
Remove the pulp with a melon baller or grapefruit knife.
Freeze both parts of the lemon or lime shells before filling.

Combine sugar, water and peel in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Simmer, without stirring, for 10 minutes until mixture thickens.
Remove from stove and cool.
Strain sugar mixture, stir in lemon juice and place in an inch deep dish for freezing.
Freeze for 1-2 hours until almost firm.
Transfer mixture to food processor, adding egg whites, and whisking until smooth.
Scoop into lemon or lime shells, filling generously and freeze until firm.
Top with sliced lids, and garnish with mint leaves.
Serves 4.

*  Full disclosure from the chef – I have actually cheated on a couple of occasions, and used a good quality, store bought sorbet, in my home made shells. None of my guests seem to have noticed, unless they are just too polite to say! 

Limes and citrus inspired wrapping

Lime table piece and citrus inspired wrapping

One of the topiary watercolors I've been working on this summer

One of the topiary watercolors I’ve been working on this summer

Inspiration for my painting

Inspiration for my painting – a summer lunch at Weatherstone

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An Aspen summer dinner table

As I sit at my desk in Aspen (before racing off to take my first oil painting class) I see the subtle changes in the undergrowth, the first sprinkling of yellow Aspen leaves and I know it is soon time to say goodbye to the cool blues, aquas, and greens that I so often use in hot summer, and prepare to work with a new palette of rusts, reds, deep oranges and warm browns. Each beautiful and so right for its time -. cr

Green Upon Green

Green Upon Green – Flowers and Leaves Equals Endless Inspiration

When I return to Aspen every summer, I’m continually (and happily) astounded with the green on green surrounding me. I realize that this is the third of my posts on the subject of green, but as the foundation of nature, and the perfect counterpoint to every color, I can think of nothing more deserving of this attention.

The catalyst for this topic, however, was not Aspen, but a lunch I held recently at Weatherstone for the patrons and director of Delaware’s Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, who were in the area on a gardening and architectural tour. Having spoken before at this spectacular source of beauty, I was excited to have these old friends stop by.

I’ve mentioned before that most of my inspiration comes from nature, and when it comes, it is usually spontaneous, and cannot be predicted. This happened once again when I spied a number of extraordinary hydrangeas being unloaded at the garden nursery and farmers market in Sharon. Some of you will recall my dreams of having enormous blue and pink snowball hydrangeas grace my garden, but I have long given up on this, surrendering to Mother Nature, who clearly would prefer we stick to the green varieties called Limelight here in north west Connecticut.

Along with these beautiful specimens, I included many varieties of leaves in the table arrangements. Here I must explain that my obsession with leaves has reached epic levels, and I can only put it down to the observation I now partake in when using my watercolors. Previously in the fashion world, my eye was trained in color and texture, but nothing in comparison to what one must note in painting. I am now so easily transfixed with the shades and textures in even the most simple of leaves, and have a renewed understanding of how basic greenery has inspired great artists throughout history. Even the seemingly mundane cabbage acted as a powerful muse for the famous 18th century French and English porcelain designers. Is it any wonder these pieces are some all time favorites of my collection?!

So, my thanks for bearing with this green bent of mine, but as a major part of every flower, I think it qualifies for some coverage of its own, cr.

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Around the pool at Weatherstone – the contrast of the shades makes it interesting. Different textures absorb light differently, with the chairs and the pavilion reflecting more blue and black.

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More green on green fusion with boxwood in the process of being clipped, Clematis around the statue, with lindens and lawn in the background.

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Standard hydrangeas find a perfect home in blue and white pots. These start as a chartreuse and open to soft green.

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Stark white makes the green pop. Silver lindens, and the sun through maples in the distance.

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The cutting garden in summer, an example of green and the range of colors bouncing perfectly against it. Marigold, onions, peppers, sunflowers – all with distinctive shapes and textures yet harmonizing beautifully.

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A palette of multiple greens in every hue and different textures from the vegetable garden.

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So much simple beauty, one does not need to always rely on flowers for an enchanting bouquet, the different greens and shapes and textures make a bouquet themselves.

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The  greenish yellow and white tablecloth was from a previous party, and  it still feels so pretty  and fresh on a summer day.

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Simple white pots, napkins and table items ensure that green is the star.

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I clipped 3 varieties of hosta leaves (yellow, white boarder, blue green) to add to  the hydrangea bouquets .

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Apples and pachysandra – another two completely different greens, with the bud  on the  pachysandra somehow  matching the Granny Smiths.

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We were 24 for lunch, starting with cold green pea soup, then a cold buffet, finishing with flourless chocolate pecan cup cakes.

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Monkey, one of my beloved Havanese, looking on at Mom (me)  pottering and no doubt contemplating more green!

I couldn’t resist some more video practice!

It Is Tomato and Basil Time…..Yeah!

Tomatoes and Basil Oh My!

As I mention in the video (with a link down below – this is my first bigger effort to do a better video, a first step) I am first and foremost a flower and tree lover, but having grown up in a farming community in the midwest the vegetable garden represents something special to me. I have always felt grounded by the land… it represents safety and ultimate survival in my mind.  I do not know if this in my “emotional DNA” from observing my grandmother canning vegetables for the winter, or watching that wonderful series about the Victory Garden on T.V., or perhaps hearing tales, as one did when one grew up as a young child of the fifties; of our grandparents and the struggles of life during the great depression, or  lastly always remembering the scene in Gone With the Wind as Scarlet desperately claws the earth for a radish and says, “As God is my witness I shall never go hungry again.” Whatever, it  has left an indelible impact upon me. I need to grow something to eat!  But beyond the edible, I have for quite some time appreciated the beauty of things from the garden as decorative elements. So when it is high season for tomatoes and basil, all is fare game.


