Tuesday, April 28, 2009

All grown up - and together in New York

Iced Cappucino and Coffee at EAT.
Perfect for an 80-degree day.

Zan outside of the Rudolf Steiner school today.
East 79th Street.

There must be a word in another language that expresses perfectly the fusion of joy and woe, of bittersweet sadness and bliss. Does that word exist in English? I head back to Minneapolis tomorrow to work - plenty of wonderful client meetings, a new project, some styling work - yet, I always have a hard time saying good-bye to Lee and today, to Zan. I get a little weepy, feeling like somewhere dancing around my heart, there is a whirling dervish.

Today I needed to drop some food off at Lee's school. Zan, my son who has his first real job here in Manhattan, was meeting me, after spending the last part of the day with Lee's First Grade class. He helped herd them across 5th Avenue to Central Park to enjoy the final hour of this delicious day, holding his arms out wide, like a shepherd, to be sure no one strayed too far to the left or right. No matter what, it seemed entirely out of control to him. He just shook his head at how cute they are and how much energy that job must take.

I invited him for coffee, so we stopped at EAT on Madison, sat at a little old-fashioned wooden table on the marble checkerboard floors and ordered iced coffees. My iced cappucino looked like a dessert, layered with the milk, the coffee, then the foam. We talked about the future - mostly his, a little bit mine. So many possibilities - not always so easy to realize, but so much potential.

I can't really express the happiness, that joy that makes you all weepy, that I feel to have this time with Zan. And in this uncommon ground - new for both of us. We are equals, immigrants to a new place, making our own way. We find our meeting spots, our shared friends, the places to have a drink or dinner and it is magic; but, I never cease being surprised to see him here in New York, to see him in front of the school today, to see him open the door at our friend, Anna's, the other day for brunch.

It is exactly the feeling I had when, six years ago, I came to New York for the first time with Alexander to look at colleges. We were staying in Chelsea, but needed to be at NYU for a presentation early one afternoon. We decided to part ways in the morning and meet at the Starbucks across from NYU at 1:00. Now, I hadn't been in NY for years, but I have a pretty good sense of direction. He had only been there once at 14. I said, "So you know where you're going?"

"Yeah, see ya mom." And off he went. The boy from South Minneapolis.

I arrived a little early at the Starbucks. A big wrap around window looks west on 4th Street. I had my coffee and was taking in the way the college students looked different from how they look in Minnesota, when I looked up. There was Zan, walking down 4th Street straight for the Starbucks like he owned the whole Village. I was so surprised to see him. I will never forget it. I just shook my head and grinned. He'll be fine here. He gets this place. It was an epiphany as a parent. I'd done most of my work.

He got accepted at NYU on early decision, but the financial aid at GW was so much better, he chose to go to college at GW in DC. He loved it there, but there was no doubt where he would end up when that chapter was complete. New York.

And somehow, I end up here too. Go figure. It's just one of the sweetest things about my life to be here while Zan is here. I know it won't last forever. And that, of course, makes it all the sweeter. Or whatever that word is.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Spring Break" in New York City

Friends picnicking under a Magnolia in Central Park.

Gin and Tonics - the first of the season.

Park Avenue, New York City - April 2009

My sister, Holly, reminded me of a line from "You've Got Mail." Tom Hanks is talking to Meg Ryan. He's in NY, she's in Seattle. The topic of a visit to NY comes up, she is either busy or hesitating and he says (paraphrased,) "Well, it would be tragic to miss Spring in New York."

Now I know what that means.

I cannot say for sure that it is more beautiful than Spring in Charleston, South Carolina, but maybe more noticeable because the weather is less hospitable preceding it. We have something like winter in New York (though nothing like winter in Minneapolis.) Maybe it is an East Coast thing - I've heard tales of the Cherry trees in DC and seem them in photos. Maybe it is a "Zone" thing - you know...just more tolerant of more flowering trees. Whatever it is, I'm taking it.

It was 89 degrees in New York City today. This weekend was like a movie CALLED "Spring Break" - like Cancun in New York. People were lolling around in bikinis and men were shirtless and babies and dogs were everywhere in Central Park and street musicians (the good ones) were out in force and dinners and brunches were given with windows thrown open without screens so you really feel like you are part of the outside. The flowering Crab Apples against the red brick buildings of the West Village filled the view of the open frame. A crimson cardinal stopped to decorate the pink powder puff of a tree. Surprisingly large turtles ventured out in a garden after a long winter's rest to entertain us. Asparagus was on menus, along with poached eggs and lamb and cake with strawberries and whipped cream. There were no empty outdoor tables at restaurants between 4:00 and midnight. The Greeks celebrated along 5th Avenue with a parade. Necklines plunged and dresses were long and billowy. We broke out the gin and tonics for the first time this year. We walked until we had blisters because bare feet are in sandals again. We all suffer unrepentant sunburn because none of us have sunscreen in our medicine cabinets for the season. We will all sleep well tonight.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


An image from a home in Charleston, SC - the home Robben Richards shares with her architect husband, David, and two sons. Robben owns one of the most fabulous clothing shops I have seen - Worthwhile.

Lessons Learned - A Point of View

Goat Cheese with Truffles - made me swoon.

Our warmed olives with thyme, garlic, pepper and lemon zest. Tangy!

Well, I have finished Alice Waters and Chez Panisse and I immediately had to run out and buy her cookbook, The Art of Simple Food. As a longtime cook, I have to say it seems to be one of the best I have used. Very clear - anticipating problems - and the simplest of methods. Last night we had friends (Anna and Andrew) for dinner and, as Anna is a wonderful cook, I invited her to come early to pitch in. Cooking is such a wonderful shared activity IF you don't get all huffy about the mess and the imperfections of your kitchen, tools, etc. Sometimes I do, but I am practicing letting that go so that I can just enjoy the pleasure of cooking with friends.

Here was the Alice-inspired menu:

Warm Olives
Goat Cheese with Truffles
Triple Cream Brie
Roasted Garlic
(from a Biodynamic Farm - so Alice Waters! Thank you, Anna.)

Cucumbers with Cream and Mint
Organic Grass-Fed Beef Burgers on English Muffins with Arugula, Red Onion, Yellow Tomato
(and Ketchup for those that wanted it!)
Roasted Asparagus

Homemade Honey Vanilla Ice Cream (Another of Anna's gifts to the meal!)
Fresh Small Strawberries

We started when lovely Anna arrived with an insulated bag for carrying items that needed to stay cold - like her ice cream. She had taken the subway and said, "I feel like I'm transporting an organ. Now, where is the freezer?" Then, I made her taste some aioli I had just made - egg yolk, garlic, olive oil - for the burgers. I thought it tasted awful! (And my first Alice Waters recipe!) She tasted it and agreed. It was the olive oil. It was green and way too strong, leaving a horrible aftertaste. She thought maybe it was rancid. But I don't think so - just bought it - I think it is the oil....just too strong for a mayonnaise / aioli. The aioli was just greenish gold - not creamy-colored like a mayonnaise. So I dumped it. STRIKE ONE!

Anna worked on the olives and almost burnt them on my hot little gas stove. But in the end, they were divine and very tangy. The cucumber salad is incredible and I will include the recipe below. It was the perfect accompaniment to burger. It was light and fresh in your mouth. Like a garden. And easy breezy to make. Here it is from memory (don't have the book with me.)

Cucumbers with Cream and Mint
Serves 4

2 fresh cucumbers - peel and slice into bowl.
Add salt - it will help them sweat a bit.

Put 1/4 c. heavy cream in a small bowl
Add 2 - 3 T olive oil.
Add juice of 1/2 lemon.
Add pepper.

Whisk or stir well.

If there is much water in the cucumbers, drain that before adding dressing.
Add dressing and toss.

Chop 3 mint leaves - add and toss again.
Taste and correct for salt or pepper.

So, dinner was just great, but more important is what I learned reading the biography and doing some of this cooking again. Drum roll:


Alice Waters has a point of view around which she is uncompromising. That is what I really, truly love about her work. So much of what we experience today - food, fashion, interiors, homes, neighborhoods - are a homogenization of way too many points of view, watered down, diluted, dulled, stripped of character, shall I go on? We know the feeling. The malls across America could be anywhere. The Gap is the Gap is the Gap. (Okay, I shop it.) The architecture that is lifeless and soul-sucking. The food...oh, the food....even at so-called good restaurants is very mediocre now. And, in the design world - the world where I spend my days - how much of it all looks the same? I can name ONE designer right now who truly has a point of view - Ilsa Crawford. Give me a bit of time and I can probably come up with more, but not that easily.

So, I am practicing the Point of View. I am working on relentlessly developing a commitment to what I love in design, writing, food, how I live - because aren't we all drawn to authenticity? That is the gift of Alice Waters.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Alice Waters Wanna' Be

I'm an Alice Waters wanna-be. (And it certainly has nothing to do with Maureen Dowd.) Over the last two days I have spent my late nights into the wee hours of the early morning (3:00 a.m today) reading "Alice Waters and Chez Panisse" by Thomas McNamee. (I woke up to the New York Times this morning and Dowd's column was about Waters.)

As usual, many of you have probably known all about this book for a while - it was published in 2007 - and I am the usual late bloomer. But, now that I've picked it up, I can't put it down. It is just one of those stories that has grabbed my ever-lovin soul. Her personality reminds me of me and I can only regret that I didn't have her chutzpah and courage and charge to move forward with all the "grand plans" I had over the years,(but that is the subject of a memoir or year with an analyst, not of this little blog post.)

It is a miracle the restaurant survived past the first, third, even fifth year. If it wasn't the pot, or the sexual interludes, or games of king-of-the-hill played out among egos, it was drinking the wine inventory without any clue of where it was all going. In the mid-70's it was the cocaine which numbed any user to his / her sense of taste. How's that working for a chef?

But, it was Alice. Alice was a lover, a romantic, a perfectionist, and had enough of a sense of her own superior taste that she wouldn't take no for an answer. Her passions were contagious. She didn't give a hill of beans for a profit. She didn't care. This was her art, her oeuvre. She cooked for people whether she was being paid or not. At one point - several years into the business - a famous critic showed up for a review. He said something loosely translated as, "This isn't a restaurant. It is a home where people pay money to eat." She was all about the atmosphere, the flowers, the old Victorian mismatched dishes she picked up at flea markets, the red checked oilcloth tablecloths in the early days, the mismatched oak tables. (Hey, this was Berkeley in 1971.) For Alice, life - especially feeding people - was theater.

And that is why I like her. Life is theater for me, too. Or it was or is...? This is the question the book raises for me again - in my face. How do you want to live your life?

I really was a theater major for 1/2 my college career and eventually spent time as a costume designer. I lived it. The way I dressed (I designed and made almost all of my own clothes from 14 - 25), the way I cooked, the way I fell in love and probably the way I broke up. I always fell in love with artists. There was the minstrel-musician, the painter, the poet, and the teacher-philosopher who also loves to paint and draw. The way I moved around a lot and decorated apartments, finally understanding that I would never really live in a lousy place because I always had things around me I loved, whether they were worth anything to anyone else or not. It made no sense to me to live any other way.

There is a description of Alice in the book by friend / colleague Fritz Streiff, "Alice falls in love. This is the story of Alice's life. She falls in love with a dish. She falls in love with a lamp. She falls in love with a bowl of cherries. She falls in love with a man."

I was born 9 years after Alice. But we describe our childhoods with an uncanny similarity. She opens the book describing her extreme sensitivity - to taste, color, being hot or cold. Several years ago, I began to journal about my childhood and wrote something almost identical. I have "sensational" memory - my senses hold powerful, emotional memories. My grandmother's tender, picked at the peek of ripeness, strawberries, second only to the wild ones I ate in Florence a couple of years ago, the way the golden straw would poke my skin, the feel of the oily gray sheep's wool after shearing, and yes, cold....always feeling cold.

Where we differ? Alice just did what she wanted to do in college - go to France - and it made all the difference in the trajectory of her life. She found True North there in the food and the culture and has spent the rest of her life recreating it in the US, drawing just the right people to her just when she needed them. I had big dreams, too, but often shrunk them to fit my fear. I was much more afraid than Alice.

As an Alice Waters wanna be, I will be working on my omelets. Tonight I'm making wilted spinach salad with warm chevre and walnuts. I will be looking for the freshest of the vegetables at Butterfield Market in NY and at my coop in Minneapolis. I can't wait for the farmer's markets to begin again.

And, I can't wait to finish the book. I know that artistic, romantic life - I have lived it and maybe I still do - I just wonder if you lose your mojo in increments over time and don't even miss it until one day you wake up and wonder where the last ten or twenty years went and what is the one or two true things you did with those years? I am buoyed by her tenacity and unwillingness to compromise her truth. Especially since her truth turns out to be good for all of us. And, she challenges me to remember mine and do something about them.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Change is in the Air

Central Park in new shades of green.

The MO at Doma Cafe and gallery: "Absolutely no to go cups in the dining room. Live slow!"
And no cell phones!

Outside Doma Cafe and Gallery - West Village.

The Falafel Platter at Taim - Bobbie Flay says it's the best falafel in NY! We agree!

Taim - sitting on the stoop and benches with our falafel. West Village.

This is our first spring in New York. Last night Lee and I toasted the arrival of new life; the white flowering dogwoods and the blushing magnolia, “tulip trees” my friend in Charleston calls them because the flower looks like a tulip opening on the end of a craggy gray branch. Altogether, they are a flame of rosy pink in Central Park – the green leaves come after the flowers. The regular tulips stand like soldiers today, tall and straight, with heads strong and pointed. It looks like only days before they will open, spirited and alert, transforming the green boulevard of Park Avenue into a sea of sunny yellow. I love how tightly they are planted.

I feel like I can breathe again. The headaches of a month ago in that cold, blustery transitional March are gone, blown away with the wind. My muscles are warm and flexible. My mind is not so sleepy. I walk a little faster with my head up, not down. I shake my shoulders as if I am my own mother reminding me to stand tall. This year, I must have been hibernating. Truly. But I am coming out of the dark hole now.

There is so much to do in New York, that to have to choose between Picasso’s late paintings at the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea or the Kips Bay Designer Showhouse on 71st or just noodling around the two villages for vintage clothing is win-win. You can’t really make a mistake. And there is always tomorrow.

For me, it is a bursting full city, bursting with flowers and fashion and new ideas and people doing interesting things. (The other night, Lee, Zan and I went to see Man on Wire, the Oscar-winning documentary about the man who walked on a wire between the Twin Towers, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on the Upper West Side. Phillipe Petit has been an artist-in-residence there for years and he spoke after the showing. It was crazy to be in this spectacular cathedral, the largest I have seen since Il Duomo in Florence, jam-packed, watching this inspired movie with the “artist” there to further inspire.) I know that people do interesting things in Minneapolis too. But, I am sanguine. I like change. I like to see new things.

What has most surprised me about New York is how civilized it is, something I might not have imagined for a city of this size. The rituals of the passing of the seasons seem particularly celebrated here. I “heard” that the blooming of the magnolias at the Frick is the certain sign that spring is here. The colorful and playful costumes paraded about for Easter – even on the dogs! The resurrection of the stroll in Central Park, lingering on the park benches, children jumping rope, people eating on stoops and benches outside a restaurant, the Northface is put away and fashion is reborn.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Sittin" on the Dock of the Bay...Wasting Time....

