Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I'm Fantasizing Today

Actually make that planning!  Megan and I are going to London to visit my sister in October and it came to mind that there are two Laduree shops in London!!!! What is the Laduree you ask??  ONLY ONE OF THE MOST FABULOUSLY INDULGENT PLACES ON EARTH!!!!

The Laduree is the ultimate Tea Room serving up French macaroons, French pastries, chocolates, Champagne, select teas, sumptuous coffees and sipping chocolate.  However that’s only a written description of part of the menu, it is the atmosphere of this establishment that is the absolute decadent delight of everything feminine and completely over the top beautiful that truly makes it a Must Do item on your life agenda.  For me it is the perfection of it all.  From exquisite pastries and indulgent confections to elegant fragrance and gift collections preciously packaged, all selections tell a luxurious story.  The opulent and prestigious surroundings are said to be inspired by the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, it is truly magnificent.  

The Laduree opened as a bakery in 1862 and transformed in 1871 as a Salon for Tea where women could gather freely in a turn of the century expression of Parisian cafĂ© and pastry shop.  Today The Laduree is a tea salon, pastry shop, restaurant, chocolate shop and ice cream parlor with a refined selection of gifts.  The Laduree has grown and can be found in the most affluent capital cities of the world such as London, Ireland, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Japan, Arab Emirates, Monaco, Switzerland and Turkey.  Hello…I don’t see the United States anywhere on this list!!!
This is one of the top destinations for our London Trip!  I think we need to hit up the Harrods location as it has an actual tea room.  The fact that it is in Harrods is all the better.  I need a day and a half in Harrods anyway!   I’ll do another post on Harrods soon as well – that is another shopper’s delight.
Let’s talk French macaroons.  The French macaroon is totally different from the US coconut macaroon that Americans think of when talking macaroons.   Both cookies are yummy but I cannot imagine how these two cookies ever got the same name as they are nothing like each other.  The French macaroon is a colorful small round meringue cake cookie, crisp on the outside and filled with a smooth and soft ganache center.  Macaroons are often created in exotic fruit flavors but also chocolate, mocha and vanilla.  The French have not only perfected the macaroon but the superb presentation of it as well. They are prized and amazingly displayed, boxed in prestigious collections adorned with French style and silk ribbons.
I shall have to peruse the Laduree site to keep myself occupied until October.  This is a cute site that can keep anyone entertained browsing through the goodies and the shop photos from around the world.
I would like to go to the Champs Elysees location in Paris but I am waiting to go to Paris with Matt.  He had better not keep me waiting too long or I shall be off with my wife there too!!! 

My thoughts today,

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Why Are There No Persian Cook Shows On The Food Network Channel???

Why is there no sweet little grandma with her cute little gold lame slide on house slippers and Hermes head scarf instructing us on the fabulousness of Persian cuisine on the Food Network???  Perhaps we could get a young and hot representation - I am thinking sort of Nigella Lawson of Tehran here, anyone, just as long as we Americans learn to appreciate this cuisine.  How many French, Mexican and Thai dishes are they going to cover until someone demands a little enlightenment?  Can they not find one Persian cook to contend on Top Chef?

When I got married to Matt one of the first gifts I received was a "Food of Life" cookbook.  That became my bible and I learned to make all of the classic Persian dishes but my instruction was really not complete until Matt's mother Shamsi came to stay with us.  Shamsi taught me the correct way to create these dishes much like an Italian mama would do. Shamsi is an artist in the kitchen! She can create a feast from a few tomatoes, a little saffron, potato and bit of ground beef - unbelievable!  What I really came to admire about Shamsi is her calmness in the kitchen.  The kitchen is Shamsi's world and she handles everything with a serenity and certainty and she creates with skill and love.  I am not a calm cook - unless I have a few glasses of wine and then of course I become a drunk cook.

One of the blogs I follow is Turmeric & Saffron, here Azita shares her love of Persian cuisine and you can feel it pop right out from the screen and almost smell the aromas of her creations.  She shares the healthy simple recipes that have been handed down from her mother and presents them with flair and style.  Azita's photo journalism is fresh, exciting and inspiring. I have never met Azita but I can tell you just from what I have read she needs to call upon the Food Network for a gig! 

Azita has some great photos of the Persian New Year (Nowruz) decorations, particularly the Haft Seen.  This is a table setting that is a must for celebrating the Persian New Year which falls on the first day of Spring.  I hope you click through and check out Azita's blog and I hope you add her to your blog roll if you follow blogs, you can also find her on Facebook too!

