Thursday, November 26, 2009
She assigns their difficulty with turkey-and-trimmings to their "finicky palates" and sees that sitting down to a groaning board of dishes that we eat gleefully "smushed together into one glorious taste" on a plate swimming in gravy is abhorrent to them. The French guests pick at her food, which they carefully segment so as not to touch other dishes on the plate. One of her friends, a French woman married to an American, describes a similar dinner at which Parisian diners picked at tiny portions of the food, but inhaled her truffle, chestnut and fois gras-studded dressing.
"They know what the good parts are", Le Duc said darkly.
Kramer's difficult guest endures, right under my roof. Le Duc, a French Canadian, has asserted for a quarter-century that people of French heritage do not 'do' Thanksgiving dinners. He is unmoved by turkey and thinks that two or three side dishes should be enough to accompany any main course. And salad is not served with the turkey, and marshmallows belong at a campfire.
As a newlywed, I saw that the memories of my American Thanksgiving dinners were going to remain just that, because despite Kramer's insistence, you can lead people to a turkey dinner but you can't make them like it. My sons reached adolescence before they witnessed a US-style Thanksgiving dinner table. They said that it looked just like a buffet.
For several Thanksgivings in the last decade, we were visited by The Siren, an American girlfriend who lived for a time in Chicago. We created full-on turkstravaganzas. He ate with appetite, but when she moved back to California, there was no wistful recollection, no longing for the pearl onions with apples or the trio of squash, fennel and parsnip pureés.
For the last dozen Thanksgivings (which in Canada happen six weeks earlier than in the US, and sensibly on the Monday, while Americans are celebrating Columbus Day), the family visits a cheerful, bustling restaurant that serves turkey dinner with enough familiar sides that you would look at the plate and say, " Oh, it's Thanksgiving".
But the joint doesn't serve squash, apple cider sweet potatoes, the pearl onions, or anything but the most pedestrian mash and veg. Buoyed by Kramer's account of the lavish, warm Thanksgiving dinner served to friends in Spoleto last July, I am determined to take back Thanksgiving and reassert my homeland's tradition.
First, I have to regain my feast-fixin' mojo.
Mark Bittman has developed a minimalist Thanksgiving menu, a good starting point (and stopping point for some). I'm thinking I'll surprise some friends in early spring, taking a page from Kramer's book. I'll add a few of my own favourites, including the tomato pudding and maybe leek gratin for Le Duc.
To those celebrating today, Happy Thanksgiving! I'll catch up with you in April!
(A signature dish of the old Dilworth Hotel, Boyne City Michigan)
1 (10 oz.) can tomato puree (or you can make your own puree with fresh tomatoes)
3/4 c. boiling water
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
4 slices bread, white, diced
1/2 c. melted butter
Add sugar, water and salt to tomato puree. Boil 5 minutes. Place bread squares in buttered casserole dish and pour melted butter over them. Add hot tomato mixture and place cover on casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
I was gobsmacked a la Simon Cowell when I heard her sing it:
Susan Boyle mishandles this song grievously, leaching the desperation and longing from one of the all-time great country/rock hurtin' songs and displaying the artistic sensibility of a salami by using a cheesy, The Homecoming-style piano arrangement. The product: an easy listening dirge that rates voice, ten, soul, zero.
Her fans apparently adore the version: "Oooh, never liked the song before now."
Parsons said he inspired the song (he and Richards were close friends and partners in crime); other contenders include Anita Pallenberg, Marianne Faithfull and Richards and Pallenberg's son Marlon. The "graceless lady" in the song suggests Parson's mother, Avis, an heiress to the Snively orange-grove fortune who died of alcoholism.
Parsons got a demo tape from the Stones and convinced them to let him release it first on Burrito Deluxe, one year before before the Stones included it on Sticky Fingers. Having already recorded soulful ballads like Do Right Woman and Dark End of the Street, Parsons knew a Burrito-flavoured hit when he heard it.
Here's Gram singing Wild Horses on the audio track of a photo-montage tribute. It shows his famous white Nudie suit emblazoned with flaming cross, naked women on the lapels, marijuana leaves and pills.
