Tuesday, December 30, 2008

morning walk

J and I took a lovely walk up the little canyon behind my house, up on the Berkeley hills. You drive five minutes to be in a forest,with a brook running through,various odoriferous trees, like bay and manzanitas.Now in winter, the colors are sometimes deeper, sometimes softer. J loves to gather a tabletop of natural wonders, so we stop and exclaim at the beauty of a crooked branch covered in almond green moss, or wet leaves in a ditch, marroon and silver under the sunlight. At the top of the hill, there is a view of berkeley below, under a gauzy haze,with the sun sparkling above.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

eggs and candles

When I talked to my mother recently, she complained about the Parisian grey skies, the short dark days,the gloominess of winter. So, I suggested to her" to light some candles, make it a little festive, a tad special, like you used to, with your red candles glowing on the holiday table", but she answered" Oh, it is so funerary..." so, it is , sometimes how you view things, depending of your state of mind, your stage in the life journey. I have always loved candles, I associate them with whispers and kisses, special occasions,our early years of marriage with everyday candlelit diners, a tranquil and peaceful mood listening to Albinoni....
My American family celebrate Hanuka in one day, one meal eaten together, the same every year, with songs and blessings and lighting of the 8 candles.We dimmed the kitchen lights, and had our talk of justice, patience and all.the slim candles burned to nothingness, until next year.

photos by Chloe Halpern

We have been feeling overwhelmed, trying to help Dot find a place to live.She has to move out in a few days, and the pickings were slim.But yesterday, we pushed the little gate and entered the place of refuge that we had hoped to find for her. A big chicken coop in the middle of a vegetable garden, a big orange tree filled with ripe orbs, a row of studio facing the green expanse.The chickens were curious and they gathered by their door, softly squawking.little white fluffy ones, tall oranges, responding to my cooing.Hopefully we sealed the deal and reserved a studio.The owner, went in the coop as we filled the application and gave us the 4 eggs that she had just collected.who knew that such a pastoral existence was possible on San Pablo avenue in Berkeley....

Thursday, December 25, 2008

poire belle helene

For Christmas eve, we always have the same menu : beautiful winter salad ( this year: baby greens, roasted beets,medgool dates, gorgonzola and walnuts) followed by local, fresh and sweet Dungeness crab feast.My aioli mayonnaise was spiked with cayenne and chives. Cremant ( rose champagne from Alsace) was served. But now, desert had to be different: no more buche de Noel,or other mini cakes.To serve something gluten free, I thought of an old favorite of significant, one we used to order in parisian bistrots when we met: the perennial poire belle helene: vanilla poached pears,served with ice cream, chocolate sauce et toasted almonds.Dot plated the poires and took all the pictures.She also hand drew the pattern on the tablecloth.What a phenomene !
you can always click on the image to see it bigger.

Monday, December 22, 2008

winter solstice

yesterday, dark,cold and rainy. J made it magical with her spread and candlelit kitchen. My friend C indulged me with another carafe, my true obsession....

Friday, December 19, 2008

purple haze

Some work,and then some play...going out and about .
Here are my reviews: Went to Bar Julesin Hayes Valley in san Francisco, celebrating a good friend's birthday.cute place, nice decor, waitress with attitude,dismissing our question about types of wine served by the glass( there is no mention on the menu if it is a red or white)" everything goes with the kind of food we offer", then pirouetted out of our sight, probably rolling her eyes( another group of ignorant women on the town......could be her thoughts).hardly anything vegatarian ( poor me), but for a canellini and greens soup, and a gem lettuces salad, both of which are staples at my house.The best was for desert, a ricotta cake with huckelberries with a big pot of fresh mint leaves. The cake was light, lemony,tart and rich, and the berries were tasty (in season ??) if not a little hazzy. and stainy.

review: 3 ( out of 10)
The it was off to Berretta, in the Mission for a cocktail and thin crust pizza in this fairly new place, that sells itself as an authentic Italian restaurant, with mucho alcoohol, big cocktail list with a mixicologist with a degree in " how many flavors can I put in a drink"school. My drink was pretty in cantaloupe tone, and went down well, but still can one improve on the classics ?my answer is NO. One of the pizza ordered was with baccalau ( sounds good doesn't it, until you are told that it is dry cod). I, myself love brandade, when the cod is mixed with garlic and mashed potatoes and slightly gratineed), but a ltlle weird on pizza.Yes, I know... anchovies are one, so why not cod. half the pizza remained uneatten, that's why.
review: 4 ( the margharita was decent, but boring)
The it was off to Sea Salt in Berkeley for what turned out to be a pretty poor experience. The restaurant was full on a saturday night, and as Dot said " they are trying to be like Cesar",but when you have an open kitchen that produces a lot of deep fried food, you end up smelling like a batch of fries. most unpleasant. Keeping up with their name, their use of salt was overly liberal and left my mouth parched, my stomach was upset for hours:The grilled octopus was peculiar, no smokiness of grill.just two big tentacles nestled in a pool of mayonnaise.The cocktail was good and strong.
review: 2
Finally a totally satisfying meal at Camino, in Oakland.Chez P. alumni, opened this restaurant about a year ago. Love the room, craftsman gone medieval, with lots of wood, wrought iron chandeliers and a massive wood fire oven facing the room. The notes were perfect, the food prepared simply but imaginatively,the wine satisfying.I took some pix, but unfortunately they didn't look as good as I hoped for, so trust me simply, head over there ASAP.
review 8

