My latest inspiration: Diana Vreeland

Diana Vreeland: The Eye has to TravelYesterday, Neal and I had an opportunity to see an incredible documentary, Diana Vreeland: The Eye has to Travel at Dayton’s Neon Movies.  We love seeing films at the Neon for several reasons.  The most obvious being that they show some truly extraordinary films.  They also have great popcorn.

For those of you that don’t know who Diana Vreeland was, she was a former fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar, the editor in chief of Vogue and later she helped reinvent the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  She was responsible for launching the careers of some the biggest names in fashion including Twiggy.  This documentary included interviews with many of the people who worked with Diana including Cher and Anjelica Huston.  It also included a great deal of material from a series of taped conversations she had with George Plimpton, who assisted her with writing her memoirs called DV.  The conversations with her portray a woman with an incredible appetite for life that invokes the Auntie Mame character played by Rosalind Russell.

I absolutely fell  in love with Diana while watching this movie.  She had an incredible eye for style and was a very outspoken personality.  One of the models they interviewed mentioned that Diana insisted on everything being perfect.  She’d insist that even if a model would be wearing boots in a shoot, her toenails should be painted.  Diana believed that she’d carry herself different even if part of her that couldn’t be seen wasn’t made up.

The other part of this documentary that really captured me was that Diana really invented what we think of as fashion reporting today.  She believe in creating a story and including elements of fantasy.  She influenced and helped develop photographers such as Richard Avedon, who incidentally was a major influence on me when I was studying photography in art school.

The documentary also noted that Jackie Kennedy often consulted with Diana for style tips. They read from a letter that Jackie Kennedy wrote to Diana while Jack Kennedy was running for President in which she asked for advice on what to wear to his inauguration should he win.

The visuals in this film were stunning as well.  As someone with a deep interest in fashion and in particular, in the art of fashion this film as a gold mine.  Diana Vreeland had been good friends with Coco Chanel so there were some wonderful photos of Chanel and of Chanel’s studio.  I’ve always been an admirer of Balenciaga and so the photos of the Balenciaga exhibit Diana did at the Metropolitan Museum of Art were breathtaking.  I wish I’d been able to experience that first hand!

It was also interesting that Diana was known to be a very difficult boss and very demanding.  Her photo shoots at Vogue were amazing but very costly.  The fashion editor character of Maggie Prescott in Funny Face was based on Diana Vreeland.  Even though I know that the Miranda Priestly character from The Devil Wears Prada is based on Anna Wintour from Vogue, one has to wonder if future editors of Vogue weren’t modeling themselves after Diana in many ways.  From this documentary, you could certainly see the similarity between the Miranda Priestly character and Diana Vreeland.

I also really enjoyed the scenes where they talked with Anjelica Huston about Diana Vreeland.  I think Anjelica Huston is just an incredibly elegant woman and a very talented actress.  I don’t know how many people realize that Anjelica Huston was a model before she was widely known as an actress.  She looked fantastic in this film and was elegantly dressed in a simple white top with a white sweater and gold necklace.  She had some very thoughtful things to say about how Diana Vreeland influenced feminism and created the image of free spirited, elegant women who did more than cook for their husbands.  What is especially interesting is that Diana didn’t seem to see herself as a feminist.  In one interview clip, the interviewer asked her if she was a feminist and Diana looked blankly at him and said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.  What is that?”

This is a really delightful film about a genuine mover and shaker and a natural artist in very way.  If you have an opportunity to see this film, please do!  I think even those that have no interest in fashion will find something delightful about Diana Vreeland and her philosophy and approach to life.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!  Last night was the end of 2012, a year that brought a lot of good and some bad.  Neal and I, for the most part, had a good year last year.  It wasn’t without its hiccups and the occasional argument or disagreement but overall we had a great year.  We’ve taken up some new hobbies, done some travelling, worked on our home and  garden, cooked some amazing food, had some great laughs and shared some sadness too.  I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have by my side as I wander down this (for me often winding road) of life.

In the past, a long time friend of mine has hosted a New Year’s Eve party in Columbus that Neal and I usually attend.  This year he decided not to host a party.  He and I both recently left leadership positions in a non-profit and after many years of dedicated service to the gay Pagan community, I’m pleased to say that he’s finally doing things for himself and his own enjoyment.

For our part, Neal and I contemplated making other plans but neither one of us really enjoys being out on New Year’s Eve.  We both consider ourselves experienced drinkers and don’t really enjoy what we fondly call “Amateur Night”.  Instead, we decided to enjoy a dinner together and toast in the New Year at home.  It was a nice change of pace to just relax and not have to rush off somewhere on New Year’s Eve.  I had to work during the day so when I got home, Neal cooked us dinner.  He made one of my favourite dishes, Chicken Paprikash.  We enjoyed a bottle of red wine with it as well.

