Tuesday, December 16, 2014
If you've stopped here very often, you're aware that I don't cook. That is to say I do cook, but I do it badly and inelegantly and only out of necessity and rarely with joy. Someone said to me once that she dusted her cooktop and I crossed my fingers behind my back that I would get there eventually.
But I love to bake. While I make the same ten recipes for dinner in a pretty regular rotation, I'm fearless when I bake. Cakes, cookies, pies, tarts. When I cook, I often realize I've skipped steps or left out ingredients. When I bake, I'll sift, grate, blanch, peel or candy with care.
I had not used a Kitchenaid mixer until about ten years ago. I grew up with a hand mixer (my mother was a terrible cook and baker, so we've evolved a little.) With it, I made cookies and brownies and cream puffs that looked like swans. As an adult I did the same and could not see the appeal of this behemoth of the kitchen counter. I thought it was another affectation of cooking like an egg separator or a mat with concentric circles that tells you how far you need to roll the dough for your piecrust.
I was wrong. Once I lived with a Kitchenaid, I understood that it was one of the few devices that make the process better. Whether whipping or mixing, it was well worth the exercise of lugging it from under the island onto the counter.
When I moved, the Kitchenaid did not come with me and I was without one for about nine months. I told myself it was a needless expense. I told myself I could live without it. I told myself that I had been happy with a hand mixer before and I could be happy with one again.
What I found was that I stopped baking. I tried a couple of times, but my rhythm was off. I can see now that it was a combination of a few things. Baking and cooking are physical acts. The way we move about the kitchen is a dance. If you watch a practiced cook or baker, you can see that it is like ballet. As with anything, routine helps us find our grace there. It takes a while in a new space for our fingers to find the spatula without looking. It takes a while to open only one drawer in search of the knife. It takes a while to know that the oven heats at a ridiculously slow pace and runs just a couple of degrees hot.
I realized, too, that once we know better, it is difficult to go back. So I decided to invest in a mixer. The previous Kitchenaid, which I did not choose, was white. If I had chosen it, it would have been white. Or maybe black. I read and hear funny things in my life that snap into my brain like Legos. Advice on style or living can come from any random place and become part of my canon. I was a child when I saw the movie Thoroughly Modern Millie. In it Mary Tyler Moore's character, while discussing cars, says that machines should only be black or white. For whatever reason, as I lay on my stomach on orange shag carpet with my chin in my hand, I thought that sounded right. Not just sensible, but chic, though I didn't know that word at the time.
When I went to buy my mixer, I planned on black or white. I do not get a thrill from cooking stores, as some people do, and my main objective is to get what I need and get out as quickly as I can. But the day I went to buy my mixer, I could not leave the spot at the back of the store where they were displayed. I had gone to determine which size I needed, but was enchanted by their shiny, candy colors. I knew already that he would live on the counter; I did not want to bother with the charade of hiding him. Suddenly, the question was not if there would be color, but what color it would be. I considered red, which is a color that I love, but there was simply too much jump. It was, unsurprisingly, the turquoisey-not-quite-robin's-egg blue that I could not shake. Even after learning that it was on back-order - I would have to wait a little longer - nothing else would do.
In this particular case, my instincts were good. The turquoisey-not-quite-robin's-egg blue makes me smile every morning as he greets me. And I am baking again. My middle son is a baker, too, and we made cinnamon rolls for the first time Thanksgiving morning. He told me yesterday that he wants to try lemon poppyseed muffins, though he's never had lemon poppyseed muffins, he likes the idea of them. It seems silly to say that a mixer changed my life for the better, but in a very small way, it did.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
A friend emailed me and another friend a couple of months ago and the subject line was "Glamping." We had traveled short distances together before: Columbia (Missouri), my house, her pool. You may remember that I don't particularly like to be outside, but I am making an effort to try new things. Being anywhere with these women is always a good idea. Sleeping in a tent (that someone else put up) with three queen-size beds seemed best case for camping. Glamping.
But the week was busy, and as the day neared the demons began to whisper, "You don't have time. This needs attention. You haven't even gotten to that." And I wavered. Each woman responded with a calm voice. "It's vacation. Don't suffer. We know you don't like to suffer." "We're not in a hurry. Take your time."
