Saturday, December 12, 2009

How to Light a Heart

When I was a child, my father always lit the house with Christmas lights. He put angels and choir singers made from beautifully painted wood cut-outs on the front lawn and my Mom placed the Christmas tree in the front window. I looked forward to all of this each was so exciting and everything that I could ask for to make the Season magical. Mostly, I loved the lights; the lights on the tree and the lights on the roofline of the house. ( Just as an aside, my first word spoken as a child, was "light")
Eventually, I had my own family and we started our own traditions, but somehow, we never had lights. Never. I have dreamed of it many times, and though it may seem like a simple thing to do, I just wanted to come home one day and see the house lit up--poof-- like magic! Yesterday, I returned from New York to our home that hadn't yet been decorated for the holidays. Life has been very busy and this was going to be the week. It was dark and Alain pulled in the driveway to let me out. I went to sleep, exhausted from my busy trip. Today, we were sitting at the breakfast table and he asked me when I had had the time to put a wreath on the front door. I was puzzled...what wreath? I ran to the door and opened it to find the most beautiful wreath that had been hung with a proper hanger ( I always tie my up with any ribbon I can find!). I knew immediately who had done it.... the day continued and as we were heading to the nursery to buy our tree, Alain asked me another question: when did I have time to light the tree in the front yard. I looked at him in amazement...what tree, what lights? I asked him to stop the car and I ran to the front yard and there they were...lights in the tree. I couldn't stop the tears from falling...He came up behind me and hugged me as I cried. It could only be Thierry.
Tonight, when the lights came on with their timer, my heart lit with them.
Christmas came early this year.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Leaves crackling under foot, smells of pie crusts and turkey mixing in the morning air, and simple visuals filling the mind and heart...Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What Does It Feel Like.....

This morning I was asked the question "What does it feel like to be Carla Labat today?" The question demanded a pause....a pause because I wanted to answer it honestly. I responded, " Well, it's taken me a half a century to find my stride, but I have found it and I am embracing it and feeling so good in this time of my life!". The whole day, I carried this question with me. It made me look at things differently and made me listen to my feelings with a more careful ear. Thinking of me as "Carla Labat" instead of me, made me take myself more seriously. Not too seriously, but just the right dose. People worry about so many things as we get older; women especially. But instead of worrying about aging and the physical appearance it makes, ask yourself what if feels like to be you today. Carry your answer around with you for awhile and know that you can change any portion of it that doesn't feel just right.

As important the question was that was asked of me, even more important was the person who asked it. Camille asked me. I feel so fortunate to have a daughter who takes the time to think of me in this way. I am her mother, but also, by chance I forget, I am Carla Labat. So very thankful, today and always.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

"to kiss a woman's hand in public"

This morning I awoke early and headed to the farmer's market to find treasures for tonight's dinner. While deciding on some winter vegetables I looked over to the flower stand across the way and spotted a distinguished white-haired gentleman greeting a woman with a kiss to her hand. He had a gleam in his eye and she had color in her cheeks. I took a deep breath; actually, I think I let out a loud sigh and continued on picking the best of the carrots. Driving back home, I remembered a manuscript I had saved from who knows where on one of my favorite topics, kissing a woman's hand. And here I share with you these excerpts from J. Newhouse's manuscript... I hope it makes you sigh out loud!

"When I first came to Hollywood, it was still the custom to kiss the hand of a woman to whom you were introduced. It is, indeed, a grave loss for civilization that the genteel gesture has become extinct....
You know nothing other than her name, uttered just before the moment of truth, but if you are astute, if you've trained your senses, you can, in kissing a woman's hand, learn everything that there is to know about her. As your face lowers toward the hand, note well its position: does it veer out from the wrist, away from her body, or straight ahead? What rings or bracelets are on display? Are the fingers held close together in modesty, spread apart in wantonness, or do they find their own natural comfort. Is there a tremble or a steadiness? Listen! What does she say during the public hand-kiss, and when and how does she say it? Silence suggests that she's savoring the touch and is impassioned. The signals will most likely be unconscious on her part; she will be telling you things that she does not even know, or if she knows them, would not dare to utter.

