Thursday, October 29, 2009

Back to the Earth

Growing up my parents' kitchen was filled with pieces of ceramic tableware of various provenances. There were heavy earth colored pitchers and platters from pre-children adventures in southern Mexico, colorful bowls and canisters that were gifts from artist friends and a massive set of hefty earthenware bowls which I believe most recently served as a vessel for my aunt's fabulous yeasted waffles and I can only imagine belonged to a grandmother or great grandmother somewhere along the way.

And then there is the collection of bowls and mugs and platters that my mother has found over the years trawling the pottery studios of Berkeley and Emeryville, my favorite of which is a tall, almost conical off-white bowl which my mom used to use for making bread dough, as well as coleslaw, her version of which was one of my favorite things to eat in the summers growing up.

So I suppose I've come by my love of ceramic tableware honestly. Formed from natural materials by human hands, it feels so basic and honest. And yet, well done, it is lovely and graceful.

I always have an eye out for pottery, and as such honed in on Heath Ceramics years ago. Based in Sausalito, for quite some time I admired the locally made, handmade pieces from afar. I've always had a soft spot for their perfect bud vases

and their simple, earthy and elegant dishes.

And don't even get me started on their tiles

I suppose access to such gorgeous products might explain why the owners have a most envy-worthy home.

Anyway, on a trip back to the homeland a while back, I insisted on visiting the factory store. I was on the hunt for a wedding gift for a dear friend who I thought would appreciate the perfection that is Heath. The store is quite literally next to the factory (locally made, handmade claims confirmed!), and in addition to first quality items, they also have second and third quality pieces. I often found it hard to tell the difference between the various tiers of items, but the difference in price was quite clear. I picked up this beautiful dish

for about 25% of retail. I'm still excited about the find two years later.

Recently loads of wonderful small ceramics lines have been featured in various media outlets...blogs, magazines and newspapers all seem to be jumping on the bandwagon.

Gleena Ceramics has been popping up all over the place, and for good reason. I love the idea of sipping a delicate tea in the evening out of these cups,

warming my hands after coming in from the cold.

And these votives look as though they could turn even the most depressing space into a sort of fairyland.

Rae Dunn, who sells through an etsy store, puts a whimsical spin on the most basic of pieces.

I could certainly see these dishes by my stove or on my dining room table (if I had one that is).

And this plate would be ideal to eat a breakfast pastry off of first thing on a Sunday morning.

Arendal Keramik puts a bit of an edgy spin on the more traditional, perhaps twee if traditional is not your cup of tea, china patterns.

Drinking dark rich coffee out of these cups on a cold morning would be one of those great little luxuries in life.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Fairer Coast

I am possibly the only native Californian, or current New York resident come to think of it, that has never been to Las Vegas. Or at least I was prior to Friday. After a couple of very busy weeks Paul and I fled New York last weekend for the warmth and sunshine of the west.

My first impression of Las Vegas? I could not fathom how close the airport was to the strip!

The late afternoon sunshine beckoned, so we headed straight for the pool for a quick dip. But not before purchasing some shorts for Paul who, despite the fact that we were headed for some of the sunniest locations in the country, had not seen fit to pack a pair. You can take the Englishman out of England...

And then we met up with some dear friends to eat some even more dear food for dinner.

As one of our dining companions remarked, the price is not indicative of size. Or perhaps it is, the relationship just happens to be inverse.

Halfway sated, we piled into cabs and headed to UNLV's Sam Boyd stadium. I was thrilled at the prospect of a short drive...I had spied UNLV on the (very short) ride from the airport after all. As it turned out, the stadium itself was in the middle of the desert. But eventually we arrived...along with the rest of the city. And we were faced with "the claw".

Rumor has it that this stage set up requires 5,000 people to set it up...each time. But no matter, it was for U2 after all. They deserve no less. We were happy for them and their giant claw.

Bono proved that he could still hit the rock star stance...

...and the Edge showed us a swagger like no other.

The production rivaled that of the best over the top pop concert you can imagine...

...although I have to admit that the live video feed from the space station was a bit much...and a bit confusing?

After a long cab ride back to the strip and a few drinks, we were snoozing away happily in our massive hotel room bed. And then up the next morning to the airport, the less said about which the better (do not under any circumstances ever try to find food at McCarran Airport).

A short while later we were cruising in our red Impala (jealous? no, I didn't think so) down the streets of Los Angeles.

We soon entered the snarl of traffic that often dominates L.A. highways...

...and after many hours we arrived at our destination: El Compadre.

The lovely Amy joined us for a margarita and some much needed Mexican food.