And we did. We stopped first at Louisville Cider Mill, the sort of place I would have taken the boys when they were little. I had not quite shaken the buzz of fret in my head and I thought, "What the heck are we doing here?" But it was a beautiful day and we stood in line with dozens (hundreds?) of happy strangers for warm apple cinnamon doughnuts, which apparently are medicinal, because after the first bite everything was better. I was all in. And suddenly Louisville Cider Mill was the best and smartest thing going.
We ate at El Potro Mexican Cafe in Paola (we were the only customers, but from the size of the bar I have a feeling they do a killer business after dark) where the margarita was delicious. (I ordered the premium tequila. It was vacation after all.) There are a few antique shops in Paola which were filled with lots of vintage goodies. And while I am infamously good at spending other people's money - "Don't you think you need that?"- they both refrained, while I indulged. (Not a total surprise.)
And then we headed to Hoot Owl Hill. Brenda and Steve Wrischnick opened a new chapter in their lives when they built their house on this hill and decided to share it with strangers who want to enjoy the view and some good home cooking and a little time away from the city. We enjoyed the butterfly garden and the guinea hens and hanging out in the sun talking for hours. (When I'm really relaxed I sit sideways in chairs like this. I hadn't realized I was doing here and am so glad to have this picture.)
When the sun set we sat around a huge camp fire and talked and laughed some more, until even the fear of the chill could not make us keep our eyes open.
The next morning we settled at a big farm table while Brenda fixed breakfast and Steve served and cleared. As we chatted I thought, "They really enjoy this. They like having people here and sharing their stories." It reminded me that we often end up just where we need to be. If we listen to the right women.
I'd highly recommend Hoot Owl Hill. There are six large tents. We had a wonderful time, the three of us, but we couldn't help thinking what a total blast it would be to have a group of couples or a large group of women. You can find out more here.
The images are mine, except for the middle - photo credit to Sloane Simmons. I received no compensation for this post.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
I have been...distracted. Distracted by a handsome, charming, creative man who came to town at my request. My copy of Miles Redd's The Big Book of Chic is always nearby, but for the last six months or so it has lived on my desk and in my bag and on the front seat of my car as we planned a fundraising luncheon at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art for which he was the guest speaker.
We had fun. You will not be surprised that Mr. Redd was a delight and adored by everyone who crossed his path. "He's so nice." "He's so unpretentious." Which I knew already. Miles's presentation was a visual delight and he was, no surprise, entertaining and engaging. If there is a run on taxi cab yellow paint this week - and a brightening of living rooms across the city - we will know why.
I have loads of people to thank and will be doing that this week, but a special shout-out here to designer Michele Boeckholt and artist Lee Ernst, both of the Nelson staff, who worked to create a remarkable design for this event starting with the invitation pictured above. You might have seen it on Miles's Instagram already, but if not you can see it here.
Monday, September 22, 2014
It may not be true that I cannot afford these bracelets as I cannot find them other than in this ad for Armani. Can you see that they connect by that chain around her neck? I'm completely captivated by the idea of this and the theatrics one could create reaching for a drink, enthusiastically telling a story or laying a hand on a man's forearm to get his attention.
What's that? Coat? Gloves? Entanglements? Bother. If you cannot see that the romance of this would outweigh any chill upon your shoulders, then you are in the wrong place.
Sunday, September 21, 2014
Yesterday I weeded through emails, sorted the piles on my desk and stopped to look at the things that I'd salvaged from the unattended mail. This is a last-minute heads-up, but you still have time to make out your wish list for the Art + Design auction at Wright. You can see the lots of great lots on line here. Bidding begins Tuesday, September 23rd at noon CST. Delaunay is a personal favorite, but there are many listings with estimates $2,000 or lower.
The Chicago preview is the 22nd; New York is the 23rd.
(I love it when times are listed in the Central Standard zone. It give me a little midwestern thrill.)
Sunday, August 24, 2014
My friends and I stayed at a very charming apartment while we were in Paris. Our boys stayed together with their beloved former French teacher and we were all content. (Well, except, perhaps, for the French teacher, but she never let us know otherwise and let's just say that ignorance is bliss.)
