Five Things About Me: 51 52 53 54 55.

51. My conditioner-to-shampoo ratio is incredibly unbalanced.  I’d say it’s about four parts conditioner to each half part shampoo.  Let’s put it this way: I’m still on the same shampoo bottle that I brought to Europe in August, and on that trip I brought two bottles of conditioner.

52. I have all of my dogs’ names picked out for any foreseeable dog I might have.  The first three names are pretty much set in stone as my favorites, but the rest rotate based on my mood.

53. Jack McBrayer cracks me up.  He doesn’t even need to do anything to make he laugh.  His existing is enough.

54. Right now, I really want a nectarine.  If I could have any magic power, I would choose to be able to conjure my favorite foods at their seasonal peaks out of thin air.  No food miles, just shazam! and nectarine.

55. I read either Memoirs of a Geisha, The Secret History or Bel Canto at least once a year.  Last year I read Ann Patchett‘s Bel Canto twice, and I haven’t read either Arthur Golden’s or Donna Tartt’s novels yet in 2009, so I better get to it.

Book Club Hits the Road… Again.

Bel CantoI don’t think I’m capable of putting into coherent English how pleased I was when my book club chose Ann Patchett‘s Bel Canto as our latest read.  See, the novel has without a doubt been one of my favorites for years; in fact, I reread it every twelve months or so.  No lie.  Also, everyone I’ve ever suggested the book to has loved it — honestly.  Here’s the story:

Bel Canto is set in an unspecified South American country, where an elaborate party is taking place at the vice president’s mansion.  Government officials and entrepreneurs are present to celebrate the fifty-third birthday of a visiting Japanese businessman, as well as watch the performance of a celebrated opera singer.  The intimate concert is interrupted by a terrorist group, who then takes the entire house — servants, guests and opera singer — captive.  Eventually, some of the hostages are released, leaving only a handful to be guarded by the terrorists.

What unfolds in Patchett’s three hundred pages is wholly unpredictable, indescribably lovely and utterly devastating; the plot was inspired by a similar event which took place in Peru during the mid-nineties, though Patchett spins what could have been a perfectly good fact-based thriller into something leagues more heartbreaking, emboldened and new.  Even now, years after I first cracked its spine, Bel Canto still gracefully slides past my grumpy, gloomy demeanor, and gently leads me through its pages.  It also led to some fantastic conversation in New Hampshire, where we had carpooled in order to visit the Currier Museum of Art and a very special property that is part of the collection.  The book we had read previous to Bel Canto was Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, the fictionalized account of architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his mistress Martha Borthwick Cheney; it seemed only fitting to travel to the only Wright home located in New England that is open to the general public.

Zimmerman House, 1The Currier’s Wright is called the Isadore J. and Lucille Zimmerman House, after the husband and wife who commissioned the architect to design them not only a home to fit their lifestyle, but also interiors, landscaping and a mailbox that also suited their needs.  In a sense, our docents informed us, the Zimmermans were Wright’s ideal clients, deferring to him in all matters related to their home.  Because of this relationship with these clients, Wright’s radical and nontraditional vision was truly able to flourish — it thrives even today, almost sixty years after the project was completed.

Zimmerman KitchenEven if you’re not like me and neither design nor architecture interests you, I’m certain that the Zimmerman house would mesmerize you conclusively.  Let’s not even talk about the clever, well-thought-out details like the wall of windows that fully capture Lucille Zimmerman’s beloved garden from each and every room or the in-floor heating that runs beneath the length of the home.  I’ll skip all that specifically to discuss this: the Zimmermans were the only people to ever live in this home.  They bequeathed the structure to the Currier, the board of which left the house exactly as Isadore and Lucille did.  Those are Lucille’s dresses hanging in the bedroom closet, Isadore’s books on the shelves, their collection of pottery catching your eye.  The slim kitchen (scanned from a postcard I purchased in the gift store; interior photography is not permitted) is stocked with their pots and pans, their coffee tins, their dishtowels.  It is also the Zimmermans’ ashes interred together in a corner of the yard underneath a memorial plaque, overlooking the home they loved.  How much more fascinating does it get than that?

Note: Visitors may tour the Zimmerman House by reservation only.  The Currier offers several different tours throughout the year.  Click on the photo of the house for a four-picture slideshow of the exterior.

Currier Museum of Art
150 Ash Street
Manchester, New Hampshire 03104

Currier Museum of Art
150 Ash Street
Manchester, New Hampshire 03104

Gossip Girl Sleepover.

I’m the type of person that when I discover something fantastic, I have to let everyone know about it.  When I got entangled in The Wire, I started making calls.  When I read Bel Canto twice in one week, I sent Ann Patchett‘s bibliography around to my friends.  And when I found myself thinking nonstop about Rufus, Lily, Chuck and Blair, I realized the Gossip Girl experience was one that needed to be shared.

After I got Darlington hooked, she did her part in spreading the word; soon her sister Amanda was contemplating certain characters’ wardrobes and others’ plotlines.  Having learned this, I did what any good friend with a TiVo would do: I saved four episodes and had the girls over for a Gossip Girl sleepover.

pain-au-chocolat-pudding1A good sleepover requires a few integral elements, and by that I mean food.  The three of us put together two pizzas for dinner, along with a nice lemony salad, and after watching a few episodes, we took a break for some cookie making.  You know, for a long while I thought there were few things better than a warm peanuty, chocolatey cookie straight from the oven, but that was before I baked a bread pudding out of chocolate brioches.

This is admittedly a heartbreakingly rich breakfast, and certainly not one that anyone should be eating on a daily basis.  It is, though, incredibly fragrant and heady, and absolutely dangerous when combined with three pajama-clad girls and forty-four minutes of a highly-stylized Upper East Side.  It is also much better when eaten with a spoon.  The better to scoop it up with.

Pain-Au-Chocolate Pudding, from How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking by Nigella Lawson
Makes six portions.

3-4 stale pains au chocolat (we used chocolate brioches)
2 ¼ cups milk
2 ¼ cups heavy cream (we used light)
1 large egg
4 large egg yolks
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°.  Butter an ovenproof dish with a capacity of approximately 6 cups; roughly cut up the pains au chocolat into slices 1 inch thick and arrange them in the dish.
  2. Pour milk and cream into a pan and bring almost to a boil.  Whisk the egg, yolks and sugar in a separate bowl; when the milk and are nearly boiling, pour over the eggs and sugar, whisking continually.  Add vanilla and pour over pain au chocolat and leave to soak for 10 minutes.  Transfer to the oven and cook for 45 minutes, or until the pudding is softly set.