Friday, July 25, 2014

Sweet Memory


My mom makes outrageously good apple pie.  When I was a little girl I liked to "help" with this.  I liked to "help" with a lot of things.  This is quite possibly why I was frequently encouraged to go outside and play.  "Wouldn't you rather go outside and play dear?"  "Why don't you go outside and play."  Or, "Go.  Out.  Side.  And PLAY."  Anyway, for some reason she didn't shoo me out of the kitchen very often when she was making pie, and I would be allowed to make my own delicious little pies with dough scraps pressed into tiny glass tart dishes, and a simple custardy buttermilk filling.

Buttermilk Pie is a classic Southern recipe that is wildly easy and can be whipped up from ingredients (flour, butter, sugar, eggs) that you probably have on hand right this minute.  You will find recipes that have you using an electric mixer and adding ingredients in this order or that order.  And you can do that if you want, but seriously, the pie is just as good if you channel your inner 7-year old and just dump the ingredients in a bowl, whisk them together and pour them into a prepared pie crust.

I am including a great recipe for pastry crust.  Once again, easy peasy- flour, sugar, butter, water.  A food processor will cut the butter into the flour mixture faster, but if you don't want to mess with that, you can use your hands.  Or, use a ready-made refrigerated crust.  In the summer I like to serve the pie chilled with a glass of cold milk or a cup of hot coffee.  Fork optional.

Pastry Crust

1 1/4    cups all-purpose flour
   1/4    teaspoon salt
   1/2    cup butter, chilled and cubed
      1    Tbsp. sugar
   1/4    cup ice water

In a large bowl combine flour and salt.  Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Add the sugar.  Add water 1 Tbsp. at a time, mixing until the mixture will form a ball.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

To prepare the pie crust for the Buttermilk Pie, the crust must be pre-baked.  Roll out the dough about 1/8" thick to about a 12" circle.  Press the dough evenly around the inside of a 9" pie plate and crimp the edges of the dough.   Prick the bottom and sides with a fork.  Line pastry with parchment paper, and fill with pie weights or dried beans.  Bake at 400° for 10 minutes, then remove the weights and parchment paper, and bake 8-10 more minutes or until the crust is very lightly browned.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely before filling, about 30 minutes.

Then, preheat the oven to 350°.

For the filling whisk together:

1 1/2   cups sugar
      3   eggs
      1   cup buttermilk OR sour milk (see below to make sour milk)
    1/2  cup butter, melted
      3   Tbsp.  fresh lemon juice (if you have it, if not, don't worry about it)
      1    tsp. real vanilla extract

How to make 1 cup of sour milk:  Add 1 Tbsp. lemon juice to a glass measuring cup and add milk to make 1 cup.  Let this stand for 5 minutes before adding to a recipe.

Pour into a prepared pie shell, and bake at 350° for 35-45 minutes or until almost set, shielding the edges with aluminum foil after 15 minutes.  Cool one hour before eating.  If you absolutely must get schmancy, you can add 1/2 c. of chopped pecans to the top before baking, or swirl 1/4 cup of good berry jam through the filling before baking, or serve the pie with fresh berries on the side and a light, last minute dusting of confectioners sugar.

Now go outside and play!



Image:  Martha Stewart.com


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Practicing Poise



I was looking at a popular shelter magazine this morning with my coffee.  Images of an impressive and striking house, which, to my fascination, had absolutely not one comfortable place to sit.  I wondered if it feels stressful to live there.





The purpose of design is to help us live more gentle, graceful lives, not to create rooms that photograph well.   Most of us, I think, seek to develop poise in ourselves and in our houses and gardens so that we may have lives that look beautiful but more importantly, live beautifully.





As I was pulling some favorite images of summer, I started jotting down notes about developing personal poise, along with some ideas for creating a more poised and graceful house.





1.  Be gentle and kind.  We value this quality in our friends, in our spouses, children and pets.  People with a gentle voice, a calm spirit and quiet consideration for themselves and others are always a joy to be near.  I remember hearing myself for the first time on a tape recorder in elementary school and being shocked at the sound of my voice.  That was when I realized that our perception of our own voice is sometimes quite different from what others hear.





