Bonne année et bonne santé!

When the French declare "Happy New Year," they often drop the "new" and say instead "good year."  As 2012 was not the finest year on record for my family, I am hoping not just for a "new" year but also for a "good" one.  Wherever you are, whoever is by your side, whatever you sip to ring in 2013, I wish you, as my French friends like to say, a "good year and good health."


Flowers (and vino) for Friday

Santa brought me a very lovely Trader Joe's gift card this year. Rather than stocking up on peanut butter or cereal or some other essentials, I splurged on pink gerber daisies and a bottle of Seismic Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand (and it's quite "quaffable" as my dad would say). Thanks, Santa, for indulging me in my favorite Friday treats.  


Breakfast Break: Caramel Apple Oatmeal

Even here in Southern California, the land of perpetual sunshine, it's been quite chilly lately.  When I wake up and see frost on the windows, I need something warm and cozy for breakfast.  My favorite Trader Joe's quick-cook steel cut oats are wonderfully nutty and belly-filling on a cold morning, but during the holidays I like to add an extra decadent touch.  


On Gratitude

Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” 
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
The art of saying "thank you" is vanishing.  Carefully-written letters of gratitude have been subbed for impersonal texts and e-mails.  Sure, we are all rushed, but none of us is truly so busy as to miss an opportunity to let gift-givers know we appreciate them and their thoughtfulness.  


Seasons Greetings!

Have yourselves a merry little Christmas, darlings!  
On this Christmas eve, may love surround you, delicious treats be on your table and treasures from Santa beneath your tree.  Hoping the joyous spirit of the holidays remains with you all through 2013.


Flowers for Friday

My friends, here are few festive red tulips to brighten your morning and make your day sparkle. As you spend the day preparing for holiday festivities, don't forget to do something lovely for yourself.  A bunch of flowers will certainly perk up a winter's day!


Cocktail du Jour: Cava

Lately, I am pausing to realize that every day of life, every day with loved ones is to be treasured and celebrated.


Flowers for Friday

"Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful." -Norman Vincent Peale
Today I didn't even have to treat myself to my Friday flowers.  One of my dearest friends (she is my Thelma, I'm her Louise) brought me this festive bunch of red and white blooms with lots of evergreen tucked in the bouquet too.  
What a lovely surprise!


Pretty Monday: Noël

When the city of lights is sparkling even brighter with Christmas twinklies, there is no more magical place on Earth (sorry, Disneyland).  


Dinner Time: Chinese Chicken Salad

Sometimes amid all the heaviness of winter foods, a nice crunchy, summery salad provides the perfect cure to your casserole overload or post-Thanksgiving puffiness.  One of my dear friends recently gave me a version of this recipe and its bright colors and fresh taste were just what I needed on a gray December day. 


Pretty Monday: Beautiful Bread

Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” ― James Beard
Au Levain du Marais by Shell Sherree on Etsy


Happy Birthday, Dear Georgia

O'Keeffe, Two Pink Shells
Today, Georgia O'Keeffe would have been 125 years old.  She is perhaps one of the most misunderstood painters of the twentieth century.  All too often, critics and historians attempt to alter her abstractions into something she never intended (but how can we really ever know what she intended).  

While the temptation to see things buried within her shapes will always challenge viewers, I appreciate Georgia's work on a purely  aesthetic level.  Her soft colors and crisp lines enchant me.  From the time I first copied her sunflowers in elementary school until I wrote my master's thesis about The Lawrence Tree, Ms. O'Keeffe has occupied a very special place in my creative mind.  
John Loengard’s 1967 portrait


Pretty Monday: Cookbooks

The Food of Spain...is delicioso!
Ahem...yes, darlings, I realize we are but a few mere hours away from Tuesday, but my Monday was not especially pretty.  Be it late, here are some pretties for your Monday (or Tuesday or Wednesday)...
One of Miss Dahl's Delights
On a lazy afternoon, one of my favorite pastimes is slowly meandering through a lavishly illustrated cookbook.  Sure, the old Larousse Gastronomique or Mastering the Art of French Cooking are invaluable to cooks for their methods and steps and advice...in other words: words.  But, the cookbooks I like best are those with glorious photos.  As an inherently visual being and an always-hungry one, books brimming with beautiful photographs transport me.  We eat with our eyes first, right? 


