A decade-long love affair

September, 2009

A love affair begins. It was a pleasant, sunny morning. A perfect day to enjoy a walk and admire colorful autumn foliage. I’d never driven somewhere in the country to go “leaf peeping” but I enjoyed watching the trees change color. Who wouldn’t? It’s gorgeous.

So that day, I walked and admired the colors of the many varieties of trees on my street. On the way home, I picked up a vibrant red leaf that was on the sidewalk in front of me.

And then, once home, without thinking, I painted it, as if possessed. (My oil paints were out, luckily.) The process seemed robotic and effortless. Like an out-of-body experience. It was weird.

It wasn’t a particularly exciting leaf. However, that painting became my “first dollar.” You know how people display the first dollar they made? Well, that was the first leaf I painted. And so began my decade-long love affair with leaf portraits. (Friends and family endured my obsession. Read about it here.)

The evolution of my leaf painting (“first dollar” is the red one.)

love affair

As a result, I became ambitious and painted a couple of collections. Here’s one.

love affair

And so on through the years. Sometimes painting on wood.

love affair

In 2016, I discovered a paper which renewed my love affair with passion.

(My beloved Arches oil painting paper.)

The leaves seemed to lay on the paper as if newly fallen. I was smitten. (Limited few prints still available in the shop.)

love affair

Here’s a favorite from 2017. You can see the lovely torn edges of the paper.
love affair

Is it weird that I sometimes remember the tree or street where I found a certain leaf?

Here’s a recent one. Could it be the last? Quite possibly.

love affair

Somehow, I’m not as excited as I once was. Has my love affair waned?

Only 2019 will tell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fork it over

Can I have the recipe?

One bite, and you’re addicted.
This recipe is a must.
You need these cookies in your life!

Little bites of chocolate happiness

Chocolate fork cookie recipe

Make these cookies when you’re having people over and have nothing in the house.
They’ll only take you about 15-20 minutes, not counting the washing up.

Simple and elegant at the same time.
Suitable for picnics or on an fancy tea table.

Quick. Easy. And scrumptious.

Are you convinced?

Here’s the recipe. (Be sure to read my notes at the bottom.)

Chocolate fork cookie recipe

Chocolate Fork Cookies

(makes about 2 dozen)

1/2 cup(1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar (scant)
1 cup (ish) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt (generous)
2 1/2 tablespoons cocoa
pinch of cinnamon (optional)

extra sugar for sprinkling on top

Preheat oven to 375°.
Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
Add flour, salt, cocoa, and cinnamon, if using. Mix well.
Form mixture into balls and place on parchement-lined baking sheets.
Squash each ball slightly with times of a fork.
Sprinkle with extra sugar.
Bake 15-22 minutes until firm. Cool on wire rack.

Notes

• I like to make them tiny, and usually get about 3 dozen. Makes them fancy!

• The original recipe calls for 1 1/4 cups flour, but I find that this makes the dough dry. If you need more, just flour your hands a bit. I start out with a mixer, but then get in there with my hands.

• Also, the original baking time is 8 minutes. Not with my oven! No way. (You know your oven.)

 

There you have it.

Enjoy! And remember, a recipe is different in everyone’s hands.
Oh, and be prepared for the question, “Can I have the recipe?”

(Speaking of easy, addictive recipes, you might also like this one.)

 


And what about dinner?
Dinner can be easy too.

Appetizers and small dishes

Over 30 easy to make vegetarian recipes
Plan your next gathering. With ease. $9

 

 

BONUS!

Get a checklist of everything you need for ALL the recipes, including pantry staples and fresh ingredients. Convenient to take along to the market.

 


 

 

 

 

 

A Day on the Sidewalk

Here’s a story inspired by this photo I snapped while walking in the neighborhood, some years ago.

Rise and shine

One summer morning, Sofie woke up and discovered she was being moved. Sofie was a plump, heavy little armchair and moving her was not easy. “Oh where could they be taking me,” she thought. “I was so comfortable here.” Sofie had been around a long time and had sat in several different spots inside the house.

Next thing she knew, Sofie was outside the house, sitting on the sidewalk, like a common park bench. This. Was a first.

“Oh, what’s happening! Why have they brought me here,” she thought. Sofie immediately began to worry.

A little later, Louise joined Sofie on the sidewalk. Louise was a Louis XIV-style armchair. She was at one time elegant and beautiful, sitting in the living room, admired by visitors. What was happening to her?

Misery loves company

Sofie and Louise sat side-by-side on the sidewalk and suspected the worst. Louise cried and Sofie was silent. Misery.

“My lace is gone,” said Sofie.

“Oh, you poor dear,” Louise cried. “And you sat there all those years for them, making them comfy.”

“And you were lovely Louise, sitting by the window at the desk.”

“Ingrates,” declared Louise.

A visitor

A cat came and jumped up on Sofie, curling up and making himself comfortable.

“Get off me, you beast!” Sofie wouldn’t tolerate cat hairs on her slipcover. “Louise, DO SOMETHING.”

“Oh what are we to do.” Louise quivered, her faded upholstery looking even more pale under the hot sun.