New Year's Eve Dinner: Chicken Paprikash & Red WineNeal during our New Year's Eve dinner

After dinner, we retired to the couch where we discussed turning the television on and instead opted to talk and read various things on the Internet.  And we watched Kitty, our 15 year old cat, and Choronzon, our dog, sleep.  We were also serenaded by their snores.  You know what?  Getting old kind of sneaks up on you.  Around 11pm, Neal got up to go out to smoke and I told him he couldn’t go because if he stopped talking to me I’d probably fall asleep on the sofa.  After he came in, Neal proposed opening our bubbly and toasting in the New Year at 11 followed by bed.  It was midnight in Nova Scotia, after all.

Toasting the New Year by candlelight


We sipped some sparkling wine and managed to stay awake until midnight.  Neal always calls his family at midnight and I took my Nexus 7 to bed to read until he was done.  While we both joked about getting old and have a very uneventful New Year’s Eve, it really was a great way to bring in the New Year.  I hope the next year proceeds in as calm and relaxing a manner as we rang it in.

Today, we’re just kind of hanging around the house.  We’re planning on going through our fabric stash later and beginning to plan some sewing projects with an eye to Christmas gifts next year.  We made a few gifts this year and now everyone on our list has requested to be on the “sewn gift” list for next year.  We need to get a jump on it if we’re going to make that happen!

Here’s hoping that 2013 is a joyous and prosperous year for all of our friends and family.

Baked brie with cranberries in port wine

Yesterday, I posted about our Holi-date movie night and some of the food we made and earlier today, I posted about our home canned cranberry sauce.  As promised, here’s the recipe and instructions for making the baked brie with cranberries in port wine.  This is a delightful holiday treat that adds a nice touch of elegance to any food spread.

Baked brie with cranberries in port wine.


I used our home canned cranberry sauce which is very tart so you may not need much sugar if you have a sweeter cranberry sauce.  You don’t need an expensive port for this either.  We used a Porto Morgado from Trader Joe’s (about $23).

 Baked brie with cranberries in port wine

1 8oz wheel of brie cheese
1 cup whole cranberry sauce
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup port wine

In a bowl combine the port wine, cranberry sauce and sugar.  Place the brie in a shallow baking dish (We use a ceramic gratin style pan).  Pour the cranberry mixture over the brie cheese.  Bake in a 350 degree oven about 20 minutes or until the brie is soft and the cranberries have thickened slightly.  Serve warm with flat bread or crackers.



Home canning cranberry sauce

Yesterday I posted about our Holi-date and I mentioned that we used home canned cranberry sauce to make a baked brie with cranberries in port wine.  Today I’m going to discuss making and canning cranberry sauce.

The best resource for beginners at home canning is the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.  I adapted their recipe for cranberry sauce to make mine.  The cranberry sauce I make has far less sugar in it because I prefer a very tart sauce and it is always easier to add additional sugar based on what you’re making.

You’ll need some simple supplies.  Cranberry sauce is very acidic so you can can it using a hot water bath so you won’t need a canning pressure cooker.  Enamel ware or “granny” ware hot water canners can usually be purchased inexpensively.  This recipe makes 5 to 6 pints so you’ll need that many wide mouth canning jars.  You’ll also need the two part lids.  The usual canning lids have a rubber seal and then a screw on ring holds the lid in place until the seal is made.  The inner lid with the seal is a single use lid.  After you open the jar, you throw the lid away (but you keep the screw on piece).  Recently, we discovered Tattler lids.  These are made from a hard plastic and have a replaceable rubber seal on them.  You can reuse the Tattler lids over and over and just replace the rubber when it becomes worn.  I really like these because it feels more “green” to use them but if you’re new to canning, one drawback is that there isn’t the little “button” that pulls down to let you know that you have a good seal.  You have to inspect your jars carefully to ensure that they sealed properly.  You’ll also need a jar lifter to remove your hot jars from the water bath and a wide mouth funnel for filling your jars.

Here’s the recipe I used:

Cranberry Sauce

10 cups whole cranberries
2 cups sugar
2 cups 100% cranberry juice (not cranberry juice cocktail)
2 cups water
1 tablespoon lemon zest

Wash the cranberries and drain them.  Combine sugar, cranberry juice and water in a large saucepan.  Boil for 5 minutes.  Add cranberries and continue boiling until the berries burst.  Add the lemon zest.  Ladle into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch head space.  Process 15 minutes in a boiling-water canner.

Here’s some photos and comments on the whole process.  First, here are my cranberries draining after washing them.

Washing cranberries


In the next photo, you can’t really see them well under the water but this is my enamel ware canner full of jars.  You want to have sterile jars and you need to pour the hot cranberry sauce into hot jars so I submerge my jars in the water canner and boil them prior to packing.



Heating the jars before canningAnd here’s a photo of the cranberry sauce itself simmering on the stove.  It is just about finished in this photo and ready to pack into the jars.

Cranberry sauce simmering on the stove


Here are the Tattler lids I mentioned.  I’ve linked the photo to them on Amazon in case you  want to purchase some.

