Archive for October, 2012

Jesse Kornbluth, of, this week with a totally inspiring story.

James Holman was a 21-year-old British sailor with the bad luck to be the man on deck as his ship was buffeted by a winter storm off Nova Scotia. He had the frame of a boy — he weighed just 146 pounds — and not enough of a man’s coat to make a difference. By the end of his watch, he felt stiff in every joint.

The diagnosis was gout. He got some rest, was sent home, received a new assignment — and, once again, was on deck in terrible weather. By 24, he was taking water cures in Bath. But this time, he developed new symptons: shooting pains in his eyes.

At 25, for reasons unknown, he was completely blind.

You can scarcely bring yourself to read about the treatments for blindness in 1810. Start with leeches “applied directly under the eyes.” Move on to a “slender spike” inserted in the eye. Luckily for Holman, he wasn’t looking for a cure as much as he was seeking an explanation.

He never found one. But he did find something better: a refusal to live out his days as an invalid on a Navy pension — or, worse, as a beggar. So he acquired an “ordinary walking stick” and a writing machine. He soon learned to get about the streets. And to create documents.

He was now ready to make his way in the world.

The world. Well, he had lifetime tenancy of three rooms. He had 84 pounds a year. He was 26 years old. [To buy the paperback from, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

He enrolled in medical school. He made it look easy — but then, he made everything look easy, so as not to call attention to himself. Still, he took ill. Doctors recommended a rest in the South of France. He taught himself to swim alone. To be self-sufficient — although the wives of fellow travelers were only too happy to help him make ready for bed.

And then comes the huge surprise. This guy wants to go around the world. On the cheap. Without a guide. Traveling through expanses too daunting for the average tourst — who crossed Russia in those days?

What happens on these trips is so beyond our sense of what is possible that you read this book with jaw slack. You can readily understand how his travel writing became immensely popular, why Darwin cited him as an authority — as Holman put it, “I see things better with my feet.”

You will see things better if you read this remarkably entertaining and inspiring biography.

Categories: Books, Travel | 1 Comment »

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I asked some local mothers last week if the kids in our community celebrated Halloween and was over the moon when they said yes. This is not all that common in Australia. “We need to decorate the house!” I told Mr B, clasping my hands together with glee. “And stock up on chocolates and lollies!”

And then I thought about it some more. And figured most kids would all be out and about around six o’clock at night, which was RIGHT when I would be feeding my baby Madeleine, so I couldn’t come to the door if they knocked. Feeding Madeleine and then coaxing her to sleep normally takes me until just after seven o’clock. And after that, any ringing of the door bell FREAKS me out (and not in a fun, spooky, Halloween-esque way) because it might wake her up and then we’re all in for a rough night.

So I think I will hold off on the “I’m inviting you to knock” decorations until next year and, instead, get my freak on in the online world instead. Here are some of my favourite Halloween-related links:


Happy Halloween, friends!

Yours truly,
Naomi Bulger (messages in bottles)

(ps. cute vintage Halloween photo from here)

Categories: Decor | 1 Comment »

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Oct 30, 2012

Each year National Geographic Traveler Magazine holds a photography contest. This year there were entries from over 6,615 photographers and 152 countries. The winners are posted now, and they are amazing.


Second Place Winner - My Balloon by Vo Anh Kiet, shot in Moc Chau, Son La province, Vietnam.

Looking at these beautiful photos of far away places, makes my wandering foot itch. I love nothing more than the sense of excitement, that feeling that anything can happen, that you get when you land in a new place.

Merit Winner - The Village of Gásadalur by Ken Bower. The village of Gásadalur and the island of Mykines in the background.

Merit Winner - Looking into Another World Photo by Fred An, a shot of the great Japanese maple tree in the Portland Japanese Gardens.

Merit Winner -Underwater Surf by Lucia Griggi, this image was taken at an outer reef in Fiji.

Viewers' Choice Winner - Huset by Michelle Schantz , taken in Finnmark, Norway.

It is amazing how diverse and beautiful our world is. When we are stuck in our own private grinds we sometimes forget that. Traveling is a great way to remind us, even planning a trip can make the most mundane of days glow a little bit.

Merit Winner -Lost in Time - An Ancient Forest by Ken Thorne, taken in a sacred Baobab forest, near the city of Morondava, on the West coast of Madagascar

Wherever your road take you…

Happy Trails,

Sarah from Design Flourishes

all images from the National Geographic Traveler Magazine website

PS – Pamela over at Sweet Peach has been writing about her trip to Italy and Wow – I know Italy is a slam dunk pretty much any time, but her stories so make me want to be there.

Categories: photographs | 1 Comment »

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Hello, Musers!