His tenor occasionally wobbles, but no matter; the song is infused with broke-down longing deepened by Sneaky Pete Kleinow's keening steel guitar.
Susan Boyle is alive and twinkly; Gram, as a result of reckless rock star living, not. Not to advocate bad behaviour on Parson's seismic scale, but Susan needs a few unhinged roadhouse nights of her own before she can go (as Jagger said of himself) "very inside this piece emotionally".
She has to reach down to the place where, as one critic said about Loretta Lynn, "she puts a tear in every note".
Keef and Mick are still rockin'. You might think "Well, written by two Brits, why shouldn't a Scottish lass sing it?" The Spoof.com has published its satire here.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Why $500? Because I saw this "Heirloom octagonal locket", $495 at J. Crew and thought I could do way better that this little overpriced 10k trinket.
I will wear costume, but generally look for vintage, because current costume disappointing, with a few exceptions.
In vintage, several costume pieces stood out.1950s Hattie Carnegie Tassel "Gold" Necklace
Add '50s flirt to a jacket or cashmere sweater with this gold mesh necklace intricately embellished with two turquoise and ruby tassels and one medallion. 16" long. 3 1/2" long tassel ends. Price, $200; from Ellen Wood Scarborough, on the 1stdibs site.
Large Key Pendant Necklace, 1960s
Art stone encrusted large key pendant necklace in silvertone. 24" long. Key is 4 1/2" long. Way more original that a Tiffany key pendant, and the price is $150; also from Ellen Wood Scarborough.
The real deal
When I begin to shop faux, I so often end up with a pleasing 'real' piece.
Chrysoprase Filigree Necklace, ca. 1940 An Art Deco dream. Silver chain necklace with black beads interspersed throughout. The center has a large pendent in silver filigree work and bars of black glass and chrysoprase. 17" long, pendent is 1 1/2".
Circa 1940. $550 from Carole Tanenbaum Vintage Jewelry. Fifty bucks over my budget but glamourous and special; worth the splurge.
Necklace of rectangular copper links embellished with orange and yellow enamel work, circa 1950.
Links are joined by copper findings. Size is 20” long, 1” wide. From Carol Tanenbaum.
Just a tad over again at $550, but what a piece: enough drama for a jacket but hip enough for a black tee with jeans.
For a casual yet striking necklace, I'd choose a big, well-designed Mexican piece like these '40s sterling and amethyst beads, about 16 7/8" long. Beads range from 5/16" to 5/8" in width. The necklace is strung on a fine silver chain. Price, $375 from Deja Voodoo. (Pseu, I am not making this up!)
Or two lavish strands of Victorian Whidby jet, beautifully-cut beads for $350, also from Deja Voodoo. The strands are 16" and 18 1/2 inches, and the beads are good-sized, the smallest is 13/16" and the largest, just under 1/2".
A superb and versatile Modernist piece: Jane Widberg mid-century sterling and carnelian necklace composed of an pendant (which could be worn on a longer chain) and neck-ring, $495 from Auerbach and Maffia.
You can even get a diamond-set locket on this budget. If I were craving a locket, I'd choose a ca. 1900 14k rose gold piece from Ruby Lane seller Eve Dove Gems.
Plan B: Fake it when the lights are low
Quality, schmality. Sometimes you have a better use for your 500 clams and want a vibrant new accessory for a party or two. There's a time for fake and fab, usually late at night under a restaurant chandelier.
Something hip for a night out: this Aldo fuschia Dark necklace delivers colour, pearls, and dripping Bollywood tiers, all for $25.
Navy is a nearly impossible colour to find in jewelry, so I was captivated by this navy Rhinestone Bib Necklace, the kind of accessory that revives a dress or top you're used to. $59 from Art Effect, and also available in black.
RJ Graziano is another costume-jewelry designer who creates outstanding lower-priced pieces. This smoky gray resin and chain necklace piece is as bold and well-balanced as pieces at quadruple the price. Also available in clear resin, but get the moody, richer-looking grey. $75 from Bloomingdale's and also sold on HSN.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
They ranged from early 70s to 80. Each enjoyed good to excellent health, and most were married (some to second husbands). One woman was gay. One woman had been widowed in her 40s, and was now in a new, tentative relationship.