Monday, December 1, 2008

global week end

First a movie to recommend: Slumdog milllionaire. Made by a Scottish director, set in India, in english and Hindi with subtitles. I was swooned by the movie.The way a movie should move you, transport you, exhilarate you, spellbind you. The energy, and the emotions that the movie carries are beyond words. It is also a romance( I am such a sentimental !), even if it is set in chaos, violence and tragedy. It is wrenching and redemptive the way a Dickens novel is, it is also a work of genius the way art can be. The "destiny" aspect at its core. Even that is a little 19Th century, which is also why I loved it.
Lunch one day was a wild mushroom risotto croquette, with a melange of roasted potatoes and Brussels sprouts with rosemary and garlic, served with a red pepper " chutney".
more flying glasses and pitchers....

Sunday, November 30, 2008

winter table

It all started a dozen years ago, when I picked up a discarded painted canvas on a sidewalk, and painted a big glass, with milky white liquid at the bottom. You know, glass full, glass empty kind of thinking... That was then now It is my inner fight between light and dark,happiness and reflexion,my obsession with bareness and fullness, the muteness of objects, loud or soft,the peace or joy of colors. I paint birds, rocks and leaves, but I always come back to the table, pitchers and glasses.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

food make-up ?

I guess times are going to get harder for all of us. May be, Who knows ?...., but I keep getting e-mails like this one from people who want to get into food styling. This last one is from a colombian woman with an interesting Spanish translation for food stylist in her signature ! make up for food ? or in French " maquillage pour aliments " ?

First of all, I want to tell you I'm starting my own proyect on food styling and I want to work in the bussines. I'm a colombian advertisment professional and I have been working for an Editorial company, as a producer.
I was wondering if there is a posibility of doing an internship with you as an assistant or anything similar you may consider. Right now I have my visa papers in order to stay there for 6 months or less.  
If this is not possible for you, maybe you could recommend me something that could be good for my career.

I know that in this work you grow professionaly depending on the experience you have and who beside you learn.
Hopping you  will consider giving me the opportunity or might as well guiding me what shold be my next step.
Beatriz Velásquez
Maquillaje de alimentos/ Producción fotográfica "


Yesterday was pretty spectacular in many ways. Set out to meet C. at the Heath holiday sale.Cars parked for blocks,long lines in the factory store when the sale had only started half an hour before. Everything is beautiful of course, but also expensive.The reason is a good one, all handmade with a georgous sense of style and colors.The new owners are taking the midcentury look to a risky palette of saturated blues and reds. I am curious to see if they become as popular as the old quieter tones. Which I prefer.Linen is my choice, a soft white that I never get tired off. It is my breakfast set, so I need to ease into the day with softness. C.had given me the cups some years back, and sometimes I missed the saucers, I found them with slight defects for 50 cents each ! Now, that was a sale of economic downturn proportions !.only glitch : had to wait 45 minutes for my $1.72 sale ( everything is 20% off the marked price!).
Then we  set out to eat at Fish ,just a block away, to a lunch of fish(!) tacos outside on the deck. It is a restaurant I had meant to check for a long time and was pretty curious about , plus the sunny sky helped: Yesterday was one of those days, when you thank your lucky star to live in such beauty with a mediterranean weather to allow you this kind of experience... at the end of November.
The fish tacos ( with organic beer ) was disappointing. The use of tilapia set me back a bit, after all their restaurant arbors a sign " organic marin" , isn't tilapia a farmed fish and a pretty unappealling one ? So at first. it had a smoky bite from the grill, but the fishiness lingered,served with what looked like vibrant and fresh sauces, but instead, that tasted bland. give me some chipotle mayonaise or pomegranate-jalapeno salsa or something. They didn't skimp on cilantro though! price $ 12. worth it totally if it is fntastic, not otherwise. oh well we paid for the view.