Sofie and Louise sat for some time. Helpless. Every now and then, one of them cried a little. And then, silence.

“I’m hot,” announced Sophie.

“Me too,” sobbed Louise.

The cat was still on top of Sophie. “I can’t think with this awful creature on top of me. “Shoo. Shoo. Go away. Get OFF.”

The cat still sat, “Beast.”

Reminiscing

They plight seemed hopeless. Endless.

“I remember when they bought you, Louise. They were so excited! You were a beauty. They wanted to put you in the perfect spot.”

“Yes, right by the window, where I faded,” Louise sighed. “And no new slipcover. Instead, they DUMP me.”

“But you looked out the window all those years. You weren’t bored to death, and spilled hot tea on, like I was, sitting next to the bookshelves in the dark.” Sofie’s raised her voice. “Only when they felt like reading or spilling tea, did I see any light!”

Just then, the cat, sensing tension, jumped off Sophie.

“Beast.” Sophie sighed.  

The sun was right above them, and hot. 
 

Hope and despair

“Oh, Sophie, could they be letting us ‘air out,’ you know, the way they do to the rugs?”

“Louise, face facts. We are no longer wanted. As you put it, we’re DUMPED!” Sophie was blunt. “Only why did they had to do it in this heat? We never did a thing to them!”

“Ingrates,” said Louise.

The afternoon came, and with it, more heat.

“I can’t stand it anymore,” said Sophie. “If we are to be collected, I wish they’d GET ON WITH IT! What if it rains or something?”

There was not even a whisper of a cloud in the sky. In another situation, it would be a perfect day.

Louise started crying. “Sophie. Oh, Sophie. I’m so scared.”

“Me too,” said Sophie.

Exhausted from worry and fright, Sophie and Louise dozed. As two old chairs might.

And then. Sophie screamed.

“What? Is it happening? OH!” Louise was in a panic.

“That horrible beast is back on top of me. Look at it. Why doesn’t it stay OFF. As if I don’t have enough troubles.”

“You scared me.” Louise looked even more faded than usual.

“I’m sorry, dear. How very thoughtless of me.”

“Well,” said Louise.

As time goes by

The cat sat.

Sophie cursed.

The afternoon passed.

And then

A little girl came walking down the street towards them.

“Sophie, look. She’s coming to, to, well, you know. Oh Sophie, she’s here. Goodbye Sophie. Goodbye.” Louise was hysterical.

“Louise. Don’t be ridiculous. It’s only a girl. Little girls don’t DO that sort of thing.”

“How silly of me,” said Louise.

“Ralph. Ralph!” She was closer now. “Where are you Ralphie?”

The cat ignored the girl and continued to sit on top of Sophie.

“Ralph. There you are.” The girl sat on Sophie’s arm. “What are you doing here?” She picked up the cat but he immediately escaped from her arms and jumped back on Sophie. “Ralph!”

“Go with her, Ralph,” pleaded Sophie.

“Yes. Go.” Louise liked the idea. She was weary of Sophie complaining.

“I’ll go get Daddy. He’ll make you come home.” She turned and ran down the street.

As the sun lowered in the sky, Sophie and Louise cast long shadows on the pavement.

Carried away

Soon the girl returned with her father.

“See, Daddy? He won’t come home. Daddy? Are these chairs garbage?”

“Who are you calling garbage?” Sophie was furious. “Indeed!”

“Looks like it, honey.” The father started looking at Sophie and Louise. He looked under their cushions, picking Louise up to look underneath her.

“Put me down!”

“Leave her alone! And take this horrid hairy beast off me!”

But he didn’t put Louise down. “Come on, honey. Let’s take this one home. We’ll come back for Ralph later.”

“Sophie! I’m scared. Where are they taking me?” But Sophie didn’t hear. She was crying.

Soon, they came back. The girl, her father, and a young man. They started to lift Sophie up. Ralph jumped off. And they carried Sophie away as the sun began setting.

Epilogue

A few months later, the longtime companions sat next to each other in the girl’s house. Louise now wore a lovely new light green damask and Sophie was in the most glorious floral chintz. Every day, Ralph had his morning and afternoon naps curled up on top of Sophie.

“Good, Ralphie,” Sophie said. “Nice Ralphie. What a good cat you are. We love you Ralphie.”

The End

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of Chintz

­­­­­chintz

(noun)

printed multicolored cotton fabric with a glazed finish, used especially for curtains and upholstery, “a sofa upholstered in chintz”

I once fell in love with a chintz couch, ruffled skirt and all.

It was love at first sight. The couch seized my mid-century taste and lingered. Until my true nature fought back for the win. 

It was a glorious, though brief, love affair.

The couch conquered the living room, accompanied by her chubby matching armchair. (And both sitting on the edge — of a floral oriental rug.) 

But was it enough for me? Not quite.

I ordered extra fabric from the manufacturer to cover the seats of my dining chairs. My poor, subtle mid-century dining chairs. (Gasp.) So the modest living/dining of my 1950s ranch was a tribute to chintz. It was chintz nirvana.

And this wasn’t some meek little pattern.

