Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Age Old Problem

Given how eventful this summer has been it seems odd to say that it has passed quickly.  A month ago, dragging myself around the streets of New York in the most extreme heat the city has ever seen, it felt that autumn would take ages to arrive.  But, I blinked and it is now just around the corner.

Having been out of town more weekends than not of late (mercifully, I evaded the drama of Madame Irene by basking on southern California beaches last weekend), I could not be more thrilled to have three whole days to putter around the city.

I figured I'd kick it off with a visit to the new Laduree store on the Upper East Side, the arrival of which I've been hotly anticipating.  The popularity of macarons has left the city vulnerable to a flood of awful imitations, and it is high time to push back with the real thing.

Sadly, I was not the only one with this idea.

Ah, New York.  Each time I think I've got a unique notion, you remind me that I'm actually just following the crowd.

Another attempt shall be made today.  Let the Labor Day puttering begin!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Great Beauty

In theory I wholeheartedly believe in routine maintenance, regular tune-ups and preventative care.  Look at any woman of a certain age who has taken care of herself over the years vs. one of the same certain age who has not and the benefit is clear.

But even in the face of undeniable proof my commitment to a regime seems to wax and wane.  In large part this is owing to the fact that I have no idea if my regime is correct.  I mean, I won't see the results for another ten or twenty years, so how am I to know if sticking with it is really going to do any good?  And if it doesn't, why bother with my multi-step, multi-product process?

So time and time again I revert to cleaning my face twice a day religiously (this seems like an obviously good thing to do), using sunscreen on my face and hands daily as every dermatologist will tell you to do (I will forever be devoted to Elta MD, which achieves the unachievable by being non-toxic yet sheer) and throwing on some moisturizer when my skin is screaming out for it.

But those sad, aimless days are over my friends, because I have found an oracle to navigate the beauty jungle for me.

After reading about Eva Scrivo's book in the New York Times one day, I picked it up from the library just to see what the fuss was about.  The fuss was about a hugely successful hair stylist, aesthetician and makeup artist sharing every secret she's got.  And did I mention she herself has aged spectacularly well?

I can't be sure, but based on her references from her childhood included in the book, I can only assume she's in her late 40s, possibly early 50s.  So basically 10-15 years older than she looks.  Which means I'll follow her advice to the letter.

Normally I can't stand reading beauty books.  I look at the pictures, sure, but read them?  So boring.

Not this one.  I pored over it in rapt attention, taking in every tip and bit of advice she had to offer.  Wear a terry cloth headband when washing your face to avoid frizzing up those hairs around your hairline?  Of course!  How brilliant!  Layer liquid eyeliner on top of a pencil for your everyday look?  I would never have thought to do so, but I look much more glamorous for it, and it got me over my fear of liquid liner in no time.  Use a little of many products, on both hair and skin, in layers because one never does all of the jobs you need for it to do?  Genius.  My hair is looking much better for it.  And as soon as all of my professional sized Yonka products arrive from ebay, I'm sure my skin will be too.

I'm so looking forward to stashing a box of skincare products in the refrigerator and bringing it out every night, just as Eva's impossibly glamorous mother apparently did, to slather the stuff on in pursuit, nay, in furtherance (now that I know the regime works) of everlasting beauty.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Ripe Summer Tomatoes

Walking through the Greenmarket this time of year, you can't help but realize that tomato season has arrived.  The big gleaming beefsteaks are everywhere, and the heirlooms are just now making their noble debut.  Despite the fact that the vendors are actually selling these things, as I stroll through the stalls I somehow feel as though I'm the lucky recipient of a bumper crop, and thus grab at the bounty indiscriminately, thinking of the money exchanged only after I find myself lugging pounds and pounds of tomatoes home.

So once home I must think like an Italian mama during the summer harvest season.  What to do with the red orbs taking over the kitchen counters?  Tomato sauce, quite obviously.  But it's been so obscenely hot in New York lately that I can barely bring myself to turn on the stove, so long, slow cooking has been out of the question.  I was in a bit of a quandary.  How long would these things last before exploding all over my countertops?  Could I stand being in the equivalent of a sweat lodge while they simmered down into sauce on the stove?