My suite mates and I were a happy lot and we fell in easily together. They took pictures of the boys in front of significant sights and were quite patient with me as I snapped pictures of things like the doors to our building that were very nearly Dix Blue, which I found to be a delight every time I crossed their high threshold.
Or when I took pictures of chairs. (Who wouldn't want that chair? I do.)
Or details that I might want to recreate at Christmas.
Or how I might ventilate my country/beach house (that I will likely never have.)
They were patient with my snapping away at Versailles, but they were not always understanding of it. One friend said, "I am glad I came, but I don't know why anyone would do this twice." Because I was. Doing it for the second time. It was the crowds that she could not stand, while they were a necessary evil to me. "This is sort of what I do,"I told her as I took a picture of another floor. She nodded pleasantly.
But she, an avid gardener, nodded her head again when I said the same to her about Giverny. Good heavens. The crowds there, which I'm sure were not dissimilar to Versailles, were a moving, amorphous mass that enveloped me at every turn. Nothing seemed worth subjecting oneself to it. That it all ended in a Disneyesque gift shop made it worse. My friends did not think it was nearly as bad. A necessary evil.
The gardens at Rodin's home in Paris were much more my speed. Then again, hornbeams, boxwood, hydrangea. I wasn't exactly broadening my horizons.
This last image I took for my friend, Todd. He knows that I feel more relaxed in France. More myself. It releases me from an inbred uptightness. When I told Todd that I was taking Rosie to sit outside with me at Aixois here in town years ago, I said, "It's like France. It's fine." Fine as in alright. But also fine as in splendid.
Sunday, August 17, 2014
Thursday, August 14, 2014
This dog ball sits under a lucite box in my office as a reminder that you never know what will change your life. A little over seven years ago I walked into George Terbovich's shop in Crestwood to buy a lighted dog ball for Rosie. I thought it was nothing more than an afternoon errand to fill the time after my youngest's nap and before his brothers' carpool.
But it started a journey from shopgirl to blog reader to (on-and-off-again) blog writer. I could not have foreseen the changes that this blog would bring when I stood on that concrete floor and shook this ball and watched the light inside flicker like fireflies for the delight of my five-year-old.
Today marks the anniversary of my first post. Mrs. Blandings opened my world in a way I never expected. I know that there are readers who have been around from the beginning and I am so flattered that you find something here to enjoy. Many of the bloggers who started in 2007 became real friends and I am still amazed that people can create a connection on-line that holds up in real life.
I am grateful, too, to the editors who have featured me on their pages and sites. Thank you to Zim Loy, Stacy Downs, Margaret Russell, Karen Carroll and Michael Boodro. Thank you, too, to every designer - too many to mention - who picked up the phone or answered an email about some crazy thing that had piqued my curiosity. I am constantly inspired by your instinct, your knowledge, your passion and the humor with which you share it.
I did not expect to be a blogger (which seemed silly to me then.) I certainly did not expect to blog (on-and-off-again) for seven years (talk about silly.) So I can't say if I'll be here for seven more. Life changes. But the last seven years writing Mrs. Blandings have been a ball. Thanks for playing along.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Do I need a vintage wine carrier? One that is secured with a dusky brass latch, that opens to reveal a space just large enough to nestle two bottles? No. I do not. But did I buy it because it's infinitely more charming than toting wine to a friend's in a sack or grasped firmly around the neck? Yes, that, and because what would feel better than the smooth ridges of the rattan on the backs of my fingers as I swing it in rhythm with my stride? Nothing that I could think of at the time. As I waffled (not too long, don't worry) it did occur to me that I might give it as a hostess gift. And I might. But that is what I said when I succumbed to the vintage glass pitcher with the silver top that has the built-in cylinder for ice. The same vintage glass pitcher that looks so lovely filled with lemonade garnished with fruit that lives in my cabinet still. Perhaps they will be friends, the wine carrier and the pitcher. Long, long time friends.
If you haven't been to Underdog Wine in Crestwood, do stop in. It's terrific.