Lets see now, what to make for dinner?????

My thoughts today,

Monday, February 21, 2011

“Shall we get naked and start the revolution?”

That is one of my favorite lines from the movie Orange County, very funny movie.  Revolution is truly in the air though and it’s not so funny.  Like many I have been watching and checking in daily to see what continues to unfold in the Middle East and Northern Africa.  Who knows how things will ultimately end up; I don’t think we will see any stability in these regions for a number of years from now.   I married into a family of wonderful people who are from the Middle East and I hear firsthand accounts of growing up in repressive regimes and learning how it is to live a life oppressed.   But the last few years have been different. 
Revolution 2.0 – the revolution spread by social media is a different application – one whose creation was bound to appear and yet I think caught everyone off guard. Usually I am more cynical than this – at first I saw this winter of discontent as perhaps a foreign backed uprising.  I even made cavalier remarks on FB about it as if I had some vague understanding of the situation from here.  It turns out that the very ridiculousness of me comprehending this type of discontent and mentioning it on FB is in fact the actual beauty of it.  The globalization of people unfolding and taking shape, once out of its box, will be difficult if not impossible to stuff back down.  The fact that I can say what I want to say on FB, through Twitter and even here in my banal little blog is one of the greatest freedoms we have.  I however do not say everything I want to say.  I have family in a repressive country.  My name is easily tied to them, their internet use, their friends on FB and their twitter messages are scrutinized and although I may not suffer the direct repercussions of my voice here in my country, they may well suffer it directly in theirs.  I understand that my internet usage is monitored to some degree here too.  I think we can look at the Patriot Act for that, but I am not up to anything funky and I really don’t care if the government wants to read about how I decorated my daughter’s apartment.    I understand the limitations of our freedoms in the US – just Google Japanese American Internment in 1942 if you are wondering about the limits of our freedom, having said that, I understand our dilemma of freedom and national security as well. 
The real issue here is that people can now easily see how other people are living and they want freedom.  Don’t get me wrong, I think they want something to eat, a place to live and a job too!  But with this globalization people can see right through a window how it is to be free and not repressed.  People always want to be free, they may not actually know how that will play out for them – the sacrifice and cost of freedom – but they want it, it’s natural.  When people live repressed for decades they come to have little to lose. When you have little to lose you become more willing to risk it all, making you one hell of a formidable opponent.
Once in a board room meeting someone asked my boss – a VIP in the oil industry, if he was ever worried about the helicopter flights he had to take over the Middle East to inspect pipelines and he casually answered “How high can they throw rocks?”  I thought to myself about how long the turmoil in the Middle East has reigned, how little the oppressed people had and for how many generations they were willing to wage their wars and I answered to myself “Pretty fucking high.” 

So, while we in the US continue to download our apps to track Lindsey Lohan’s rehab visits, watch The Real Housewives of wherever on Hulu and post another music video on FB there is another side of the world that is waking up to social media, smelling the coffee and they like what’s brewing! 
I would imagine every long sitting strong-man dictator is a bit fidgety after these last few months and I am sure they are reevaluating a simpler life for themselves.  We have to hope that it is actually freedom that gets ushered in as regimes collapse. We have to hope that the rebels retain enough strength to no longer suffer fools, dictators or other repressive groups and continue with their resolve and heart to form what they want and need to govern.  We as a global society we need to do what we can to open more windows and encourage this global empowerment; because it is in the dark corners and recesses that tyranny breeds. 
I wonder if Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey ever sat and thought about their contributions through to this type of a scenario unfolding. 
I found this article on CNN compelling: Five strangers "friend" a revolution, you may like it too!

My thoughts today,

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Decorating Nina's First Apartment

 Setting Nina up in her first apartment was a lot of fun for both of us during the first few weeks of the year.  We had this rental that became open and Nina needed to move out to the OC so off she went.  The previous tenant was moving out of state and did not want to take all her furniture so she left a lot of pieces for Nina.  Here is a before shot of the living room.  The blue plaid was not to Nina's liking but truly she would have taken anything.  Lucky for her - the previous owners had a cat or dog creature and there was a little fur so her asthma required me to buy the slipcovers.  I mean I haaaad to!!  And I haaad to toss those floral pillows too!!  I found the little scrolly wood coffee table on Craigslist for $35.