A Sense of Place: Le Terroir

"I like to think about the life of wine.  How it's a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing; how the sun was shining; if it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes. And if it's an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today it would taste different than if I'd opened it on any other day, because a bottle of wine is actually alive. And it's constantly evolving and gaining complexity." -Maya in Sideways
In the cellars at Zaca Mesa winery
Le terroir is a most wonderful French concept.  Loosely translated, the term means "a sense of place," but in actuality, it is so much more.


Sugar & Spice

“This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!” 
― Julia ChildMy Life in France

My dad is the culinary expert in my family.  He is a fearless cook who leads with instinct rather than recipes.  In my thirty years as his daughter, I can only think of one time when I didn't love what he served (the infamous puréed tuna Niçoise of 1997).  Generally though, when I'm stumped in the kitchen, I call dad.  He always know exactly what to do.  What should I add to this chicken dish?  Which herb suits sautéd green beens?  What is the perfect way to poach an egg?  


Pretty Monday: For the Table

Thanksgiving is just three weeks away.  If you're hosting this biggest of all dinner parties, while menu planning and taste testing, take a break to imagine something pretty on your table.
A cozy farm house table with benches & cozy blankets


A Persimmon & A Parsnip

A Persimmon and a parsnip walk into a bar...wait, no, that's not it.  Let's just say a persimmon and a parsnip are sitting on your kitchen counter.  What to do, what to do? 
I grew up an apples and oranges kind of kid.  Though my parents did try to expose me to unique foods, we really didn't have that many exotic fruits or veggies in rural Missouri in the eighties.  I don't think I had a mango until college.  Shocking, I know.  Life without mangos is very sad. 


Flowers for Friday (and chocolate too!)

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt.” 
― Charles M. Schulz

Another week of hard work has passed.  Time to celebrate the weekend with people you love.  Today I treated myself thrice---why stop with a bunch of ruffled tulips when you can also indulge in a bottle of vino and some dark chocolate? 


A Sun-drenched Elsewhere

“Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.” 
― Isabelle EberhardtThe Nomad


All Hallows' Eve

May your Halloween be filled with tricks, treats, sweets and treasures.  Enjoy the spookiest of holidays and the magic of autumn.  Eat, drink and be scary, my friends! 


Le Halloween

Halloween ("l'alowine!") is certainly not a major (or even minor) holiday en France.  Perhaps you'll find a pumpkin carving kit in a market or a store front decked out in spooky style, but the French seems far less enthusiastic about Halloween than us Americans.  


Pretty Monday: Autumn by the Brush

Vincent Van Gogh
With the array of warm colors in autumn, it's no wonder artists of the nineteenth century often paused to paint fallen leaves or architectural arbors.  Autumn makes us pensive.  It causes us to consider inevitable change both in the natural world and in our lives.  Bright orange and red leaves juxtaposed next to crisp blue skies, ethereal and hazy sunlight make fall visually stunning and emotionally moving. Here are some of the loveliest looks at autumn in art history. 


On Motherhood & The Pursuit of Happiness

Try as I might to be optimistic and sunshiny, sometimes life spirals evermore out of control and I just want to curl upon the couch with a blanket and a Bridget Jones movie and a bottomless bowl of peanut butter M&Ms.  In recent weeks, it seems that sickness and sadness have been around ever corner.  Though I'm not quite sure my funk is over, I need to take today to celebrate some happy moments. 


A Taste for Nature

Today has been cool and overcast and lovely.  We spent our morning at the second pumpkin patch of the season.  Each pumpkin patch we've visited this year has a little collection of farm animals to expose these cloistered Southern California kiddos to some creatures they don't ordinarily see.  I adore watching my daughter and the other children giggle in delight as goats say "maaaaa" and ducks waddle throughout their little temporary Halloween homes.  