This weekend on Secrets of a Belle, I’ve been doing Last Minute Costume Ideas, and I just couldn’t help myself; I had to do Martha. While the post is quite tongue in cheek, Martha really is one of my heroes. In her book “The Martha Rules,” she talks about mentors in a broad sense. (For example, Martha considers Julia Child a mentor despite the fact that the two did not meet until well into Stewart’s career.) Well, I often find myself looking to Martha for wisdom so today I thought I’d share a few of my other “mentors,” and I hope in the comments section, you’ll share a few of yours!

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“Life is to be lived. If you have to support yourself, you had bloody well better find some way that is going to be interesting. And you don’t do that by sitting around.”

Kate had the right idea. She was fiercely independent.  She was incredibly talented and a hard worker. She had impeccable style that not only went against the grain of the day’s popular fashions, it changed the day’s popular fashions. (Also, who doesn’t love watching her carefree attitude in Bringing Up Baby? It’s impossible not to love Susan.)

Recommended Visit: Dressed for Stage and Screen – an exhibition up now at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

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“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

What do you see in your dreams that should be a reality? Are past failures stopping you in your tracks? What are you allowing to be a roadblock? Don’t talk about your dreams, try them on for size.

Recommended Reading: Walt Disney: Conversations

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“Choose your corner, pick away at it carefully, intensely and to the best of your ability and that way you might change the world.”
-Charles Eames 

What are you best at? What is your gift? How are you going to change the world?

Recommended Viewing: American Masters: The Architect & the Painter

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Until Next Week,

Hannah B.

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Jesse Kornbluth, of, this week bringing you a droll voice from the long-lost past.

Maurice Dekobra?

His name is now almost completely forgotten, but in 1927 he published a novel called “The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars” that sold a million copies in France. (It was eventually published in 24 languages.) In 1928, The New York Times described him as “the biggest seller of any living French writer — or dead one either.” Fifteen of his novels became films. (“Madonna” was filmed twice.) Over his career, he sold 15 million books in 32 languages, and his kind of writing — a slick blend of journalism and high-society intrigue — acquired a brand name: dekobrisme.

“The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars” went out of print in 1948.

It’s finally back. So let me introduce you.

Maurice Dekobra (1885-1973) began his career as a translator (Daniel Defoe, Jack London, Mark Twain). In the early 1920s, he was a journalist and foreign correspondent. His fiction reflects his training — it’s grounded in the news, is briskly paced and has an unusually tart point-of-view.

The plot, as these things go, is simple. Lady Diana Wynham is a London widow known for her beauty (“the type of woman who would have brought tears to the eyes of John Ruskin”). She is just as well known for her unabashed amorality. Presented with a list of her lovers, in chronological order, she has only one correction: “Excuse me, but they were contemporaneous.” [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here].

Lady Diana is about to be ruined financially. Her sole hope of salvation is l0,000 acres of Russian oil land that her late husband, the English ambassador to the court of St. Petersburg, received as a gift from the government of Nicholas II. It is — in 1920s money — worth 50 million dollars.

The bad news: Russia’s Bolshevist government has confiscated all foreign property.

The good news: Leonid Varichkine will get it back for Lady Diana in exchange for “one night” of love.

What are a few illicit hours to a woman “who could never be happy without a great deal of money?” But Lady Diana is as clever as she is amoral. She proposes a better deal.

“Madonna” starts in London, makes stops in Berlin, an Arabian prison and a yacht in the Mediterranean, with a melodramatic climax in a castle in Scotland. In addition to distance, lessons are learned: a Communist can be converted to capitalism for less money than you might think, and “passing infractions of fidelity” are “trivial.”

I’ve dipped into a few other Dekobras. They’re not awful. But “Madonna” is clearly his showpiece. It’s a fun, terse, story that is as convincing about London drawing rooms as it is about Russian execution chambers. And he makes you care about Lady D.

Categories: Books, Paris | 5 Comments »

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Sign language

Oct 23, 2012

Hello dear friends, it’s Naomi Bulger of Messages in Bottles here.

Recently I came across the blog of photographer Nirrimi Firebrace, and it has been haunting me ever since. There is something so incredibly touching, raw and intimate about her photography.

Nirrimi is so young. But by just 19 she had already found love, travelled the world, forged an international career, and given birth to a baby girl, Alba.

And I was struck by the contrast between her words and her images. Her words are every bit what you would expect of a young woman just beginning to find her path in the world.

But her images! Her eye is that of an old soul. I keep coming back to these photographs, again and again. Soft, natural light. Unexpected crops. Stolen moments.

This afternoon I sat with my father, also a photographer, and looked through image after image in one of Nirrimi’s posts, trying to figure out what it was that so spoke to my soul.

“The hands,” he said. “Look what the hands are doing. Here. And here. And here.”

He was right. In frame after frame, hands told a piece of a story. Sign language. Take a look here, and tell me what you think.

