A couple of summers ago I gathered my family, some home-cooked food, a photographer and a food writer together for a late lunch in the Virginia wine country. My family and I had recently moved to Virginia from NYC and in trying to shake off the Manhattan-centric blues, had discovered the riches of our newly local wine region.
I was approached by Anthology Magazine to host a dinner party for my dancing family, paired with local wines, smack dab in the middle of Virginia wine country, and I mean literally in the middle of it. We feasted, fancy picnic style, in between the lush Virginia vines of Paradise Springs Winery, just outside of DC. The stuff of dreams, a lot of cooking and prep went into this dinner, along with a lot of honest to God sweat as it was a 95 degree day, but there were definitely no tears. It was one for the books, er, magazines. As the story was only available in print, I’ve had a few requests to post it on the blog, so here it is dear readers- Enjoy and Cin Cin.
Anthology Family Issue Summer 2014
Dining Among the Vines
Text by Anna Watson Carl
Photography by Amy Dickerson
Styled by Kelly d’Amboise
A swanky speedboat landing at Il Pellicano by Slim Aarons. Yes please. This place is forever on my hit list. For now, I might need to just procure myself a print and dream of this coastal Tuscan wonderland, Speedos and all.
Hi all. It’s me. I’m back from hiatus, or perhaps more appropriately put, the “no time for anything except motherhood and job”. And so it goes, what the hell did I do with all of that time pre-kids. Time is a funny thing, no matter how much of it you may have, you always manage to fill it up- kids, no kids, single, married- whatevs. There’s never enough of that precious commodity, I am constantly running against it, trying to find more, all the while promising myself that I will eventually “slow down” and use more of it to just be present and chill. “After the birthday party, after the show opens, after the company leaves, after after after…” Maybe I should just do it now, but honestly, I don’t know how. Help. Any brilliant time managers out there who know how to save a little time, put it in your pocket, and be sane for part of your day? Do share. Not complaining, just wondering.
I’ve been busy, yes but busy working on a pretty fun project and spending some pretty fun moments with the kiddos for their birthday celebration. I just finished work on “Cabaret”- that masterpiece of a show written by the incomparable duo, Kander & Ebb, is there a better written show? “West Side Story”, “A Little Night Music”? I don’t know, I think “Cabaret” might top my charts, it is masterfully woven together with a terrific book and killer songs that themselves are staples of the ultimate musical theater songbook. I was the Associate Choreographer on the show working with my friend and huge talent, Matthew Gardiner who directed and choreographed. Our cast is aces and the creative team top notch, it was an honor and a thrill the whole way around. If you live in the DC area, come to our Cabaret- it is truly good stuff.
The morning after opening night, we jumped on a plane and fled to DisneyWorld with the kiddos for their 3rd birthdays. It was awesome. More on that later.
For now, we are are settling in to summer- yay- and doing our damndest to eek out every last moment of this too-short season.
What I’m Drinking:
Pink stuff… of course. I’m digging this Corbiéres beauty, brought to us by the one and only Kermit Lynch. In Kermit we trust- the man can do no wrong.
A Few Things:
I’m making this tonight. I’ll let you know how it comes out.
How cute are these little kid clothes? I know I know, they’re oh so hipster chic but they are pretty darn cute.
After debating whether or not to serve juice (one of the few things I have successfully managed to deny my own kids- it’s for your own good kiddos, I swear), I decided to forego the juice and instead serve fruit-infused water. Yes water. Boring? No way man. It was so good- I forgot just how good something as simple as some fruit thrown in a jug of water can be. I’m hooked and will permanently be leaving out a giant canister of the stuff- I’m liking these Jaime Oliver combos- especially the berries and mints- yum.
What in the world, Shia. I have to admit, I’ve watched this more than a few times. I love his little plié crotch-framing move, I might have to add that one in to my personal repertoire.
We just had a Pirates and Princesses Birthday Party- it was a big hit. Give kids a bunch of foam swords and a backyard and you’re kind of golden. I love the looks of this galactic-themed party- maybe for next year?