Flowers for Friday

Finally after weeks of lingering summer, the weather has turned crisp and cool in Southern California.  Yesterday after our first good rain since spring, my little one and I walked through the park, feeling the bright sun on our faces, listening to the winds rustling the changing leaves and noticing that unmistakable, diffused autumn light.  
To celebrate this welcome shift in temperature and seasons, I've adorned my table today with autumnal mums and bright green hypernicum berries.  Don't forget to treat yourselves to a cheery pumpkin or fall flowers today.  Harvest those last few perfect days before chilly winter blows into our lives yet again.  Happy weekend, my dears!


Brunching: The Ramos House Café

I've said before how much I adore brunch.  I love a meal where both sweet and savory foods share the spotlight, a meal where the whole day is still ahead, a meal where coffee and champagne are both sipped with pleasure.  Yesterday my sweet hubby and I brunched for our anniversary at perfect local spot in San Juan Capistrano. 


The Perfect Pear Spice Cake

My husband declares when I make him something new, "this is the best _________ I have ever had!"  I love this about him. His enthusiastic endorsements of my baking efforts keep me cooking and keep his belly full.  Yesterday with a bowl of ripening baby Bosch pears sitting on the counter, I was determined to make something different, something to celebrate the arrival of autumn. 


The Season I Love

“Autumn...the year's last, loveliest smile.”
― William Cullen Bryant
Even though it has been nearly ninety degrees here in California, I cannot resist a celebration of the autumnal equinox.  Here's what I'd love to do this fall: walk with radiant fallen leaves underfoot, sip cider by a crackling fire, take a hay ride, make s’mores with gooey marshmallows, listen for the ding-dong of trick-or-treaters at the door, collect acorns, pick a perfectly imperfect pumpkin, wrap a scarf around my neck and done my worn leather boots, tail-gate with a bowl of chili and savor the season I love most.


Perfectly Pumpkin Pancakes

Well good morning!  You may well be thinking, another pancakes recipe?  Is this the only thing she knows how to cook?  As far as I'm concerned, Saturday mornings must always have pancakes.  Each and every Saturday, I find the perfect seasonal recipe to start the day right and spice up the weekend.


Flowers for Friday

I must have flowers, always, and always.”
― Claude Monet


Au revoir, No Reservations

"The journey is part of the experience - an expression of the seriousness of one's intent. One doesn't take the A train to Mecca.”
― Anthony Bourdain
A Cook's Tour 

Eight years ago, Tony Bourdain began taking us on his adventures to Paris and Penang and all places in between.  Now, he's onto his "Final Tour" of No Reservations and I am feeling a little sad that he won't be letting me vicariously hitch a ride any longer.


Taste of Indian Summer: The BLT

As much as I hope for the crispness of autumn, around here the weather is still stuck in the hot, humidity of summer.  Since we can't yet start cooking up batches of chili or soup, most of our dinners lately have been those that require no oven or stovetop.  


Picnicking the French Way: Dîner en Blanc

I recently stumbled upon a delectable social phenomenon that intrigues me. Twenty-four years ago, "Dîner en Blanc" was launched in Paris.  Of course, the pleasure-loving French developed this most lovely of dining concepts.  
At the very last minute before the event, a secret location is revealed for a picnic en masse.  Then, thousands of food-lovers and wine-lovers and just regular old lovers descend on the picnic spot dressed entirely en blanc, in white. But, my cheries, this is no mere salad of pommes de terre kind of picnic.  Dîner en Blanc has very specific rules to create an ambiance conducive to the most chic and civilized of outdoor dining experiences, one in which even Marie Antoinette would delight.


The Art of Sushi & Jiro Dreams

"Once you decide on your occupation... you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That's the secret of success... and is the key to being regarded honorably."
-Jiro Ono
When I first heard about Jiro Dreams of Sushi, I wondered what a documentary about an octogenarian sushi chef might really offer me?  As I watched the film, I quickly learned Jiro Ono, the eighty-five year old proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, is no mere restauranteur or chef or fishmonger, he is a philosopher and a culinary prophet.  