Categories: photographs | 3 Comments »

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At first glance these look like they might be intricate ink drawings, but look a little closer and they are revealed to be incredibly fine paper cuts.

This is the work of Hina Aoyama, a Japanese artist living and working in Paris. On her website she says:

“I am trying to create a mixture of the traditional and modern styles and to produce my own world through super fine lacy paper cuttings.”

She makes her work with a simple pair of scissors. The patience and vision that go into her work is stunning.

Have a lovely Tuesday,

Sarah from Design Flourishes


all images from Hina Aoyama’s flickr page

Categories: illustrations | Comments Off on Unbelievably Delicate

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Welcome to Monday morning. I don’t know about you, but I normally start to feel a bit lethargic this time of year. It has come to the time where inspiration is running on empty, drive is low and progress is slow. I am starting to think of the holidays and our Christmas plans. The last thing I want to be doping is work. How about you? I do however, like to kick the new year of with a spark of inspiration.

I believe that a year started right, will be a rewarding and fulfilling year. That is why I host the Artist’s way every January. Are you familiar with this amazing book by Julia Cameron? The book is a creative recovery process that runs twelve consecutive weeks. And let me tell you, by the end of it, you feel like you can conquer the world. It is great to start the year on such a high.

It is actually thanks to this course, that I find myself working as a creative professional. Before, I was a bored language educator  desperate for more to life. I did the course with the most amazing facilitator and the most incredible group of women. Through the  weeks my eyes opened to all the possibilities that lay ahead of me and it gave me the courage to pursue what I so desperately wanted.

Now, a mere two years later, I am in the fortunate position to be hosting this course for a new group of people. The course is still a few months away, but I am so excited to be involved in such a positive and inspirational journey. I have started my prep and the energy generated from this alone, has reignited my creative spark- even at this late stage in the year.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to add a new dimension to their life. I am lucky enough to be hosting three classes a week, helping new friends start their adventure; a morning, evening and online class. For the first time, I will have students from all over South-Africa and the world participate in the course. It has grown so much since AW2012- I cannot believe it.

How do you stay inspired and motivated at this late stage in the year? And what do you do to get a new year of to a good start?

Have an inspired Monday,


Artist’s way online

Categories: Decor | 1 Comment »

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Hello English Muse readers! Karen from A Simple Cup of Tea once again. This week I want to talk about tea. Just because that’s how I roll. Kinda.

It’s true.

Okay, maybe it’s not that simple but for me very often just taking my mind off of the problem at hand for a couple of minutes gives me a bit more perspective.

Have a lovely new week!

Categories: Decor | Tags: , | 5 Comments »

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In fourth grade, I was in love with animals.  My family had a darling but incomparably lazy cocker spaniel at home.  My parents had let me take a few riding lessons and attend a horse camp when we’d moved to Kentucky the year before.  I wanted, rather badly, to spend every day with animals.  Unfortunately, I’m allergic to many of them.

So I read books about animals–mostly horses and dogs, in retrospect.  When I had read my way through most of the fourth and fifth grade selection in the school library, my mom suggested that I read James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small.  I loved it.  Herriot’s tales of the many four-legged creatures–and their caretakers–he cared for in the English countryside made me fall that much more in love with my dear little dog.  All Creatures Great and Small was a library book, and I don’t have my own copy, but I do still page through this smaller collection of dog stories on occasion.

I’m writing today with a puppy on my lap.  Since he arrived in our home seven days ago, this little guy has made me laugh and cry in equal measure.  He’s stressed me out and warmed my heart, sometimes in the span of a few minutes.  I wish I knew where my copy of Dog Stories has disappeared to.  The delights, frustrations, and sorrows of having a pet sound like just the reading I’d enjoy right now.

Have you ever read any of James Herriot’s stories?  Do you have any favorite animal stories?


Until next Thursday,


(Unwritten, Untitled)


[image of James Herriot by Fay Godwin via the National Portrait Gallery]


Categories: Decor | 5 Comments »

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Jesse Kornbluth, of, this week making his contribution to a cult — a good cult.

On October 23, 1992, with her daughter tucked in and her husband next to her, Laurie Colwin went to sleep. She did not wake up. She was 48 years old.

The memorial service was standing room only, for Laurie Colwin was much loved. Some people there knew her from the 1968 campus uprisings at Columbia, when she cooked for the student protesters who had taken over university buildings. Some knew her from the soup kitchen where she cooked for the poor and elderly. But most were writers, with writers’ stories, like Scott Spencer, who talked about the early days, when Colwin pretended to be an agent and shopped his first manuscript around town: “She saw me in ways I had never seen myself before and never since.”

A curious thing happened after Laurie Colwin died. Her books remained in print, all of them. And that’s saying something, for she was prolific: five novels and three books of short stories, with two more books published after her death. Eighteen years after her death, her website launched.

It makes sense that Laurie Colwin, in death, should be more popular than a lot of living writers who mine the same terrain. She hit the sweet spot. She wrote about privileged people so well you could legitimately call her our Jane Austen, But also, well before Nora Ephron, she threw in recipes, and in some of her perceptions, she was cousin to Woody Allen. In a time when “literary fiction” was mostly pinched and gloomy, she was the half-full glass — she even called one of her novels “Happy All the Time.” And her writing had that key element, energy; there was a reason they played Sam and Dave before her memorial service.

What to read?

The cooks and eaters among you will gravitate to “Home Cooking,” a collection of the columns she wrote for Gourmet magazine. (Here’s a spooky story. A few months before she died, she called Gourmet’s editor and said, “I have all my columns for next year, is it O.K. if I send them in now?” She did. And for almost a year after she died, a Laurie Colwin piece was in the issue.)

“Home Cooking” is exactly that. It begins: “Unlike some people, who love to go out, I love to stay home.” She wrote a prose poem to the power of the dinner party: “It is a fact of life that people give dinner parties, and when they invite you, you have to turn around and invite them back. Often they retaliate by inviting you again, and you must then extend another invitation. Back and forth you go, like Ping-Pong balls, and what you end up with is called social life.” But she wasn’t really complaining. This is quintessential Colwin: “One of the delights of life is eating with friends; second to that is talking about eating. And, for an unsurpassed double whammy, there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends.” [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here.]

On to the fiction. Colwin’s cult is divided about The Best Book. Some insist it’s “Happy All the Time.” I understand why. Four lovers in their twenties, far from poor, highly educated, with the special tics of the intelligently self-obsessed. The writing is lush:

“There are going to be thousands of dinners like this, thought Misty. This is my place at the dinner table. This is my intended husband’s best friend and that is the wife of my intended’s best friend whom I am going to spend the rest of my life getting to know. Across the table, Vincent looked seraphically happy. How wonderful everything tasted, Misty thought. Everything had a sheen on it. Was that what love did, or was it merely the wine? She decided that it was love.
“It was just as she suspected: love turned you into perfect mush.”

One character is Jewish and mouthy, a stand-in for the author and a great humanizing factor — this is, in every other way, a story from the 1970s, when these self-involved lives were still possible. [To read Chapter 1, click here. To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here.]

I prefer “Shine On, Bright & Dangerous Object.” It has a word-perfect beginning, with a solid narrative voice and a keen appreciation for the Important Facts:

My husband died sailing off the coast of Maine, leaving me a widow at the age of twenty-seven. This was the time when a lot of girls were losing their husbands to the air war or the ground war; I lost my husband to recklessness, to a freak storm and a flimsy boat. I had no bitter, apologetic telegram to inform me, no grieving soldier at my door with the unsent letter, watch, and kit, no child to console.
His name was Sam Bax, and no one ever stopped him from anything.

Colwin nails grief and the ways it wants you to be by yourself even as it pushes you to be with people. It is inevitable in these 180 pages that the person Elizabeth Bax will be pushed toward is Sam’s far more solid (and appropriate) brother. Colwin gets the push-pull just right. And, for a Jane Austenite, she writes decent sex. [To read Chapter 1, click here. To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here.]

Colwin’s fans admit no flaws, but I see one. Each of these novels doesn’t end where it should. Each has an extra section that takes the characters where they don’t need to go, only to bring them back to the ending we could have had many pages earlier. True, without these sections, the novels would have been novellas. They would also have been perfect.

But this is to quibble. If you like old-fashioned novels of manners, here they are, regrooved. A pity there won’t be more of them.
Serves 4

‘There is nothing like roast chicken,” Colwin wrote. ‘It is helpful and agreeable, the perfect dish no matter what the circumstances. Elegant or homey, a dish for a dinner party or a family supper, it will not let you down.”

a 3- to 3 1/2-pound chicken
3 to 4 cups cubed whole-wheat bread
1/2 cup porcini mushrooms
1/4 to 1/3 cup broth
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon melted butter or water or broth for basting.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Rinse chicken and pat dry.

Combine bread and mushrooms in a bowl and toss with broth. Season to taste. Stuff chicken and secure with poultry pin or toothpick. Place in roasting pan and sprinkle with salt, pepper and paprika. (If desired, surround it with carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic and a red pepper.)

Roast for about 2 hours, basting frequently with melted butter and pan juices. The chicken is done when the leg bone wiggles and the skin is the color of teak.

Categories: authors, Books | 1 Comment »

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Oct 16, 2012

I recently came across these glorious cut paper illustrations by Jayme McGowan on her Etsy shop Roadside Projects. Can’t you just imagine how amazing they would look on the wall of a child’s bedroom (or for that matter, on a grown-up’s wall)? And I love that there are some familiar, much-loved storybook faces in the illustrations, too.