My morning coffee view of the shining city.

One of the mornings the fog rolled in with the sun.

I just got home from a wonderful week in San Francisco - well, really, in Sausalito. We were only in the city one afternoon at the Design Center. I was working with a charming and smart client and we had more than our share of laughs and got oodles done! We ate our lunchtime sandwiches during meetings most days, then finally relaxed over wine in the evening looking at the sparkling city on the bay.

So, here are some heavenly views of the bay and the Golden City of San Francisco. This is from her Living Room. This is where I had morning coffee for the last week. Hmmm....what is outside my windows here in Minneapolis on this day in April? Grey spindly lifeless trees! Oh, well. Everywhere can't be beautiful.

Anyway, I head to the grocery because the cupboards are bare and I am checking out. The bag "boy" - really a 35-year old man, probably - says to the cashier, "You know, Time is the great teacher."
I have no idea where that came from or what they were discussing before I showed up, but I have to assume I was meant to hear it. It took me so by surprise and I couldn't stop thinking about it. And it really is true, isn't it? What this has to do with anything or my being in San Francisco, I have yet to figure out. But, they are probably related. I'll go sleep on it. And wake up both older and wiser.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Best Thing About Getting Older - KORK-EASE all over again.

Well, of course, I never thought I'd see the day. In 1976, I bought my first pair of Kork-ease at the fantastic store where I worked right out of college - Things, Things & Things in Iowa City, Iowa. It was the Bendel's of Iowa in my personal opinion - quite unique with a variety of wonderful little shops within the larger store...children's toys (including the lovely Steiff bunny puppet), a deli with the most divine brownies with brown sugar icing, a gift shop with fabulous cards and stationary and a women's and men's clothing department. The owners were ahead of the times and I was lucky enough to land a management / buying job out of college. We sold Kork-ease and, not only were they the only shoe I could stand to wear for eight hours on my feet, they were quite fashionable - or the women at Things made them so in Iowa City. (Don't laugh - Iowa City was very, very hip in the 1970's and it is again today since Iowa is only the third state to allow gay marriage!)

I wore Kork-ease for their comfort and for their looks. I was petite - okay, short; I could use a little height. And they were a wedge. There was the low wedge and the high wedge. We mostly sold the high wedge. It added a good 3" to my height. I was 5'6" in my Kork-ease. Wow.

I probably had four pair of Kork-ease in the 1970's - maybe six. Basically, they were the only shoe I wore when you could go without socks. I may have bought one new pair a year for 4 - 5 years. Then, I moved - and, although I worked for another women's clothing shop - started by one of the owners of Things - we did not carry shoes. No more Kork-ease. They either weren't being made in the '80's (era of gold sandals) or they just weren't in my neck of the woods.

A few years ago, I said to my sister, "You know, I think it's time to bring Kork-ease back. How do you do that? All this hippie stuff coming back again - you gotta have Kork-ease."

Well, wouldn't you know it? Last year I read that they were back - Neiman's had them last spring. I ordered a pair but couldn't quite get with the wedge, so I returned them. Now it is a year later and I've been seeing lots of wedges and I can do it this time. I bought a pair today!

I feel like it is old home week. In 1976 - 33 years ago!- I bought my first pair of Kork-ease. I was 15 pounds thinner (at least) and didn't have a turkey neck, but, hey....you only live once....and if you really like something, aren't you lucky to get more than one shot at it? They were my favorite shoes of all times - like a favorite boyfriend. I am so happy to have them in my closet again and I hope I don't embarrass Isabelle wearing them at 55 (instead of 22!) but, when I tried them on, they felt like home. Home. Just like home.

Age is all in the imagination. Just google Anna Piaggi and look at her. God love her and God love Kork-ease!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Quote of the Week

From the New York Times.D&G Collection. Milan.

"This is a credit, not a creativity, crisis."

- John Galliano at the Couture Shows in Paris