And when the act is complete, do not simply drop her hand. Make a gesture as if giving it back to her, as if it has been something with which she has entrusted you, and you have taken care of it. Give her back her hand as if for safekeeping and that hand will want to return to your lips like a bird returning to a safe and comfortable perch. And then, as you let go of it, look deeply into her eyes and smile slightly, only slightly, but in a way that suggests that you want to beam with joy and are restraining yourself only because others are present. Absolutely nothing has happened and yet two people, unbeknownst to anyone, have, in a fleeting moment, had the love affair of a lifetime."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Marion and Mearl Hunter

Before I was born, my father was in the Navy with Mearl Hunter. They were both from Pennsylvania originally, my father from Oil City and Mearl from Erie. Their military duties eventually ended and they both went their separate ways.
My parents moved to Ventura, California in the early 1950's and unbeknownst to them, the Hunters as well. One day Marion Hunter, Mearl's wife, went down to Jaffe's Camera to pick up her photos. As the man was sifting through the "done" box, Marion saw the name Idzi next to her envelope. Today, there would be so many privacy issues with giving out personal information, but lucky for us, things were simpler then. She asked the man for the phone number on the Idzi order and went home to call and see if it was the same Adam Idzi from Oil City. Amazingly it was and they picked up their friendship where they had left it only now it was on the west coast of the United States and they were both in the working world.
I still wasn't born yet when all of this was going arrival on the planet was sure taking a long time! But it was worth the wait once I met Marion and Mearl. I was young and didn't know a lot about the character of people, but I knew at once that they were friends in the true sense of the word and that they had the most generous hearts.
Marion couldn't have children of her own, and while that must have been a great disappointment to her, she made the most of it. She always saw the glass half full so she filled her glass with me and my sister Debbie. Lucky girls were we! Every Sunday, we would all get together at our home and have pie night. Marion would bake two or three pies and my mother as well. We had a sliver of them all and would sit in the living room and talk about everything that mattered. When they said goodbye at the end of the evening, they gave hugs that left me feeling truly loved. I remember thinking that the real reason we were given arms was so that we could use them for hugs and for eating pie! Those were such special times. Marion always left me with iced graham crackers for my lunch box each week....always. In life, there are many gifts given to us. In my life, two of the best gifts were Marion and Mearl. They left the earth before the start of the blog, but they would have so enjoyed remembering these times along with me.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Portrait in Grace

Walking briskly down the arrivals ramp in the airport, my mother Dorothy, moved with dignity and agility. She had not yet seen me waiting for her, but I had definitely spotted her confident stride. I smiled to myself and thought that she looked as though she took this flight weekly.
Everything she does, she does with a big heart and a smile. She still cleans her own windows at home, varnishes the doorsteps front and back, paints the bathroom-ceiling and all, plants her vegetable garden and exercises on her stationary bike. I always know by the sound of her voice when I call, that she has been up to something. Something in her instance, is life.
Life hasn't always been kind to my mother, but kindness is what she gives back to the world no matter what the past has painted. Her mother, Mary, was a hat designer with her own shop in Pennsylvania. In the early 1900's this was no small feat for a woman. She always had papers posted on the wall of her shop with inspirational sayings. I am forever trying to read all of them with a magnifying glass held closely over a photograph that I have. A treasure. That photograph gives me clues about the woman who raised my mother until she was 13.
My mother took her mother's sense of adventure with her. She practices it always. Before I can even get the invitation to do something or go somewhere out of my mouth, she is saying YES and her eyes light with excitement. The only thing that she takes seriously about age, is that she paces herself to be able to do all that she wants to do.

She is about to turn the corner on a new decade. 90! What's in a number? In her case, the only thing that comes to mind is grace.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cinnamon, Ginger and Cloves

Today, my lovely mother had lunch with my childhood next door neighbors, the Lewis girls. Terry Lewis was my first best friend--we were inseparable. Terry's birthday is in November and mine April which meant that she had to start kindergarten before I did. I still remember the feeling of losing my best friend to school. During lunch, my mom, Maxine (the mom), Kathy (the older sister) and Terry were reminiscing about our lives on Arbor Avenue when Terry confessed the real reason why she didn't want to start school way back when. She didn't want to go to kindergarten because she just wanted to play with Carla.

I was at the grocery store when I saw the light on my blackberry flash and found the email from my mother telling me this story. Reading this line about Terry, made my eyes fill with tears and my heart with love from times past. You see, when Terry and her family moved from Arbor Avenue part way through my elementary school years, I experienced my very first heartbreak. All of these feelings came pouring out at the grocery store...and just by accident (if you believe in them) I was standing in front of the canned pumpkin. All I could think of was pumpkin pie...I had to make one.

There are many things that make up the human heart and the American spirit and three of them are cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Combine them to live fully.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Art of the Corset

How can I resist sharing this amazing work of art with you?
There are so many gifts that this designer/artist has to offer, but her corsetry work is beyond spectacular! German model and designer, Miss Natalie Tonnis, came to my photo shoot for Camille K Jewels wearing this corset. She had told me that she was working on one, but I had no idea what it would be like. She slipped in the front door of our home late for the shoot, wearing a great big smile and a stunning corset. "Shall I wear this today? I worked all morning to finish it on time." I would have been out of my mind to say no. One look at this corset and I declared it a masterpiece of boning, structure, panels and stitching. One look at it on Natalie, and I wanted to capture it in an image similar to the famous Horst shot. When my heart starts palpitating, I know I have found a treasure. The art of the corset. Mr Pearl beware!

What is a Gem?