What are you all up to this fine spring weekend? We might brave the crowds and take in the wonder of the Cherry Blossom during peak bloom. My friend Rashmi advises to get there at sunrise, that’s what her family does to capture the true beauty of the blooms sans crowds. Sounds magical, we will aim for it with the expectation that we will probably arrive around 10:30 just in time to whisper swears out of ear reach of the kiddos when there is not a parking spot left to be had. We’ll take in my talented friend Karen Reedy’s dance company at DC’s Dance Place as well, where they are tag-teaming with San Francisco’s Project B. in performance. If you live in the area, get yourself a ticket! Karen’s choreography is so swoonful, I wish it could dance me to sleep every night.
What I’m Drinking:
The cherry blossoms are blooming- just another good reason to drink pink. I’m liking this one lately- a perky pink Pinot from Sonoma, yum.
In Other News:
My friend Liz Larsen is playing Carole King’s mother on Broadway in “Beautiful” (NEED TO SEE THIS SHOW!). It was just another day on the Broad-way last night when the legend herself popped in to see the show. She sat down backstage with the cast for an impromptu master class. What the what! That’s Liz in the corner wiping away tears as she videos and sings harmony.
Well, I missed my weekly Weekending post, so here’s a Happy Monday for you all. In the midst of being a bit overwhelmed with work/life balance (what’s new, right), I have been slowly and surely finding my way to a more simplified way of life, it’s on my mind a lot lately. After accepting too many gigs here and there that have left me exhausted and feeling like I rarely my family, I have decided to study and learn the art of the graceful decline. The problem is- I’m a city girl with a built-in hustle. You can take the girl out of the city but…, well you know. I need to learn to shake the hustle off because the truth is, since having my kiddos, I don’t love the hustle like I used to. I’m actually starting to hate it. I’m in the fortunate position of not having to work full time, but I do work part-time. It’s a constant balancing act of figuring out just how much is enough- financially, logistically and emotionally. You want to do what you love but you also want to be with those you love- the ongoing conundrum.
Whew. I’m exhausted just writing that but it’s Monday morning, it’s a new week and it felt apropos to do so. If you, dear readers, have any advice- please send some my way.
In the Meantime:
What I’m Sipping: Cue the Angels, Go on the Spotlight- AHHHHHH! (read in Soprano)- it’s officially Rosé season folks. Truth be told, I drink the pink nectar of the Gods year round, but spring feels especially ripe to start popping the tops on the pink stuff. Here’s my all-time favorite, it’s a pretty penny and a bit more than I’d like to spend for a Tuesday night wine, but the beginning of a season only comes once a year, so what the hell- Tempier Bandol Rosé it is. Trust me, one sip of this stuff and you will totally get it- it is such a special wine. Maybe I’ll get really motivated and make a proper Bouillabaisse- the perfect pairing for this wine that boasts bright fruit, hints of dark chocolate and tangy spice- a most delicious and unique rosé from a most royal family in wine (The Peyraud/Tempier family has supplied Alice Waters’ go-to juice at Chez Panisse for decades and is responsible for getting their local Bandol grape officially classified in France. More on this stellar family here. P.S.: Lulu Peyraud is a personal hero, she is 90+ and takes a daily swim in the Meditteranean every morning, her cookbook is one of my favorites too.
In Other News:
I got a kick out of this. Noel Gallagher on Beyoncé, “artistry”, how Apple is ruining youth culture, being a pussy, and much much more.
A day in Point Reyes and Tomales Bay- one of my favorite spots on the planet, this post sent to me by my pal Amy- she and I explored this pretty part of the world last September. My personal favorite stop on the bivalvian blessed coast is Hog’s Island Oyster Co. in Marshall- I wrote about it here.
The Surf Lodge- Montauk. Another one for the list. Let’s get real- anyone that knows me well knows there’s no way in hell I would ever get more than shin-deep in Montauk waters. Hello Carcharadon Carcharius- but I’ll put my toes in and am happy to soak up a little Montauk goodness anytime.
Happy Weekend dear readers. It has been a long week with my grandmother passing. I will head home today and try to get back to “normal” life. It’s been a wonderful week of celebrating our Meme and spending time with family and friends, a great reminder of what is most important in life. Our post-memorial reception turned into an all-night impromptu dance party and there’s not a whole lot in the world that a spontaneous dance party can’t cure- my grandmother would have loved it.
What are you all up to this weekend? We will be packing up the minivan and heading down to Charleston for some R&R, beach time with the kiddos and some serious eating and exploring. I’ll be sure to take copious notes and sketch out a great city guide based on our time there. We’re staying at a little beach house on the Isle of Palms, hopefully we’ll catch a few warm days. We’re looking forward to eating here and renting a bike to properly tour the charming city. We’re taking a Low Country cooking class here and taking the kids here. And if any of you all have any recommendations, please send them my way. I haven’t been in years so am really looking forward to some Southern hospitality.
What I’m Drinking:
Mint Juleps on our Charleston porch- rocking chairs required. Here’s a classic recipe from New Orleans bartender, Chris McMillian. And apparently Charleston’s The Gin Joint’s got one of the best Mint Juleps in the country. I might have to see for myself. In Other News:
This Geico ad is hilarious, I want to be in the room when these things are thought up.
How to get the most out of your cookbook collection- great tips from Lauren Salkeld.
We said goodbye to our dear Meme this past Sunday. I will forever feel grateful and fortunate that I was present to share in her passing, it was truly one of the most beautiful moments of my life. I have never been witness to someone leaving our world, a true blessing.
Surrounded and literally enveloped by her children and grandchildren, our dearest Meme went on to her next adventure this past Sunday, March 1st. She had been terribly ill trying her dammdest to recover from major surgery and was not ready to give up until that very last day. She looked me right in the eye, just the day before, recognizing me and calling me by my name, then pin-pointedly letting me know that she wasn’t able to do it. I have to love and cherish that maybe more than anything about my grandmother. She had such a fierce determination, will and spirit, she needed us to know that she tried as hard as she could and this one wasn’t going to take. If it was left to her, in strong and sound mind, there would be no contest. I don’t believe I know a soul as strong as my grandmother but at 90, her body was ready for another adventure. I truly believe that seeing us all there with her helped her come to terms with that reality so that she may move on.
The power of music however, cannot be denied. My cousins had the brilliant idea of playing her a little Frank Sinatra at her bedside, on the last day of her life as she struggled with each labored breath. The minute she heard the music, she opened her eyes for the last time, and soon began to ease into her last breaths. Always a fan of dancing to her favorite Big Band Era tunes, I think this was just what she needed. We immediately enveloped her in words of love, kisses and hugs, sending her off to her next dance. I’ll never be ready to really let go of her, she was our matriarch, our fearless leader, but I know we all take great peace and are grateful for her loving sendoff and the 90 years that she graced our world. Thank you for your love, dear grandmother. Thank you for teaching me to look at the world with an artist’s eye and thank you for showing us the importance of living life with a heart full of happiness, love, energy, excitement and a wild spirit. I love you.
Meme and Me at my mother’s 60th birthday party, 2009
Frances Chapman Thomson’s Obit, as printed in the Abilene News Reporter:
Frances Thomson 1924-2015
Frances Chapman Thomson, a longtime Abilene resident, local artist and beloved mother, grandmother and great-grandmother passed away on Sunday March 1st. She was 90 years old.
Born on October 10, 1924 in her family’s farmhouse in Haskell, Texas to parents Hallie Elmer and Tillie Pearl Chapman, she grew up with her sister Mildred in the West Texas town. As a child, Fran, as her loved ones and friends called her, loved riding her horse Dolly the two miles everyday to and from grade school, and sang alto alongside her father in a local Gospel singing group. Frances went on to become Lead Majorette and Halloween Queen at Haskell High- where as a sophomore, she met the love of her life, Joseph Edward Thomson. She and Joe married in Duncan, Oklahoma on July 2, 1944.
Frances and Joseph traveled across the States during Joe’s service in the U.S. Navy, her favorite spots being Jacksonville Beach and Hollywood, where they loved to dance and dine at Ciro’s and The Brown Derby. After the war, they moved to Abilene where they settled to have a family and run their business. Frances later worked as the Secretary to the Principal at Cooper High School, and in her retirement years enjoyed life as an accomplished painter, traveler, avid bridge player and lover of life, family and friends.
Frances is survived by her children Craig Thomson, Cheryl Huey, Carol Davis and Charles Thomson, her grandchildren Brian, Kelly, Tracy, Ashleigh, Mandy, Ben, Brett, Colby and Paxton, and great-grandchildren Bradlee, Peysley, Taylor, Kalia, Kai, Jake, Georgina and Thomson.
Meme’s art studio desk just as she left it. I wonder what she was mixing her palette for next?
My father-in-law, Jacques d’Amboise, wrote a beautiful little poem in memoriam to her passing:
Life flows, Leaves fall, And you know its time to say, “I love all of you.” And go.
We will never really be ready to let her go and we don’t have to. She lives on in our hearts, so much to celebrate and remember. It has been one of the great honors of my life to celebrate her this past week with my dearest family. I love you all.
I have two little budding chefs in my house. I think most kids love to cook, it’s such fun to do together- my little ones also like to read about food (well, read along with me), complete foodie puzzles, and dress up like chefs. Again, I’ll bet most kids do. My kiddos don’t even seem to mind when The Barefoot Contessa is spreading culinary wisdom throughout the house (she provides excellent background ambience- I am hoping that I will somehow ambiently soak up her goodness), I know they’d rather have Daniel Tiger spouting wisdom, but they can be cool like that. These two have not yet graduated to excellent diners in restaurants, they’re just pretty good, but really not the best, but then again- they’re 2 1/2 so we cut them a break. We try to take them out pretty frequently but honestly, it really needs to be loud and casual or I end up in a full blown sweat.
For the meantime, most of our meals and meal-making happens at home. I have started giving the kiddos their own little bowls of flour and sugar to mix when we bake cookies or else again, it becomes a little crazy up in here and we never actually get anything baked. Maybe that’s the twin thing? What sort of things do you all do with your little ones while cooking?
Here are some chef-y things we’re enjoying at home:
1. Lavender Lulu Apron- I spotted this at my favorite little cook shop, La Cuisine- so darling. Not just for the little chefs, Marcy Butler makes the most fabulous aprons, they have a great cut and the softest twill. She makes them all in the U.S. and lives in Washington D.C. This makes a great gift for the super cook in your life.
2. Cupcake Puzzle- great for the tiny tots- my little girl keeps trying to take a bite.
6. Fanny at Chez Panisse- the foodie version of Eloise. Fanny’s adventures at Alice Waters’ legendary restaurant Chez Panisse tells tales of restaurant life plus 46 recipes. I love me some Alice Waters and it’s never too early to start the Waters love fest with the littles.
7. Bon Appetit! top- Julia lives on. My sister-in-law gave this to my daughter for Christmas- too cute.
* I also love this cookbook for kids: The Sesame Street Cookbook- Mark Bittman and Lidia Bastianich share their favorite kid-friendly recipes here.
What are your favorite kid chef-y blogs, books, accoutrement?
Happy Valentines Day dear readers- I know I know, it’s a Hallmark holiday but I have to admit that I’ve always had a fondness for this lovey dove-ful day. I have such nostalgia (there’s that word again) for the warm and fuzzy memories of opening those little paper Valentines we used to get from classmates at school, and going home with Elmer’s glue-encrusted hands after cutting and gluing those silly doilies to the backs of red construction paper hearts. This year we made crayon heart necklaces for our classmates and friends. I love paper Valentines but we opted to just melt some crayons, it took some time but we love how they came out.
Yep, St. Valentine’s Day- it’s a good excuse to share some love- true, we should just be sharing such love on a daily basis, but Valentine’s Day for me, is just another reminder. It’s a bright and shiny heart-shaped beacon of light in the doldrums of winter, so I’ll take it. What do you all do for Valentines Day? This year, I think C and I may just go to the movies. We try to do something slightly offbeat and different each year, but this year, we’re a bit overworked (read: tired) and a bit understudied for the Oscars, so we’ll probably just head to the local movie theater to catch Birdman or The Theory of Everything. Have you all seen either? Do tell.
My Valentine Mood:
André Lanskoy is my new favorite artist. Why have I never seen his work before? If only I could afford to buy one of his prints. The one above is from 1959, I can’t get enough of it.