Their advice was, "Pay attention to your love life". The majority were with partners who had health issues that made intimacy sporadic, limited or not possible. I was struck by the tenderness with which they reminisced, recalling passion and its physical and emotional gifts.
Rather like those of us in our 50s and 60s who wished we'd worn our bikini more often, they wished they'd taken more time to enjoy the pleasure and bonding of lovemaking before aging diminished desire or ability.
I asked one of the eldest if she and her husband at least cuddled. "My husband is an all-or-nothing kind of guy", she said ruefully.
I appreciated their reminder that one's intimate life is vulnerable to the challenges of aging. Like the decline of physical ability, I couldn't quite imagine losing what I had taken for granted.
"I'm glad we had those wonderful nights when the children were asleep and we would dance and dance and finally dance to the bedroom", one of the oldest said to me, "because the memory of it keeps me close to him now."
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Huffington Post ran a piece on Carla Bruni-Sarkozy's love of flats, along with a slide show, here, which shows how she wears flat shoes and boots for even dressy functions. During a visit to England in March, 2008, photos show Dior ensembles of increasing formality, always with flats.
She is thought to have adopted them to prevent towering over her bijoux husband.
Look, his heels are higher than hers. According to various reports, Sarko is 5' 5" or 5' 6", Carla is 5' 9' or perhaps 5' 11". That's quite a gap to close, if it matters.
I'm 5' 10", and back in the day dated a few Sarko-sized guys. They either liked the attention the effect drew or agonized about it. Ray, who ended up marrying my friend Dacia, swore he was 5' 7", but was really at least an inch shorter. He was so dismayed about the platforms I wore to a party that he turned up for the next date in a gorilla suit.
Regardless of their reasons, ever more women are flashing flats with dressier outfits. But many flats look a bit sad and settled-for with party clothes. (Carla's consistently in Dior shoes.)
The bad news is that flats with fizz are costly, hard to find, or both. The good news is that they don't date as quickly as heels.
Flats that stay up late
Prada Skimmer with Rings, $550 from Neiman Marcus. I love the lines; this is a grown-up flat.
Juicy Couture Ravi Studded Ballerinas, $195, also from Neiman Marcus.
Small enough to fold in your bag when wearing winter boots to travel, with studs for attitude.
The Cole Haan Nike Air Addison Ballerinas have that divine Nike Air cushion-support, detail and texture via patent and matte leathers, and the slightest wedge to save your feet from looking like flippers. $158, from Neiman's again (also available from Zappos in chocolate). Too sporty for Carla's ballgowns, but a great looking shoe.
Mugnai's "Kaitlin" in aubergine is smart, refined and has similar air-cushioning. $425 (Canadian dollars) from Ron White. (International shipping.)
Marni's pink jacquard tweed lurex ballerinas are an intelligent alternative to the brand's vertiginous heels at the same lofty price point, $510 from Marni.
Accessoire Diffusion is one of my favourite French shoemakers; the US stores are in Vegas and NYC. Carla and I could wear our sapphire patent "Gounod" ballerinas with everything from le smoking to jeans. €220. Visit the site just to enjoy the stellar collection.
Anthropologie's "Sort of Saddle" shoes, in glittery brown fabric and patent, would add wit to a silk shirt and pants, for only $128. Anthropologies' web site has many appealing flats; problem is that the standouts sell out.
Finally, an unexpected colour kicks a flat into sharp. These Italian leather ballerinas from Sundance come in purple, red, navy, mustard, a tart apple green, and brown. $128 from Sundance; international shipping.
With flats like these, I'll probably not venture into those heels more than a time or two. And you?
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
This was the attitude with which I went shopping last weekend.
I sought a dressy top for the round of holiday parties. The usual retailers offered missy camis way too junior for me or dowdy beaded sweaters. The few things I liked in luxury shops were stratospherically pricey or not made in my size.
