Just what we were thinking: making our holiday tree right on a wall – or window or door – using some colored masking tape. We thought right away of using Japanese washi tape, which comes in gorgeous colors and patterns. Also from the Dutch magazine Vtwonen: a tree made on a sheet of plywood in gold…tape… read more…
Although we’ve mostly exempted ourselves from the gift buying frenzy – we give money to a charity in our friends’ names and send out custom-designed e-cards to the giftees – we DO like to give something extra that will afford more tangible – even hedonistic – pleasures, that they can’t get anywhere else. That means, something homemade, and the easiest, most bang-for-the-buck d-i-y gifts we know of are food gifts. We have developed quite a repertoire over the years, from homemade chocolates to jars of Apricots in Cardamom-Scented Syrup. (December 17 on public radio’s The Splendid Table, we’ll introduce three new ones)
These boozy prunes are among our favorites. A classic of southwest France, land of confit, pâté, and foie gras, they are steeped in a syrup spiked with Armagnac, the region’s delicious brandy. Since the prunes are pitted, they release some of their sweet juices to make a thick syrup, making little sugar necessary. The prunes are so intensely flavored they can be eaten almost as a candy, to finish off a meal. The Armagnac in the syrup tends to sneak up on people, and acts as instant stress reliever.
The prunes are sublime as is or with a little creme fraiche…served over vanilla and coffee ice cream…and as an ingredient in pear, apple, or quince tarts. Since they last indefinitely, you can keep them on hand for impromtu desserts. We make them in big batches, read more…
When Ellen Silverman was over photographing Prunes in Armagnac for our holiday food gift post, we were hunting through our collection of tablecloths to use as a background. Nothing seemed right. It was the end of the day and the light was waning. In desperation, she threw a big linen apron of Sally’s onto the table and set the jar of prunes on it. Perfect! read more…
Last year, we were invited to the collective Thanksgiving dinner of several families. One person oversaw the wines, turkey and stuffing; others made desserts and side dishes. Another improvised the huge 16-foot-long table that would seat 18 hungry grown-ups and children. It was not until we were helping deconstruct the table at the end of the evening that we realized it was made of two 4-x-8-foot sheets of plywood placed end to end on our host’s dining table.
Plywood is a fine, inexpensive material for making tabletops in a variety of shapes, from rectangles, to squares to rounds. Since the table will be covered with a cloth, it doesn’t really matter what the plywood looks like – whether veneered or not. Thickness should depend on the supports underneath; it shouldn’t bow. (If you are a person who likes to have plywood on-hand for projects, then it makes sense to buy what you will re-use).
Last year’s table-maker happened to have a huge Frette linen tablecloth (from a past life) just large enough to cover. At party last summer, he cut open a new duvet cover to make a huge tablecloth that went to the floor. We’re fine with “piecing” tablecloths – that is, overlapping whatever we have one hand to make a patchwork. But many fabrics will do, from sheets to bolts of linen and cotton on line, to muslin doubled up.
And of course, plates, silverware, napkins and glasses will invariably be cobbled together from different sets to make the right number, with great charm and warmth.
Years ago a friend devised an interesting table top to use for big dinner parties. She had two half-circles cut from two 4′x 8′ sheets of plywood. Then she hinged them together at the straight sides with a piano hinge. It opened up like a book to become an round 8-foot-diameter table top which she placed, hinge-side-down, on her smaller round table (the base). She covered the rig with a pale yellow linen cloth and set it with her best china and silver. Her guests never knew what lay beneath the beautiful setting. To store the top, she folded it in half and slid it under the sofa where it stayed, out of sight, until the next party.
Our rough map of how to make it is below. You can make any size top you wish using this method. We recommend the biggest size that you can a) balance safely on whatever base(s) you have, and b) are able to store easily (figure the length, width and height when folded). Or use the essential idea to make a hinged rectangle that would fold to hide under a bed or behind a door, similar to the one we wrote about a few weeks ago. Folding sawhorses make a good base (we keep a pair in the closet). Check out our d-i-y on making a huge rectangular table out of plywood.
Cerre of 2 or 3 Things We Know posted this video by her film maker/correspondent father. He is making a series of short films (with an accompanying blog to come) about aging baby boomers who have reinvented their careers and personal lives. It’s inspiring no matter what age you are.
We LOVE the shift that we see happening all around us: people hitting their 50′s and 60′s and re-imagining the decades to come in very different ways than the traditional concepts of retirement aging…
Check out some of Mike Cerre’s video’s here.