I found the slipcovers on major markdown at Target (hello Red Velvet!)  We bought a quart of Tiffany Blue paint and put it to good use on the coffee table and antiqued it up.  The vintage gold mirror was a major find for $40 at a thrift store - real wood and real old!  The bird decal art was from the sale bin at HomeGoods - love that place!  I splurged on the pillows I think at $20 each.  Matt would not let us paint any of the walls!  I don't know why since we are the landlords, but I did not want to involve him much if you get what I mean so I let that go.  I figure you win some and you lose some.

Two girls are sharing the master bedrom which was dismal and dark.  They had left some little wood side tables painted brown - ugg.  We painted those satin black and added crystal knobs.  The lights they left were cute so we kept them.  Got lucky with the curtain panels that were on markdown.  I found a dresser on Craigslist for $40 and painted it white with a black top and added more crystal knobs.  But what we really had fun with was with the large frame wall art that we painted, we call that installation "I aspire to own art one day."

So funny that Nina's desk lamp matched the curtains!
Yes, that is Nina's baby blanket and Minky her bear that she sleeps with...still.  I love that child!
The loepard "D" and "T" are for Dina & Tina and that would be Nina and Brittany's alter egos - two wild Jersey chics! They break into the characters of Dina & Tina when ever the mood strikes - crazy!

The original bath was dark not so fun and that cabinet had to go! 

 I found the scroll iron shelf unit in my home office and donated it to the cause.  It looks much better here.
Since I was closing my store Nina and the girls benefited from my left over inventory of French canisters and various home decor items. 

The dinning room is so cute and really all the furniture was left by the previous tenant.  We added a swag of black and white fabric we found on sale.  I donated the fruit basket which was approved by Matt as it has space for lots of is a Persian thing.

More donated goodies for Nina that were from my store.  Lucky girl.
Please Note:  We detest the Spruce Goose style ceiling fan but could not get Matt to agree to take it down.  Seriously it is ugly and needs to go.  It has a freakin remote and for some reason Matt likes it and will not let us take it down...yet, you know that its coming down sometime soon.  I'll have to work on that.

Nina added her collection of vintage cameras in the back there and I swear there was a full jar of candy when I left!

Nina already had a nice kitchen as Matt had previously replaced the counter tops and appliances, you can not see it in this picture but she has a nice tray ceiling with recessed lights and crown mouldings So we had no work to do there.

Outfitting a new apartment for someone who has nothing was a task but super fun.  We made many trips to the 99 cent store for all sorts of goodies from pot holders to tupperware.  We ran out of money but managed to do all of it for around $400.  I still think she needs some art or something else on her living room wall but we'll get that later, for now she is set and loving her new place and living with her friends.  Most of all we had a blast doing all this together.  I love working on anything creative with Nina!!!

The only problem now is that I miss her and I have to wait until Saturdays to see my girl, I love her so much but I know she is happy and I feel good about where she is.

Now if Bijan would just let me into that Berkley man-cave...just think what I could do!!!

My thoughts today,

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Thinking About Frida Kahlo Today...

I’ve been thinking about Frida Kahlo a lot lately.  When I think of strong women she is one of the first that come to my mind.  Everyone’s got a quick opinion about Frida.  A lot of people are put off by the surrealistic and gruesome folk art she produced; it’s not exactly living room art – but who aspires to that?  Certainly her work is a feminist statement on the unflinching depiction of the female form and experience, especially her own experience. Some question her politics – she was very active in the communist party in Mexico during the 50’s.  It’s difficult for me to judge someone on their politics when I did not grow up in their country during their time and experience what was happening within their society, so I leave that alone.  Of course there is the uni-brow, God; I love that uni-brow! That is a true statement that says “I am who I am right now in front of you take it or leave it!”  Frida has always been a MAJOR fashion icon to me.  I can stare at photographs of her endlessly.  The color, the hair, the flowers, dress, shawl, jewelry she had it all going on perfectly – seamlessly all at once.  Very few women can or should ever attempt to carry off what was so effortless for Frida.  It may have been the only thing that was effortless for her.
Frida has been described as: "…one of history's grand divas…a tequila-slamming, dirty joke-telling smoker, bi-sexual that hobbled about her bohemian barrio in lavish indigenous dress and threw festive dinner parties for the likes of Leon Trotsky, poet Pablo Neruda, Nelson Rockefeller, and her on-again, off-again husband, muralist Diego Rivera."

