Up in flames.

I thought the worst thing that was going to happen this week was my root canal. Wow, was I wrong.

SoCal is on fire this week and not in any of the ways one might hope. At the moment, six separate blazes are aflame from San Diego up to the edge of Santa Barbara County. The Thomas Fire, the largest of all the conflagrations, has destroyed more than 400 structures and displaced thousands of people. It has been nipping at the edges of the greater Santa Barbara area the past few days, jumping the freeway at Ventura County’s Solimar Beach, burning at least one structure at La Conchita and prompting evacuations in the town of Carpinteria.

KTLA took this photo of La Conchita in flames:

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It started in Santa Paula, but fueled by fierce Santa Ana winds, which are supposed to kick up again this weekend to the tune of 45 m.p.h., quickly spread, at one point burning at the rate of an acre per second, according to the Washington Post.

For those who have inquired, we are (for the moment, at least) miles and miles away from it all. Not a breath of wind in our part of town all week. But wow, it has been eerie. I took this photo at 1:30 in the afternoon yesterday. Early afternoon looked like dusk and smelled like the world’s largest campfire:

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This morning’s sky looks even more apocalyptic, but according to the latest news, while the blaze has grown to 148,000 acres it is now 15% contained. We’ve had power outages, our neighborhood and house smell like eau-de-giant-ashtray, and like everyone else, we’ve been forced to see the 8,000 retweets of the guy who saved a bunny by the side of the freeway,  But thus far, this fire has passed us by. May we be so lucky the next time.

Oh, and the root canal? Every bit as awful as advertised. But not even a blip on the radar screen compared to what families in Santa Paula, Ojai and Ventura have suffered. I found this “confirmed burn” map on Google and it is heartbreaking.

How to help? My favorite option is the Ventura Corps of the Salvation Army. Other options are The Thomas Fire Fund, a hybrid project of Ventura’s United Way and Red Cross, and, remembering all the animals that have been displaced along with humans, the Humane Society of Ventura County.

And, as always, pray for rain…

 

 

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Chicken fever outbreak!

No, I’m not talking about avian flu, but it is an illness and most definitely contagious. It can strike at any time. Symptoms: repeated murmurings along the lines of “I’d really like to get chickens someday”.

Someday has arrived for our friend, Tammy, who somehow (the details are a bit murky) acquired a trio of hens (definitely not spring chickens – she describes them as “old and warty”) and the most darling (if not, ahem, the most secure) little coop. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.

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She has a buff Silkie, a bantam Cochin and a Japanese bantam, all rather long in the tooth at six years of age and apparently still occasionally laying. How lucky they are to have their new home and such a good mama to take care of them!

And, of course, she has Oliver, the best chicken flock guard EVER!

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I’m hoping that Tammy gets some hardware cloth in her Christmas stocking. And some sweet baby chicks come spring…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in All Things Poultry, Chicken Facts, Friends | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Grateful x 3

The best Thanksgivings are plural. We were blessed to enjoy three of them this year, albeit two in absentia.

Thanksgiving One: we skedaddled so friends from the East Coast could gather at our place with their far-flung family AND new puppy!!! Chloe and Rizzo are now best buds!

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Thanksgiving Two: Daniel, Victoria and friends somehow pulled off making an entire Thanksgiving feast in our teeny tiny minuscule apartment. Our oven there has heretofore never served as anything but storage, but Victoria worked some serious alchemy to come up with this beautiful bird:

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Proud chefs:

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Thanksgiving Three: We imported a feast to Santa Monica, where Angie hosted with the most beautiful table:

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Granny made the trip, and Taylor, too!

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Two of the guests had tails:

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Beautiful pies:

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And James learned how to whip the cream. He was only a little nervous:

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Beautiful weather in Santa Monica made for the best walks:

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And fun in the pool:

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Bellies full and hearts, too. Thankful three times over.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend!

 

 

Posted in All Things Family, Big Fun, Holidays, Travel | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

5 things about da Vinci.

Leonardo’s in the news. And, as it happens, on my bookshelf. I just finished trudging through Walter Isaacson’s new (Simon & Schuster, October, 2017) biography Leonardo da Vinci and thus am completely qualified to offer my expert opinion on last week’s record-breaking sale of the maybe-it-is, maybe-it-isn’t da Vinci Salvator Mundi. 

$450 million dollars! For a painting sold in 1958 for less than $100!

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What? You don’t care about my “expert” opinion? All right then. Fine.

