Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Life's Lesson N°10: Pesto and a Daily Affirmation à la Stuart Smalley

Finally, getting back to cooking! If you remember, we are covering the 15 dishes that everyone should master. So far we have covered hummus, chicken pot pie, chili, pot roast, spaghetti carbonara, carrot cake, lasagna, hollandaise sauce and beef bourguignon. We are now at N° 10: Pesto!
I come from a family where making homemade pasta is normal. Making pesto was normal as well. However, I can see how it would not occur to some families to make your own pesto. It’s just so easy to buy that little jar! But guess what? It is also just so easy to make a quick batch of pesto and it is 10 times more delicious… And it’s fun! A little elbow grease never hurt anyone. Isn’t cooking fun just altogether? I don’t like people who can’t cook. I think they’re weird. (Except my friend Jenny.) Cooking is just one of the greatest pleasures of life… According to The World According to Ellie. Don’t you agree? :-)
I plan on making a lot of pesto this summer. Why? Because yes, it’s that time of year again… The time of year that Ellie gets the bug to move to Provence. I am a California girl at heart and if I don’t get some sunshine on my shoulders soon, I am going to wilt away. My BFF, Jenny, was at my apartment the other day and she said to her daughter, “Ellie was always barefoot.” Jenny has known me since I was 16 years old and it’s true, “I am a barefoot kind of girl.” My friend Linda, unexpectedly this morning, emailed me a picture of a slide that she found in her files from when I was 16 years old. I looked at the slide and thought, “Yes, that is me. That is who I am. I need to find that girl again.”

 Me at 16. Photo taken by the amazing Mikel Roberts @mikelrob.

That girl is the kind of girl who likes sunshine and a quiet life, being outside, going to farmers markets, digging in a garden, arranging flowers and cooking… Cooking for friends. Don’t get me wrong, I love Paris but it is just not who I am. I can do Paris but I would rather do Provence. So, I have spent the last week looking for a house to rent. Ideally, I would like to live in St. Tropez if all of the tourists would leave and it could be like the 1960s again. I’m pretty sure I’m fooling myself thinking that I can find a little cottage in St. Tropez for under $2 billion dollars. So, I’ve started my search in Aix-en-Provence, the Luberon Valley, Avignon, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, or L'Isle sur la Sorgue. Wherever it is the hottest year around. Let me tell you a secret, I’m really looking for an abandoned 18th-century mas (farmhouse) that is nearly free, with a pool, that I can “fix up.” I think I was seduced by the movie, A Good Year, that I watch four times over the weekend.


I remember reading in 1989 Peter Mayle’s, A Year in Provence, and being absolutely smitten. I was only 19 at the time and now I am 45 years old, so it’s obvious that I did not make these plans on a whim. It’s been my plan all along… Now I just need to implement it. I haven’t really mentioned any of this to my husband. I haven’t really mentioned to him that we are getting a new cat tomorrow either but whatever. He is on a need to know basis.
When I finally find a house to rent in Provence, you can rest assured that I will spend the summer making pesto! Then I’m going to start making every provencal dish known to mankind…tapenade, pissaladiere, Provençal stew, petit farcis, aioli, ratatouille, and tarte aux figue.
But for today, let’s start mastering pesto, shall we?
The basic ingredients to pesto are always basil, pine nuts, olive oil, Parmesan, and garlic but there are some secrets to this basic recipe…,

Secrets to a great pesto?
  1. Blanch your basil quickly in boiling water for 1 – 2 seconds and then quickly transfer it to cold water to seal the color.
  2. Use Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino Romano in both grated and shaved forms to give it flavor and texture.
  3. Use a bit of agave nectar to cut down on the garlic’s spiciness.
  4. The basil should be young and freshly picked… Preferably from the Ligurian hillside :-)
  5. Use a good mild olive oil.
  6. Do not toast the pine nuts.
  7. Only use a mortar and pesto… Don’t use the food processor, lazy.

Okay, now that we understand the tricks of the trade, let’s look at some recipes…

 Barefoot Contessa Salmon with Pesto
( not traditional pesto)

Voilà! Pesto!

*Something you don’t know about me? I never think that something is impossible. Everything is possible. Luckily, I was raised in America where your dreams can come true… If you work hard enough. I always tell Gracie that she can do anything and be anything that she wants. The world is her oyster. I am also a big believer in visualization and manifestation. If you don’t believe me, remember that I am five years into a terminal illness that was supposed to take me three years ago. A little positive thinking goes a long way. Don’t be a victim, be a believer… in yourself. If you want something bad enough and you work hard enough, it can happen. Don’t let anyone hold you back….Not your stupid spouse, not your stupid parents, not your stupid friends, and most importantly not your stupid self. Trust yourself and remember that we only have one life… And it is short, so you might as well make the best of it. If you have any questions… I’ll be in Provence.

Circa: Deuxième Partie

*This is Part Two of my blogs about my former antique shop, Circa, in Santa Barbara, California. If you have not read part one, click HERE.… You need the back story…

Shopping for merchandise for our antique store, Circa, was very very difficult… mainly because I loved it all so much I didn’t want to sell it. My mother and I had a pact, like I mentioned in a previous blog, we would only buy that which we loved. Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.

We sourced our merchandise from all over the world… France, Spain, Italy, New York, Morocco, Atlanta, Los Angeles… You name it, we were there. With absolute pride, every piece (almost) went into our shop.

My mother had to tell me that I had too many NFS (not for sale) tags on too many things. But how could I sell that 18th-century statue of the woman in that dress! How could I sell that? How could I sell that plaster frieze? How could I sell that painting of the man with the easel ( I didn’t, I’m looking at it right now in my living room in Paris.). It was torture watching some of my favorites leave the shop. I have a little secret… Sometimes I was very naughty. Sometimes, if someone asked me the price of my very favorite piece I would either tell them that it wasn’t for sale or that it was $5 million dollars. That ought to deter them.

One of my favorite things to do at our shop was to find a great piece that needed a little help. For example, I found a beautiful Napoleon III chaise in Paris that needed a little love. My mother and I decided that we would give it a lot of love. First things first, we marched our little selves to one of my favorite fabric shops, Silk Trading Company. (I only go to Diamond Fabric and Foam for the free bread.) Silk Trading Company has some of the best fabrics, the best textures, the best prints and the best colors and you can have a cut that day… You don’t have to order it. I don’t have that kind of patience, I am an Aries. Silk Trading Company knows what upholstery silk should feel like and look like and it is not super expensive… Only kind of expensive. Their velvets are the creamiest and Silk Trading Company knows what a pop of blue should look like and how the warmth of beige should look. We chose three different fabrics for the chaise… A print, a silk and a velvet… All in a warm golden beige. And for the grand finale, we chose a pop of velvet peacock blue with golden trim for a pillow. I mean, c’mon!

My mother was the one who was obsessed with lamps and lampshades. While we were in Paris collecting for our store, my mother always made a point to find usual objects to be used as bases for lamps. We would bring them back to the states, have them wired, and then the fun would begin. My mother would go to a little atelier in Montecito and work with a woman who was a master at lampshades. They would look at the base and decide what its characteristics were, its attributes and then they would decide the best shape of the lampshade, the best color for fabric, the best texture and most importantly the best trim. The love and care that my mother put in the lampshades was evident because the lamps would never be in the store for more than a couple of days… Sold!

One of our most favorite pieces to buy were mirrors. My mother and I absolutely adore mirrors… Mainly 19th and 18th century gilt mirrors. Honestly, a mirror is one of the most important pieces of a room. It’s your focal point, it’s the reflection and it is the highlight of any room. One of the main reasons that I rented this apartment in Paris is because of the two monumental 18th-century gilt mantle mirrors. My mother and I brought back at least 15 mirrors from Europe for our shop. Only four of them made it to the store and the rest only made it as far as my mother’s house.