On the verge of resignation, I stopped by a neighbourhood boutique that carries clothes by Montreal designer Veronique Miljkovitch.
I found my deliverance, the "Amber", a sensuous draped jersey tunic shown here in grey; mine is a glowing sapphire. With jersey palazzo pants, earrings and cocktail ring, it's ready for a party– but with jeans and boots, it will read casually cool. Le Duc's gift, lucky me!
I also loved this silk and stretch cotton "Scarlett" top, shown on the web site.
Veronique's pieces are fresh, sensuous, and discreetly but definitively sexy. And her Large is a 14, not an 8-with-no-bust.
Clothes like this are rare as a blue rose.
This is what the big-brand designers and retailers don't get: women 50+ want to look like we still have (or would consider having) a good time that involves our bodies. Think of Catherine Deneuve– we want to be womanly rather than matronly. (I do know one woman who is not interested, and deliberately dresses to telegraph that choice, in overalls.)
If I make it to eighty and beyond, and if blessed with the acuity of my mother and aunt, I will still desire clothes that offer allure. I'm grateful I found something for this season, but why is it so almighty hard?
Thursday, November 12, 2009
As many as two-thirds of women experience hair loss at some point, often more pronounced as the years pass. I'm not referring to hair texture (though the diameter of each individual shaft also diminishes as we get older), but to the amount of hair on your head.
Contributing factors include hormonal changes (typically at menopause), stress, illness (including treatment such as chemotherapy) and heredity. Look to your mother, aunts and grandmothers to see what you might expect. Hair care (especially styling with heat) can damage hair by breaking it off, but does not decrease the amount of hair on your head.
What are our choices?
Drug therapies: iffy to spurious
The role of estrogen in hair growth, at least in humans, is not clear. Both oral and topical estrogens are prescribed by physicians to treat hair loss in women, although there are no controlled studies to support this use of estrogen.
The only drug approved for promoting hair growth in women is the same one men use, Minoxodil. The internet is full of hair-growth products; be as leery of these as of fat-burning pills.
See your hairdresser first
Unlike guys, we can't shave it off and look studly. Ask for a style that makes the most of your hair's density. A talented hairdresser can assess the areas of loss, as well as your face, style and preferences.
There's no one magic style, but if you have wavy or curly hair, a cut short enough to make the hair stand up from the roots will camouflage loss.
Options depend on the pattern and extent of thinning. A bob is effective unless you're thinning on top, or have superfine hair that is also thin.
Asymmetrical styles 'stack' the hair to the thickest side, so that the thinner side looks like part of a deliberate style. Choppy, shorter layers can add volume and lift around thinning areas.
A technique you learned in your teens, teasing, could re-enter your life. Backcombing adds thickness and volume, and may only be needed on sections of hair.
Stylists recommend volumizing shampoos, conditioners, mousses and gels, to make the most of the hair you do have. Thickening shampoos and conditioners plump up each individual hair strand to add overall volume and lift. (If you are red by way of colour, check with the stylist, as some volumizing shampoos open the cuticle, which causes red colour to become even more fragile than it already is.)
Avoid waxes and muds, which weigh the hair down.
The site Hair Loss Expert explains how hair colour helps thinning hair by creating an impression of fullness:
"Hair dyes thicken hair by depositing colour in the strand, which plumps the shaft. This boost in strand size helps produce thicker- looking hair that offers more complete scalp coverage.
Hair colour can also be used to give the illusion of fuller, thicker hair. Darker colours produce an illusion of having more hair, and lighter colours that better match the skin colour of the scalp help blend thinning areas in with existing hair.
Well-placed highlights produce the illusion of fullness. Having the tips of your hair highlighted will make the root colour stand out more, thus tricking the eye into seeing more depth and volume."
A little help from friends
Many stylists suggest hairpieces, especially for up-dos. If the loss is significant, an integration hairpiece can help; its honeycomb base lets you pull your own hair through to blend with the hairpiece. The best are custom made and fitted. For more about what these look like, see this detailed explanation on Hair Direct's site.
Invisible hairline or lace-front wigs or hairpieces are an innovation in the industry, and are used for both full wigs and hairpieces. According to some vendors, this type of wig or hairpiece keeps celebs like Tyra Banks and Beyonce tossing those voluminous manes. But they're not perfect, as the glue that holds the lace to the face can crack or buckle. For some revealing shots of lace gone wrong, see Hair Conspiracy Extensions' site.
Companies like Head Covers by Joni sell an update on the "fall" I wore in university days, a "headband hairpiece" that adds fullness and length. They offer hairpieces in unusual shapes, like the Perfect Blend, a halo-type piece worn on the crown, the area most prone to thinning.
Here's a before-and-after from the site, showing the Perfect Blend worn.
Initially considered the best thing for women since the underwire bra, weaves are a slippery slope. Not all look like Oscar night 'dos; this shot shows a conservative style augmented by with subtle extensions.
I've never had one, so rely on the opinion of my friend Cathy, who calls them "the crack of the salon". Her bonded weave, applied for about $450, took nearly a full day in the chair, and the results were dramatic– the extensions were far lusher and more lustrous than her own hair. For awhile, everyone at the office was saving for weaves.
But it had to be redone every several months, and the weight of the glued-in extensions pulled on Cathy's remaining hair. She eventually decided to forgo extensions and crop it short, because repeated weaves had damaged what hair she had. Her pixie cut looks marvelous, but it's a style she never considered before her hair loss.
What to do? Boomers try to retain all the glossy markers of youth while they age, and I doubt succeeding generations will be any different. A full head of hair symbolizes health and desirability.
I'm betting that treatments, products and fill-ins will only rise in popularity, and "Does she or doesn't she?" will mean more than just colour.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Pearl Buying Tips, Part Two
1. If traveling and you find lovely pearls, don't walk away because you don't like the clasp. Buy them and have them restrung at home. A corollary: put your bucks into the pearl, you can always upgrade the clasp. But don't think you can add pearls later to make a strand longer.
2. When traveling, do not assume the pearls you are shown are local. There are many, many Chinese pearls sold in the Philippines and Japan. "Baby South Sea" pearls are usually Chinese. When in doubt ask the concierge at a five star hotel to recommend a reputable jeweler. (Just walk in and ask, you don't have to be a guest.) With some years of experience, I will still pay the 'safety tax' to deal with a reputable, established jeweler in some parts of the world.
3. Pearls displayed on black velvet look more lustrous than they are. Examine them on white or off-white board or fabric. Shop in a white or cream top.
4. Don't buy pearls with circling. Circlé (also called ringed or banded) pearls are inferior quality pearls. There are different tastes (some people like them) but if you compare prices, you will find these at the bottom, and that should be a sign. Very faint circling is acceptable on some pearls, but I would reject obvious grooves. Rather than a strand with circles on the pearls, buy a top grade single pearl pendant or earrings.
5. If the pearls you lust for are simply too pricey in the 9.5mm and up size, buy three to seven strands of smaller-sized pearls (4mm-7mm) of the same type and make a torsade. You can wear it draped or twisted, a very smart look you don't see often. Avoid the tiny rice or seed pearls (2mm-3mm), which are dated. Buy temporarily-strung 16" strands, and add at least one extra strand than you want to end up with, to make room for the twist when those strands are strung.
So, for a five-strand torsade, figure an extra two inches per strand, and therefore, buy one more 16 inch temporarily-strung strand. Or you can buy finished strands and take them to your local jeweler to restring as a torsade. (Just don't forget the 'twist room'.) If you want a tight twist, figure another extra inch per strand.
If price is reasonable, buy 10-15% extra for discards, as there are often some inferior pearls in the strand when you buy in Asia.
6. The grading assigned by a seller is an arbitrary standard.
Unfortunately there is no uniform industry-accepted grading system. There are two widely-used systems, the AAA-A and the A-D (or Tahitian), but they may not be applied uniformly among various dealers and suppliers.
Request a written description of each grading term, so that you know exactly what the grade implies. Mostly, look at pearls and build your eye. You may love an AA strand and find the AAA looks too glassy. Many pearls offered for sale have no grade attached. This is not deceptive.
You can find a detailed description of pearl grades here.
More Value Factors: Lustre, Surface Quality, Nacre Quality, and Matching
Lustre is the intensity of light reflected from the surface of a pearl.
Look for your reflection. If it's hazy, or blurry, that's not good. But extremely lustrous pearls are not the sole criterion; the salesperson might promote lustre because that's all the pearls have going for them. Right now some jewelers are selling "mirror like" pearls. They are not to my taste. Super-lustrous pearls look too harsh to me.
Lustre also varies by pearl type; South Seas have softer, more satiny luster than Akoyas.
A beautiful pearl has levels of lustre, how the light refracts from the surface and a deeper, inner glow. Trust yourself, you will see that. And those are some pearls.
While the oyster is making the pearl over years, life happens, even at the bottom of the ocean. Pearls can have blemishes or irregularities on the surface. Spotless pearls, like flawless diamonds, are very costly and again, imitations are nearly always spotless spheres. I can happily live with a slight cavity in the pearl surface (called a chip or pit). Avoid patchy pearls with darker, duller or lighter areas on them.
Don't confuse poor surface quality with the bumps that are characteristic of some pearls, like Kasumis, known for irregular surfaces. (Shown, a purple/bonze kasumi pearl from eBay seller Ehret Design Gallery, $169.)
A big, big factor to durability and beauty. Nacre (NAY-ker) is secreted by the oyster in layers, like multiple coats of varnish on a floor. The more layers of nacre, the more light plays through the pearl. In the last years, exposés of some major jewelers' products revealed that nacre on even very costly pearls can be perilously thin. Thin nacre results in your pearls wearing down till you have dull white beads. Unfortunately there are no surefire tests for the buyer to precisely measure nacre.
To check for nacre thickness, roll the pearl between your fingers. Thin-nacred pearls have a chalky, dull look and when you rotate them, show the bead nucleus through thin spots on the nacre. (These pearls are called blinkers.) Often a strand will have a couple of blinkers, so look at each pearl from all sides.
If the nacre process is interrupted, the pearl develops ringed ridges. These pearls are the circlé (circled) ringed or banded pearls mentioned in the Tips. This is not a pearl variety, it is a glitch. I do not recommend buying these. Possible exception would be a very, very faint single circle on a gorgeous Tahitian pearl.
Keshi (or keishi) pearls (shown, petal-shaped keshis) are 100% nacre, and are more lustrous than the best cultured pearls, but they will never be round or even semi-round. The are found within a cultured pearl oyster, but are formed without the bead or tissue nucleus.
CFWs generally have very thick nacre, but if they are not also lustrous, don't look good. French Polynesia sets nacre minimum requirements for its Tahitians, but South Sea pearls are not regulated for nacre thickness.
So: thick nacre + lustre + minimal blemishes = mesmerizing gem of the sea.
This term describes the uniformity of pearls. Look for a harmonious design and balanced effect. Graduated strands will be cheaper than matched strands. Intentionally mismatched pearls can be great pieces!
Sites with interesting pearls
Classic strands abound, but you don't have to buy a classic matched white strand even if it's your first purchase. If you stroll through the Passage regularly you'll know I'm a fan of these sites because they feature interesting pearls or less conventional styles.
I'm impressed with their dedication to presenting unusual pearls. Shown, Mexican natural oyster wild pearls, $2,900. Many other very reasonably priced cultured pearls on this site.
Sublime designer Zara Scoville works with 'dirty' (non-white) pearls but also some tantalizing Tahitians and Kasumis, in hip designs. Shown, dirty pearls with keshis.
Perlas del Mar
Sea of Cortez pearls, Mexico's emblematic gem; very special. Shown, three-pearl Sea of Cortez ring by Juan Pacheco.
I hope these posts have increased your confidence and nurtured your enjoyment of an exquisite yet affordable gem.
Like one rose, a single pearl delights– and there are marvelous examples within reach for the price of a pair of shoes or less.