Tattler reusable wide mouth canning lids


You have to heat the rubber seals before processing in order to soften the rubber and get a good seal.  You want to scald them by heating them in water but don’t boil them.  Boiling will weaken the rubber and make it harder to get a good seal.  In this photo, you can see we have some of the classic non-reusable lids and some of our Tattler lids.  We were planning on giving some of the jars of sauce away and so we often use the non-reusable lids so that people don’t through away the Tattler lids.

Heating the lids prior to canning


After filling the jars and leaving about 1/2 inch of space between the top of the jar and the sauce, I use the back of a spoon to slide between the sides of the jars and dislodge any air bubbles.  You can purchase a tool for this but I’ve found that the back of a spoon works just as well.  I wipe the lips of my jars with a flour sack towel before place the lid on to make sure the surface is clean and that I’ll get a good seal.  Then put the ring on and finger tighten.  You don’t want to crank it down too tight as that will interfere with the seal.  Submerge your jars in your hot water canning and bring the water to a boil.  Put the lid on and boil for 15 minutes.  Using your jar lifters, remove the jars and place on a folded towel to cool.  Here’s our jars cooling on the counter after processing.

The finished jars of cranberry sauce


Once the jars are cool, check your lids and make sure that they sealed.  The non-reusable ones have a button in the middle that will sink down.  If you can’t press the middle down, it is sealed but you have to test the Tattler lids by making sure it’s on well.  Label your product with the contents and the date.

Enjoy!  This recipe makes a VERY tart cranberry sauce.  If you want a sweeter sauce, you can increase the sugar to as much as 4 cups.


Holi-date (aka Hag Re-education Camp)

So my good friend, Ms. Tallulah Bankhead… Ok, actually, our dear friend Sevi (or Mrs. Badcrumble, if you prefer) mentioned to Neal that she’d never seen Auntie Mame (the Rosalind Russell version not Mame with Lucille Ball).  For many, many years, I’ve joked around with Sevi and referred to her as my fag hag, a term that she hated.  She’d often correct me and say that she preferred the term “fairy princess”.  While after a recent breakup, she’s learned to embrace her hag-ness.  Upon finding out that she’s never seen Auntie Mame, Neal decided that we needed a holiday get-together in which we eat too much and watch some classic holiday films.  Thus was born “Holi-date” with Sevi or as I called it “Hag Re-Education Camp”.  We also decided to invite our friend, Luna (or Wee-Luna or Badcrumble the Sequel).

We watched a total of three films.  First, of course, was Auntie Mame with Rosalind Russell (Stream from Amazon or DVD ).  If you haven’t seen the movie, it tells the story of a young boy that moves to New York City to live with his eccentric aunt after his father’s death.  Following Auntie Mame, we watched Christmas in Connecticut with Barbara Stanwyck (Stream from Amazon or on DVD).  In Christmas in Connecticut, Barbara Stanwyck plays a writer who writes a cooking column in a popular home magazine.  She writes delightful columns about cooking, raising her baby and living on her farm in scenic Connecticut.  The only drawback being that she doesn’t have a baby, lives in a flat in New York City and can’t cook.  The situation gets pretty messy when a nurse hoping to wring a proposal from a wounded solider by showing him what a traditional family Christmas is like decides to write the magazine’s publisher and request that Stanwyck’s character host the solider on her farm for Christmas dinner.  Following that, we watch the TNT version of A Christmas Carol featuring Patrick Stewart as Ebenezer Scrooge (DVD).

Neal prepared a wonderful spread of snacks, pictured below.  He made crackers from a pizza crust recipe.  We had a wonderful cheddar cheese with chocolate that we purchased from Trader Joe’s, two kinds of hummus, some cheese crackers and mint candies.  I helped out some in the kitchen but at one point Neal told me “As a kitchen assistant, you are an unbelievable computer programmer.”  Apparently, I wasn’t quite as much of a help as I’d hoped.

Holi-date Spread of snacksNeal and I also baked a brie with a cranberry and port wine sauce.  Here’s the brie right out of the oven.  The cranberry sauce is some that I made from scratch and canned earlier in November.  I’ll post both recipes a little later.

Baked brie with cranberries in port wine.For dinner, Neal made a Chicago style deep dish pizza with Italian sausage.  We buy ground Italian sausage from Landes Meats and Neal makes a large patty that fits the entire bottom of the pizza.  For dessert he baked a browned butter spice cake, pictured below.

Browned butter spice cakeWe also served red wine and a spiced Christmas wine.  The evening was an absolute blast.  We laughed and talked until quite late and Sevi ended up crashing on our sofa.  The next morning, we had cake for breakfast along with a very thick and very rich drinking chocolate that Neal cooked up.

A rich, thick drinking chocolateIt was so much fun getting to spend some time with Sevi and share some of our favouite campy movies with her.  We had such a good time that we may do it again next year.  We’ve also discussed having another movie gathering around a theme.  I suggested “Pagans Behaving Badly” and we’d watch the original director’s cut of The Wicker Man (with Christoper Lee) and the made for TV movie, The Dark Secret of Harvest Home starring Bette Davis.