Paul and I were so excited to finally eat that we could hardly speak.

Thank goodness Amy is a beloved friend and could excuse our poor conversation!

That night we headed downtown

to check out another excellent band with a long history...

I was so thrilled that Lexi, who I hadn't seen in much too long, was able to make the trip up from Orange County with her husband (not pictured here but I assure you very cute) to hang out with me and the very dapper Daniel.

Paul and I ducked out before the night got too debauched, as we had a full schedule the next day. Family time in Orange County!

After a brief stop off at my grandparents' house to check out the lemon tree

we were off to Laguna Beach to meet with up with my aunt, uncle and cousin for lunch.

My aunt had chosen the most amazing spot...Madison Square Garden Cafe...

a veritable treasure trove,

which also happens to make utterly delicious food in a beautiful garden setting!

After stuffing ourselves full of ahi tuna salad and german apple pancakes, we headed up the hill to my aunt and uncle's house for a few photo ops.

The beautiful family, including my amazing age-defying grandparents (grandma and grandpa are 86 and 90 respectively...I never quite get over the fact that both of them still have naturally brown hair). As Paul says, they are in better shape than some of his friends.

I insisted on a walk on the beach afterwards

as I had been itching to get my feet in the water ever since I landed in L.A.

Very few things in life feel as good as the ocean rushing over your bare feet.

We all indulged in a big delicious Italian dinner at Alfio's restaurant on the way back up to L.A., and after a quick night cap down the street from our hotel with a few friends, we headed to the Pink Dot for our nightly pre-bed bottle of water.

The next morning, after a luxurious night of deep deep sleep we dragged ourselves out of our crazy animal print bed

and ambled across the street to the greatest breakfast place in town.

I sat in the sun and drank a carafe of coffee, mulling over how stunning the weather was and how relaxed I felt and how little I felt like getting on a plane later that afternoon.

We took a spin in the rockin' Impala through the Hollywood Hills, ogled the views...

and then came back down to our charming little hotel (we've decided it's the go to for weekends when the Mondrian is feeling too pricey) and lounged by the pool for a moment.

And then we took off down La Cienega to LAX. Back to New York. Now I'm waiting on that crisp sunny fall weather that I always rave about. So far I've got rain and gloom. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rain Rain Come to Stay

The forecast for this past weekend called for rainy skies, frigid air and blustery winds. I couldn't have been more thrilled. After a draining week I wanted to do nothing more than sleep, read and potter about the kitchen, and the inclement weather would be the perfect backdrop.

It all started off beautifully. After an early night on Friday, I melted into bed and awoke the next morning delighted to lie on the sofa with the newspaper. I eventually pried myself away for a brief jaunt to the Greenmarket where I picked up some winter squash and indulged in a cup (or possibly two) of hot apple cider.

The afternoon was a deliciously solitary one, as Paul was out riding his bicycle like a mad man in the cold. In the early evening, just as he returned, the kitchen pottering began. I grabbed an idea that I had seen the lovely Ms. Lawson execute a week or so before....pork chops with hard cider and mustard sauce. I replaced her gnocchi (I cannot abide the store bought version...I haven't come across one that doesn't taste like a lump of glue) with orrechiette and added in some sauteed cabbage as well. It was delightful fortification for what ended up being a long night.

There was a band, a concert, a party and eventually a temporarily homeless tour manager who ended up sleeping in our living room that night, and hanging out on our couch much of the following day. So the solitary loafing idea was out. No matter, needs musts, and his company was wonderful besides.

Despite entertaining the unexpected guest, I did, as I had hoped I would, get a chance to try out Yvette's Irish Tea Brack, which as it turned out, was delicious! Though one slice with a bit of fromage blanc will tide you over for an extraordinarily long time. And possibly initiate severe tooth decay simultaneously.

So my dream of watching Sunday morning political talk shows and cooking shows was not to be's a bit rude to watch TV wordlessly when guests are about, no? I didn't catch up on my newspaper backlog or make any sort of significant dent in the fascinating but long book I'm reading at the moment. Plus my dreams of a clean, orderly apartment by the end of the weekend (Paul was making noises about organizing that pesky bookshelf by the bar) were dashed as well. And my veggie stash from the CSA box? No progress at all. But I did get to see the talented Mr. Kravitz at Irving Plaza that night so I suppose it was not a complete loss.

Usually when Monday rolls around I'm just in the mood to do very little. A brief collapse after work followed by an extraordinarily simple dinner and some trashy TV. But this week I had residual weekend cooking energy, I suppose because there was no Sunday dinner with friends to prepare nor a long Sunday afternoon baking project? And thus, last night my deconstructed (read: easy) swiss chard and goat cheese tart came to be.