But surely you are interested in Isaacson’s: he comes down on the side of the painting’s authenticity. His biography is thorough, perhaps even masterful. It is, at 624 pages, um, dense. Like fruitcake dense. And you know how we all feel about fruitcake. So in case you don’t get around to devoting two weeks or two months to reading it, here are my five favorite factoids from Isaacson’s book

#1. Spirals, curls and ringlets. Early in the book Issacson asserts that “…Leonardo delights in what will become his favorite pattern: nature’s spirals.” And sure enough, it’s right there to see in every drawing, every painting, whether it be a portrait or proposal for a military engineering project. Curls and spirals everywhere. His exquisite portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci is an example:

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According to Isaacson, Leonardo’s affection for curls may stem from his #2lifelong obsession with water and its force and forms. From fluid dynamics to hydraulic engineering to his late-in-life fixation on an apocalyptic deluge, da Vinci was always thinking about water. Sixteen of his final “deluge drawings” remain, including this one:

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#3 Procrastination So good to know that even the great Leonardo was a mere mortal. We know many things about him – he was left-handed, he was illegitimate, he was gay, he was vegetarian, he was the “archetype of the Renaissance Man” and “history’s most creative genius”. But he was also a procrastinator! Thank God, something I can relate to. The man rarely finished anything and lugged his incomplete paintings, including the Mona Lisa around with him for years. I like him more all the time.

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#4 Friends in high places. If we are judged by the company we keep, da Vinci rates some very high esteem. Deftly maneuvering around wars, politics and personalities, Leonardo variously claimed as patrons Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, the infamous Cesare Borgia and Pope Leo X – a dé Medici, of course. He was also a friend of Niccolò Machiavelli. But although they were contemporaries, da Vinci and Michelangelo had no use for one another. Giorgio Vasari, who wrote the first biography of da Vinci in 1550, reported that Michelangelo “displayed a very great disdain” toward Leonardo, a disdain that was apparently mutual.

Leonardo’s final patron was King Francis I of France, depicted receiving da Vinci’s last breath in this famous 1818 painting by Ingres:

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My favorite discovery about Leonardo was not the Salvator Mundi but another orphan painting that came to be attributed to him. #5 La Bella Principessa was long labeled as a work of nineteenth-century German artists who imitated the style of the Italian Renaissance. The painting languished in obscurity until it was acquired by a collector who commissioned scientific analysis and aroused interest in closer scrutiny which resulted in an eventual consensus among experts that the portrait was truly the work of Leonardo.  If only I could get my hands on $450 million or so – La Bella Principessa is the painting I would most like to see hanging over our mantel:

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Oh, and one last thing, which yes, I know, makes #6, but let’s not quibble. A small detail, perhaps, but a significant one. Where, oh where, are the Mona Lisa’s eyebrows? As early as 1625 a description of the painting notes that “this lady in other respect beautiful, is almost without eyebrows.” Isaacson comes to our rescue, citing high-resolution scans in 2007 by French art technician Pascal Cotte, who, using light filters, “found tiny indications of eyebrows that originally existed.”

Whew. Now I feel better. Don’t you?

 

 

 

 

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Sweet Indulgence.

What could be more self-indulgent than a quick trip to NYC for no real good reason at all? 

Sachertorte, that’s what. I mean, when you’re off the rails already, why not?

Let me explain.

“Um, we were just there,” said the CE, giving me the side eye, when I started murmuring about running off to New York. Yes, I know. According to the calendar we had been there just a month ago. But according to my heart,  I had left a few things undone.

Like being there to see the trees begin to change color.

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Like walking across the park one last time before it snows.

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Like squeezing in one more dinner with son Daniel since we won’t see him for Thanksgiving. I mean, who wouldn’t fly across the country on a whim to see this kiddo?

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I wasn’t there long enough to settle in, but I did check one thing off my long “must do” list: The Neue Galerie and Café Sabarsky.

A tidy little jewel of a museum, the Neue Galerie is, per the mission statement, “devoted to early twentieth-century German and Austrian art and design”. The gallery is best-known for its permanent display of Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I and she is a treasure to behold in the walnut-paneled drawing room where she presides.

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No photography is allowed in the gallery, and anyway, a camera can’t really quite capture the richness of the textures in this painting. You just have to see it, and see it again. I can’t wait to take the CE to visit!

There are other gems on display – I came across the Austrian painter Egon Schiele in my reading last year and was thrilled to see his Town Among the Greenery (The Old City III):

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Best of all, the works of art are not confined to the gallery. The adjacent Café Sabarsky serves up Viennese classics like Bratwurst mit Sauerkraut & Rösterdäpfel and Wiener Rindsgulasch mit Spätzle. When pressed to pick a personal favorite, my waiter named the Wiener Schnitzel mit Erdäpfel – Gurkensalat & Preiselbeeren (Wiener Schnitzel with Potato-Cucumber Salad & Lingonberries) so that’s what I ordered.

