Monday, September 28, 2015

Back in the Day Gourmet

The first magazine I subscribed to was Gourmet.  Like so many, I was dazzled by the combination of education and inspiration to be found in Gourmet's pages.  It was a window into an elegant and beautiful world.  The abrupt ending of Gourmet has been attributed to many things: the crumbling economy, therefore the (then) plummet of the luxury market, and the death of print publication.  I don't think anyone will confirm or deny exactly what happened that caused Gourmet to be axed, and wonder if there is a concrete reason at all. 

I wonder if it was felt Gourmet was too out of touch for our modern climate.  Gourmet was nonchalant about including a $30 mail-order only ingredient in their recipes.  Though I wouldn't usually end up ordering said ingredient, I was happy to know about it and where to find it.  But in that time, especially, there was such a backlash against luxury and wealth.  In three short years (2006-2009), fashion went from logo head to toe to rustic and unassuming
Her John Deere must have been in the shop 

My theory is that Instagram saved the luxury market.  Or at least turbocharged its revival.  Instagram is a rabbit hole, down which any object of desire can be found on beautiful display.  As Instagram began bulking up in 2010, those banished luxury items were to be seen in the background.  Not even mentioned, but there.  Suggesting while flash may be gauche, wealth certainly is good.  Tactics like taking a photograph of your free-trade hand woven artisinal free range organic cruelty free thrifted buy one donate one bracelet with the top quadrant of your BMW logo peeking through took hold, and with that, luxury was back.  I am acutely aware of those douchebag moves, because I was a pioneer of the movement. 
Before I did society a favor and banned myself from social media, my favorite person to follow on Twitter was Ruth Reichl, influential editor of Gourmet from 1999 to its end in 2009.  Her tweets were all in the moment.  The way the steam rose from her coffee, the zing in the air when you squeeze a grapefruit, or the way snow swirled in the breeze.  Microscopic, meditative moments.  Things Gourmet wasn't really about.  Ruth Reichl seems particularly uninterested in the decadence of luxury nowadays.  I enjoyed reading this article about her, and watching the accompanying video. She has a new book coming out about the recovery from the shock following the end of Gourmet.  I can't help but think the resurrection of the luxury market has created a nostalgia for Gourmet.  Making it the perfect time to release this book.  I hope it does well for her.  
Interestingly, Gourmet has been at the front of my mind for a few months.  In July, I was sifting through one of my favorite vintage/antique stores.  A shelf of cookbooks caught my eye.  I never pay much attention to stacks of old books; as the last thing I need are more books.  On this day, I had time to kill before the farmers' market started.  So I tilted my head and read the titles lining the shelves.  I saw Best of Gourmet 1996 and was hit with a wave of memory.  I remembered wanting those books as they were released.  Likely searching for a bit of that old feeling I'd get reading Gourmet monthly, I bought it.  At $2.50, why not? Plus it made the antique store owner a little less annoyed at my habit of cutting through her store on my way to the farmers' market. 

How can one keep track? The Sicily trips run together.

Great idea! I'll have the staff ready the bedrooms.

I'll admit this is dated, but I love it nonetheless

For a short time in the 1980s,
whole squash was considered a finger food

I don't expect to see this again

pom poms have certainly fallen out of favor

Though most of the features are timeless

It was a pleasure seeing that now unpopular style of grand photography, meticulous plating, and lavish matching sets of china, crystal, and silver.  I realized just how influential Gourmet had been for me.  Well, you can imagine what happened next.  I wonder how many editions of Best of there are...
I've always been a collector.  Unlike many collectors who enjoy a slow and steady pace of collecting, I like to skip right to collected.  I'd like to thank eBay and OCD.  At around $2-4 each with free shipping, this collection wasn't a budget buster.  Plus, it's recycling...right? So over the past many weeks, volume by volume have been showing up in my mailbox (at work, my USPS carrier at home is horrible).  I still have a few to source.  Some of them arrive kind of grimy, so they all get a quick cleaning treatment.  A little hand sanitizer on a paper towel, rub down the dust jacket, and then the covers.  I'm sure there's something awful about this method, but I feel it works well.  If you buy old books, how do you clean them? 
I love seeing the subtle changes year to year in the books.  It's a great way to assess what holds up and what doesn't. 