It was CHINTZ.

I present to you — exhibit A. This is a photo, of a photo, of part of my couch. (When I see this now, I’m overcome with longing. More on that later.)

She was inviting. A comfortable place to read a book, often leading to a nap. She was beautiful.

But then, I had a party. It was a hot day in the middle of July. One of my guests wore a dress she sewed herself. Lovely dress. Can you guess the fabric?

Chintz

The fabric of her garden-party dress was a bold pattern of multicolored flowers. Huge yellow-ish flowers. (Sorry, no Exhibit B. Dig, if you will, the picture.)

Then it happened. My friend sat on the couch.

And poof! My love affair was over. What was I thinking.

Epilogue

We had the chintz couch for several years before I betrayed her and her sweet little companion. After a while we insulted her with a do-it-yourself denim slipcover. (Really?) And rescued the dining chairs. We spared the armchair. For a while.

A few years later, we went shopping and picked out a neutral sectional. The chintz couch was gone forever. I lied to myself and pretended to be happy with our new decor.

But I miss my chintz couch and her chubby little companion. I imagine sitting on her, cross-legged, popcorn in hand, watching a favorite show. All cozy and settled in for an evening. Sigh. I’ve never been quite as satisfied sitting anywhere else. Will I ever?

 

 

Fantasy Dinner Party

“If you could invite 3 people (living or dead) to dinner, who would you ask?”

I choose three of my favorite artists from the past to come to my fantasy dinner party.

Okay, fine. They’re dead.

(Please indulge me, and pretend for the sake of this post, that time travel exists. Thanks.)

Okay. Are we good? Moving on.

First up. Vincent Van Gogh.

I appear one April day in 1889, in Arles, France, where Van Gogh lived at the time, and knock on the door. Van Gogh opens and I explain that I’ve traveled back from 2017. He seems cool with it. (I try not to look at what’s left of his ear. [1]) I tell him how much I love his work and invite him to dinner at my house. In 2017.

“I accept.” he says. “What time?”

Next, Gertrude Stein.

It’s April, 1936 in Paris. Paris! I’m at 27 rue de Fleurus, in the 6th arrondissement on the Left Bank. I knock on the door of the apartment and Ms. Stein’s partner, Alice B. Toklas escorts me to the salon. [2]

I can’t take my eyes off the Picassos hanging all over the place. I explain to Gertrude Stein that I’ve traveled back from 2017. She stares at me, waiting. I mention my appreciation for her unique style of writing (can you say, gigantic ego?) in her book, Everybody’s Autobiography. [3]  But then remember that she hasn’t written it yet. I invite her to dinner at my house. In 2017. “There is no there there.” she says. [4]But I accept what time will be the time?

And finally, Jean Cocteau.

It’s a dark and misty evening in April, 1948. I knock on the door of a gorgeous house in Milly-la-Forêt, France. [5] Magical. Cocteau greets me, holding a candelabra.[6] I explain that I’ve traveled back from 2017. He acts like this is normal. ­(Those creative types!)

I tell him that his film, La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast, 1946) [7], is my favorite movie of all time. (It really is.) I invite him to dinner at my house. In 2017. “Mon plaisir,” he says, “A quelle heure?” (My pleasure, at what time?)

fantasy dinner party

My esteemed guests — Van Gogh, circa 1889; Stein, circa 1936; and Cocteau, circa 1947.

Back home in my time, I plan a menu of all appetizers because that’s what I do best.

It will be a lovely table abundant with a variety of tasty and healthy appetizers. Guests tend to linger eating this type of meal. A bit of this, another morsel of that. Glasses replenished, absorbed in good conversation, and the evening stretches into early morning.

I plan this despite knowing that Gertrude Stein is not fond of a dinner of all appetizers.

Stein wrote in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas: [8]

“I don’t know quite what happened but Hélene [her housekeeper/cook] cooked a very bad dinner. Only twice in all her long service did Hélene fail us. This time and when about two weeks later . . . . That time too she did strange things, her dinner consisting of a series of hors d’oeuvres. . . . As I said Hélène did for the second time in her life make an extraordinarily bad dinner. For some reason best known to herself she gave us course after course of hors d’oeuvres finishing up with a sweet omelet.”

There’s no pleasing everyone.

Finally, it’s time and my guests arrive for the evening’s festivities.

Van Gogh brings me a giant sunflower.[9]

Stein hands me a red rose and says, “Good evening. A rose is a rose is a rose.[10]

Cocteau hands me a red rose too. [11]Enchanté,” he says.

And so we begin. With cocktails of course.

Absinthe for all! [12]

A silvery tablecloth covers the table, set with white plates and black napkins. We’ll drink from art deco black-stemmed glasses from the 1930s.

Appetizers are ready.

There’s a white bean spread, and red pepper and walnut spreads. Fried sage leaves, chick pea fritters, zucchini fritters, and fried artichoke hearts. Bean, beet, bulgur, and Russian salads. Carrot and zucchini ribbons piled on a plate. Red lentil bites and little red roasted onions. And cauliflower purée, egg salad, and an assortment of cheeses. And olives. Never forget the olives.