Coveting: Fall Fashion

Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first September was crisp and golden as an apple...”
-J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

September First!  That means we can start talking about fall now, right?  I can burn some pumpkin candles and watch football and make chili now, right?  Without hesitation, autumn is my favorite time of year to shop...to eat...to frolic in the leaves...to sip warm beverages.  There is something about the slowed pace after a busy summer and the cooling temperatures that triggers my creativity and delights my sweater-loving sensibilities.


Cocktail du jour: The French Fizzy

This evening I had a cocktail conundrum.  You see, my lovelies, I bought a bottle of booze based merely on the pretty label. It turns out, Lillet is a French aperitif made of white Bordeaux wines and orange liqueur.  How bad could that possibly be, right? Mixed with a little gin, a touch of citrus and a bit of bubbly tonic water, the "French Fizzy" is a most delicious late summer cocktail featuring the lovely Lillet.

Paris by the Page

There is never any ending to Paris, and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. Paris was always worth it, and you received return for whatever you brought to it…”
Ernest Hemingway, in A Moveable Feast


Southern Living

You learn to forgive (the South) for its narrow mind and growing pains because it has a huge heart. You forgive the stifling summers because the spring is lush and pastel sprinkled, because winter is merciful and brief, because corn bread and sweet tea and fried chicken are every bit as vital to a Sunday as getting dressed up for church, and because any southerner worth their salt says please and thank you. It's soft air and summer vines, pine woods and fat homegrown tomatoes. It's pulling the fruit right off a peach tree and letting the juice run down your chin. It's a closeted and profound appreciation for our neighbors in Alabama who bear the brunt of the Bubba jokes. The South gets in your blood and nose and skin bone-deep. I am less a part of the South than it is part of me. It's a romantic notion, being overcome by geography. But we are all a little starry-eyed down here. We're Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara and Rosa Parks all at once.” -Amanda Kyle Williams


Back to School

The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be ignited.” ~ Plutarch

I've mentioned before that I am an educator.  I adore my career as an art historian.  It is precisely what I was meant to do.  I am always challenged, constantly learning, and immersed in a field that never ceases to delight me. 

Even though I teach adults and not kindergarteners (though some of my students do conduct themselves as the latter and not the former), I find myself getting especially excited for the "first day of school."  My "first days" happen every new semester, but there is an extra special energy in the air come August.  
I fancy myself a Katharine Watson (Julia Roberts) in Mona Lisa Smile kind of art history teacher.


Flowers for Friday

"The Amen of nature is always a flower." 
-Oliver Wendell Holmes


Joyeux Anniversaire, Julia!

"... thinking back on it now reminds that the pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite – toujours bon appétit!" 
-Julia Child 
from My Life in France


Dinner in Provence

Why not make a daily pleasure out a daily necessity?”
-Peter Mayle, A Year in Provence
Well...truth be told, I didn't jet away to Provence for dinner, darlings (ahem, Dom Pérignon taste on a Bud Light budget?).  But, I had experienced a serious case of Francophilia earlier in the day and needed to prepare something French-inspired to satiate my hunger and wanderlust.  With a mix of fresh summer produce and Mediterranean flavors, voilà: winner winner chicken Provençal dinner!


Breakfast of Champions

Wow, watching Olympians compete sure does make me ravenous!  In honor of our mighty athletes, this morning I whipped up an extra special, extra large breakfast to fuel hubby and me on our morning run.  
Pancakes are my in my usual weekend repertoire, but today, I wanted something especially decadent.  Presenting....Almond Joy Cakes!  The nuttiness of almond flour combined with the richness of coconut milk and chocolate chips proved to be the ultimate Saturday morning treat.  


London Calling

"The greater the difficulty, 
the more the glory in surmounting it." 
- Epicurus
I am not a remotely athletic person, but I do love the Olympics.  Every two years, I find myself absorbed in competitions that at any other moment, I am completely oblivious to.

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