Before this, I'm not sure why it never occurred to me to source expensive books on eBay.  It's a way to pick up cookbooks and expensive lifestyle/design books at deep discount.  With the upcoming holidays, keep this in mind.  A stack of lovely books is a great gift, for yourself or others. 

A few eBay sellers I've bought from to get you started: 1 , 2 ,  3

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

I'll remember her that way

I haven't seen my grandmother since March 2012.  She is still alive, but very sick. My grandmother's illness first became apparent to me in 2006.  It was a fuzzy territory at first though.  She always had a batty sense of humor.  So she camouflaged her confusion with jokes and laughs, and we were probably too happy to take her word for it.  In 2006, my family did what would be our last Thanksgiving trip to Hilton Head all together.  I would always drive back home with my grandmother.   She and I easily agreed on music and would laugh and gossip about goings-on in the family.  The trip usually started with her driving off the island so I could take photos of the sunrise from the bridge.  She had done this trip many times and had a strong sense of direction, so I never paid much attention to anything except what Shakira or Britney song I was going to play next.   Until I really looked around and thought Where the hell are we?
I asked her if we were still on 95, knowing we were not.  She said yep, uh huh that's your dad two cars ahead of us.  And she was unusually defensive.  And the car two cars ahead was a red convertible with a black person driving.  Nowhere near resembling my pasty dad with a reflective baldspot in a white SUV.  Her eyes began nervously darting and then she burst out laughing and said I just thought he got really tan on vacation!  Around that time, my dad called to ask me if we'd like to stop for a quick breakfast in Charlotte.  When I told him how we managed to get off course, he insisted we stay put and he come to us.  I think he was worried she had had a mini stroke.  Not to mention, my sense of direction is so bad he knew I'd be useless finding our way back to I-95.  My +/- great great great great greatgrandfather would be horrified driving with me as I can get lost five minutes from home.  So that will not stand out when/if my cognitive function begins to fail.  I digress. 
As we were sitting and waiting, we were laughing hysterically about our whereabouts and deciding which one of us the supposed rest stop vandals would have their way with first.  Soon enough, my parents pulled in and we got resituated with my sister now driving my grandmother's car (I still wasn't trusted to drive).  My grandmother was fine for most of the morning, as we talked about what a fun trip it was and planned our upcoming candy making party.  Occasionally, there were comments that puzzled my sister and me,  We told ourselves she was just tired. 
I think back to that day every so often and wonder about my part in it.  Could I have helped anything if I hadn't ignored these red flags and brushed it off?  Hard to say.  It can be easy to give ourselves superpowers in hindsight and believe we could have fixed the unfixable.  As time passed, she began to deteriorate rapidly. 
During her decline, my mother completely devoted herself to my grandmother's care.  Anything and everything she could do, she did.  I had just started my own business, building a clientele from almost nothing.  With very few clients, I had a lot of time on my hands.  As Facebook friends of mine in that time will recall, with the barrage of new boyfriends, slutty selfies, and self-important statuses.  But when I wasn't busy being a whore, I was trying to help my mom.  By 2011, my grandmother was living in a full-time care facility.  Because she was young and physically healthy, she was an unusual patient for this facility.  So she was always getting in trouble.  They would call my mom and tell her she needed to get there and calm my grandma down.  This would happen all hours of the day and night.  Luckily, I was often able to go up in my mother's place. 
When I would walk in, my grandma was usually in a nurse's face or taunting another resident.  The awful thing about these situations is that they are funny.  Imagine a nursing home dining room with some people milling around talking to themselves, some watching The Lawrence Welk Show and then my grandma telling some poor old lady that she's fat and will never get a man.   What can you do but laugh?  Anyway, when I would walk in my grandma would scowl at me from across the room.  Then, as I got closer, she would light up and suddenly become sweet and agreeable.  She'd introduce me to the woman she was just bullying and say isn't she just the cutest thing?!  Sometimes she knew my name, sometimes she knew my face, but she seemed to always know she loved me--whoever the hell I was.  I'd say Okay, Nana, I'm busting you out and she'd dance around and sometimes stick her tongue out at her poor friend/victim.  At this time, she could still walk with ease. 