The food is room temperature and pleases Stein.

From The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas:
Gertrude Stein never likes her food hot and I do like mine hot, we never agree about this. She admits that one can wait to cool it but one cannot heat it once it is on a plate so it is agreed that I have it served as hot as I like.

We discuss art — landscapes, color, brushstrokes, and the crazy prices of art supplies. We talk of writing — sentences versus paragraphs, poetry, and filmmaking, and of living in Paris versus living in the countryside.

(By we, I mean they talk, while I listen, fascinated.)

Van Gogh pops a fried sage leaf in his mouth. “There are so many people, especially among our pals, who imagine that words are nothing. On the contrary, don’t you think, it’s as interesting and as difficult to say a thing well as to paint a thing. There’s the art of lines and colours, but there’s the art of words that will last just the same.” [13]

Oh, how I agree with this! Art comes to us in many forms. 

We pass around the food, and refill drinks.

My fantasy dinner party is epic!

I have a piece of great and sad news to tell you: I am dead,” says Cocteau. [14] We stare at him and Cocteau bursts out laughing. “Je dois être mort, non?” he says. “Autrement, j’aurais 128 ans!

Gertrude Stein adds some carrot and zucchini ribbons onto her already full plate, and calculates that she’s 143 years old.

But Van Gogh wins. He’s 164.

More absinthe, anyone?

My fantasy dinner party continues.

Stein and Cocteau met in 1917 (exactly 100 years ago!) when Picasso brought him to the Rue de Fleuris and she declared Cocteau “a slim elegant youth.” They seldom saw each other after that day. Their friendship of polite correspondence tapered around 1934. Until now!

You have not written in two years,” says Stein, considering whether to have some more Russian salad.
Actually, more,” says Cocteau, not disclosing that Stein would die in 1946. And he doesn’t mention the second world war. Why ruin this pleasant time-traveling evening? Especially while eating red lentil bites with some cheese and olives.

Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder.[15] Cocteau is drinking and more fond of Stein than he ever was back then.

Van Gogh is staring at the sunflower, a subject well known to him. No doubt planning yet another painting using massive amounts of yellow paint. Go for it, Vincent. We’ll thank you later.

He hasn’t sold any paintings and has no clue how famous he’ll be. Gertrude Stein never owned a Van Gogh, unfortunately, “. . . it was probably not for want of trying.[16]

Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime. The Red Vineyard at Arles, sold to a friend for 400 french francs, right before he died in 1890. It’s now in Moscow’s Pushkin Museum of Fine Art. Fast forward a hundred years to 1990. His Portrait of Dr. Gachet sold for $82,500,000 at auction.[17]

Should I tell him? No. I can’t tamper with history. But wait. What? This is my fantasy and I can do whatever I want. No historical consequences.

Only hysterical ones.

So I tell him about the $82 million. What? He hasn’t even painted it yet. I suspect he thinks I’m nuts. (Funny he thinks I’m the nutty one.)

The unreal evening begins to fizzle, as all good fantasies must come to an end.

My gracious guests are fading. Actually fading. Alas, it’s time to — well, time travel.

My guests thank me for the evening spent (“merci pour la soirée”), they say “farewell,” bid “adieu,” and return to their times. Poof!

And there’s good news!

Since this is a fantasy dinner party, I’m not staying up late to wash dishes.

Now I’m dying to know. Who would you invite to your own fantasy dinner party? And what would you make? Please tell me in the comments.

 


 

Recipes for this epic dinner party can be found in my cookbook.

Appetizers and small dishes

Over 30 easy to make vegetarian recipes
Plan your next gathering. With ease. $9

 

 

BONUS!

Get a checklist of everything you need for ALL the recipes, including pantry staples and fresh ingredients. Convenient to take along to the market.

 


 

Footnotes

[1] The famous story is that in December of 1988, Van Gogh cut off part of his ear in response to his pal Gauguin leaving him. There are other theories though. One is that Gauguin sliced it in a sword fight and there was a cover-up. A pact between the two men kept the incident a secret. Another, that it had nothing to do with Gauguin, but rather was a response to his brother Theo’s marriage. No one will ever know the truth. Can you say, Soap Opera?

[2] Alice B. Toklas met Gertrude Stein in September, 1907 and they were together until Stein’s death in 1946. She was Stein’s confidante, lover, cook, secretary, muse, and editor, among other things. Wikipedia lists her occupation as “avant-garde.” Hilarious. Can that be my occupation?

[3] Everybody’s Autobiography, published in 1937 was Gertrude Stein’s memoir. It was a follow-up to The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.

[4] The phrase, “. . . there is no there there,” is from Everybody’s Autobiography. It refers to Stein’s home town of Oakland, Calfornia, meaning that the place had no substance. (So thanks a lot, Stein, for saying that about my fantasy dinner in 2017.)

[5] Cocteau bought a house here with the film actor Jean Marais (Beast in the movie) in 1947. He lived there until his death in 1963.

[6] Hands in the wall hold candelabras. They move in unison to illuminate the way, as Belle glides into the castle towards the beast. (Elegant and surreal predecessors to Disney’s Lumiere.)