Some of my favorite Frida quotes:

When asked why she painted so many self portraits:
"Because I am so often alone....because I am the subject I know best." “I was born a bitch, I was born a painter.”
On living her life crippled:
"I suffered two grave accidents in my life…One in which a streetcar knocked me down and the other was Diego."
It is said that on the day after her death, mourners gathered at the crematorium to witness her cremation.  Frida Kahlo knew how to give her fans one last unforgettable goodbye. As the cries of her admirers filled the room, the sudden blast of heat from the open incinerator doors caused her body to bolt upright. Her hair, now on fire from the flames, blazed around her head like a halo. Frida's lips seemed to break into a seductive grin just as the doors closed.
Her last diary entry read: "I hope the end is joyful - and I hope never to return - Frida.”
Some people don’t “get” Frida Kahlo; I absolutely get her and love her from her wild emotional gut wrenching art to her wonderful fashion sense and of course that uni-brow!

My thoughts today,

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Collective Consciousness

No matter what political party you align yourself with or even if you abstain from politics altogether, there is a collective consciousness, the shared beliefs and moral attitudes which link our community and unite our society.   There is a combined coherence in the consciousness of any group. 
After the Arizona shootings, I watched and listened.  It took a while for me to still my own thoughts and words.   I had to escape Facebook and its banal droning on with snippets of thought spewing out like water from a faucet.  Words, words and more words, I am even adding to them right now I suppose, but I hope to strike a different tone.
The conversational tone of our society is off the charts.  It is not news that American politics have become so hate filled, but I think it is the collective consciousness that has a lot to do with it.  It is not so much the virulent rhetoric that comes to mind when thinking of our society and how we attack each other over politics, but by far the most disturbing trait is our acceptance of it.  Our collective consciousness has evolved into an egotistical nightmare in which sides are drawn and each army is certain their position is on the morally correct spot.   Arguing politics is one of the most egotistical activities that one can pursue- that absolute feeling of “I’m Right!” is a dangerous place to be.  That’s my ego run rampant.
Listening is an activity seldom practiced.  Listening requires humility – we as a whole are short on that right now.  Listening also requires that you do not try to think up a perfect comeback retort while your opponent is on a talking point.  Actually, listening requires that you not think of the other person as an “opponent” at all.  What if we each thought of the other person as ourselves?  That might serve as a start toward the re-growth of civility again.  What if we listened to try to uncover what the underlying differences in our beliefs are?
I had to get real quiet after this violent incident that was carried out by a mentally ill person.  There will always be mentally ill people that act out.  There will always be terrorists, rebels, anarchists and murderers seeking to serve their own purpose.  We should not as a collectively conscious society unlock all of the doors and invite them in for tea.  Words and actions on all sides of our political debates have consequences.  The current levels of anger, bigotry and yes vitriol are like open gates to the mentally ill and deranged that lie in wait for such opportunities.  We have ratcheted up the level of acceptance to violence and hatred.  After incidents like this we are left with tragedy, confusion and people on the defensive for whatever “Brand” of politics they practice.
What if… as a society we began to boycott ugly politics? What if we shunned those that used the “Brand” of ugly politics as their marketing tool?  What if we no longer accepted this type of political atmosphere, this level of bigotry and hatred?  Do you think we are too far gone for that?  Do you think we are too far gone to listen to the people we think of as different from ourselves and not pass judgment – or is that just too difficult for human beings? 
  •  If you are feeling sad and helpless then you are perhaps not too far gone for discussion and growth.
  •  If you are feeling disgust then you are poised for growth. 
  • If you are silent and thoughtful then you are practicing growth.
  •  If you are on the defensive and pointing fingers then you may be too far gone to ever get the spiritual lesson here or the next time. You are part of the problem.  I understand that, my ego gets the best of me too and sometimes I am so sure that I have all the answers. 

My thoughts today,

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Trouble is no trouble...

Our kitty Trouble has been very ill.  It turns out she had a mass cell tumor on her spleen and we had it removed.  We have all been busy here tending to her care and feeding.  After her surgery she came home to us with this strange feeding tube that protrudes from her neck and allows us to feed her while she recovers.  We put her special high calorie food into the blender with water and basically make a chicken milkshake and use large syringes to push her meal through the tube and into her tummy.  We are doing this 4 times a day right now and it is a lot like having a new baby around with the scheduled feedings.

