Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Good taste from Judith Jones

Judith Jones, senior editor at Alfred A. Knopf, edited the cookbooks of Julia Child, Marcella Hazan, and Madhur Jaffray, among others. She was a mentor and friend to Child, M.F.K. Fisher, and countless heads of garlic.

She encouraged her authors to describe not only ingredients and technique, but also the texture, feel, smell and appearance of the dish as the recipe progresses, engaging us in the sensuous pleasure of cooking.
I've just finished her avid and elegant memoir, "The Tenth Muse", which celebrates her passion for good food and honest cooking.

She says,
“Recipes should never include the unnecessary instruction ‘set aside.’ Cooks must not be scared off by long recipes but instead appreciate the detailed information they convey. How string beans are cooked is probably more important than how they are farmed. When your husband is enjoying himself in the kitchen, keep your mouth shut even if you could do better.”

For an interview with the Globe and Mail's Sara Hampson this past summer, Jones wore a vibrant turquoise linen suit and matching pashmina (shown in photo above).


In another shot, I admired her ochre Chanel. At 85, she celebrates the "good taste" of both a fragrant poached salmon and a chic suit, and continues to offer both to the world.

Here's a cookie recipe from the book, thin and crisp, like the author. Jones' dear friend James Beard called Schrafft's to coax the recipe from the president, then adapted the original recipe, which made over 200 cookies, for the home cook.

Schrafft's Butterscotch Cookies
(Yield: about 30 cookies)

Ingredients:
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups dark-brown sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons nonfat dry milk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup finely chopped pecans

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar. Beat in egg, dry milk, and vanilla.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer running, slowly add flour mixture to butter mixture. Fold in pecans.

Drop heaping tablespoons of batter onto prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart.

Lightly flour your fingers and press each piece of batter into a 3-inch circle.

Transfer to oven and bake until lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Buying jewelry: Gold on the road

Something about traveling brings out the gold bug.

I just had lunch with my GF C., who wore ornate Indian earrings her husband brought back from a
business trip to Mumbai.

"I never thought I liked gold all that much, but now I do!" she chirped. I guessed the reason: C. had owned a few pieces in 14k; DH's gift was 22k. She was enchanted by her new earrings' deep glow.

(Shown above, 22k gold earrings from Gold Palace, $340.)

C. and DH are planning a Mediterranean cr
uise and she's hoping to buy more jewelry at ports. She asked for some pointers.

The price of gold jewelry is based on four factors: karatage, gram weight, design and craftsmanship. The karatage and gram weight tell you how much gold is
in a piece, but other crucial factors determine price: the piece's construction and design. You will also pay a premium for branded goods or creations by recognized artisans. Two important weights to consider:

1.
Karat weight refers to the purity of the gold. (The word is spelled carat, abbreviated ct in some parts of the world, and karat, abbreviated k in the US, Canada and Germany.)

Do not be misled by the term "pure gold": In the US, 10k and up is considered pure gold, but a 10k and 18k bracelet will look very different. In Europe (and in parts of Asia) a number indicating percentage of gold is usually stamped, instead of karat: 10k= 417 (41.7% gold) 14k= 585 (58.5% gold) 18k=750 (75% gold)
The higher the karat, the higher the gold purity is in the piece.

Sometimes they also stamp 18K on a 14K piece. In China, the literal translation of platinum is "white gold", which is confusing.

The most popular alloys are, Europe: 18k and 14k; USA and Canada: 14k; UK and Australia:18k and 9k; India, Middle East and South East Asia and China: 22k. In Hong Kong you can buy 23.76k (almost pure gold), if you wish.
(Shown, 23k Thai Dragon bracelet, Goldbaht.)

Pure gold is always yellow but gold is rarely used in its pure form (24k) for jewelry because it is just too soft; it scratches and dents easily. If you are buying a ring with prong-set stone, the prongs may be 14k, which is harder, or platinum, far stronger than any gold alloy.

The addition of other metals to gold creates the different karatages, colours and changes in hardness
, strength and malleability.

(Shown left, a sublime retro pearl bypass ring, ca. 1945 in 14k; $695 from Beladora.)

For example, yellow gold is created by alloying the gold with copper and silver; using copper only creates pink gold; white gold contains platinum or palladium, zinc and copper; green gold contains
silver, copper and zinc.

2.
Gram weight indicates how much the item weighs or how much gold was used in the piece. This is an important detail, since the higher the gram weight, the stronger the piece.


Workmanship

Pay special attention to fasteners or clasps, making sure catches work easily and are secure. After losing one necklace, I now add a security chain or upgrade to a heavier clasp, which can often be done while you wait. Clasps are a typical place where vendors to tourists cut corners.