In a recent interview on the Etsy blog, Jayme said “Layer upon layer, I build characters and sets for a miniature scene. I stage the pieces in my paper theater (like a diorama that is open on all sides) using thread or wire as necessary to hold the paper elements in place. Then I photograph the dimensional paper artwork, playing with camera settings, lenses and light. In the final stage of my illustration process, I bring the image into Photoshop for minor adjustments.”

What a beautiful combination of old fashioned craft and contemporary technology, don’t you think?

Yours truly,
Naomi (messages in bottles)

Categories: Books | 2 Comments »

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Music to Image

Oct 16, 2012

It is no secret that I love cut work art. Cutting away the unwanted (the negative) and revealing an image (the positive) is a lovely marriage of sculpture and drawing.

I recently came across the work of Erika Iris Simmons, she makes several different kinds of composite art, and my favorites are her sheet music pieces.

I love the idea of taking music and sculpting it into an image.

Have a musical Tuesday,

Sarah from Design Flourishes


all images from Erika Iris Simmons flickr stream

Erika Iris Simmons website

Categories: illustrations | 5 Comments »

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“This is the story of the barn. I wrote it for children and to amuse myself.”
~E.B. White in his reading of Charlotte’s Web, which turns 60 today

This morning started as most mornings do… with coffee & NPR… when I heard this little snippet about the 60th anniversary of this beloved children’s classic. Which got me to thinking, I really should pull out my own copy this evening and give it another read. Mine is an old copy, well-loved and given to me by my old high school librarian who, every once in a while, would let my friend and I take some of the most ‘loved’ books off the shelves to make room for shiny, new copies. Given the popularity of Charlotte’s Web, I have to wonder how many copies our library has gone through over the past 60 years. All that to say, if you haven’t read any E.B White in a while, perhaps this is the week.

Also, does anyone out there use goodreads? It’s a social site for readers I came across recently. I would love to find you!

Here’s the link to my goodreads profile page.

I hope you have an absolutely lovely week, English Musers! Until next Monday, you can find me at Secrets of a Belle.

xo* ~Hannah B.

Categories: Decor | Tags: , , | 5 Comments »

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Hello English Muse readers! Karen from A Simple Cup of Tea once again. This week I want to talk about dreams. Big, small, comfortable and incredibly scary and all those in between.

I’ve always been a girl with big dreams and an even bigger sense of direction and drive in my life. Somehow now that I’m coming to an age where those dreams are being set in motion they seem not only even bigger but also a lot scarier. There’s no more time for hiding behind: ‘when I’m older’ or ‘after I graduate’. The time to go for it and succeed is now. Or of course to fall on my face. It still could go either way.

Luckily J.K. Rowling is here with her nearly infinite wisdom to save the day:

And of course she’s right. Much better to say: ‘look, I went for it and it didn’t work’ instead of wishing all of your life that you had the guts to try it. Regret is not something I want to live with.

So go out and take that jump. Whether it be huge and completely life-overturning or small and seemingly not important (it will be, all change is in some way). Go for your thing, your dream, your life.

Have a lovely new week!

Categories: Decor | Tags: , , | 3 Comments »

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Jesse Kornbluth, of, would happily serve you a dinner cooked by Alex Hitz.

My quick way to figure out if a cookbook is worth writing about here is to leave it on my wife’s desk for a few days. Then I count how many pages have been turned down. This year’s record has been set by Alex Hitz’s book — really, it would probably have been simpler if she’d applied reverse logic and only turned down the pages with recipes she doesn’t want to try.

It’s not hard to see why.

“Always keep it simple, and give people what they want—comfort food, nothing trendy or pretentious,” Hitz says. “Save the test tubes for another time.”

Ah, comfort food. Like, if you live in New York, the late lamented Mortimer’s or its successor, Swifty’s. Like Sunday lunch at the WASP country club in your town. Like a lot of the dishes you find in Park Avenue Potluck. Only, as I say, more and better. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Cheese straws with just two ingredients. A dip of hot artichoke custard. Shrimp bisque. Spinach soufflé. Twice-baked potatoes. Corn pudding. Chicken country captain. Billionaire’s meatloaf. Salted caramel cake. Strawberry cobbler.

And the thing is, this is not an aspirational strategy for Hitz. He came from Atlanta, where there was Coca Cola money in the family and his mother was married to the orchestra conductor Robert Shaw. At home, the family cook produced legendary meals for visiting dignitaries; whenever Alex had a few days off from school, his mother took him to Paris. He liked the kitchen life, so he trained at Le Cordon Bleu and owned a restaurant in Atlanta before stints as a Broadway producer, real estate developer and clothing designer. Realizing that he “missed the kitchen,” he began giving dinner parties in Los Angeles. Now, at 43, he sells prepared frozen meals at his web site and is the toast of hostesses in New York and Los Angeles.