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And he would not let me depart without sampling the café’s famed Sachertorte. And yes, it comes mit schlag. You can only imagine how hard it was for him to convince me to order it. I mean, what choice did I have?

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I enjoyed it with what must be one of the best double espressos in the city.

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The café is small but evocative. I haven’t been to Vienna but it felt the way I imagine Vienna to be from the way it is portrayed in books like Edmund de Waal’s The Hare With Amber Eyes and Selden Edwards’ lovely novel of fin de siècle Vienna, The Little Book.

A perfect solo excursion. A perfect November week in the city. Sweet indulgence, indeed. Lucky me.

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If you go: Neue Galerie is located on the Upper East Side at 1048 Fifth Avenue (at 86th Street), just a few blocks north of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. General admission, $20. Café Sabarsky is adjacent to the museum. Lunch reservations available only to members so come early as I hear you can end up waiting in line otherwise. Open daily 9 a.m. to 9 p.m, dinner reservations available to the public.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Gastronomy, New York city, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fashion Fauxward: It Bugs.

It happened again the other day. A giant bug in my salad. He presented quite a tableau, his bulbous carcass and spindly legs splayed across a wedge of tomato.The waitress, properly horrified upon viewing it, immediately comped my lunch and might have been persuaded to set up a trust fund for me if I had pressed my case. It was a really, really fat, formidable bug.

This is at least the third time in as many years that a representative from the insect world has strayed, unbidden, into my salad bowl. At least that I know of. Supposedly, we ingest a pound or two of bugs annually – gulp!

And just FYI, in case you think by skipping the salad course you can avoid such encounters, did you know that, per the web site howstuffworks.com

“your 8-ounce glass of orange juice, for example, can legally contain five fruit flies. There could be 50 aphids, mites or thrips plus some caterpillar larvae in 3.5 ounces of frozen spinach. Thrips, tiny winged parasites that are up to an eighth of an inch long, hang out in apple butter, and frozen asparagus, broccoli and Brussels sprouts [source: FDA].”

Entomology seems to be everywhere these days. Grub Street is happy to direct you to seven NYC restaurants where you actually pay to eat insects. And the six and eight-leggers also seem to be spreading their wings, so to speak, in the fashion world.

There’s this hat at Saks Fifth Avenue, for example;

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Or you can bag a bug at the New York Botanical Garden gift shop:

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Conditions Apply tank at Anthropologie:

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The house fly becomes royalty on a plate at Bergdorf-Goodman so you can have a bug in every salad!


Sonia Rykiel is buggy at Barneys:

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And Silken Favors favors flies and ladybugs at Net-A-Porter:

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The only bugs I’d pay for, however, are the ones Gucci is selling. This belt bag looks good enough to eat, antennae and all. The bee’s knees, indeed.

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Happy Saturday. And keep a close eye on your salad…

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Animal/Vegetable/Mineral, Annoyances of Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

June in October.

You may not want to think about this as you peer into a bucket of extra crispy KFC, but every chicken has a personality. I’m not saying I’ve met a hen who’s up there with Mahatma Gandhi, but there have been a few along the way who have stolen my heart.

June does not happen to be one of them.

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She’s pretty enough, as you can see. But the Miss Congeniality award may elude her. She is skittish as all get out, possibly just her temperament, probably partly due to flock dynamics. Kind of like with humans, you mean? Yeah, kinda. Let’s say you you were born a little on the sensitive side and then got pecked at pretty much every day of your life. Your world view might be just a bit skewed, right?

And say you also had a very, very tiny brain. A brain so small that you run away squawking even when someone tries to give you a juicy handful of meal worms.  Poor thing. I was already to give her the Most Unlikely to Succeed trophy. But then, last week, everything changed! Miss June (named by grandson Thomas and perfectly so, because she is the color of Santa Barbara summer fog) made all the other hens green with envy when she ever so nonchalantly left this in the nesting box:

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June was advertised as an Ameraucana but is more likely a mongrel breed known as an “Easter Egger” who luckily carries the Ameraucana gene for laying a colored egg. Her flock mate, Ginger, for example, was also billed as an Ameraucana but lays a rather ordinary looking pinkish-beige egg. That’s Ginger on the left, wondering how she suddenly got outshone by the little upstart on the right. Life comes at you fast, Ginger.

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You’d think I’d be used to it by now after nearly a decade of chicken-keeping, but every time I step into the coop and see one of these little jewels my heart skips a beat. They are so pretty!

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I don’t know if June will ever get any respect from the rest of the flock, but I love the way she colors our world. Good work, June! Lots of meal worms coming your way!

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Posted in All Things Poultry, Chicken Facts | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment