Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Happy Birthday, Nigel!

Nigel playing Paul Patterson's electric violin with Triage at The Promontory in Mt. Adams, October 3, 1998, following a concert with the Cincinnati Symphony -- photo by me!

And a very happy birthday to my friend, violinist nonpareilNigel Kennedy, on the occasion of his 49th! May you return again one day to my little corner of the world...

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Pierre Hermé's Chocolate Macarons

Holiday times make me long to be a French pastry chef. Or at least to pretend to be one! Herewith is my long-lost recipe for Pierre Hermé's Chocolate Macarons With Chocolate Filling!
Pierre Hermé, a fourth-generation French pastry chef, was only 24 when he took over the pastry kitchens of Fauchon in Paris. From there, he went to Ladurée to direct the opening of its new restaurant on the Champs-Elysées. He was named France's pastry chef of the year in 1997. These macarons are at their best when eaten within a day.

Chocolate Filling

3/4 cup whole milk
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

To prepare the filling: Bring the milk and butter to a simmer in a heavy medium-sized saucepan. Remove from heat, then add the chocolate. Whisk the mixture until the chocolate melts and is smooth, then transfer it to a small bowl and set aside to cool. When cool, cover and refrigerate until thick and cold, at least 1 day. May be refrigerated for up to 3 days.


1 (1-pound) box powdered sugar
2 cups whole blanched almonds
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
6 large egg whites

To prepare the macarons: Preheat the oven to 400°. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Blend the powdered sugar and almonds in a food processor until the nuts are ground to powder, scraping the sides of the bowl often. It should take about 8 minutes. Add the cocoa and blend for about 1 minute longer.

Using a whisk or electric beater, beat the egg whites in a large bowl until they are stiff but not dry. Fold in the nut mixture in 4 additions, until it forms a thick batter. Spoon half of the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain round tip.

Pipe the batter onto each paper-lined baking sheet in 12 walnut-sized mounds, spacing the mounds apart slightly, as they will spread a little as they bake. Bake the cookies, 1 sheet at a time, for about 11 minutes, or until they are firm to the touch in the center and dry and cracked on top.

Slide the parchment paper with the cookies onto a work surface to cool. Repeat with the remaining batter, cooling the cookies completely and lining the baking sheets with new paper each time.

To assemble: Arrange a macaron flat (bottom) side up on a work surface. Drop about 1 tablespoon of filling onto each cookie, then top with a second cookie flat (bottom) side down (facing and pressing against the filling). Repeat with remaining macaroons and filling. Arrange on a platter, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Serve cold. Yield: 24 sandwich cookies

PER COOKIE: 225 calories, 4 g protein, 28 g carbohydrate, 11 g fat (3 g saturated), 8 mg cholesterol, 21 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Kennedy Center Honors on CBS Tuesday Night

One of the classiest programs of any broadcast television year is scheduled to air on CBS Tuesday night at 9 pm. I am, of course, referring to The Kennedy Center Honors, which, this year pays homage to cultural icons (in order of presentation) Robert Redford, Tony Bennett, Julie Harris, ballerina Suzanne Farrell and Tina Turner. Executive Producer George Stevens, Jr. always manages to create a touching primo mini-film bio of each of the honorees which often brings a tear to one's eye. The tributes to each honoree by their peers that follow are heart-felt and thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime performances. As the television audience, part of our fun is watching the KenCen audience, comprised of pols and celebutantes, trying to boogie down in time with the beat!

For a preview of this year's show, read 'Honors' worth prizing by David Bianculli, New York Daily News

"This coffee is as cold as chastity!"

Ah, God bless dear John Mortimer for bringing so much delight into my life. Whether it's his Rumpole of the Bailey mysteries or the tales of the duplicitous Leslie Titmuss, he never fails to please me. And, now, finally, one of my favorite Masterpiece Theater offerings from 1989, Summer's Lease, is available on DVD. With the always delightfully subversive Sir John Gielgud as the patriarch of this London clan, Mortimer leads us on a mysterious chase seeking the absent owner of a Tuscan villa, with Susan Fleetwood (aka "Molly Pargeter") as Gielgud's married daughter/sleuth. Filmed on location in Tuscany, we are treated to Molly's journey across "the mountains of the moon", seeking rare frescoes by Piero della Francesca, and, later, to Siena for the yearly running of the Palio. If you are an armchair traveler in search of adventure, this may be just the ticket for you!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Nuit de Noel

It is Christmas night and raining outside, but it is, like a night in Paris, rather warmish for winter. I am admiring the beautiful sparkly Eiffel Tower which I can now call my own, a gift from my baby brother and his family, and it transports me back to the City of Lights, where it is probably raining, too. Woody Allen, in Wild Man Blues, said he loved Paris because it was always grey there. I know exactly what he means.

This is also the only night of the year when I can wear one of my favorite fragrances, Caron's Nuit de Noel, with no reservation. I was surprised to find a reference to it recently while reading Evelyn Waugh's satirical novel from 1930, Vile Bodies, recently adapted for the screen as Bright young Things by Stephen Fry Hilariously, it was worn, not by any of the "bright young things" of Waugh's book, but, instead, by a young gay Italian waiter in the employ of Lottie Crump, an eccentric cateress/hotelier modelled on Rosa Lewis of the Cavendish Hotel.
Before the war Anthony Powell appears to have found the more relaxed atmosphere of The Cavendish Hotel in Jermyn Street (where Evelyn Waugh had been barred for portraying its proprietrix, Rosa Lewis, as "Lottie Crump" in Vile Bodies) more sympathetic. The redoubtable Rosa, once cook (possibly mistress) to Edward VII, was already becoming rather confused and mistook Anthony Powell for an Edwardian dandy called "Bimbash" Stewart. Rosa herself was eventually barred from The Ritz on account of her distressing habit of accosting elderly peers in the Palm Court with fortissimo remarks like, "Hullo, mutton chops, still fancy a nice clean whore?"; or, "How's the old waterworks? Still as unreliable as ever?"; or, "Hullo, droopy drawers, when're you coming round the Cavendish to bounce a cheque?"