We'd walk to my car and she loved my car.  She'd say oh honey! You must be so rich! That seemed to give her great satisfaction, so I went with it.  I'd roll the windows down and we'd blast On the Street Where You Live (her favorite) or Motown.  She would close her eyes and sing along and seem so grateful for the fresh air.  Then I'd take her to Dairy Queen for a hot dog and Wendy's for a Frosty.  She always wanted me to tell the Wendy's employees that Dave Thomas wanted to marry her but she said no.  That story has never been verified, by the way.  This is a bizarre thing about Alzheimer's and dementia, as I'm sure you know.  She could remember Dave Thomas clearly and not her family.  We'd drive around and talk about Christmas or how cute my cousins are.  There were times I knew she didn't understand what I was talking about, but she enjoyed the pleasant tone and energy.  This went on for about a year. 
Her condition began to freefall.  In the span of a few months, she went from being able to walk and talk to being almost completely unable to move.  She has Lewy Body Dementia, which takes a rapid physical toll in addition to mental decline. 
In 2012, she had been moved to a different facility.  She required far more care than her previous memory care assisted living could handle.  Her condition was beyond the point she could be taken out without a special wheelchair and hoist.  My mom was tortured by the thought that she couldn't get out of the building for even a breath of fresh air.  She asked the facility if there was any way she could take her out for just a ride.  They felt strongly against it.  My mom, being the lifelong rule follower, tried to accept this. 
My mom's birthday is in March.  That year, particularly, I knew we must do something to buoy her spirits.  As I'm sure any of you know who have been in her position, there is not a moment's break from the worry about your sick loved one.  It was a record-setting super warm March that year.  Completely unheard of for us--weeks of glorious temperatures in the 80s.  It was about a week before my mom's birthday, and I was perusing a garden center.  I was asking my friend for gift suggestions for my mom.  It suddenly hit me as I was admiring a wisteria (that I bought and killed when it turned cold again).  Duh.  Obviously, the only thing my mom wanted was to get my grandma out.  Breathing fresh air, hearing music, feeling the sun.  I called my sister at work and said I might need a lot of money for a gift for mom.  As I figured I would need a handicap-equipped bus, a driver, and a nurse.  I had no idea how much this would cost, but knew my sister would foot the bill.  My sister and I are a good team in that way.  The only thing we disagreed on was that she wanted to tell our dad.  Knowing we were planning a granny-heist, I wanted as few accomplices as possible.   Hell or high water, Nana was coming to the party. My sister reluctantly surrendered on telling our dad and handed over her credit card.  To my surprise, I wouldn't need it. 
I figured I would at least try to do this on the up and up before I went about forcibly abducting my grandmother with hired help and a bus.  I called and spoke with the head nurse, Gayle. Gayle gave me a few Nos before she said Let me see what I can do before she said Yes, if... Gayle told me that the facility had a bus equipped to transport my grandmother and they could bring her if the temperature was above 70F, and there was not any rain.  Any water on the lift equipment could have made the process dangerous.  So if you live outside Ohio, you may not realize what exceptionally outrageous conditions these are for Ohio in March.  If it gets that warm in March, it usually lasts four minutes and is then interrupted by a snowstorm. 
Incredibly, the weather cooperated.  I'll never forget the look on my mom's face when she walked in and realized my grandmother was there.  It was first shock at the surprise party, then disbelief when she saw my grandmother, and then happy tears followed by sad tears and back to happy tears.  By this point, my grandmother was very far gone.  But there were still tiny bits of her that would come out.  She was so happy.  Amid all this, I made dinner for everyone.  I remember burning the chicken and the cupcakes were dry.  Just this once, however, not even I was focused on the food. 
A short while after that, my mom told my siblings and me that she did not want us to see our grandmother anymore.  She had become much more sick and my mother felt that she was no longer there.  This was a horrible ordeal for my mother to be facing. She felt, as my grandmother's decision maker, that she knew my grandmother would not want us to see her at this point.  If she responds to visitors, it is very negatively and is distressing for her.
left to right: my grandpa in his safari leisure suit, my grandmother,
great grandmother likely in Lilly Pullitzer,
and one of her many husbands.  I think this was Chuckie-Poo.