Toastmasters International advises that the best speaking voice is pleasant, conveys a sense of warmth, is expressive, reflects sincerity, uses good diction, and is neither too fast or too slow.  One of my favorite male speaking voices is Harrison Ford's.  It has a nice depth, and he always sounds calm, intelligent, confident (and somewhat paternal).  Do you have a favorite voice?  Have you ever been surprised to hear how you sound?





How about our houses?  Do you feel nurtured and embraced within your house and garden?  A friend told me in January that her New Year's resolution was not major home improvements, but instead to spend the time and money necessary to fix a myriad of small but frustrating issues in her house that she had been alternately avoiding or trying to live with.  Inspired, I finally repaired a cupboard door in my kitchen that popped off of its hinges at least twice a month.





Are there rugs or cords that trip you constantly? Are your chairs comfortable and supportive or do they hurt your back?  Pour a glass of wine and wander around your house with a book, sitting in each chair.  Is there a table nearby to set your glass?  Is there enough light to read?  Are there rooms that are too hot or too cold, too dark or too bright?  A house, like a good friend, should be gentle and kind.





2.  Slow down.  We seem to be moving faster and faster, but I wonder if we're actually getting more done or just sacrificing our quality of life and peace of mind.  It is impossible to be poised if we are always in a hurry, because poise is dignified and graceful, not harried.  I found myself in a rush today, digging for my car keys in my handbag like some crazed gopher.  I didn't feel very graceful and I'm certain I did not look the least bit dignified.  Deep cleansing breath....





Slowing down allows us to be present for the people we are with at the moment, instead of always hurrying to get to the next place and do the next thing.  And then, ironically, once we get there, hurrying to get to the next place and do the next thing.  Does this feel familiar?  Jacqueline Kennedy was famous for her ability to make anyone speaking with her feel as if he or she were the most important person in the room.   It is an incredibly attractive quality, and I have come to understand that this is the best gift we can give to someone, our undivided attention.  Slowing down and living a life of poise and presence is a luxury that is free.




Janice Parker Landscape Design

One of my favorite movies is The Tourist, a relaxing, fun, old-fashioned caper movie starring Johnny Dep and Angelina Jolie.  I especially love the character Elise Clifton-Ward because she is a walking textbook of poise.  I read an interview with Ms. Jolie, who said that almost every day her notes from the director said, "Slow down."  She said, "I think as very modern women we feel the need to attack things...the director was trying to teach me a certain way of being bred, this elegance, like time moves around you, you don't meet it.  The hardest thing for me was to take a deep breath and glide a little more."





Our houses (and cars) can become giant, disheveled handbags if we're not mindful.  Taking one extra moment to put something away where it belongs, straighten-up a drawer, or wipe off the bathroom faucet when we are finished, can make such a difference in how a house looks and how graceful it feels to live there.





We can create places in our houses and gardens that encourage us to slow down, rest and regain our composure.  I know someone who has a book stand with a dictionary by the window in her office.   She says sometimes as she is going about her day, she'll pause a moment and learn a new word.  Consider adding a bench to the garden, or a teak stool to the shower.





3.  Develop exquisite manners.  If I could give one piece of advice to my younger self, (besides buy Apple in 1980) it would be this.   I believe now that manners are the great equalizer.  We don't need to be handsome or glamorous or have any special privilege- it costs nothing to have beautiful manners.  I have made many mistakes in my life, some the result of plain stupidity, and some because I lacked important insight, but the mistakes I regret most are the ones where I was rude or hurt someone's feelings.





 Everyone (more than likely) is an idiot at least once in their life, but unkindness always weighs most heavily on me.  I am no expert, but I think now that manners can instantly create more peace and harmony in a marriage than counseling, and more lasting happiness in a home than any amount of money.  Manners both set a person apart and guarantee that he or she fits in everywhere.