[7] La Belle et La Bête released in 1946 after a year of production. It’s an adaptation of a story written by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1757.

[8] Stein published The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in 1933, as if authored by Alice B. Toklas herself. It became Stein’s best-selling book, making Toklas somewhat famous. And “out” from under Stein’s overpowering shadow.

[9] Vincent Van Gogh made at least seven sunflower paintings, the first in the summer of 1886. But who knows? There could be more.

[10] From Sacred Emily, a poem written by Stein in 2013, likely meaning, “things are what they are.”

[11] A rose is a symbol of love and of running out of time, in La Belle et La Bête

[12] Absinthe was the iconic drink of the bohemians in France. Nicknamed La Fée Verte, The Green Fairy, and said to have caused halluciantions. Van Gogh over-indulged in absinthe and some say it contributed to his death. It contained a harmful chemical compound, thujone, from the wormwood plant. (That sounds so lovely. Ugh.) By 1915, La Fée Verte was banned in the United States and in much of Europe, including France. It’s back now but with only a trace of that nasty thujone.

[13] Van Gogh wrote this to his friend, Émile Bernard, a fellow artist, on Thursday, April 19, 1888

[14] From Jean Cocteu’s poem, Visite

[15] A famous quote. Or should I say, infamous? It’s in the book, Back to Lilac Land: A Theatrical Novel, published in 1905 by Cyril Arthur Edward Ranger Gull. Though it’s unproven that’s where the saying originates.

[16] From “Avant-Garde Persuasions,” an article in The New Republic, April 19, 2012. Written by Jed Perl, art critic for the magazine.

[17] In 1990, Van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet sold for $82.5 million to 74-year-old Japanese businessman Ryoei Saito. He said the painting would go with him to his cremation, causing outrage. Later saying that it was a “bad joke.” Today Mr. Saito would have been over a hundred. So where is the painting? The Wall Street Journal reported in 2007 that Wolfgang Flöttl, an Austrian fund manager, owned it. But then sold it for $100 million. So where is it? Where in the world is Dr. Gachet?

 

 

 

 

 

 

A note to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Dear Museum of Fine Arts Boston,

Why is one of my favorite paintings hanging so high? And among a million other paintings in the same room. Why? And why is it crammed in a corner? Why, MFA?

I need the world’s most powerful binocular to see it.

The salon-style hang

I get it. You wanted to make the room look like a French salon, back in the day. Way back. A gazillion paintings hanging together in a big room with soaring ceilings. The salon-style hang.

The French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture started this in the 1600s to fit in all students’ work. (If you’re so inclined, everyone’s best friend, Google, can direct you to a more detailed history lesson.)

When London’s Royal Academy of Arts also did this in the 1700s, many artists were unhappy. They protested their work hanging so high that it was impossible to see. And worse, more prominent artists’ work hung at the bottom, while others were high up — “skied.”

Museum-of-Fine-Arts, Boston

Memories

I saw it close-up in 2006, at a special exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Breathtaking. Didn’t want to leave it and went back another day for a second viewing. I kept staring at the brush strokes, peering so close that the guards were on alert, hovering, watching me.

It’s a big 58 x 82 7/8 inch painting. (I do like to get lost in a huge painting, like this one.) In part because my work is small-ish and I have not yet painted on such a large scale.

Do I have a longing to make gigantic work of art? Yup. (Any day now.)

William Lamb Picknell

Who is this artist? He’s not well-known. I didn’t know who he was until my close encounter in 2006.

William Lamb Picknell was born in Vermont in 1853, and died in Massachusetts in 1897. A short life. The work I love so much is Morning on the Loing at Moret, painted in 1895, two years before his death.

Who knows why certain paintings leave lasting impressions on the viewer? It’s about the feeling. I remember staring at Picknell’s painting and imagining that I stood there on the banks of that river in France. Nothing else around me mattered for a few minutes. It was intoxicating. Enveloping. Not to mention, the brush strokes were outstanding.

Why is this magnificent masterpiece of his not in a room by itself for people to enjoy and admire. Why?

High and dry

It’s unlikely that I’ll have an intimate relationship ever again with the Picknell. But I’ll always remember our special time together.

The good news though is, MFA, that you hung this magnificent painting. It’s no longer hidden in your basement, or wherever you keep the art hidden away.

Which makes me ask, what else do you have stashed away? Do we need more rooms with salon-style hangs? Kidding.

Best,

Ani-signature

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love and the Art of a Light Fixture

After two years of searching for a house, we were either on the verge of giving up, or on the verge of lunacy. Whichever came first. Then we found our new place. It was move-in ready, so to speak. Not a hazmat-suit-requiring hell hole like some of the places we toured. The location was perfection. And the price was right (not counting the bidding war.)

The decor was contemporary, mostly from a store I can’t mention. Young affluent professional, Gen X style. Lovely. Coordinated, and most important of all, clean.

“It shows very well. They live like this all the time!” said the seller’s agent.

Some people like to see a place in it’s natural, lived in state when house hunting, especially if it’s not gross. Not me. I like empty rooms and bare walls. But I can envision a place empty regardless of the millions of personal snapshots on the walls. Which is what I did.

So we closed the deal and got the keys. The place was empty. Except for the elaborate light fixture in the open living/dining area, now dangling on top of nothing but a bare wood floor.

Light fixture included

The seller’s agent informed us that the departing couple left the fixture for us. A gesture. They could always get another for their new house. It was very nice of them, wasn’t it? Well, yes, quite nice, in fact.

The fixture was trendy and well-priced from a popular (again, sorry, can’t say) store.

It had to go

Mom said, “You have to get rid of that. It’s nice. But it’s not you.
Best friend said, “No. No. That’s not you.
Daughter said, “Ugh.”
Husband said, “It’s so nice, though.” Sigh.

So I went shopping

And bought a simple George Nelson Bubble lamp.

The electrician installed my new lamp. I was in love.

We still had the other one. What to do? Craigslist.

I dusted the fixture and placed it in the still-empty living room. It was better off with someone who would love to have it.

It’s a deal

The doorbell rang and a mid 40-something couple came up the stairs.

Woman, seeing the fixture waiting for her in the living room, “I’ve been looking for this for 3 months!
Man, counting money and handing it to me, “We drove two hours to get here.
Me, taking the cash, “So glad you like it.

Then the woman spotted my new George Nelson Bubble lamp. She glanced at what was now her fixture still sitting on the floor. She looked at me, and said, “Is THAT what you’re using?

And with that, the husband picked up their long-sought-after fixture and they left.

I’m talking about a couple of lamps, but am I really?

Love is unexplainable.
Love is passionate.
Love is personal.

And with that being said, I give you this.

White Chocolate Walnut Truffles

No matter what type of light fixture you like, this recipe will no doubt please you. (Unless of course you don’t love white chocolate or walnuts or a little booze in your dessert.)

These little bites of deliciousness take no time at all to make, 15-20 minutes, tops. Easy and yummy.

White Chocolate Walnut Truffles

Ingredients

2 tablespoons heavy cream
3 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
1 teaspoon butter
2 teaspoons bourbon or whiskey
3/4 cup walnuts (or pecans, if you prefer) finely chopped

In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and add chocolate, stirring until it’s completely melted. Add the butter and stir mixture until smooth. Stir in bourbon and 1/4 cup of the nuts. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and chill, covered, for 4 hours or until firm.

Form small teaspoonfuls of the mixture into little balls. Roll bowls in the remaining nuts.

Chill until firm and store in refrigerator. Makes 18 to 20 small truffles.

Leave me a comment

Let me know if you made them.
Did you love them? Were they as easy as I claimed?
But most importantly, did you use walnuts or pecans?
Bourbon or whiskey?

Ani-signature

 

 

The Art of Storytelling

Tuck me in

When a child, hoping to prolong bedtime says, “Tell me a story!” a parent has to come up with something. The art of storytelling has to kick in. On the spot.

The-art-of-storytelling

Your child wants a bedtime story, but it’s hard to think of anything night after night. So you make up some outrageous tale. Nothing is too wacky. Anything goes. The weirder the better.

I know the scenario well. For my daughter, I invented people and got into character. Accents and all. They would visit and tell her stories. One of our favorites was an English couple, Hildegarde and Harold. It was entertaining for both of us. And gave me material for days, even months or years!

Inspiration

How did Hildegarde enter my head? Old British sitcoms we watched back then on PBS likely had something to do with it. Shows like Keeping up Appearances and Waiting for God. Thanks BBC!

The best part

Alas, my characters and their stories did not translate into bestsellers. But ending our days with cuddling and giggling? That was the best reward.

Imagination

The act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality.” — definition from Merriam-Webster

Many famous books, and series of books are a result of parents’ storytelling antics. They’re not always told at bedtime, and all aren’t sweet, charming stories for children. Some are quite disturbing. Dark, even. But they have something in common — crazy amounts of imagination. Crazy.

Sweeter than honey

Winnie-the-Pooh, by A.A. Milne

It’s easier to lose a thing, than to find it.” — Pooh

Is there anyone who doesn’t adore the story of a honey-loving, innocent, cuddly, sweet bear named Pooh, and his buddies? Milne based Winnie-the-Pooh on his son, Christopher Robin’s teddy bear, around 1925. The other characters, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, Kanga, and Roo were Christopher’s stuffed toys. These sweet, charming characters live on and have adventures in the Hundred Acre wood.

Mad as a hatter

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll (neé Charles Dodgson)

How do you know I’m mad,” said Alice.
You must be,” said the [Cheshire] Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Is anything nuttier than Alice in Wonderland? (That’s a compliment.) I’m in wonderment (ha!) of such imagination. It started in 1862 as a story told to the three daughters of friends (one named Alice) while on a rowing trip. Yes. A rowing trip.

A name that promises imagination

Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren

But I’m the strongest girl in the world, don’t forget.” — Pippi

The story was a request in the 1940s by Lindgren’s daughter who named the character herself. Pippi has red hair and freckles, an unusual personality, and superhuman strength. She is playful and capricious, and she doesn’t want to grow up. And, Pippi lives alone with her pet horse and monkey. Alone. Would this story publish today? Who knows.