At any rate, Nuit de Noel first captured my imagination as a teenager many years ago while strolling through the cosmetics department at Pogue's in downtown Cincinnati. I loved to linger at the fragrance counters, sniffing out new finds, and this day I happened upon Nuit de Noel. I spritzed my wrist with it and waved it airily around to dry. What was that unusual scent, I wondered, so familiar and yet so strange. To me, what it came to reveal was a certain essence of...could it be...butterscotch??? And yet, according to my research it is more like this:
Nuit de Noël was created in 1922 by Ernest Daltroff for his lover, Félicie Vanpouille, who loved Christmas Eve and the scents associated with it. Indeed, it is a quiet, whispering fragrance, conjuring perfectly the silence and the serenity of the night before Christmas. "Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house/Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…" (by Clement Clarke Moore). Nuit de Noël is one of my favourite Caron scents because of its interesting composition and exquisite dry down. Overall, Nuit de Noël is a soft wood-based scent with a floral heart. The top notes are very classical rose, jasmine and ylang ylang--dry floral notes rather than the creamy modern composition. The most interesting changes take place after the fragrance dries down slightly. Suddenly the floral blend is dissipated by the wetness of oakmoss. Then the spicy notes become apparent, albeit remaining very soft and intertwining with sandalwood and vetiver. The fragrance does not lose its dry quality which is wonderful and comforting. I imagine walking around in the city as the snow is falling softly.

Just the same, it is a lovely intoxicating fragrance from another age, and one which brings to mind sensual pleasures which cannot be denied!

From the creators of Masterpiece Theater, purchase the DVD set of Season One of "The Duchess of Duke Street".

Or buy Stephen Fry's recent film adaptation of Vile Bodies, Bright Young Things on DVD.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Travels with Isabella

My, oh, my, I have really fallen behind on my blogging lately. And here it is, Christmas Eve, and I am at home, patiently awaiting a visit from Pere Noel, and reading the London papers. How different they are from our rapidly diminishing and dumbed down American ones. I mean, the Guardian and the Independent both have seen fit to publish new short stories for Christmas: Jeanette Winterson's The Horse in the Snow in the Guardian and The Unfortunate Fate of Kitty da Silva by Alexander McCall Smith in the Independent. But, as a travel junky, my favorite piece so far has to be this trifle, Isabella Blow: My Life In Travel in the Independent. Miss Blow, a stylist and fashion director at 'Tatler' magazine, whom I have always admired for her rather mind-blowing frocks and bizarre Philip Treacy chapeaux, here gives us a window into her globetrotting ways. Some excerpts:
Ideal travelling companion?

A youthful Napoleon. He would have lots and lots of energy to keep up with me.

Holiday reading?

Proust. I have also recently bought Dame Margot Fonteyn's biography, and "Gone with the Windsors" by Laurie Graham.

Worst travel experience?

Last year, on a shoot for Tatler. We were trying to get to China and were on the Trans-Siberian Railway. There was no food, and I had two apples to last me two days. There were no phones and nobody spoke English. I also had to share a room with a Russian prostitute. We alighted from the train in Ekaterinburg, where Tsar Nicholas II was killed, and spent the night in a filthy, horrible hotel. I managed to escape to China first thing the next morning by plane.

Worst hotel?

What I like to call "Suicide Hotel" in Naples. Everything about it was depressing, from the bug-infested carpets to the rickety camp-bed, which could only have been meant for someone with rickets. I had to escape after five minutes.

Best meal abroad?

A sweet little restaurant in Paris up a tiny cobbled street, which is run by two sisters. It has cacti in the windows. However, I'm not going to tell you the name because I don't want to share it with anyone.

First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?

Have a strong drink!

And, that, my friends, is my idea of a great travelling companion!

P.S. to Santa: All I want for Christmas is a Philip Treacy hat!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

25 years gone — how can this be?

John Lennon signing an autograph for his assasin, Mark David Chapman, earlier in the day

I remember when I first heard of John's murder. It was during ABC's broadcast of Monday Night Football — I was waiting to see the 11 pm news, not watching football! — and Howard Cosell, clearly shaken up, made the announcement. I was so shocked I immediately phoned my friend Nina, who then lived on East 63rd Street in Manhattan, and she hadn't even heard about it yet.

One of my fondest memories comes from 1972 when I was living briefly in the West Village. My roommate and I were taking a stroll along West 8th Street one summer evening (this was the summer Scorsese was filming Mean Streets around the same area) when I noticed a guy wearing round wire rimmed glasses, olive green army surplus and carrying a Japan Airlines flight bag, waiting for a city bus. It pulled up as we were walking past him and, as he turned to get on, I saw his profile and that unmistakeable Lennon nose. I nudged my roommate and said, "That was John Lennon!" but by the time she turned to look he was gone. She couldn't believe it was him, but, hey. It was New York City. 1972. And I had loved that nose for nine years. I wasn't mistaken. I knew it was him.

May he rest in peace. Forty years forever young.