I started with Suzanne Goin's recipe for swiss chard tart, eliminated items I didn't have and added a few I did. A layer of fromage blanc mixed with yogurt and an egg, topped by goat cheese and chard sauteed with shallots and thyme, then another layer of goat cheese, baked until bubbling, and what I ended up with was a tasty Monday night dinner.

Extreme lounging will wait I suppose. I've got all winter.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Weekly Round-Up

The stunning pictures from the Field to Fork Dinner that St. Brigid's Farm hosted recently has got me mourning the loss of the warm weather and outdoor dining. And the fact that I don't have a readily accessible meadow in which to host parties.

Ms. Paltrow (via Goop) seems to have turned away from soy mayonaise and tofu and towards large quantities of oil. Perhaps that's why I'm finally lusting after her recipes.

I've been an avid reader of Lisa Borgnes Giramonti's blog A Bloomsbury Life since she started writing it, and was thrilled to hear that W Magazine had asked her to write a short series of blogs entries as well. The series is just as compelling as her blog, and she's got me hankering for all sorts of odds and ends. And for that $50,000 National Geographic trip around the world.

And lastly, I have found THE brunch spot. Generally I'm lukewarm about the idea of brunch...eggs with insipid hollandaise sauce does not inspire. But the shrimp and grits I had at Locanda Verde in Tribeca on Sunday most certainly did. My plate was completely clean by the end...not even the celeb sightings could distract me from my food. Or at least, not too much.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Westward Ho

The changes that New York City has undergone over the past decade or two are well publicized. It is far safer, cleaner and generally more livable than ever. Of course, as always, there are the detractors. There are those who charge that the changes have rendered the city soulless, uninteresting, that the very spirit that once made New York great is now dead.

In general, I find these laments somewhat absurd. I can't imagine that anyone really wants a return to the "old New York". I personally don't need to be riding subway cars that derail on a regular basis or to be accosted by miscreants as I walk down the street to feel that I am having an authentic life experience.

But I do understand the sentiment on some level. We all like to feel braver, tougher and more cutting edge than we are. And living somewhere that requires bravery and toughness can serve to cultivate the fantasy. I recall experiencing a brief frisson while wandering with my friend Rob through a particularly dark, deserted neighborhood in Philadelphia in the shadow of a decommissioned power plant in search of a Super Furry Animals show. And Marissa and I did feel quite hip attending a gallery party in the same Philadelphia neighborhood in what I can only assume was an abandoned industrial building. But both times, the excitement gave way to outright fear at certain points, which cast a decidedly unpleasant cast over the evenings. Ideally I'd have the cool without the scary.

So when I came across Far West Chelsea for the first time years ago, I was convinced that I had hit the motherlode. Just inaccessible enough to have remained vaguely gritty

it has retained enough of its industrial character

to be considered by the art world a suitably provocative place in which to locate galleries. And it is just accessible enough such that the moneyed classes were willing to follow the artists, resulting in safe streets and some adventurous architecture

by the venerable Mr. Gehry, Mr. Nouvel and Ms. Selldorf. And the Metal Shutter Houses, the renderings of which I admired a year ago, has now established itself in the pantheon as well. The amenities in the area are not bad either.

After brunch with a couple of friends at Trestle on Tenth this past weekend, I could hardly leave one of my favorite areas without checking out a few exhibitions that I'd been hearing about in the neighborhood galleries.

Gagosian's exhibition of Anselm Reyle's work put a smile on my face almost immediately. A myriad of shapes covered in brightly colored metallic finishes is almost always a mood enhancer...

photo: The New York Times

photo: Contemporary Art Daily

...especially when said shape is a hay bale.

photo: ArtNet Magazine

I'm not sure I can say the same thing about nude photos of Charlotte Rampling and a young model in the Louvre...

photo: Lehman Maupin Gallery

...but I have a small obsession with Ms. Rampling so can kind of overlook Juergen Teller's seemingly careless photography. Strange...I've always liked those Marc Jacobs ads of his. I suppose everyone has an off day now and again. It's just too bad that his occurred in the Louvre while photographing one of the more compelling women around.

After wandering for a few blocks, walking through the irresistible new Balenciaga and Comme des Garcons stores on the way, I came across the highlight of my day--Maya Lin's "Three Ways of Looking at the Earth" at Pace Wildenstein.

Three different topographies, presented in three different mediums, from three different perspectives... was one of those installations that you could spend ages wandering around and through. And I did, until the light outside begin to fade.
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