Rosé Sparkling- was there any doubt? It’s pink, it’s fizzy, enough said. I don’t know, I drink this stuff year round but this saccharine sweet holiday is yet another good reason to pop this pink bubbly’s cork, like we really need one. A few go to’s:
Domaine Jousset “rosé a lies” NV- the great Gamay grape that is way too underrated gets its juicy spritz on in this refined and racy (loads of food-friendly acid) bottle. Always a winner. $21
Domaine Regnier David Cremant de Loire NV- Cremant is a thin-in-the-wallet Champagne lover’s best friend. Made in the traditional method that Champagne uses to produce its wondrous bubbles, you get the same technique from a different part of the world, still imparting those brioche-y, creamy notes but at half (or less than half ) the price. This one’s quite beautiful and finessed with hints of toasted almond, brioche and ripe red fruit, made from the super food friendly and acidic grape, Cabernet Franc. Yum and yum. $23
Graham Beck Brut Rosé Sparkling- a happy little sparkler from South Africa with notes of red cherries, raspberries, wild lavender, and an earthy minerality to boot. $15
What to Pair With your Pink Bubbly: Chocolate Velvet Beet Cupcakes, of course- duh. Or almost anything really, provided it’s not stick-to-your-ribs meat and potatoes.
In Other News:
Have you seen this? A documentary about a lost documentary made by Alfred Hitchcock and Sidney Bernstein about German concentration camps in 1945. I stumbled upon it as it is currently playing on HBO, very good.
How to make a heart-shaped pizza. Be careful with this one. In college, my friend Kristen received one as a Valentine from an admirer which pretty much sealed the deal, but not in the way you might think. Because of that heart-shaped pizza, she decided that that first date would never happen. Know your audience.
My pal Tracy Lynn Olivera is a badass and a fantastic talent. She has a CD. You should buy it because it’s awesome.
The top 5 places to cry in NYC. I’ve done my fair share of late night crying at the local Greek diner circa the late 90s. I might also add the Rose Planetarium and any corner on a rainy day where you might get a tidal wave-sized taxi splash- you’re good to just start crying right there on the spot and it’s perfectly acceptable, just as long as you don’t cry for too long- gotta get back on your game and hail your ass a cab.
Shirley Manson (where have you been Shirley!) steps in and pens an open letter to Kanye.
Speaking of Kanye (and who isn’t- I guess his inappropriate behavior really is working on his ego-boosting behalf), this is hilarious- the hidden texts between Kanye and Beck post-Grammys.
My talented cousin just launched her jewelry collection and it is fabulous. Inspired by her time as an expat in Amsterdam, her pieces are beautiful- this Gwen necklace is calling my name. Use the code EClaunch10 through February 15th.
Staying in on Valentines? Make Duck a Deux if you dare (duck is hard, right!)- a lovely Valentines dinner for two.
If duck’s not your thing (or like me, you’ve just messed it up too many times), look to Julia for inspiration. I always think of Julia Child and her husband Paul on Valentines because they loved celebrating the holiday together and with friends. I had the big idea to throw and Julia and Paul dinner party this Valentines Day, but we just had a Top Chef Challenge birthday party for C and I thought that we were probably good for the month of February. Maybe next month. Anyway- here is a Julia-inspired Quick Coq au Vin Blanc c/o Martha.
I know I’m real late to this party, but I am finally reading Unbroken and wow- it is unbelievable what one human being is capable of enduring while holding strong to one’s will to live. “Inspiring” does not even begin to describe this story.
This should be entertaining- “Who wore it best” on the NYC private school playgrounds?
And can someone please explain to me why The Vermont Teddy Bear Company would put out a 50 Shades of Grey Teddy Bear? What is happening? This has got to be the creepiest teddy bear ever.
A couple of years ago, I posted about my friend Natalia’s ingenius Crayon Valentine necklaces. Since this is my kiddos’ first year in preschool and they will officially be doling out Valentines to their friends, I decided that rather than make paper Valentines, we’d go for the gold and melt some old crayons into toddler bling.
This project is very easy but it did take us a little while (the better part of an afternoon). Full Disclaimer: If you are not into crafts in the least, this is not for you. My pal Natalia is such an artist that her projects, no matter the time or detail involved are usually 100% pure fun for her. I will admit that peeling the paper from the crayons and stringing the cords through the holes (that were a bit too small and needed to be wangled- yeah, I just made up that word- a bit bigger), was a bit time consuming. All that to say, despite the minutiae, I highly recommend. If you have a couple of hours to kill and want to make some unique homemade Valentines, this is your project my friends.