A gentle giant

The BFG (Big Friendly Giant), by Roald Dahl.

The BFG settled himself comfortably in his chair and crossed his legs. “Dreams,” he said, “is very mysterious things. They is floating around in the air like little wispy-misty bubbles. And all the time they is searching for sleeping people.”

Roald Dahl wrote many extraordinary stories and this one from 1982 is no exception. The BFG is the story of a giant who captured dreams and kept them in bottles for children to enjoy while they slept. Dahl entertained his young daughters with the story. He even climbed on a ladder outside their window acting as the BFG to blow dreams through their window. Now that’s what I call an elaborate bedtime routine!

Going down the rabbit hole

Watership Down, by Richard Adams

Animals don’t behave like men,’  he said. ‘If they have to fight, they fight; and if they have to kill they kill. But they don’t sit down and set their wits to work to devise ways of spoiling other creatures’ lives and hurting them. They have dignity and animality.”

This is an epic, serious tale of a bunch of rabbits searching for a new home. Adams improvised the story during long car rides with his two young daughters. They later encouraged their father to write it all down. Completed in 18 months, and published in 1972, he dedicated the book to his two girls. But I wouldn’t call this a children’s story. Not at all. Watership Down, the rabbits’ destination, is a hill in England, near where the author grew up.

An elephant in the room

Babar, by Jean de Brunhoff

In 1931 Brunhoff’s wife, Cecile invented a story of an elephant in the jungle. After a hunter kills his mother, he goes to a big city. (Ugh. Horrible. Can you say, Bambi?) He meets An Old Lady (her official name) who gives him clothes, a place to live, and an education. A talking, sophisticated, upright (uptight?) elephant. Can you tell I’m not a fan of this story? Many aren’t. But I have to credit the Brunhoffs for their eccentric imagination.

Imagination and artistry

These two go together like pen and ink, pencil and paper, arts and letters, rise and shine, like … well, you get the gist.

As long as there’s imagination, there’s storytelling. Here are a few others. And I’m sure there are many more. And more to come. Always.

  • Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, by Betty MacDonald
  • The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan
  • Thomas the Tank Engine, by Wilbert Awdry
  • Just So Stories, by Rudyard Kipling

Have you made up any crazy stories? Or have you listened to any? Do you have a favorite outrageous tale?

 

 

 

 

Pantone Greenery

(Thank you note to Pantone)

Pantone-Greenery

Fall 2016 Collection is now in the shop. Prints and originals available.

 

Dear Pantone,

Did you pick this year’s color, Greenery, just for me? I know you didn’t, but it sure feels like it.

Pantone, you’ve been a part of my life since art school, eons ago. So now, I’m always interested in the color you choose every year. Loved the orange a few years back! And that orchid in 2015. Gorgeous.

But this year is noteworthy.

Greenery. This glorious yellow-green shade appears in so many of my paintings. Especially in my Fall Collections. Where would I be without this color? How would my leaves come to life on paper?

My palettes are covered with variations of Greenery.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I LOVE all colors. ALL OF THEM. (Except maybe not when a dark brown appears instead of the gorgeous purple I was going for. Sh*t happens.)

Greenery. No color has made me happier or feel more productive.

So Pantone, thank you for this choice. For making 2017 the year that honors one of my favorite colors. A color I can’t be without. A color that helps bring my leaves to life.

Greenery is my forever color.

With thanks,
Ani-signature

 

 

 

 

 

Jungle Fever

When you’re looking for art, there’s only one thing to know. How does it make you feel?

New York City, December, 2010. It was a bitter cold Friday morning, and the last day of a 3-day trip. I had a couple of hours to kill before my bus home to Boston.

So I went to MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art.

I waited in line forever to check my bag and coat, then I took the elevator to start at the top. Because now there wasn’t much time.

The museum was packed. I wondered about, stopping here and there. And then I saw it. Henri Rousseau’s, “The Dream.”

It was like a movie scene when a person stands still and people move around in blurred fast motion. The person feels alone in the crowd. That was me. I don’t know how long I stood staring at the Rousseau. It’s a HUGE painting (almost 7 x 10 feet!) and I was lost in it.

Jungle fever

Flashback

Flashback to the painting studio in art school. I pictured myself in the clothes I used to wear. A classmate (Barbara?) was painting a jungle scene, à la Rousseau. My own painting was a portrait of a paper maché bird on a square canvas. (My preference of drawing and painting within squares must have started around then and I still paint birds.)

After art school, life happened —husband, jobs, children, house, housework, social life — did I mention children? All good and happy but I didn’t paint much. (My fault really because there are no excuses. If I wanted to, I would have. Sorry. I digress.) Paint dried up in unused tubes and my brushes collected dust. Sigh.

Right before that trip in 2010, I started painting again. Not much, but whenever I could squeeze it into the rest of my life.

Now it IS my life. (but that’s another blog post.)

Jungle Fever

Jungle sounds were playing in my head.