We both were obsessed with accessories. Sconces, chinoiserie boxes, tole trays, coffee table books, vases, candlesticks, blue-and-white anything, picture frames, Anichini hand towels, paintings, sculptures, busts, garden urns, tablecloths, Faberge boxes, jardinières… Total obsession. There were so many different types of accessories in our shop but somehow they all went together perfectly. When you buy what you love, it all works.

We did have one little accessory that was extra extra special. A woman in Paris was offering her entire collection of gold hearts. Why is that so special, you ask? The hearts are called ex voto which means in Latin “from the vow made.” These little hearts /sacre coeurs were used as religious offerings to a saint or deity as gratitude on little hand written notes inside. The ones that I bought have a little French prayer on the front,

“Lisez, O Notre Dame

Dans le coeur que voici

L'espoir de mon âme

Son amour aussi.”

I bought all of the hearts… And kept most of them… Giving them as gifts to my friends. Yolanda still keeps hers on her bedside table.


There are a few things that I wish I never sold… My white taxidermy peacock named Ursula, the set of four black leather chairs with gold detailing from the 1920s, a Jacques Garcia black lacquered clover table, a marble and iron industrial table, every lamp we’ve ever had, every Fortuny pillow, every statue… I basically wish I never sold one thing.

Do you want to know something interesting? My best sales were before 10 o’clock in the morning before the store opened. I would go to the shop after I dropped little Gracie off at school at about 8:30 in the morning. Our shop was on a street that was great for early morning walking with a Starbucks latte after the farmer's market. My mother and I made sure that our windows stopped the early morning walkers in their tracks. Our windows were huge so you could see the entire first level of the store from the outside. Without fail, the people who had their faces pressed to our windows could see that I was inside at my desk… Tap tap tap. Something you might not know about me? I’m actually overly polite and I would never ever just sit at my desk and not open the doors early for customers. (Some shop owners do that and I think it’s so rude.) The good news is that these early morning openings resulted in some of my best sales. My favorite early-morning sale was to an older gentleman (he told me he was 82 years old), very refined, who bought my beloved 18th-century statue of a woman draped in a beautiful gown/robe. It was a gift for his wife for Valentine’s Day. How sweet!

Our shop combined antiques with new items as well. My mother and I traveled to the famous Maison et Objet show in Paris twice a year. For furniture and accessories, this is the show of all shows. You want to know something funny? The first time we went to the show, my internal biological clock was off and I wasn’t thinking clearly and I accidentally took too many birth-control pills and I basically threw up the entire first day of the Maison et Objet show and I was completely delirious. Day 2 of the show was much better and I was so glad because this is not a show to miss. I wrote a blog about it back in 2009 that is kind of funny. If you want to read it click HERE. We placed our biggest order with a company based out of France. Everything that they have is a reproduction based on the original… Let me tell you, these are the best I’ve ever seen. They are masters of getting the gold gilt just right and can make the piece look exactly like it was handed down to you by your rich great aunt who lived in Paris. We bought lamps, chinoiserie boxes, lanterns, small tables and these great skinny rectangular mirrors.

We also designed our own line of sofas and headboards. For the bedding, we chose the best…Anichini. We could barely keep the Anichini throws in stock with their great patterns and colors. While we were in Paris, we found an artisan who made the chicest Moroccan tea sets you’ve ever seen with vibrant colors of purple, blue, pink and green with little chains. We were offered the chance to design the tea sets with our own shapes, colors and accoutrements to make it very special for our shop. My other favorite “new” product was our line of Faberge. Can you believe Faberge still makes stuff? They do! We purchased for our shop their line of picture frames, enamel boxes etched with love notes inside, and a fabulous set of champagne glasses and caviar bowls. Amazeballs!

I wish I had better and more pictures to show you but they are all packed away in my storage in Los Angeles. Let’s take a look at what I do have…


Voilà! Circa!