Turns out, thanks to John Tuturro of all people, I didn't have to make the hard choice.  Upon reading his recipe for pasta with raw tomato sauce in the Wall Street Journal last weekend, I knew I had found the recipe that would save me and my overrun kitchen.

The sauce is once of those stunningly simple but amazingly delicious things that Mediterranean cultures do so well...skinned and seeded tomato chopped finely (I know blanching and peeling tomatoes can be fiddly, but I always do it as I cannot stand tomato skin in sauces), mixed with some grated garlic, basil leaves, salt (Maldon is perfect here) and olive oil and left to macerate for as long as you have (I usually give it at least a half hour).

And then throw in some hot pasta, stir, et voila.

Summer in a bowl.

Luckily the heat has broken for a wee moment so the remainder of my stash is, as I speak, bubbling away cheerfully on the stove with a chopped onion and a few basil stalks, as the tomato maven Paul Bertolli suggests in his cookbook, which has become a favorite of mine.  Given that his is the only tome I've seen thus far that devotes and entire chapter to tomatoes, I'm prepared to follow his lead in the area.  I'm even thinking a few jars of conserva are needs diversity after all.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Great Bram

Am I the only one completely obsessed by earthenware vessels?  Cheap and cheerful cazuelas, those incredibly elegant and tasteful covered serving dishes from Heath Ceramics, and even this platter from Ben Pentreath, they all appeal to my love of the kitchen hearth.  Something about them just screams "delicious food eaten with good friends".

But it wasn't until recently that I stumbled across a website that is entirely devoted to my obsession.  Bram.  Doesn't it just sound sturdy and warm and useful and rustic and simple and elegant, just like earthenware itself?  I initially fell hard for the spouted mixing bowls, and then those gorgeous rectangular  baking dishes (perfect for the big lasagnas I make for friends to eat while they watch boxing matches at our apartment).  But then I came across this:

and I was slain.  I mean how perfect a representation of the spirit of earthenware is this thing?  I'm seeing lots of gratins, braises, breads, cakes and pot pies in this lovely dish's future.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Grand Tour: Mumbai aka the End

Luckily our flight up from Kerala to Mumbai was considerably less traumatic than our flight down there from Delhi.  IndiGo was a serious upgrade from Air India.  Brand new plane, cute flight attendants and a delicious samosa en route.

Upon landing it was straight in a cab to the Taj.  Or rather, not so straight.  The traffic is just as epic as everyone says.  But we did make it eventually.

Hot and rather tired, we dragged ourselves into the lobby

and were met immediately by a lovely woman who whisked us off to a cool, dark lounge where we sank into a leather chesterfield sofa, enjoyed some sweet lime juice (it would become my favorite juice ever) and let the myriad staff members do the work of checking us in.

We ascended under the rotunda,

up through the palace,

to our room where our baggage met us.

And then our butler stopped by.  He seemed rather confused that Paul wanted an iron, to do his own ironing, but obliged nonetheless.

After checking out our incredible view,

luxuriating in the incredible shower, the incredible bed, and the incredibly quick internet (we had been dealing with something akin to dial up to that point), it was time for dinner.  Our criteria was fairly simple:  it had to be within two blocks of the hotel.

First we headed down to the lounge to take advantage of the free canapes and drinks.

And then it was off to Indigo, where we are apparently very important (or at least Paul is).

We had the loveliest meal in the most refined, relaxing setting.  Indian influenced food rather than Indian food.  It was exactly what we were in the mood for.

We came back to this

and after a few gleeful bites (there is something so indulgent about eating from a whole cake with a fork rather than from a slice) we stuck it in the mini fridge and fell into our favorite bed of all time.

We awoke the next morning fully refreshed, and yet not wanting to leave our perfect cocoon of a room.

But upon looking out the window,

I couldn't help but be drawn outside.  High on my list that morning was shopping.  Paul opted out and stayed in bed with his laptop catching up on news, gossip and the like.  So after we ate breakfast overlooking the ocean (I love a good buffet),

off I went down the street to Bungalow 8.  Contrary to what the name implies, it is not, in fact, some far flung outpost of Amy Sacco's.  No, it is actually THE BEST STORE EVER.  And named after the owner's childhood address.

Four floors of chic home items, jewelry and clothing, I yearned for nearly every item there.  Had I had room in my suitcase I definitely would have brought home a few giant urns, but as space was limited I ended up with a vase and a bunch of salad tongs.  What can I saw, in the face of such abundance I panicked.  I mean really, salad tongs?!!  What was I thinking?  I am waiting with bated breath for the day that their website goes live and I can order things from my apartment in New York.

I wandered around a bit more, but really none of the stores could compare, and as I was anxious to get out and see the rest of the city I headed back to the hotel to pick Paul up.  On the recommendation of a friend we went to Leopold's, a tourist trap/neighborhood institution for lunch.

But we enjoyed our food, and I particularly enjoyed my mango juice.

And then we just set off wandering.  Unlike Delhi, Mumbai is a very walkable city, which we were surprised by given its reputation as a heaving mess of humanity.  But the streets and sidewalks are wide,

 the trees are abundant

the architecture is beautiful

and the street life is vibrant.

And as was the case in the rest of India, the people were absolutely lovely.  We were even stopped by a man who simply wanted to point out a beautiful flowering tree that is apparently the symbol of Mumbai. 

We stopped by an art gallery, walked around some gardens and ducked into a clothing store that has been around since Victorian times, and which supposedly was the first stop of all of the memsahibs back in colonial times.  Paul bought a few shirts, and I bought a few caftan type things that I've been using as loungewear ever since I got back.

It was late afternoon and we were eager to take advantage of the beautiful hotel pool.  So we headed back to our room to change, where we were greeted with this.

Aren't the Taj staff members such romantics?

Down by the pool we lounged in a cabana

and then retired to our room to rest up before dinner.  We were off to meet our friend Vijay in Bandra, which we were told was the cooler part of town.  It also happened to be the other end of town, so we opted for the commuter rail rather than braving the traffic in a cab.

We asked for some advice on train routing down in our favorite lounge (with free drinks and canapes) and the hotel staff were somewhat horrified that we would brave the train.  "Oh no sir, not for you, please let us get you a cab."  "No, really, its fine, we're from New York."  "No, it is very very very crowded."  "Really, we'll be OK."  And we were.

We got a first class ticket.

And rode in comfort the half hour out to Bandra.

I have to say I like that Indian trains only kind of slow down at the station but don't come to a total halt.  The doors are just left open and people jump off an on as need be.  Keeps the delays down.  Hello MTA?  Take note.

One rickshaw ride later,

We were at Vijay's offices.  It was at this moment I truly felt that India will overtake American in no time.  On a Friday night at 8:30, the office was buzzing.  People were working, hanging out, sharing the odd beer, and just generally seeming to like their jobs.  The vibe was simply electric.  

After watching the most charming bit of documentary of Mumford & Sons traveling around Rajasthan, it was off to Todo's.

Where there is half a Volkswagen Bug nailed to the wall and the bartenders wear mechanic's overalls.  Manesh and Bobby were in charge of ordering the beers, and they did very well indeed.

And the girls drank whiskey.

Then it was off to dinner, a meal which would rival that in Delhi for best Indian food ever.

We had the mezzanine of a hole in the wall restaurant to ourselves, and Bobby took care of the ordering.  We discovered the man is an ordering genius.

And we indulged.  Oh did we indulge!  Black daal (stunningly good), weird yogurt drinks, curries, biryanis, the list goes on.  By early morning we were stuffed to the brim.

The girls went back to work (!) and Paul and I said our goodbyes to our amazing hosts and hopped in a cab back to our palace by the sea.

And arrived to find this.

After marveling at how one could create a swan out of a towel, we pondered how best to move them so as not to destroy all of the hard work and so as not to strew rose petals around.  Finally, after a careful relocation, we dove into our infamous bed.  Tragically, it would be our last night in said bed.

And the last night of our amazing view.

Our last night of Mumbai!  We loved the city and were devastated to have to leave so soon.  The people, the scenery, the food, the was all just too good.  We vowed to return.

We awoke the next morning, heads fuzzy, and after a quick stop for some croissants from the lounge of free food and drink, headed outside to get in our cab to the airport.  We would endure a crazed drunkard on our flight to London, meet a lovely college student on that same flight, enjoy some traditional English fare at Heathrow of surprisingly high quality, and then come back to our beloved apartment, happy to be in New York, excited to be married, but missing Mumbai terribly (and our bed and butler at the Taj).  Real life would take some getting used to.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Grand Tour: Plantation on a Hill

After our night on the water, it was time for a few nights on a hilltop.  After disembarking from our houseboat, another nice clean cool car took us for a drive along the water, and then up through the lush green hills to Malabar House at Kanam Estate.

The lovely retreat, an old plantation house, is located on a hill and surrounded by loads of rubber trees.  We got out of our car, took a deep breath of the cool, clear air and grinned at each other.  We were in the middle of nowhere!  A beautiful nowhere!  With nothing to do!

We were greeted by the loveliest woman, who immediately offered us fresh fruit juice (I settled on watermelon, but would go on to try all of the myriad options over the next three days).  We lounged in the relaxing front room as she checked us in, taking in the peace and quiet.

In no time I was in the pool (that's me at the end).

Paul was feeling a little under the weather, so I took my lunch at a table in the back garden while he rested.

Vegetarian thali was my choice that day, and it was a wonderful introduction to the food that I would enjoy for the rest of our stay.  It consisted of many small dishes of light, flavorful and vividly colored foods, from beets to coconut to curry.  Sitting under a market umbrella with a crisp linen napkin, a beautiful plate of food and the most perfectly helpful yet unobtrusive server, I felt classier than I had in quite some time.

I spent the next few hours sprawled out on the outdoor bed on our private veranda reading Wolf Hall.

Paul and I each had an ayurvedic massage in the little hut just beyond the veranda.  I found myself slathered in the most viscous oil I've ever come across and manhandled by a woman half my size.  I was in heaven.  And my skin felt amazing, even after soaping everything off in the shower just after the rubdown.

Post manhandling, we decided to adopt the ways of the retired folk and ate early, this time in the library.  And then, after we closed the (seemingly) thousands of wooden shutters in our room, we snuggled up in our bed, surrounded by the soft sounds of nature on the plantation.

We awoke the next morning excited to ride the resident elephant.  After breakfast in the garden, and some indulgent lazing around, we ambled over to meet Lakshmi.

We fed her some bananas, which she at as if they were nothing more than peanuts.

Then it was time to ride.  Paul climbed up first.

And found the experience petrifying.  It was too high up (he is afraid of heights), the elephant's movement too much and the prospect of going down a hill on the beast unsettling.  So after a spin around the hotel, I hopped up.

Not to toot my own horn, but I really was a natural (although granted, it took some getting used elephant's shoulders rock back and forth more than you might expect!).

We strolled along for a while, me on the elephant, her two handlers and Paul walking along beside me.  We passed homes, children playing, parents socializing...I cannot tell you how white I felt riding around on an elephant as if I was surveying my domain.

But it was loads of fun nonetheless.

Presently we came to a stream, and it was bath time for Lakshmi.

It was stunning how quickly she cooled off after.  The amount of heat she put off was truly amazing!

On the way back the boys picked up a snack for her...

...which she ate like corn on the cob and once she was down to the stalk simply discarded.

Before long we were back home.

And it was time for more rest and relaxation.

Tea on the veranda in a rainstorm became my favorite afternoon activity at Malabar House.

Or perhaps favorite only after my afternoon ayurvedic treatment.  Paul and I both had oil poured on our third eye for an hour, which was surprisingly relaxing.  I also ended up with a deep conditioning hair treatment out of the whole thing.

Our last night at Malabar House we had Indian scented pasta (curry leaves and tomatoes) for dinner (again the library), and were watched over by this little guy.

It would soon come time to leave, as we were headed to the heaving, pulsating metropolis that is Mumbai.

We said goodbye to the welcoming, gracious home,

goodbye to the amazing staff,

and headed off in the hotel's Land Rover through the jungle to the airport.
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