What You Need:
1. Silicone Heart Mold Pan
2. A few boxes worth of old or new crayons
3. Cord (we used parachute cord, this can be anything)
5. Matches (to seal the frayed ends of your cut cord)
6. Wooden Skewers
7. Tekton Stamp Set (this is totally optional if you would like to personalize your Valentines)
What You Do:
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Peel the paper off the crayons. I enlisted my kiddos in this part of the process, but they didn’t last long. This was really on me and honestly, a bit tedious.
3. Break up the crayons into pieces and put into heart-shaped inserts (this was the kiddos’ favorite part). Fill them a little more than half full if you have a tray with 2 1/2 inch molds like this one.
4. Place into the oven for about 15 minutes. Just watch (this was the kiddos’ 2nd favorite part) and take out once the crayons have all melted and are liquid.
5. Take out of the oven and allow to cool for about 20 minutes.
6. Gently take out each crayon heart from the mold.
7. Poke a hole in the corner of the heart using a wooden skewer. Make sure that the hole will be big enough for your cord to easily string through. (this is where i went wrong and then had to go back and make all the holes larger).
*8. Personalize each heart with your nifty Tekton stamp set (this was my favorite part). I bought mine here at Amazon, you can find them at most local craft stores.
9. String a cord through your heart and tie off.
10. Voilá- homemade Valentine bling.
Thank you Natalia Goldman, for your endless creative inspiration!
So we had to try this. After reading all about those well behaved French toddlers who could almost single-handedly make the ubiquitous yogurt cake found all over France- (yes, I read Pamela Druckerman’s book and while I wish I could say I was confident that both my kids would pass the marshmallow test that apparently all French kids pass with flying colors, I have to be honest and say that neither one would), we had to give this a shot. They may not pass that marshmallow test, but I’ll bet they can bake this cake. Oh sure, I had high hopes while pregnant that my kiddos would be just as self-sufficient and well-mannered as these amazing French babies and toddlers, but for whatever reason, it just isn’t that easy. Maybe I’m doing it wrong. Whatever- let us eat cake!
This gateau au yaourt is the cake that is apparently de rigueur in all French households, well at least those with little ones . I’m not sure that it’s any easier to make than any other simple cake recipe, but I will say that it is damn good. It is moist as all get out, and I really to refrain from using that word (“moist”) as much as possible, but folks- it’s just what it is. Delicious and moist- it’s all about the yogurt (and for the non-dairy kids and folks out there, here are a few good substitutes for the dairy-based yogurt that we used).
And as for the kids- well, they loved it both the cake and the making of it. Which is not to say that we did not have a few snafoos along the way. I did turn my back for a few seconds only to find my son guzzling from the Vanilla extract- Oy. Then there was the screaming fight when the batter was taken away ending the spoon-lick, because as we all know raw egg batter is probably not the best idea to nosh on, but come on- we had to taste it. The taking away of that batter- not so much fun. Nope, they would not pass that marshmallow test. I’m sure our household was lots more chaotic than a typical Frenchie household while cake-making but again- whatever, for us this was a big success. It was a blast and the result- delicious.
We made a birthday cake for Dad and some Heart Shaped mini-cakes in the spirit of Valentines Day using a silicone heart-shape mold. Both big hits. I used this recipe from Bon Appetit (see my amendments below) which converts the whole French yogurt container measurement thing for you, so easy- a moist and delicious toddler-baked cake. Tears and tantrums included.
(ok so I’m clearly no Martha, my penmanship here is seriously lacking as my pastry pen was less than professional, but the cake was homemade by the three of us and delicious to boot- so I think that beats good pastry penmanship any day.)
Cin Cin all and Happy Baking (and Eating!)
*I amended the recipe a bit, adding a pinch more lemon zest (b/c I have learned from my favorite cooks’ recipes like Anna Watson Carl and Ina Garten that it is all about the fresh lemon zest- the stuff makes an appearance on most all of the greatest recipes) and a sprinkling of sea salt on the top of the cakes before baking for an extra savory crunch. I also used zero fat plain Greek yogurt instead of full fat and trust me, it’s so so good. No need for full fat.
Former showgirl, forever travel junkie, sometime sommelier, and mom to twin bebes. This little blog is a mixed bag of tasting notes, travels, tales of motherhood, and current musings. Thank you for stopping by. Cin Cin! (photo by Amy Dickerson for Anthology Magazine)