My grandmother was a beautiful woman.  She had a modeling career, and worked very hard on her looks.  She was never seen with a hair out of place or her makeup off.  Some may find this shallow, but I believe her beauty was one of the most important components to her existence.  She was also kind, smart, accepting, and funny.  My mother knows that my grandmother would want to be remembered that way.  My parents still go and see her every Friday.  The visits are hard on both of them, but particularly my mother.  She always feels she's not doing enough. The ugly part is that there is nothing else she can do.  My small part in the matter is making dinner for my family on Friday nights.  Attendance ranges from three to eight.  With working Saturdays, I got used to quiet Friday nights long ago (after finally learning that dragging my hungover ass into work at 7AM just isn't worth it).  We linger around the table and I watch my mom recover slightly.  My grandpa usually manages to fit in his Swiss whorehouse story, and we are able to laugh.  Sometimes he expresses his wishes to have been a better husband, my mom looks around and thinks about how proud my grandma was of her nice family.  The gravity of these moments is always observed by Lin, my grandpa's partner of 30 years (he and my grandmother divorced long ago).  Lin was a truly great friend to my grandmother and graciously shared my grandpa with her long after the divorce.  Lin raises her glass for a toast and says To Nancy, how we wish you were here.  She wishes, as we all wish, there was more she could do. 

Her biggest campaign appeared in Vogue-September 1955

The back cover 

Today is my grandmother's birthday.  Of course, I wish things were different.  I wish I could help her.  I wish she were free.  My name is Stephen Andrew partly because my grandmother always wanted an Andrew.  My mother always wanted a Stephen, and knew how thrilled my grandmother would be for her first grandson to be an Andrew.  For as long as she could, she called me my Andrew.  What I can do is remember and appreciate her life.  Her legacy of kindness, her uncontrollable laugh, and her grace.  I'll remember her that way. 

Love, Your Andrew 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Color in the Salon

I can't believe I've been in my salon for over two years now.  As is the case with most projects, the salon was over budget both in time and dollars.  I remember the day I went to the City of Columbus building permit office, expecting my permit to cost--I don't know--maybe $40. $2500. 

Fuuuuuuuuuuck. I also made the rookie mistake of buying all the pretty stuff first, thinking it was the important part. Not only does this jeopardize your budget for the necessary stuff, but then you have to store all that pretty stuff for months. So, no, I'm not being considered for the new host of This Old House. I don't like carpentry (too dusty) and I don't particularly like construction.  Do you remember that episode of Barefoot Contessa where Ina throws a construction luncheon for her contractors? That's more my style.  The one part of construction I really did like was the concrete work.  To get plumbing into the office space that is now my salon, an 18 foot long trench had to be cut diagonally across the concrete floor.  To save money, I asked (with the undertone of a demand) my dad and brother help me to get all the gravel out of the plumbers' way and then seal the trench back over with new concrete.  I hated the shoveling part, the carrying bags of quickcrete part, and the worst was driving home feeling gross and dirty.  But! I learned I have a natural talent for applying and smoothing concrete.  I found smoothing and leveling concrete to be exactly like frosting a cake with buttercream. If there are any mason/bakers reading, please confirm this.  As the contractors saw my fine concrete work, they all quizzically asked: You did that?