Houses have manners too.  When you walk through the door after a long day and your arms are full of parcels, your house should say, "Here, let me get that for you!"  We cannot all have butlers waiting at the door to receive our things, but we might be able to place a table or chair nearby at the ready to hold our packages, and car keys, and letters to mail.





I adore hooks, and I think it is unlikely that a house could have too many of them.  Have you ever stayed in someone's home and praised heaven for extra hooks in the bathroom to hang your robe and toiletry kit?   A friend has a hook on her front porch for the dry cleaning delivery, but she finds it is also handy for dripping raincoats.





In the garage or under the eaves by the back door is another great place for a hook.  Would it be convenient to have a hook on the outside of your closet door to hold today's jeans or tomorrow's planned outfit?  Or a row of cup hooks inside the pantry door to hold aprons or those ever-present plastic bags for recycle?





Would it be nice to have a pretty tray to carry refreshments?  There is something about placing things on a tray that elevates the mundane to something special.  I just finished a novel in which one of the characters, a well-bred socialite, made a point always to place drinks on a tray, even if she was only transporting a bottle of mineral water and a tumbler out to the porch for herself to enjoy while she sat in the sun.





A house that allows us to live well need not be large or grand.  A simple cottage can be designed with thoughtful details that help us live gracefully.





4.  Create balance.   Epicurus, the Greek scientist and philosopher said, "Be moderate in order to taste the joys of life in abundance."  People who are poised seem to have discovered the magic balance between just enough and too much.




via

Sleep, sun, food, work, time spent alone and with others, time spent talking and listening, security and freedom, spending and saving, comfort and adventure- all of these things require an attention to balance.  When our lives are in balance, it is often easier for us to feel serene.





A house in balance might mean symmetrical or asymmetrical balance in architecture or decor, but it might also mean a balance between formal and casual spaces, places for evening and for daytime, places to be alone and places to be with others.  A space that is sexy and swank for evening cocktails is probably not the space where most of us would be happiest having breakfast.





That is often what we don't see in magazines.  A house might photograph wonderfully, but how does it feel on a Sunday afternoon, or when you have the flu, or a bad day at work?  I'll confess I tend to judge the success of a room based upon its nap-ability and how many spots I can find to read.  Which rooms do you like to use in the winter and which rooms feel best in the summer?  A balanced house is a house for all seasons.





5.  Develop your curiosity and pursue your own education.  A person who is poised is fun to talk to because he or she is curious about many things.  An ivy league education is always nice to have, but curiosity, openness and interest in learning are greater factors in determining poise and intelligence.  I am always amazed when I meet people who are resistant to learning.  They seem willing to struggle almost interminably rather than admit to a lack of knowledge.  I have found throughout my life that my teachers have come in all sorts of packages, often unlikely packages, and I have learned to soak up knowledge any way I can get it, from anyone willing to take their time to teach me something I need to know.  Are you a voracious learner?





I love this picture of Nigella Lawson surrounded by sky-high shelves of books.  Do you have a place in your house where you can pursue learning?  It might be a dining room made into a library, or a studio or craft room created in a laundry area.





It might be books stacked on a nightstand or a chair in the garden.  A poised house supports our self-education.





6.  Stay connected to nature.  To be poised and tranquil, it is important to stay connected to our source.  Consider the poised grace of trees.   We are a part of the earth and it is a part of us.  From the food we eat to the water we drink, we depend on our connectedness to nature to stay alive.  Our brain and heart is about 73% water.  Our lungs are 83%, our skin is 64%, even our bones are watery at 31%.  We must have air in order to survive, but the American Lung Association reports that in 2014, almost half of all Americans live in counties with unhealthy levels of pollution.






Scientific studies have proven over and over again that access to nature is essential to human health.  College students do better on tests if their dorm rooms view green spaces.  Children with ADHD have fewer symptoms when time is spent doing outdoor activities in lush environments.  Residents of public housing complexes have better family interactions if they live near trees.






As evolved as we human beings are, we are, thankfully, still organisms of nature, not machines.  Our habitat is the environment, and over time, we suffer physical, psychological and social breakdown when we are forced to live in environments that are not natural.