The day ended with a night out in San Francisco. The sunset sky over the Bay on my way there was fun to snap,
I was meeting my friend J for dinner and  an event/talk with Toni Morrisson. After parking the car at the masonic auditorium, I suggested the Top of the Mark ( the 17th floor restaurant at the top of the Mark Hopkins restaurant). It felt so" big city" to enter this old and lavish and huge lobby, the view ( again) was impressive and we had a very pleasant moment, sitting comfortably and having a tasty treat of a mezze platter each with cosmo for me, wine for J. presentation was nice, service gracious. Then T.Morrison received a standing ovation on her entry, and admitted that she didn't believe she would live to see an African-American in the white house. Our local talk show host Michael Krasny did the interview, probing gently, intellectual in his approach. T.Morisson seemed happy, giggling  many times, showing a lighter side  to her darker writings. Her new book " A mercy" sounds fascinating, blending early american history and human complex emotions.

don't be shy, leave me comments. and check my new blog.

Monday, November 17, 2008

November sun

You must have heard of the Southern California fires and the( 85 F) 30 oC  temperatures....Here, it has also been unusually warm, with some hot winds going every which way. scarry, yes, but without the fires here, also utterly delicious. tank top on bicycle, a switch back from soups to salads,pique niques on Muir Beach, the Bay waters looking a saphire blue, and a return to the back yard for a week end lunch. I had put it all away, including the finely woven straw table mat. It was the first time we were using it, after our purchase in San Miguel.
We had a fancy lunch at restaurant Chamonix (!) in San Miguel de Allende, eating in the back patio, surrounded by bougainvillas and that great blue waterfall wall that I already showed in an earlier post. The tables were covered by these mats, and we found it so pleasant to the touch and the eyes that we decided to track one for ourselves . track is the right word since we had to wander around the crowded square in search of Maximiliano, who was carrying them on his back and peddling them, usually in front of the terrace of the restaurant to the left of the Parroquia, the big baroque chuch, ressembling in a minor way to the Sagrada familia , the Gaudi madness of Barcelone.The Plaza was crowded with aztec dancers celebrating San Miguel , men were twirling upside down,tied to their ankles around a giant pole, I was drinking another  margarita when I spotted Maximiliano and bought( haggled over)   the mat.Sunday lunch brought us a little bit back to that memory and to the the warmth of everything Mexico, only quieter.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I love black

Black is anonimity, depth, drama,boldness, graphic,despair,forever,opposites.
When my grand father offered me a watch as a young teen, I chose a black face watch with a white leather band.
It signaled my desire for non conformity. I still arbor this need, but have found myself instead quietly moving toward the black . In its safety, there is always elegance. In the eighties, I had a set of black plates and loved them for awhile.Now, there seems to be a return to the black ceramics after decades of white.yin/yen,now welcome to my tea time with a tux.

Monday, October 27, 2008

the dance of leaves

After drying, my leaves leave a sweet smell in the backyard shed. I gently pull them from the stems, and fill my square glass jar with them.This time a French classic pairing of lemon verbena and peppermint.I try to keep them whole, so that when I drop them in my tea glass, they brighten  and dance with each other.It is the beauty of nature, from start to finnish.and then they give their aroma to the water, a clear sunny broth that will soothe.

eye candy

I added the site to my list of art and design blogs, because i don't want you to miss out.Usually covering women's fashion, with pretty shots of adorable stylish young woman and if you read French, a very funny commentary, I find myself smiling with each shot.Today, though I had a big grin: Men ! That was quite a surprise... check out the hair, I guess skinny jeans, skinny, skinny are a must...so check out Garance,and smile with me.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


cru means raw in French. There are very few  foods that you eat raw in the old country.The salads, after all, plays the part of palate cleanser after the main protein dish and before the cheese platter.The radishes are slathered with butter, the vegetables are very cooked to the point of utter tenderness,the crunch is out in favor of taste and richness on the tongue.
Raw food, which is appealing  sometimes, usually makes my stomach heavy , when it should have the opposite effect: light and free,  making you ready to work even harder. The deserts are decadent though, with tons of creamy vegetable fat and pureed nuts.They satisfy all senses. The other dishes can be tasty, but I would miss my morning toasts,my hot winter soups, my melted cheeses.
In the meantime, I worked on styling some raw dishes and  these are some examples.pretty, no ?
you can always click on the image to make it bigger...

Friday, October 24, 2008

good bye tomato, Hello potato !

Have you ever tasted the best comfort food ever? which utilises only two ingredients: potato and butter.....so simple, so divine.
potatoes sliced thin, placed in a 8"cake pan, each layer brushed with melted butter(.o.k, a little salt and a turn of pepper for the top).put in the oven at 425 with a parchement and weight on top for 25 minutes, remove weight and parchement, and cook for an additional 30 minutes to caramelize...... sprinkle whatever you want ( herbs, grated cheese,nutmeg, but be warned: you don't even need it).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

the last tomatoes

I am feeling so sad to leave tomatoes behind. I think this week is my last technicolor love affair with heirlooms.I thought to leave you with a last glimpse of summer past.
photos by Lara Hata. Concept,art direction and props by me.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What will we do when all the tuna is gone!