I have a little surprise for all of you regarding Circa as well! Stay tuned for the next blog…

Et Alors? How To Be Parisian Wherever You Are.

Et alors? This basically translates to “so what” in French. That phrase could sum up the new book, How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are *Love, Style and Bad Habits. Written by four chic, accomplished, perfectly Parisian women, Caroline de Maigret, Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan and Sophie Mas. The book is more like a handbook of how to be cool. It takes a lot of effort to look so effortless, apparently. I read the book in one sitting (it’s not War and Peace) and absolutely adored it.
I don’t think you have to actually be Parisian to adopt these recommendations. Parisians are born and raised with this schooling… The rest of us need this book. What I liked about How to Be Parisian is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously or profess to be the master race… Just kind of. You have to admit Parisienne women do possess that certain je ne sais quoi whether we like to admit it or not.


I know, for a certain fact, that my husband still harbors a little love for his ex-wife on the sole fact alone that she is French… And I am not. No matter what she does… Divorce, accusations, lawsuits, custody battles… He still doesn’t hate her. I mean he does, yet he doesn’t and I know it is because “she is French.” (It’s weird because I’m skinnier, funnier, prettier and much more fucking ladylike.)
I also know, for a certain fact, that my French husband loves his mother more than me. Why wouldn’t he? She adores him and he can do no wrong even if he murdered someone. A few months ago when I was at his mother’s house, as we were leaving, she looked at me and said, “David est un ange.” It took every ounce of my proper upbringing not to roll my eyes and say, “Oh, Really?” Whenever my husband and I have an argument, he likes to go call his mother after and tell her everything and in turn I like to yell at him, “You’re 46 years old!” No matter what I do or how hard I try, my husband will always like his mother and his mother’s vinaigrette more than mine.

What hold do these French women have over not only Frenchman but every man? The answers are in this book…

“As you will discover, Parisienne women spend an inordinate amount of energy trying to spin every episode of their existence into a very good story.”

“Find “your” perfume before you turn 30. Wear it for the next 30 years.”

“A Parisienne woman doesn’t always say thank you, doesn’t always say hi, but will complain about the rudeness of Parisian waiters.”

What you won’t find in a Parisienne women’s closet? “Ugg boots. Enough said.”

“She’s Parisian, which is to say she’s melancholy. Her mood responds to the changing colors of the city. In the early morning she’s the lone figure walking out of the Métro as the crowds rush in. Her hair is a bit disheveled and she is still wearing her jewelry from last night. As she heads home, her heart is breaking, but no one will ever know why.”

“The Parisienne does not stop existing the day she has a child.”

“You don’t have to spend a decade’s worth of salary on your wardrobe… All you need is one signature item: the one you wear when you need to be strong.”

“Au natural” is the fruit of hard labor, meticulously passed down from generation to generation.”

A Parisienne always has a good reason for sitting on a bench… When she is walking out for good and slams the door behind her to show she means business, and then realizes that she has no idea where to go.”

A Parisian faux pas? Asking someone at a party what they do for a living. Overdoing it on the teeth whitening. Being “friends” with your children.

Dichotomy, she is. “She smokes like a chimney on the way to the countryside to get some fresh air. She is an environmentalist but sometimes takes her scooter to buy a baguette.”


How to be Parisian gives the advice you really need and throws in a recipe or two.

Need any more reasons to buy this book? It is an absolute must-read… You can purchase it HERE through the Have Some Decorum Bookstore.


A toute!

Circa: Première partie.

*I was actually saving my story about my shop, Circa, for my book but I decided, what the hell, I’ll share it now with all of you. So this is an actual excerpt from my book titled, And So It Is.