It is amazing how much love we pour into our pets.  I found it tragic when presented with the choice of whether to operate or simply put her to sleep.  We really could not afford this type of expense right now.  On the day I had decided that we should put her to sleep she seemed to totally rebound.  She was perky and full of her usual sense of humor.  Playing on the computer, talking (well - you know) and running up and down the stairs.  I just thought that no one in their right mind would put a pet down that was acting like this.  So off I went to the vet and I charged it.  I had just met my goal of paying off my credit cards and I went and charged this surgery without even really being sure of what was ailing her.  It was not cheap.  But it is done and all we can do now is nurse her back to health and the doctor feels encouraged that because all of the spleen was removed and that other tissue samples did not show immediate signs of cancer that she should recover nicely.  I hope so.  After all of this I love her even more.  Trouble is no trouble...she is expensive, but no trouble at all.

My thoughts today,

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Abgusht Party for a New Year!

Happy New Year to all!!!!
We decided to celebrate this New Year with an Abgusht party.  Ab is Farsi and translates to water (in this case broth) gusht translates to meat.  Abgusht is a traditional working man’s type of meal, the type of thing we would think of as a farmers meal – heavy, carb and protein loaded, fuel up type of meal that might be served at mid-day.  For my husband’s family of first generation Iranians that came to this country about 30 years ago this has become a delicacy evoking a lot of memories of home. Over the years Abgusht parties have been a “Drop everything, come as you are we’re making Abgusht so get over here now!” type of thing.  Our party was a planned New Year Day event but in the past I have seen people leave weddings, their Saturday chores, pool parties you name it to show up and have Abgusht. 

This meal is cooked in a huge pot filled with 6 or 7 lamb shanks, tomatoes, potatoes, 2 or 3 different types of beans lots of onion and garlic.  We simmer the pot for about 4 hours the night before and then simmer it again the next day.  When all the meat is tender and falls off the bones everything is separated from the broth.  The meat potato and beans mixture gets mashed and becomes something like mashed potatoes.  This “gusht” or paste mixture is served along side lavash, pita or other types of bread with a pile of sabzi (mixture of fresh herbs) and a variety of pickles or torshi.  The broth is served in a separate bowl and the whole taste sensation is amazing!  Our guys like to pile on pickled garlic and onions – this always means there will be little kissing later and for sure Matt sleeps in the spare bedroom! 

For me the best part of the Abgusht party is the mashing.  Such a large pot means that this activity is best done on the kitchen floor, so we spread out towels and set the pot down.  Of course everyone is very opinionated and feels that theirs is the perfect mashing technique that is called for in this situation and so it always attracts the whole group, there is lots of laughter and with the added cocktails, it makes for a great time and it gets everyone involved.
I have a recipe below that serves 6; we make a much larger pot as we end up having between 15 and 20 people at these events.  This is a great rainy Saturday evening type of dinner that is good to cook when you are home and can let it stew for a good long time.  Have fun and give this a try.

Abgusht (Persian Lamb Shank Stew with Meat Paste)
2 pounds lamb shank and 1-pound lamb breast
2 large onions quartered
6 cups water
1 can white canellie beans
1 can chick peas or garbonzo beans
1-teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon pepper
3 large potatoes, peeled and cut in half
4 peeled tomatoes, cut in half
2 tablespoon tomato paste
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 whole Limou-omanie* pierced or ¼ cup lemon juice

In a large pot, place the meat onion and 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil, add the turmeric, salt & Pepper – cover and let simmer for at least 2 hours over a low heat. 

Add the potatoes, all the beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, cinnamon and the lemon juice and let simmer for another 30 minutes over low heat.

Remove all of the stew ingredients from the pot using a slotted spoon.  Reserve the broth on the side. Remove all the meat from the bones.  Mash the meat and the veggie - potato mixture to make a paste that has the consistency of mashed potatoes. Season this to taste with salt & pepper and serve on a platter.

Serve the broth in a bowl along side of the gusht. Set your table with a mixture of Sabzi – fresh herbs: mint, watercress, scallions, tarragon, raddishes and basil – I also add cilantro.  I’ll have to do a post on Sabzi soon to properly introduce you.  You could just serve it with fresh greens such as a good head of lettuce and lots of pickles.  Enjoy this and be proud of yourself that you tried something new!

*Limou-omani are dried limes that you can find in a Persian market but if you have no Persian or International market near you, you can use fresh lemon juice, that works just as well.

 Happy New Year to you all!