‘when life arrives at the door unexpectedly’ (+ lots of ideas for the holidays from canal house cooking 5)
There are many wonderful things in the latest issue of Canal House Cooking. The self-published cookbook by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton are like a grown-up’s kids-book, with photos, illustrations, writing and recipes that will take you away from wherever you are, and into a very magic (and attainable) world. There are also treasures you won’t find anywhere else, like Gabrielle Hamilton’s essay about Christmas Eve (she’s Melissa’s sister and chef of Prune in NYC), and Melissa’s drawing (in pastel?) of a ham. Frank Stitt‘s primer on Grower Champagnes – artisanal champagnes made by small producers whose name is on the label – is a revelation. But our favorite bit of all was this excerpt from Melissa’s and Christopher’s forward “An Open Door Policy”… read more…
Wabi sabi is a Japanese way of appreciating the beauty of impermanence and imperfection. Plum blossoms, the theme of many great Japanese poems and paintings, are a perfect expression of wabi sabi: they are beautiful, fragrant and hardy, but they only last for a few days. When you focus your heart on plum blossoms you feel wistful and serene at the same time: wabi sabi.
The Japanese tea ceremony originally strove for utter perfection, using only the most exquisite Chinese porcelain and being performed only in the most elegant surroundings. But then a Zen monk named Rikyu made the ceremony wabi-sabi, holding it in a small farmer’s mud hut, using roughly-made utensils. Since then, the “perfect” Japanese teacup always has an intentional nick or flaw in it somewhere, to remind us of wabi-sabi.
We found wabi-sabi summed up wonderfully on Wikipedia (which has some essential qualities of wabi sabi): “Wabi-sabi…nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.” Its principles are derived from the natural world, and as such, traditional norms of beauty don’t apply; what many consider to be rough, or ugly or unkempt can be wabi sabi. “We do love things that bear the marks of grime, soot and weather, and we love colors and sheen that call to mind the past that made them.” wrote Tanizaki Junichiro.
Recognizing that we live in a world where perfection is impossible, wabi sabi is a way to engage the world as we find it. It also happens to be at the heart of the improvisational spirit, many improvisational activities, and of ‘the improvised life’.
The last “turning” hydrangeas from Maria Robledo‘s garden made the perfect instant flower arrangement for the table…
…here’s another of Maria’s arrangements made with branches of leaves and some yellow flower that looks like an undersea creature…(dig the fabulous nude by Sofia Rower in the background)… read more…
Life Edited is a movement to reduce our environmental impact by simplifying our lives at home. In this short video, Treehugger founder Graham Hill sums up its challenge to rethink how you live, to reduce your footprint, to live better and save money and resources. He asks
“What if I lived in a couple of hundred square feet less? This is an equation I really wanted to explore, so I started a site, LifeEdited.org“.
The site is a place for him to try out the ideas he’s been thinking about for years… and for you to submit yours (for various prizes)… “Ruthless editing of your stuff, transforming furniture, space-saving housewares, digitizing your life and sharing systems.”
Life Edited’s mandate: “Less but better…”
Right up our alley! We’re going to keep an idea on this one.
via Core 77
We had no idea we could laugh at will until we read The Laughing Guru in The New Yorker a couple of weeks ago. Dr. Madan Kataria promotes Laughter Yoga, which he says can be a cure for all sorts of physical, psychological and spiritual ailments. We have a few of those, so we thought we’d try it. We wondered if laughing at will would just add up to a kind of false, phony-baloney laughter to dupe ourselves into thinking that things are fine when they’re not.
We found we COULD just laugh, and once we started, it was easy to keep going. Then we tried laughing with a friend on the phone (he had read the article and had been privately trying it out). We found ourselves laughing so hard we were holding our bellies. Forced laughing, when done with other people, soon becomes real laughing, like some wild and beneficial virus. We discovered that laughing has a strange effect, a REAL effect totally different than we were imagining. It seems to short-circuit anxiety and shift the view immediately. Try it for yourself!
Says Kataria: “Laughter is a choice. A connector of people. No barriers. No language.”
In this YouTube video, 250 people came together at dawn in Mumbai, to LAUGH like crazy. read more…
Internet visionary Kevin Kelly homeschooled his 8th grade son for a year and wrote about it recently for The New York Times Magazine. He tried to teach his son the kind of tools that would help him navigate the pace of technology which is accelerating so fast “his eventual adult career does not exist yet. Of course it won’t be taught in school.” Kelly believes we all need “technological literacy…proficiency with the larger system of our invented world. It is close to an intuitive sense of how you add up, or parse, the manufactured realm. We don’t need expertise with every invention; that is not only impossible, it’s not very useful. Rather, we need to be literate in the complexities of technology in general, as if it were a second nature.”
As usual with Kelly’s writing, he cuts through to the heart of the matter, and offers tools and a mindset for navigating the tricky terrain that affects us all: read more…