Every society matron of a certain age seems to be besotted by Alex Hitz . (Nancy Reagan: “Alex Hitz is the most elegant host and young man with old-world taste and charm.”) That isn’t usually a good sign. The good news is that he’s not at all stuffy — he believes in good manners, but he believes, even more, in amping up the liveliness level.

I like this book as much for its sound advice as for its recipes. Consider:

— The cookbook I use the most is still Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume 1. It’s based on her experience at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. I think it is so much better than their books — and they are really great.

— Never skimp on ingredients: Always buy the best you can afford. I did not say the most expensive — I said the best. Learn to tell the difference.

— Always use salted butter, not margarine. Sneering purists will have you believe that if you use unsalted butter, you might better control the salt in a dish. The result inevitably ends up tasteless and needing salt. That’s why I like Land O’Lakes, the salted butter I grew up on.

— My favorite Dijon mustard is Maille. Do yourself a favor and find it!

— Homemade stocks are always best, but if you don’t have time to make them, organic bases are perfectly acceptable..

— Buy the best cookware you can afford. I like All-Clad and Le Creuset, which is enameled.

— Throw away cheap baking sheets — they burn food. Buy heavy stainless-steel ones.

Buy excellent chef knives, like Wüsthof or Henckels.

— Buy a large KitchenAid mixer, a food processor and a scale.

And finally… Taste everything as you are cooking.

Some sample recipes….

Heirloom tomato pie

Makes 8 to 10 servings

2 pounds mixed heirloom tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
2 tablespoons salted butter
1 onion, halved, then sliced thin
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup fresh basil leaves, firmly packed
3 sprigs fresh parsley
1 medium shallot, peeled
1 green onion, whole
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese, firmly packed
1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese, firmly packed
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Basic pie crust (JK: feel free to get a frozen one)
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper

Slice the tomatoes into 1/4-inch-thick slices and place them on a rack to drain.

Sprinkle the tomatoes on both sides with ¾ teaspoon salt, 1 ½ teaspoons total. Let them drain on the rack for at least an hour to remove the unwanted water.

When the tomatoes have finished draining, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. When the foaming has subsided, add the onions and sauté them for a couple of minutes, until they are slightly soft, and then add the minced garlic. Continue to sauté the onions and garlic until they are translucent, 10 to 12 minutes.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the mayonnaise, basil leaves, parsley, shallot and green onion, and process them until the mixture is green and smooth, approximately 1 minute.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the mayonnaise mixture with the Gruyere, Cheddar and ½ cup of the Parmesan cheese and stir to mix thoroughly.

Spread the cheese mixture evenly over the cooled pastry crust.

Place the sautéed onion and garlic evenly on top of the cheese mixture, and then arrange the drained tomatoes in a pretty pattern on top.

Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese and the black pepper, and bake the pie for 50 to 60 minutes.

Let the heirloom tomato pie rest for at least 30 minutes before cutting, and serve it warm, at room temperature, or cold with additional basil mayonnaise, some of which you will have left over if you made your own!

Strawberry Cobbler

serves 8 to 10

2 sticks salted butter, melted
2 cups whole strawberries, stemmed (frozen berries are fine)
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
2 cups milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pour the melted butter into a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish, and add the strawberries.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flow, baking soda, salt and sugar, and slowly add the milk, whisking it until it is smooth.

Pour the batter over the fruit and bake for 45 minutes, until it’s more than golden brown. Set. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Categories: Decor | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

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Hello again, this is Naomi Bulger from Messages in Bottles.

Last year, cartoonists from across the world were challenged to create something with the theme “Reading” for the International Book Cartoon Contest. The results, I think, are quite lovely. Some are inspiring (like the one at the top of this post, which happened to win the competition). Others are cynical. And still others are poignant, like this last one.

It’s a rather lovely kind of irony to use a largely word-free medium to illustrate how we feel about words, don’t you think?

Categories: Books | 1 Comment »

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I am so excited about this installation idea. Tasha Lewis made 400 butterflies with small, powerful magnets mounted on the underside. All summer she has been placing them on metal surfaces all over Indianapolis and photographing the resulting flock.

She used an antiquated photographic process called cyanotype, to create the vivid Prussian Blue of the paper butterflies.The magnets she uses are small enough that she can place her butterflies all over a sculpture and not damage it at all.

This is ephemeral street art. As much as I like her work juxtaposed with older, larger sculptures, my favorite photos are in random public spaces.

This one is in a grocery store.

I love the idea of running into a flock of butterflies in the market – or on a staircase railing.

Beautiful and so much fun too!

All images from Tasha Lewis’s blog Guerilla Sculpture she has lots more photos over there – go take a look.

have a lovely, fluttery Tuesday,

Sarah from Design Flourishes

Categories: photographs | 2 Comments »

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Time for Tea

Oct 08, 2012

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about ritual. Recently, I noticed that there is a group who works in my building that take a break each day between 3 & 5 to have tea and converse. It seems like such a nice way to break up the workday.