I identified with Rousseau painting “The Dream” a hundred years ago in 1910. (Wait. What? That sounds ridiculous. It’s Rousseau!)

I know what it’s like to have a blank canvas or a piece of paper and some paint, and an idea. And after a while, magic! There’s a painting or a drawing. That’s how I identified with Rousseau.

Had “The Dream” influenced me back then? Maybe. Probably. Definitely.

The charms of nature inspire me. I always seem to paint vegetation — leaves, flowers, and vegetables. Sometimes realistic and sometimes, not so much. Always nature in some form.

Earth to Ani

How long was I was standing there? Who knows, but human voices became clear around me as jungle sounds faded. It was almost time for my bus. I awakened from my “Dream.”

A matter of the art

Recently, a friend of mine told me she wanted to buy some art while on vacation. “How can I tell if the art is good?” she asked me.

At first I didn’t know how to answer her.  But then I remembered the Rousseau.

“Ask yourself,” I told her, “How does it make me feel?” And you’ll know.

And that friends, is all there is to it. It’s a matter of the heart. Or art.

 

 

It takes over 30 hours to make my bed.

A few days ago I had to leave the house by 8:00 AM for an appointment. For me this means I have to get up at the crack of dawn. (Okay, well, 6:00 AM. I need 2 hours of waking up time.) I was rushing around, running late (I hate you, SNOOZE button.) Since I always like to make the bed in the morning, I looked at the clock — 7:53 AM. Plenty of time. So I made the bed and glanced at the clock again — 7:57 AM. Done in 3-4 minutes. Not bad, with 3 minutes to spare.

This got me thinking.

Say I spend 4 minutes every day making the bed. That’s 28 minutes a week and 1,460 minutes a year. So how many hours is that? 24.3 hours.

And what about changing the bed? I want to sleep on clean sheets. So I added 10 minutes a week, calculating an extra 8.6 hours, bringing the yearly total to 32.9 -ish hours!

Yes. It takes over 30 hours to make my bed. What?

It’s a pretty simple queen bed setup. But still. Over 30 hours.

bed

I started thinking of other personal daily essentials that amount to big chunks of time.

• Walking an hour a day, 4-6 days a week, depending on weather: 208–312 hours a year
• Brushing and flossing, twice daily, total 6 minutes: 36.5 hours a year
• Showering, 5-7 minutes per day:  30–42 hours a year, and that doesn’t include blow drying.

(And there’s so much more. Well you know what I mean. All the things we do as humans. Wink.)

And that doesn’t include work. Which is a whole other discussion. (Can you say, Facebook?)

So now I’m scheming ways to steal time from myself.

Here’s a big one.

One of my arch enemies, winning battles against me, almost every day, is the SNOOZE button. Set for 10 minutes, I confess it defeats me at least 5 times a week. That’s over 43 hours a year. 43 hours! That’s a whole work week. With overtime.

I’ve tried. Really I have. No, really. But SNOOZE is tempting, powerful, and relentless. It’s addictive.

But now that I know nasty SNOOZE is robbing me of 43 hours, it’s time for me to win the battle.

From now on, SNOOZE, you lose.
I refuse to give you 43 hours.

 

 

Fannie Farmer

A remarkable entrepreneur

For years, I’ve baked the same marble cake recipe from an old Fannie Farmer paperback. Never thought much about it.

Until today.

Fannie Farmer

On January 7th, 1896, a revised, modern edition of The Boston Cooking School Cookbook published.

Fanny Farmer listed each ingredient separately, and instructed how to correctly measure everything. She used a scientific, precise method of measuring, never before used in recipes.

Imagine the amount of time required for recipe testing during this undertaking!

Her publisher, Little, Brown, and Company wasn’t convinced that the book would sell. So they asked Fannie Farmer to pay for the printing of 3000 copies. Self-publishing! This granted her copy rights, which was lucky, since the book was a huge success and made her quite wealthy.

The latest (13th) anniversary edition is still in bookstores.)

About Fannie Farmer.

  • As a result of a stroke while still in high school, she wasn’t able to seek higher education
  • After recovering, she learned to cook and took over domestic duties of the household.
  • Later, she enrolled at The Boston Cooking School. Upon graduation in 1889, at age 32, she became Assistant Director.
  • At 37, she became Director of the Boston Cooking School
  • In 1896, at age 39, she tweaked and republished the Boston Cooking School Cookbook. Later she published several other cookbooks.
  • In 1902, she left to open her own school, Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery in Boston. The school trained housewives and nurses in cooking and was in business until 1944.
  • In 1905, she wrote articles for Woman’s Home Companion magazine, until her death in 1915.

Fannie Farmer didn’t let anything stop her.

She found something she loved and pursued it with passion. She wrote books, ran a school, opened another school, taught, and gave lectures. (TED talks of her day?) She was a cook, a baker, a writer, a businesswoman, and a publisher. Fannie Farmer was an entrepreneur. And all before 1915.

Despite another stroke near the end of her life, she continued to teach and lecture. Nothing stopped her.

And so I bake marble Cake. But from now on, it will be a little more special. I’ll think of the remarkable Fanny Farmer, and her many accomplishments.