I used to have a shop. A chic little antique shop named Circa in Santa Barbara, California. My father ponied up all the money for it as hush money. Apparently, unbeknownst to our entire family, yet known to the rest of the world, my father was in the midst of an eight year long affair with a woman named Laura. So gross. My father thought it would be a good idea (a brilliant idea) if he handed over copious amounts of cash so that my mother would go to France for weeks at a time on buying trips and then dive wholeheartedly into opening a shop, thus distracting her from her deteriorating marriage. It worked… For a while.

My mother and I had always wanted to open a shop. We had the exact same taste, same style and same aesthetic. We were both great buyers and she was great at merchandising that which we bought and then in turn, I was a great salesperson. We decided, first things first, we needed to go on a buying trip in France. Paris was the first stop. We decided that our modus operandi would be to only buy that which we would have in our own homes and not just buy something that we knew would sell. Not speaking a word of French yet years of experience bargaining, off to the Marche aux Puces we went. The Puces is the mecca of flea markets in France. Armed with our vision for the shop, we spent two weeks curating our inventory. We did not do this alone… No, no, no. We had little Gracie to help. Still in elementary school, Gracie followed us to every booth, every stall and documented every item that we bought, its provenance, and the price. She did all of this in skinny jeans and Ugg boots. My mother, never without a chocolate croissant in hand, and I swept through the flea market with precision and a definitive mission. By the end of the two weeks we had acquired 19th-century leather Italian dining chairs, Moroccan side chairs, monastery chandeliers, plaster friezes, plaster busts, 19th-century green faience, altar sticks, candlesticks, gilt 19th-century mirrors, statues, Napoleon III chaise longes, rock crystal chandeliers, paintings, desks, chest of drawers, settees, banquettes, and every little accessory that we could get our overly excited paws on.

After Paris, we proceeded to politely pillage our way through the flea markets of L'isle-sur-la-Sorgue, France, asking my father for an increase in our budget as we had already blown our allotted wad in Paris. My philandering father agreed, not surprisingly. What we discovered about the flea markets in this little town was that it was better than Paris! It was as if we had cut out the middleman. The items were more unique and the prices were even better. Gracie continued her services not begrudgingly because she knew there was a prize at the end.… A new dress from Bonpoint. My child can be bought. During some of our more lengthy negotiations with some of the vendors, Gracie would use this opportunity to do her homework and I could not have been more proud of her. Gracie, to this day, still reminds me of how I “forced her to work full-time and continue her schoolwork at the tender age of 12.” My retort? “It’s called experience, look it up.”

This is me trolling through the Marche aux Puces. Jesus Christ, I look fat!

After everything was bought, paid for and organized on the shipping container, all we could do was… Wait. The shipping estimated time was two months. This was fine with us because we had one slight problem. We had no shop yet. After months of searching for a suitable shop, we were continually left with disappointment. Nothing spoke to us. It was either the wrong building, too big, too small or too ugly. Until one day. One day the antique gods smiled upon us and we were notified that our favorite little building in Santa Barbara/Montecito was up for rent. We jumped on it immediately. It was ridiculously expensive and on top of that needed some remodeling. Who cares? I guess that’s the price my father had to pay to have a dual life. My mother and I set to work the very first day making the shop our own. The first floor we decided would be our Parisian salon with black lacquered walls, a fireplace, black and white hardwood floors, bookcases trimmed with gold leaf, gilt mirrors, paintings and all of our trés chic Parisian findings. My mother and I know how to roll up our sleeves and get dirty. The entire neighborhood hated us from day one because the overwhelming scent of lacquer wafting from our shop for an entire week is not exactly pleasant especially with a bustling restaurant next door. Then came the paint fumes from the hand-painted black and white floors. I could remember being down on my hands and knees with a teeny tiny paintbrush touching up the floors on the eve of our opening party nearly fainting from the fumes. The second floor was dedicated to our Italian finds. We hired our brilliant painter, Enrique, to paint the walls an ocre teint to complement our Italian leather chairs, colorful paisley fabrics, Anichini hand towels with 12 inch fringe, and antique Tuscan furniture. We decided that the awnings for the exterior windows should mimic those of our beloved Palais-Royale in Paris. Mission accomplished. After a month of interior work, the shop was ready. Perfect timing because we received a notification that our container would be in my mother’s driveway the following week with an allotted time of two hours to empty the entire container!