Do you take time for tea? How do you take it. What kind do you drink?

I’ve got Harney & Sons Egyptian Chamomile at my desk today with a little bear full of honey at the ready.

Until next Monday…
xo* ~Hannah B.
from Secrets of a Belle 

Categories: Decor | Tags: | 4 Comments »

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Candy stripe walls

Oct 08, 2012

Morning guys. Welcome to a new Monday. How was your weekend? What did you get up to? I spent my Sunday painting a striped wall- it was quite a technical challenge, but also a lot of fun and very rewarding. Stripes are such a great way to add a statement to a room and they are also handy for ‘fixing’ problematic proportions in a space.

Horizontal stripes draws the eye across, making a space seem wider. This is great for small or narrow spaces, like powder rooms. Use these with caution in a large room, as it can make the space seem cavernous. A horizontal stripe in a lighter colours, is also a good way of ‘dividing’ an open-plan area, like this beautiful dining room/kitchen.

I have always loved vertical stripes. They make any ceiling seem higher giving the room a spacious feel, as well as visually bringing the wall forward, making the room feel cosy. Simultaneously, they can make a space seem large and cosy. They are ideal for enhancing a tall ceiling or faking it with a low one.

These stripes make a bold statement when used in hight contrast colours. Bright pops of colour look lovely against a monochromatic scheme. A more subdued palette,will give you a classical calm feel.

Something like this light taupe, would look great in a bedroom or a library. This is my attempt at a striped wall. I still need to a do a few touch ups. But I am pretty happy with the end result.

Have you used stripes in your home? Would you?

Have a lovely Monday.


of Beauty and Love

stripe1,stripe2, stripe3, stripe4,

Categories: Decor | Tags: | 1 Comment »

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You might have seen this darling comic around Pinterest lately or in the New York Times Book review back in April.  When I happened across it for the second time this week, I knew exactly what to write about today: the book of the future.

I have very nearly bought a Kindle or Nook at least four times in the past year.  Every time my husband and I go visit his parents, I take at least two books in my bag, in addition to my school books.  That seems normal, right?  It only gets ridiculous when I tote two books over to my parents house, which is five minutes away and also full of books from when I was a kid.  Yet when I think I’ll just take one book, I cannot make up my mind.  What will I feel like reading while my husband and dad watch whatever sport is in season?  Do I want something that requires a lot of thought, or something easy and fun?  Do I want to laugh or cry?  Do I want a book I can finish in a day or to start a longer read?  Do I need to take my textbooks and do my homework?  My bag is so heavy!

When that line of thought runs through my head, I think I should buy an e-reader of some sort, if only to save my shoulders and back.

But then I pick up a book and fan the pages and feel the texture of the paper and the cover and smell that bookish scent.

I cannot make the leap quite yet.

Have you?


Until next Thursday,


(Unwritten, Untitled)


[image by Grant Snider]


p.s. Sorry for disappearing (or not appearing, actually) last week.  We didn’t get an internet connection in our new apartment until Sunday night.

Categories: Decor | 12 Comments »

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Jesse Kornbluth, of, this week bringing Tift Merritt from under the radar.

Because it’s fairly obvious I have a soft spot for female writers and musicians, I get more than my share of CDs by female singer-songwriters. Most seem doomed — they’re not Nashville, they’re not pop, and on the few college radio stations that champion American Roots, the genre generally begins and ends with Emmylou Harris.

But “Another Country” made me hopeful about a singer I knew nothing about. Tift Merritt’s songs were smart and soft and deep, and she had a honey voice that a country singer would kill for, and, on the CD cover, she was beautiful in a girl-next-door way.

Fool that I am, I thought I could help her break out of the pack.

So we met.

Our conversation — it’s here — was thoroughly confusing. Tift Merritt is an astonishingly nice person, not a mean bone in her body and all that. She is also tough bordering on ferocious. Not about getting somewhere, although she was clearly not immune to the charms of stardom — her determination was about her work.

Fool that she is, she thought there was real value in making music that mattered, music that aspired to art.

“Traveling Alone” might just qualify. It could not be more timeless, less trendy. It has just the right proportion of kick-ass songs to whispered meditations. She’s supported by first-class musicians and a highly regarded producer. It’s so well written that a line like “beauty is defiance in the face of death” is a throwaway. Maybe, just maybe, the planets are aligned in her favor this time. [To buy the CD of ‘Traveling Alone’ from Amazon, click here. For the MP3 download, click here.]

Exhibit A: “To Myself” (hot, crank it)

Exhibit B: “Sweet Spot” (quieter, crank it)

I couldn’t resist a rematch.