So anyway, as the salon project was coming to a close, I was feeling frayed and generally nervous.  I opted to go with a sure bet in my color scheme.  So I chose all white.  I've loved all the white and have often thought how glad I am that I went simple.  But I've been getting a little bored with it.  I toyed with the idea of painting a wall, but I worry about casting tones into the light.  I decided to experiment with color, the smart thing to do is paint something that is easily repaintable. 
I love orange, but orange doesn't always love me.  It is so hard to get right.  The difference between cantaloupe and pumpkin is vast in perception but shockingly close in shade.  Last autumn, I really wanted a pumpkin colored bar tray.  I thought it would be so pretty September-Christmas.  I love orange mixed in at Christmas.  I selected and tested and was quite sure I had a lovely, autumnal pumpkin orange.  Well, I did.  Until it dried.  Then I had a Bahamian mango smoothie color.  Lovely--but far too tropical for Ohio.  Especially Ohio in the fall and winter.  Despite this frustration, I really wanted to try my main station at the salon in orange.  So the testing started again.  I have a rather bizarre method of testing paints.  I paint them all next to each other on a piece of wood and let them blend into each other.  The hysteria actually helps me differentiate and isolate what's working and what's not.  I'm much more able to see an orange is too blue when it's next to an orange that's too red. 
The paint guy at Home Depot hates me.  I call him all the time with annoying questions, I ask him to mix 10 or 15 or 25 sample size containers of the same color with manipulations in tone of 5%.  I'm always painting something and am prone to hyper-focus on color. But on very rare occasion, I think of something sensible and downright easy.  As I thought about painting my station, I realized I'd really like to just spray it with canned spray paint.  I love Rustoleum and am always astonished at just how closely the dry color matches the cap. There were two oranges.  One was dark, more on the red side.  The other was electric.  Next to each other, they reminded me of the Le Creuset color Flame.  I wondered if I could mix them, or manipulate the end product by layering them.  I tested them in all configurations and decided the dark orange covered in the electric orange was the way to go. I'm really happy with it, and the paint guy at Home Depot is going to be able to stop going to therapy.  Until next week when I continue my search for the perfect shade of cranberry (for a Christmas project). 

A little change is good.  Especially going into a new season.  Will this piece be orange forever? No. I'm already a little sick of it. Are you planning any changes this season? And do you have the formula for a perfect cranberry?  

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The House that Started It All

I can tell you with 100% confidence that there was never a time I wasn't completely obsessed with houses.  Apple/tree.  My mother is, and has always been, completely obsessed with houses.  There is, however, a difference between those houses you've loved forever and those houses you've had close enough to your grasp to imagine living in forever.  This morning I drove by the house that started it all for me; flipping the switch between fantasy and albeit deluded reality.  When I was 19, I was about a year into my first career job.  I was really into that job, but also kind of hated it.  Driving around in the country with my friend K was a frequent respite.  K usually wanted to drive so she could smoke (no smoking in my car!).  K drives too fast and has a fiery Italian temper that never quite cools off.  We were both always breaking up with our boyfriends and pissed as hell at them for...something.  We would end up in little towns and buy lottery tickets from the junkiest looking carryouts.  We were quite superstitious about where to buy them, certainly there's no way we'd win buying them from a conveniently located BP. For this fanatic superstition, you'd think we'd had success with the method.  K liked to drive in the country because she could drive fast and there wasn't anyone in her way.  I loved it for the exposure to old, interesting houses.  She never understood my love for old houses and I never understood her love for trayed ceilings and kitchen islands with fifteen levels of countertop and other "builder upgrades".  K wanted new new new and I wanted old old old.  She also never understood my desire for a flat-front house.  She likes houses with 25 bay windows, a turret, a portico, and any other appendage one can imagine.  What we had in common was an ever-strengthening sense of domesticity. 

Anyway, it was first on one of these drives that I saw the For Sale sign on this dream house of mine.  It wasn't far off in the country, nor was it old.  But it was a flat-front colonial nestled among big trees.  Of course at 19, I had no business even thinking I could have bought it.  It was $319,000.00 which was about $310,000.00 over my budget.  I would drive by it constantly.  I picked paint colors for the wood siding and toiled over which shade of blue to paint the front door.  I was quite sure Kentucky Blue was perfect.  The house, of course, would have been painted white before the seller's car was out of the garage.  This was before Zillow and The Secret. Despite the lack of real estate photos and Oprah teaching me to make a vision board, I had that house imagined down to the lampshades.  This was all in September.  By January, the new owners had moved in and I begrudgingly accepted I had missed out. 
I had no interest in seeing that house for many years.  It stung.  Not because I couldn't buy it when it was for sale, but because my life veered so far from the life I imagined in that house.  I felt foolish.  As if anyone's life follows the course he/she's imagined. 

This morning, I read this excellent post by my friend at the Hot Flash Homestead and it really stuck with me.  I've been off this week and have a few projects going. One of which is testing shades of orange paint.  As everyone knows, sometimes you just have to step away from the swatches.  So I figured I'd go get another coffee.  Coming out of line, the urge hit me to drive by that house.  I'm just not sure why.