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I love the form and beauty of heirloom tomatoes from my garden

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The Garden Plentiful  IMG_9849

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Vegetables and herbs are not only the highlight of so many recipes in the kitchen – they are equally wonderful for their beauty and therefore are a natural for decoration as well!

Individual Jalapeno and Tomato Tarts

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(8 servings)
8 unbaked 4-inch pie shells, chilled (see basic tart dough recipe below)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 fresh jalapeño peppers, seeded and finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 x 4oz cans chopped mild green chilies
Pinch of salt
2 cups grated smoked Gruyere cheese
1 medium yellow (and/or red) tomato, sliced ¼ inch thick
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 375°. Place tart shells on flat baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, then set aside to cool. Reset oven to 400°.

  1. In a small sauté pan, heat olive oil and sauté jalapeño and garlic over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add salt, green chilies and sauté for 3 more minutes. Remove from heat.
  2. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of cheese in bottom of each tart shell. Top with 2 tablespoons chili mixture, then layer with remaining cheese. Arrange tomato slice on top of tarts and sprinkle with parsley and cilantro.
  3. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cheese melts. Serve either hot or at room temperature.

The dough recipe is one I use for both savory and sweet things. I think (as my memory fades – it was so many years ago) I got the recipe from the talented Lee Baily. All I know for sure is that it works and it is an easy and tender pastry – just do not over process the dough in the food processor!

Basic Tart Dough Recipe

(Makes Eight 4-inch tarts or one 8-10- inch Tart)
1¼ cup flour
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small dice
Pinch of salt
2 or 3 tablespoons of ice water

Put flour and salt into bowl of food processor and pulse 3 times to blend. Add butter, lightly toss with your fingers to coat pieces with flour. Pulse processor about 8 times to cut in butter. Dough should resemble coarse corn meal and butter pieces should be no larger than small peas.

  1. Add ice water gradually by tablespoon through feed tube while pulsing machine. Dough will begin to pull together into a ball.
  2. Remove dough from processor, shape into a disk, sprinkle lightly with flour, and wrap in wax paper. Refrigerate until ready to roll out for tarts and pies.

Have fun, luxuriate in the bounty of summer and hope you like the video!

cr

 

Delightful, Delicious Dahlias

Delightful Delicious Dahlias

IMG_3289As you know, I don’t like to bring current events into the blog, usually preferring to use it as a place for tranquility to share and discuss design and  lifestyle issues, some reflection and sometimes smiles. But the horrific recent events have been so upsetting and sad one wonders with despair about the direction the world is heading. I wanted to acknowledge this. So many are saying what I feel that in this environment one must have some time to reflection on beauty to keep our sanity. It is not frivolous and ignoring the problems but a bit of beauty helps refuel the battered spirit in a harsh world.

I am so fortunate that I can retreat back to the sanctuary of Weatherstone, where not only has it been a monumental rose season, but my dahlias too have reached new heights – and widths for that matter! Some of them really have been the size of dinner plates, and with that girth, often more difficult to arrange, so I have taken to using them as individual table pieces.

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Cutting garden mix dahlias, roses and clematis

Dahlias have long been one of my favorites, even when they fell out of favor and fashion with many people– but by now I’m sure that doesn’t surprise you, where flowers are concerned, I seldom follow fashion and trends, and stick with what I like, and advise you to do the same!

One of my larger specimens

One of my larger specimens

More varieties

More varieties that I grow, I love them in every color and form–cactus, dinner plate, stander, singles variegated  – the variety is endless!

I had promised to show my fourth of July table to some of you and here it is good for the fourth and any summer event as well.

Dinner plate dahlia

Dinner plate dahlia – can you believe the size?

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4th July table – I love how the shiny red cherries work with the deep velvety dahlias in the vases

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One of my favorites

One of my favorites-  it is so graphic

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The deep reds are some of my favorites!

One of the most important things to remember is that dahlias don’t continue to open once cut i.e. they stay as they are, frozen in time. In effect this means you can enjoy them until they are fully open in the garden, then transfer them to an arrangement as required. One of the longest lasting cut flowers, the variety is extraordinary – with many plain and variegated specimens in every color but blue. In a garden they last throughout summer, only fading with the first frost and, as tubers, they can be stored during the winter months, so actually become a very good investment over time. We wrap them in newspaper (who said we were fancy?!) and store them in the cellar until early spring when we plant them initially in pots, in the hoop house then move them, when the weather permits into the cutting garden. This could be the seventh year for some of mine – by which time they have become old friends…..and let’s face it, that sort of comfort is just what we need right now.

Simple decorations

Simple decorations

My biggest dahlia, Beethoven! An ever faithful companion in the garden.

Beethoven – like a big, gray dahlia himself! My constant companion in the garden.

I am now going to try an attach a couple videos if I can remember how – my tech teacher is on vacation and I am feeling helpless!!