A poised and tranquil home needs some access to nature.





Find ways to integrate plants, flowers, or even a bowl of fruit or vegetables into every room of your home, and you will find that your rooms will seem more restful, beautiful and inviting.





I hope you are enjoying your summer!  What are your thoughts about poise?  xo, N.G.




On the bookshelf:

         






Images: 1. via Pinterest 2. Design by Wadia Associates via Dering Hall and the Fullerview 3. via Pinterest 4. Nina Gates 5. This Old House.com 6. Photographed by Kiel James Patrick, Tumblr 7. Timothy Corrigan via Architectural Digest 8. Janice Parker Landscape Design 9. via Pinterest 10. Jean-Loup Durand via Veranda 11. Massant bergere via Veranda  12. Veere Grenay 13. Barbara Barry 14. Nora Murphy Country House 15. Restoration Hardware Bistro hook 16. Martha Stewart Living photographed by Jonny Miller 17. via Elle Decoration photographed by Fabrizio Cicconi18. Martha Stewart Living 19. Garden & Gun Magazine 20. Pinterest 21. Matt Botts Landscape Design 22. Pinterest 23. Pinterest 24. Stephen Shubel 25. Pinterest 26. Jules Alexis Muenier 27.Pinterest 28. Pinterest 29. Pierre Frey, Espalier via Veranda 30. Pinterest

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy 238th Birthday America!

John Trumbull 1817

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Elegant View of David Fuller


Aristotle opined that we are what we repeatedly do.  "Excellence, then," he said, "is not an act, but a habit."  





One visit to TheFullerView.tumblr.com, and it becomes obvious that for David Fuller, excellence is something that happens every day.  




And with just a click, we too can be privileged citizens of his elegant world. 











With boundless style and a flawless eye, David consults on visual merchandising, product development, and brand positioning.  




He also uses his photography and graphic design skills to create archives of branded images for his clients to use on their own blogs, social media,





 websites and print campaigns. 





The Fuller Collection is a cultivated range of personal stationery and photography which he hopes to expand to include goods curated from other creatives.  





His images are genteel, aristocratic even, 





and describe a life of exquisite serenity, privilege and beauty.  





But the world of David Fuller is also welcoming, comfortable and kind, 





and that, at the heart of it is his message.  





That grace, goodness and beauty can "inform our minds and inspire our souls." 





 What is so charming about David is his complete lack of pretension.  





His photographs are breathtaking, but he insists that he is not a professional photographer.  





His singular ability to cultivate collections illuminates our understanding and appreciation of life, like the very best art, poetry and music, and yet he says that he is not an artist.  





“I actually started the tumblr site as a convenient place to post my own photos alongside the work I admired from professional photographers.  I would compare my images to theirs and challenge myself on composition and so forth.”  





David describes his background in merchandising as a key factor in his creative success.  





The experience he gained working with talented artists, fashion designers, photographers and art directors creating visual communications for iconic businesses such as Ralph Lauren, Coach, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, and Samsonite, helped him acquire the disciplines and intuition that have developed into a finely tuned understanding of what people respond to visually.  




  
Ultimately what sets David apart is his character, his kindness and his ability to express the values of his clients through his work, as well as, I imagine, his own.  





In this recently completed project for the Trinity Boston Foundation, David said that he specifically chose "a non-traditional size for the annual report so it would feel more like a marketing tool with a longer reach than just an annual report.  Our hope is this will make others wish to be a part of such a vital organization."  His clients, he is delighted to say, were thrilled.





A native Bostonian, David tells me that sharing his view of the world he sees every day is his expression of gratitude for time spent in a place he loves.  





"I believe we live up to the standards of our surroundings, in people, and places.  A life immersed in grace, goodness and beauty raises the bar.  Like music, poetry and literature- the visual arts inform our minds and inspire our souls.  The environments we choose, and the ones we create matter- these spaces refresh and renew us for the journey to reach our potential.”  David Fuller





Visit David Fuller at www.mindingshop.com




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