JK: A CD has become a collection of 99 cent singles to download. But this feels like a real album, not a shot at single hits.

TM: Exactly.

JK: Isn’t that suicidal?

TM: The thought of making work that’s easily consumed and quickly forgotten — what’s the point? I want my work to be cohesive, to age and improve like old leather.

JK: The theme of this CD is right in the title: traveling alone. Dare I ask you to elaborate?

TM: At the end of the day, we’re alone. There are hard truths in that.

JK: Which reminds me: There are no songs about your relationship with your husband.

TM: I felt it was important for me to stand on my own.

JK: Standing alone — standing erect, as it were — do you feel more spine?

TM: Yes.

JK: How does that manifest?

TM: I no longer care what anyone thinks.

JK: How’s that working for you?

TM: Quite well. I don’t want to be overly philosophical, but I think there are things you earn for yourself as you go. And there are things that happen when you’re 37 — you see it’s not a joke. It feels now or never.

JK: Don’t scream: if it’s now or never, why not go for a big hit?

TM: When I was nominated for a Grammy, my label dropped me — I have a wariness about trying for a hit.

JK: So this is the most artistic CD you can make?

TM: Yes. I took a risk. I went my own way — I made this record on my own. I paid for it. That was important for me.

JK: Do you know the story of ‘Dancing in the Dark?’ Bruce Springsteen finished a CD. Jon Landau, his producer, said it was great — but it lacked a hit. Bruce, pissed off, wrote ‘Dancing in the Dark’ in, like, 20 minutes.

TM: Do you know how many times I’ve been told this story? And how many times it worked? Not once!

JK: There’s a beautiful duet with someone who sounds like Roy Orbison. But Roy’s dead. So who plays Roy?

TM: Andrew Bird. I wanted to write a duet. But Andrew lit the Roy candle in the studio.

JK: Bird is just one of the important musicians on this CD. But they don’t play much. Why not?

TM: They’re great musicians, but not great egos. At one point, the drummer, John Convertino, said, ‘Here’s my contribution to this song — I’m not playing.’

JK: So this is my take: ‘Traveling Alone’ is an adult experience, not for kids, and the smarter you are, the more you can get from it.

TM: Thanks. I like the higher denominator.

Tift Merritt’s tour schedule

Oct. 5 Chicago
Oct. 6 Minneapolis
Oct. 8 Washington, DC
Oct. 9 Philadelphia
Oct. 10 Somerville, Mass.
Oct. 12 Charlottesville, Va.
Oct. 18 San Francisco
Oct. 19 Los Angeles
Oct. 20 Santa Monica
Oct. 21 San Diego
Nov. 1 Cincinnati
Nov. 2 Detroit
Nov. 3 Millvale, Pa.
Nov. 4 West Long Branch, NJ
Nov. 5 Burlington, Vt.
Nov. 7 Portland, Maine
Nov. 8 Portsmouth, NH
Nov. 9 Norfolk, Ct.
Nov. 10 Port Chester, NY
Nov. 11 Westhampton, NY
Nov. 13 Baltimore
Nov. 14 Blacksburg, Va.
Nov. 15 Carborro, NC
Nov. 16 Charlotte, NC
Nov. 17 Birmingham, Ala.
Nov 19 Copenhagen, Denmark
Nov 20 Göteborg, Sweden
Nov 22 London
Nov 23 Oxford, UK
Nov 25 Manchester, UK
Nov 26 Edinburgh, UK
Nov 28 Newcastle, UK

Categories: Decor | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

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Hello dear friend. I hope you’re having a good week so far. I’m Naomi and I write little messages in bottles here.

I have spent the past two weeks watching an episode of Downton Abbey every afternoon, while cuddling my baby daughter before her bed time. And I can’t seem to get this fabulous family or their equally fabulous downstairs staff out of my mind.

“They had a soup like this in Downton Abbey,” I say while reading a cafe menu.

“Why isn’t my life more like Lady Mary’s?” I wail to my husband, while vacuuming the carpet.

And, when people tell me my baby is getting big, I respond, “Not as big as Ethel’s baby in Downton Abbey!”

I am willing to admit this habit is probably becoming very annoying for those around me.

And then there is the fashion. Oh! The fashion! If you’re suffering Downton Abbey withdrawals while waiting for Season 3, like I am, how about drawing some style-spiration from the New York Public Library’s collection of early 20th century fashion?

Categories: Fashion | 6 Comments »

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Artistic Maps

Oct 02, 2012

Maps are almost always informative and interesting, but these art prints by Michael Tompsett are so lovely they transcend simply exchanging information.

My favorite is this tube map.

It is amazing how only a few visual cues can make up a recognizable world map.

Have a wonderful Tuesday,

Sarah from Design Flourishes

all images from Michael Tompsett’s esty page; his artwork is also available here

Categories: illustrations | 7 Comments »

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