As promised, before dawn on a foggy Saturday morning in Santa Barbara, our container arrived. Unbeknownst to me, containers do not arrive with 12 men with white glove service. Quite the opposite. We were on our own to unload, unpack, cross reference the purchases, and organize everything by ourselves! Not five minutes later did my mother give the gardeners new job descriptions. They were now antique movers. After a lot of screaming, yelling, threatening, and bossy behavior, the container was unloaded and was now in the middle of the driveway. Gracie, in her pajamas, continued her work and expertly checked in every piece of furniture. To our amazement, nothing was lost and nothing was broken. Shipping miracle.

When it comes to decorating, my mother is like an idiot savant. When she is in this mode, the best thing to do is just leave her alone. She had a vision for the shop and I knew that it would be brilliant when she had finished. She single-handedly with one worker, moved furniture, laid rugs, hung mirrors, chandeliers, paintings and drapes, designed vignettes, and overnight… Voilà! Circa was born.

Our next project was to design our ad for Santa Barbara Magazine. This ad needed to set the tone for our shop. After weeks of failure, I told my mother I needed to be alone to figure this out. As usual, a stroke of genius came to me. Keep it simple, stupid. Keep it simple, stupid. Yes! This is what I needed to do so I decided to use a completely unplanned, esoteric, organic photo of Gracie that I had taken on a whim in the Palais-Royale in Paris. If I do say so myself, I thought it was rather brilliant. It looked French, exciting and fun. Doors would open October 1, 2008.

 Our ads and article for my favorite Santa Barbara Magazine.

 With respects to our friends and family, we decided to have a private opening party so they could see the shop and have first dibs on the merchandise. We decided on an evening soirée, French style. I hired waiters and waitresses and dressed them in historical French costumes. French music played as guests sipped champagne from coupe glasses. Baby lamb chops were served with miniature French onion soup and tomatoes/mozzarella/basil salad. For dessert, authentic French macaroons, of course. The party was a success and during the party we managed one sale… $11,000 worth of dishes. Champagne combined with shopping is always a good idea.

 My mother and I. Look! I can walk!
 Isn't my mother pretty?
 The amazing flowers were half the party budget.
 I can spot lots of friends, a couple of douche bags and a couple of famous musicians, can you?
 My handsome husband, David.
 Gracie ( with braces in her awkward phase ) and I. Don't tell Gracie that I put this picture up. I think she looks adorable.
 My friend, Jean... one of the chicest women in Santa Barbara.
 Yolanda Foster, David Foster and I.
 I painted these floors.
 Our white peacock, Ursula.
C'est moi.

After working into the wee hours of the night, cleaning up after the party and getting ready for our grand opening the very next morning, I realized that I had fulfilled a dream. A dream to have my own shop, with my own merchandise, with my own aesthetic and on my own terms. I felt lucky, privileged, grateful and excited for the future. Circa was a dream realized. Sales were stellar and I could hardly keep up with inventory as it was flying out of the doors. I sold my little heart out. I think my success lied in the fact that I loved each and every object at our shop and conveyed that love to the customers. My enthusiasm paid off. Circa was extremely successful. However, over the next two years the economy crashed and the highfalutin customers were no longer. Everyone was on a budget. Gross. There was no way I was going to just give away our merchandise so we decided to close the shop and take everything home. This decision was compounded by the fact my father was involved in some shady business dealings and the shop was threatened with lawsuits. Thanks, Dad. Circa was closed in 2009 but not without great memories and a lifetime of experience.

So that is the history of Circa. Tomorrow, in Part 2, let’s take a stroll down Circa memory lane and take a look at the actual merchandise in the shop! So fun, so fun!
Photos by Wendy Jenson and Santa Barbara Magazine and me.