Saturday  is tuna day. I love the white tuna from Spain.childhood memories oblige. So I make a salad with cherry tomatoes, tuna, lemon and mayonaise, and I put bread, onions, peppers on the grill.Then, rub a garlic clove on the crusty edges, slap  the salad on, and put the onions in a fancy crown.

Friday, October 17, 2008

land of contrast

last call for vacation memories.Old and new, indigenous and upscale, warm and cold, loud and soft, quiet and vibrant. It was all there in San Miguel. The rooster across the street on the rooftop, kept us company, and the days were parceled in leisure segments between meals.We went to an old factory transformed into a center of art and design.very beautiful buildings, some great art, and artisanal furniture that I could have had shipped if I had had enough pesos. Here are a few examples that caught my eyes :

Then, as I said, we had the difficult decision to make about where we would eat next.The choices were numerous, and we did not have a bad meal.We ate in  traditional mexican  cafes( great rajas tacos,enormous margaritas..) to  more hip , fusion kind of a places. It was all there, around every corner. The guacamole was originally presented at a little  terrace  on the plaza.
the blue wall was a waterfall, cooling the outdoor patio where we ate another day...

Then, my eyes are still closing on the ochres of the walls, the colors so rich like a wool blanket on a crispy cold night, colors of the South, of what I imagine Africa to look like.

the rainy season of summer had just ended, and the countryside was covered in wildflowers. We enjoyed a peaceful walk in the Botanical gardens, blessed by the Dalai  Lama as a  special place of peace

Monday, October 13, 2008

mood colors

The saturated hues in warm tones brought out the happy disposition. How can you not melt in front of mango,tomato,raspberry and peppers walls ? The eyes become alive and the heart sings a little dance. I love the beautiful children everywhere ( another heart balm), like this one learning to walk on the cobblestones of our hilly street, a still life in dark red.
I tried to capture the bleeding walls in a small watercolor.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

the house on the hill-casa de la cuesta

We just got back from San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, and my head is full of colors, tastes and emotions.The town is at about 6000 ft( or 1,800m ) and some of the nice streets are built on hillsides, like our bed and breakfast. We had a great view of the city from our many balconies,and the whole place was like a museum dedicated to the soul and beauty of the country. I will just share today a few images from la casa de la Cuesta.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Dot came for dinner last night. brought some life to the quiet cottage, until then it was just the noise from the just baked corn chips over the French news that were heard. Then, it was ice in the shaker for a mojito, with persian mint from the garden, while the braising liquid over the fennel branches was bubbling away.dinner of heirloom tomatoes,basil and garden lettuce, freshly caught Pacific halibut poached over the fennel,mashed baby potatoes, and a special gluten free just backed brownie with vanilla ice cream for significant who is allergic to wheat.Music started, and Dot was teaching us some Hyphy moves. I finally got the smooth moves of the bird wings and the angry/funny face writing parking tickets in the air.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

day lifter

just came back from having to take Dot to work, flat tire on top of things....I was in my pyjamas, hurtling down freeways .... nothing like trimming a few bushes around the fig tree and ending up with an uplifting wedding like bouquet.


it has been a busy time.Work in Chicago with Jeff K. was wonderful as usual. Nothing like feeling valued and appreciated. It is like a high, a feeling of floating on your creative air. I walked on Michigan avenue ( magnificent mile) one evening after work.bustling,flagship stores, full buses going to unknown destinations, a crowd of worker bees, without style or a sense of fun.Home in time to catch Dot's new adventure in crisis mode with her car going to the junk heap.... what to do ? then starting on a job with the most recipes ever produced in a day: 12, an average of one per half hour... that is marathon food styling, a new Olympic sport. So my canvas stays idle, a bright red square, welcoming me each morning,waiting .

Monday, September 8, 2008


My friend the squirrel comes over and climb on the tall branch and stares at me with his big black eyes.I rush to the kitchen to grab some pistachios from the fridge and throw them at him.Today he came practically right up to me,grabbed one and went back to his perch, holding the nut and chewing it carefully, filling his cheeks. When he bounces from branch to branch, dry leaves fall, caught by papyrus plant or other bushes.It is autumn. I kept these apple leaves because I knew that they would make a poetic picture of fall.they seem to dance, a little sad, losing their brightness.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

hidden pleasure

I love checking this blog.
It is as fluffy and light with a crunch as a parisian meringue. Written in French by a young artist who has also become a fashion journalist, snapping young , beautiful and stylish women . a fun treat. Better than magazine flipping......

Friday, September 5, 2008

some like it raw

I am working on this raw food project. This is the first image. a pasta dish made out of thin strands of zucchini, with a dynamite sauce of roma tomatoes, onion, garlic, moroccan and greek olives,basil, rosemary,hemp oil and pink salt !!!