The backs of
pins and earring posts should be strong and firmly attached to the piece with no soldering marks visible. With gold chain, lay it flat and make sure the links don't kink or bend; broken gold chains are tricky to repair.

(The 22k Textured Gold Dome earrings, above left, are $1,350 from Beladora. Ahhhhh.)

Taking care

There's no on-site test to ensure the karatage stamp on the piece is honest, or that the piece isn't plated, but in general, workmanship is a clue. If the clasp is flimsy, the edges rough, or the soldering is lumpy, walk away. The best "insurance" is to build your eye by visiting reputable jewelers before your trip. You could also carry an earring or ring whose karatage you know as a comparison- but this is not perfect as alloys are not the same even when karatage is.

Be sure to inspect your piece of gold jewelry carefully. Make sure the piece wrapped for you is the one you inspected. Check that the carat stamp on the piece matches the description on your receipt. Ask about a shop's exchange policy and repair service. (Some items can be repaired only by the shop where made.)

If you buy an item and leave it with the vendor for pick up later, check the contents before you leave. A friend visiting a pearl farm in China bought several strands with elegant 22k gold clasps, and found, back on the tour bus, that they had been swapped for far inferior goods. Fortunately, the tour operator was willing to send someone back to deal with the vendor.


Credit card shopping

A friend was relieved that Visa paid for a replacement of the bracelet he bought for his DF when it broke shortly after he returned home.

If you have Visa or AmEx cards, check with your bank for your card's purchase protection coverage for damage and theft. Many market vendors won't take cards, but most shipboard boutiques and many local shops will. If you pay with a card, make sure you keep both the shop and card receipts, and have the vendor record serial numbers or a thorough description of the item on both.

Make sure the vendor's name on the receipt matches the name of the shop. (I am not paranoid, this happened to a friend who bought silver jewelry in Mexico.)


A note on buying while traveling
in East

Friends have returned from trips to the East saying "gold is so much cheaper there". Since gold is internationally
priced, the material is not cheaper, but the workmanship is.

If you live in a city with an ethnic neighbourhood that matches your destination, go to check prices. If that's not available, research on the net. Study styles and techniques too, so you'll appreciate fine craftsmanship and make better choices. I did this before going to India; though I didn't buy gold, I helped my travel companions.

If you like antique jewelry, research prices before you go via online dealers. Don't be swayed by the atmospheric flea market, where I have seen shockingly overpriced pieces. Just because you are there does not make the piece a decent buy.

(Shown: French Victorian 18k ring with two tiny old mine diamonds, from Ruby Lane sellers Tania And Francois Adin, $1,816.)

To find vendors at your destination, research before you go, ask a local contact to take you to a reputable vendor, or talk to the concierge at a five-star hotel.

In Asia the amount of gold you are buying, indicated by weight, is the key factor in setting a price, unlike in the North America and Europe where the value of the gold itself is usually much less than half of retail price. Gold is also sold in Thailand by the bhat, one bhat=15.1 grams.

If shopping in a place like the gold souk of Dubai (Deira), be prepared to haggle and know the international price for gold by the gram, which changes daily. If you pay in cash, you can save significantly on a bigger purchase.

Beware of ports of call discount shops; it's easy to get buyer's fever, sinking into the shopping daze I call, "I'm here, it's here, I want it."

Picture yourself wearing the piece at home with your usual wardrobe. Thanks to online shops, a great deal of ethnic jewelry can be bought once you return, like this Egyptian cartouche, $315, from King Tut Shop. It's worth paying a small premium for shipping to save yourself from an impetously-chosen mistake.

Ask yourself, is it really one of a kind?


But whether in souk, shipboard or boutique, if the piece and price are right, indulge! Gold jewelry provides generations of delight.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Plum cake and propriety

Recently I cooked a birthday dinner for two GFs. Dessert was one of my specialties, a simple and sublime plum cake, right in season. I brought it to the table to slice and serve.

GF #1: "Oh, just a tiny piece for me. But I'll take a piece to take home and one for my mother, too. (Her mother lives in this city but
not with GF #1.)

GF #2: "A little piece for me, too. And I'll take a slice home for later. Normally I don't even like fruit."


Girlfriends, this is graceless behaviour. Just because you indulged when enjoying the other courses, your satiety does not entitle you to demand your dessert, plus additional servings, for later.
Your host may offer it: "Please take a piece to your mother", but it is at her discretion. A dinner cooked for you is not owned by you, nor is your host running a takeout counter. Where did this 'taking it for later' behaviour come from?

I fulfilled their requests. But those women are not getting a hot meal here for a good while.


When I told Le Duc (who is visiting his family in Quebec) he said, "Mal élevé" which translates to "badly brought up" or as my mother would say, "raised in a barn".

Anyway, here is the plum cake recipe. It's from Craig Claiborne, published in the New York Times at least 25 years ago, and it is incredibly easy. I've also made it with apples or peaches- any fall fruit is good, but the little prune plums, with their intense flavour, give a slice of heaven. I use cultured unsalted butter. Whether you package portions "to go" is your decision.

Plum cake

Serves 6-8

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup sweet butter

1 cup unbleached flour, sifted
1 tsp. baking powder

pinch salt

2 eggs

14 plums, pitted and halved (Italian prune plums)

Sugar, fresh lemon juice, cinnamon


1. Cream butter and sugar; add flour, baking powder, salt, eggs, Beat well.


2. Spoon batter into 9" springform pan. Place plum halves skin side up on top of batter. Sprinkle plums with sugar and lemon juice depending on sweetness of fruit. (Usually about 1 Tbsp of sugar.) Sprinkle with about 1 tsp. of cinnamon.

3. Bake at 350F for one hour. Remove and cool.

Serve warm or at room temperature, as is or with whipped or ice cream.
If you freeze it, defrost and reheat briefly at 300F.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Choosing a new scarf for fall

Scarves, possums, scarves! Scarves are calling me like sirens on the rocks.

Maybe I don't need any new clothes for fall, because a scarf changes up everything. But if I'm choosing only one, let me have a beauty.


Rectangles

In this shape, I liked:

1. Top left, YSL Leopard-Knit Scarf, cashmere and wool, 71 x 14", $495
from Neiman Marcus.

2. Middl
e, Brown Rainforest Birds silk scarf, £185 from Liberty.

3. Bottom, Black and Gold Lace Scarf, black cashmere with black and gold lace detail, Ahilya, £560 from
Liberty. Yes, you could start a wardrobe for the price, but it is magical.


Loving a loop

DKNY's Luxe Knit Infinity Scarf is an
endless loop of wool/cashmere, for $75 from Saks Fifth Avenue (international shipping). Also available in black, camel and green. Genius travel piece to change up your neutrals.


Squares

Les Clefs, Hermes' impeccable design first issued in 1965, is now offered in cashmere and silk, $560. The blue and gold, or the ivory and gold? I am in love, mesdames, but with which one?

Ferraga
mo Scarpette Ballet silk, $295 from Neiman Marcus: Italian, chic, confident and modern, $295.





Shawls


A Graduated Pais
ley Shawl in grey and beige, $105 from the Art Institute of Chicago is a whisper of elegance over a simple sweater and slacks.

Jurgen Lehl is a German master weaver and designer living in Japan. His pieces, silk or silk-wool blend, are heirloom quality; order from his online shop. Shown, silk shawl with crinkled surface, Y29,000 (about $312 US dollars).


Vintage beauties

Online vintage stores
are a marvelous source for scarves, and the vendors are quite accurate about condition, unlike some on eBay. I find it's still worth the time to make a phone call to ask about condition if it is only listed as "good"or "very good".

Also, the sites are not always up to date, and new offerings may be available.

Vintage 1970s silk Leonard of Paris square, with pink hand-rolled edge, from Shrimpton Couture, would tart up a jacket or caress an LBD, $170.

Hermes' Astres et Soleils is a plissé,
in excellent con-dition, for $395 from Luxury Scarves, whom I believe Deja Pseu knows well.

Its glowing orange colourway is glorious. Plissés are so easy to wear; the small photo shows the scarf in its pleated posture. (Hermes will re-pleat if you ever need it done.)



Left, YSL 18" x 66" rectangle in arresting colours, from DRESS, in "unworn condition", $95.

Somebody might comment that she bagged a Chanel scarf for
$16 at Goodwill. Never happened to me. But I do have every single scarf I've bought or received for over 25 years, save a Ferre chiffon I drizzled with vinaigrette, and that oil does not come out.

I view them as money well spent.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

When French women shop

Two of my French GFs visited over the summer, and in the service of our fascination with French style, I noted some of their ways. These native Parisiennes have never met, yet Daniele, who lives in the 10th arr., and Huguette in the 15th are sisters in style, and close in age.

Shown, Daniele in a Toronto café.

While they consider Toronto rather slim pickings, they still wanted to check the boutiques; Huguette was especially interested in Canadian design heroines Comrags.

I noticed that they are incredibly particular.

Constru
ction details I would have ignored were cause for rejection: the set of the shoulder and armhole had to be perfect, close but not tight. Buttonhole thread had to be the right colour (precisely matching or at most a tone darker than the garment). Lining could not bunch, even in place you will not see, like the inside of the arm. And the body; if the gorge too high, a collar too pointy: out.

And did you know there is "good black" (inky, deep) and "bad black" (flat, ashy or too shiny)?

They were leery of sale merch. They were not interested in trolling double-markdown racks, believing that leftovers were not worth their time. If looking for bargains, they preferred consignment.


Apparently 100% cotton tees are expensive in Fra
nce. Daniele, shopping with her daughter, bought a half-dozen for vacation wear at Winners (our TJ Maxx), as well as several packs of Fruit of the Loom white tees, which she finds very good quality. But she did not give Winners' other clothing or shoes a glance.

Both women plan to keep their clothes a long time. Daniele wears a black velvet jacket I remember from at least a dozen years ago, and thinks nothing of it. She carries a 20+ year old Kelly bag, refurbished a few times at Hermes.

She said she buys more skirts than pants, finding them more forgiving of a few kilo's weight gain, the result of finally quitting smoking. She organizes her wardrobe around only two colour schemes, black for fall through winter, and ecru for spring and summer. She buys two or three pieces a season, always casting off worn or dated items. She does not count tee shirts, gym wear or lingerie in this tally. (Shown, the Comrags dress Huguette bought.)

Huguette will spend a fortune on a beautiful blouse or sweater. Superior fabric and tailoring, seen "above the table" are evident; the skirt may cost less, mid-line bridge or Banana Republic was acceptable. (Shown, blouse by Ventilo, a favourite.)

She invests in an array of
aesthetic treatments and specialized massages, probably one treatment most weeks, though I would call her skin just okay (but who knows how it would look without this attention).

Both of them buy exquisite lingerie: "Cent dollars pour une culotte!", Huguette said in a but-what-can-you-do tone. This lacy laissez-faire is fueled by deep identification with femininity, relatively new romances for both, and an I'm-worth-it attitude.

The investment is not without sacrifice; neither has a great deal of money. Much of my time with one was spent discussing her precarious finances.


Regarding the women in my city, they said, on separate outings, the same thing: the mature women who made an effort looked good, but they were amazed at how many women did not seem to care. "Not caring" to them meant jeans and running shoes, bland coats indifferently worn, and poorly coordinated bags and shoes. Sloppy tailoring (pants length, sleeve length) was "everywhere", they thought.

Also, I should note, their jewelry is real. Huguette's is gold and gemstones; she wears this Fred "36" watch.

Daniele wears multiple carved ivory bangles bought on a trip to Africa with her late husband in the '70s, simple gold hoops, and on a gold chain, three antique family wedding rings.

I stood back while we shopped and tried to assess, if I did not know where they were from, would I think they were locals? Huguette's boho chic is uncommon here. Daniele is more classic; you do see the type, but not as often as on rue Parmentier.



Thursday, September 17, 2009

TIFF: Film fest fashion

Every September my big, diverse city receives an infusion of human beauty during the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF, of course.)

I only recognize a few of the marquee names though that was Colin Farrell at my local bakery. (He's also shooting here.) George Clooney is apparently very obliging with fans. Keanu's growing his hair.

This year, I seen some people so exceptionally formed that it reminds me of what our species is capable. Example, left, Italian actors Magreth Made and Francesco Scianna, stars of "Barria", from "Cinema Paradisio" director Guiseppe Tornatore. A guy who looked like this showed up at my yoga studio, unrolled his mat next to mine, and I kept thinking, this person is perfect.

I have
no idea if many of these stunners are actually in films; the city is overrun with producers, paramours, stylists, publicists, a lot of them with stellar looks.

From the Globe and Mail, some standouts:

Carrie Mulligan: Award for Young Ingenue in LBD. Hepburnesque. Somebody always does it, and she does it very well. Look closely to see elegant drape-and-fold of her dress (designer unknown); note ruby shoes.

Jennifer Connolly: Got it, wearing it (Bottega Veneta). A larger image would melt your screen.

Drew
Barrymore: That's a lace overlay on her Alexander McQueen dress, daring, downtown and eccentric, like her.

Some misguided attempts to be 'different' were bizarre, but Drew nailed an extremely elusive look.

Love he
r black-tips-on-blonde, a look my hairdresser GF Ingrid rocked several years ago (in her late 50s) with burgundy tips on light brown.


Oprah, svelte at the "Precious" premiere (I would say corseted within an inch of her life based on other shots of her at TIFF), and those earrings are many carats of real.

She knows the effect of the portrait neckline, and wears it often.


Julie Christie: Dig the slim animal pants; she is attending a screening of "Glorious 39", not a premiere. Glorious indeed.

Sarah Ferguson, The Duchess of York: Not flattered by tarty push-up, awkward sleeve detail, scraggly hair. Calling Trinny and Susannah!

Among the worst-dressed: Young Vancouver actress Valerie Tian.

Those twin pillowcase things are pants, worn with leggings. Maybe OK for a gardenburger at the local café but not on the red carpet.
But what caught my eye is her pose. Compare her body language to Carrie, Jennifer and Drew. Get thee to Holt Renfr
ew, Valerie, you have three more days of Festival left.

Closeup of Drew's dress: see how the tattoo-pattern lace glides up the bodice? She's here to premiere her roller-derby film "Whip It", also starring Ellen Page.


ItalicOh, almost forgot. The czar of sexycool, Tom Ford about owns the Festival.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Lessons from tracking my spending

This year, I embarked on an experiment, borrowing a page from frugal livers' books: record every penny you spend.

I planned to work less when I turned 60, and entering this transition, had only a hazy sense of exactly where my money went. I wanted to be more aware of what I consumed, especially for discretionary purchases, like clothes and accessories.

This year, I recorded the date, item, original price, and actual price for every personal expense, an illuminating activity.

My bigge
st expense so far: several thousand dollars to restyle a ring I had not worn for years. Absolutely worth it- I'm enjoying what sat in a box.

One of the sma
llest purchases: a vivid Indian cotton skirt picked up for $50 in a Buffalo boutique, bought because I hadn't packed enough for a trip. After my vacation, I went to Toronto's Little India and found this one, printed with peacock feathers and strewn with silver sequins, on sale for $20!

At about eight months in, my observations so far:


1. I'm still a
sucker for 50%-75% sales. A number of summer-sale tops went unworn. Seven Day Hypothesis: If you're not wearing an item (bought in season) within one week, it's better off left in the store.

I bought a few off-season items in the spring; if I don't wear them regularly this fall, that's another faux pas.

2.
Care counts: I wrecked the most expensive garment, an Italian silk jersey skirt, when I machine-washed it on delicate (not in a bag, the fatal error) rather than dry clean or handwash, as the tag specified. Cost per wear, astronomical. Lesson, priceless.

3. Dry cleaning was a big ignored expense.
I'm no longer willing to reflexively incur this expense so am more interested in clothes I can maintain myself.

4. My look/buy ratio has shifted from 1:1 to 8:1.

In past years, my brain on shopping was conditioned to, "This is when I buy something." I had to re-program it to, "I am having fun looking." If there is something that interested me, left it to the next day, the allure usually vanishes. Sometimes I can't recall what it was.

5. I still love buying gifts. Can't wait till unsuspecting (and un-blog-reading) Birthday Girl Ruth opens the sweater with big blue fox cuffs that Mireille still had for sale at Thrill of the Find!

Many months, my gift purchases were the biggest category. I don't spend for
the sake of buying a lavish gift but if it's right, wrap it up!

6. I want my good-cause giving to be higher and am working on that. Several GFs and I have altered our holiday gift exchanges so I will have more to donate.

Anyone else tracking spending? Notice any shifts?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Green tweed jacket and its memories

I grew up on the scenic shores of Lake Michigan in Petoskey, a town that has been a posh resort area since the 1800s. That's why a town of barely 6,000 (whose population tripled in the summers) had a Saks Fifth Avenue and a string of carriage-trade boutiques.

One of m
y favourites was Ed Behan's Tweed Shop, which carried a divine range of Scottish tweeds, cashmeres and thick mohair blankets. My mother, sister and I all had Eddie B. pieces; I recently gave my GF Alice a Tweed Shop traveling suit that was still perfect.

Etsy seller mysweetiepiepie is selling one of the signature items, a dark green wool herringbone fitted blazer with thick real horn buttons, lined in silk crepe. I remember this piece, and it is as desirable today as forty years ago.

This is how they made quality jackets... look at the scalloped and seamed pocket detail! Even without its nostalgic reference, one gorgeous blazer.


I'd love it, but the measurements (below) say it's for someone else. Price, $52.99.


Note: Measurements for body are for width of garment laid flat, not circumference. For example, waist is 35".
Shoulders: 16 1/2
Underarm to underarm: 19 3/4

Waist: 17 1/2

Hips: 20

Length from under collar: 28

Sleeves" 23