We think of gems as actual stones in all their brilliance but a more broad definition of "gem" can be found in unexpected places. This Camille K neckpiece Gaillon, began with vintage silver bullion French passementerie placed in rows to form a collar. It was further punctuated with a vintage rhinestone moon and star. It has graced the neck of Miss Peggy Fleming borrowed for a magazine shoot and will be a featured piece for the upcoming Camille K show Mad About Jewels in November.
Another gem, Fauvette, began as a bundle of silver bullion strings and became a modern day jabot. Framed by a Paris flea market find, it becomes a couture portrait.
Courtaline features rock garnet jewels placed strategically on vintage brown velvet appliques with a large rhinestone "wink" added for the pleasure.

What is a gem? Anything that makes your heart race and your eyes open wide.

Friday, October 23, 2009

We'll Always Have Paris

Fair la leche-vitrine! Go window shopping!

Achetez un pair des chausseurs rouges! Buy a pair of red shoes!
Trouvez du bon beurre... Find the good butter!
Trouvez une chaise rouge et boire un cafe bien tasse! Find a red chair and have a great coffee!
Admirez les beaux chiens...Admire the beautiful dogs!
Entrez dans les portes ouverts! Go in when the door is open!
Oubliez pas les mannequins sur le camion! Don't forget the mannequins in the truck!
Encadrez vos souvenirs! Frame your memories!
Trouvez la beaute par tout! Find beauty everywhere!

Monday, October 12, 2009

When Was the Last Time You Napped in the Grass....

Found an empty bench and occupied it....
Walked a road with no destination in mind....
Had a tete a tete with a cow......
Stopped by the side of the road to photograph the beauty that catches your eye....
No time like the present...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Roi de Saba

Ever since I found David Lebovitz' blog and saw the movie Julie Julia, I have been making chocolate cake after chocolate cake. Anyone who is invited to dinner or who invites me to dinner gets a new version of the Reine de Saba cake (Julia) or the Rags to Riches chocolate cake (David). I have tweaked (not to be confused with tweeted) each recipe more than I care to admit as I get closer and closer to finding my own place in the chocolate cake kingdom.

Last week we were invited to dinner in Los Gatos at the home of our close friends Brian and Thierry. The stars were lined up perfectly that evening as we dined outside in the most beautifully "potscaped" terrace one can imagine. As ivy tendrils swept down across the bench on one side of the table splashes of light illuminated the other and we dined in the quiet harmony of this special garden. The menu demanded the best of the season's bounty and we savored each plate. I wondered what might be for dessert, feeling a bit bad that I hadn't offered to bring anything. I checked the kitchen counters with no clue to be found... Hmm. We cleared the dishes and reseated ourselves. And then, Thierry swept out the door and into our line of vision with the most beautiful chocolate cake that he had made! The Reine de Saba! He said that all my chocolate cakes had inspired him to make his own. With that we devoured the most moist, almond flavored chocolate cake ever! What a generous gift!
I hereby crown him the Roi de Saba!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Ease the Pain Caramels

I was in the Hayes Valley in San Francisco with my daughter last week for quick get-away moment together. In some ways, the Hayes reminds me of the Marais in Paris but on a smaller scale. It is still a bit rough around the edges, but there are so many "jewels" emerging along the street. One of them is the chocolatier, Christopher Elbow. We wanted to buy the $75 "sample all of our chocolates" box, but we stopped ourselves at the fleur de sel caramel turtles. I chose dark chocolate and she the milk. Wow! What a find! We bought some of the high percentage chocolate bars to get the real feeling of his chocolate and vowed to return soon.

Camille has returned to Scotland and I have turned to my memories of a great summer together...
Life-- a slow stir, then bubbling to the top in moments that are unforgettable. Our loved ones, near and dear, laughter, tears and talk....It all goes so fast! And then it's time to say goodbye for now... How to ease the pain? Fleur de Sel Caramel Turtles~

Basic Fleur de Sel Caramels
1 cup heavy cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, then lightly oil parchment.
Bring cream, butter, and fleur de sel to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from the heat and set aside.
Boil sugar, corn syrup, and water in a 3-4 quart heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring but gently swirling pan, until mixture is a light golden caramel.
Carefully stir in cream mixture (mixture will bubble up) and simmer, stirring frequently, until caramel registers 248F on thermometer, 10-15 minutes. Pour into baking pan and cool 2 hours. Cut into 1 inch pieces , then wrap each piece in a 4-inch square of wax paper, twisting 2 ends to close.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mastering the Art of Living!

Boeuf Bourguignon, Ile flottante, Reine de Saba....oh my! Like many people around the world, I have been inspired by Julia Child. I want to create, I want to learn and I want to Master the Art of French Cooking. Well, it began one Sunday morning. We sat around our old farm table eating breakfast and began discussing dinner. Discussing the next meal while enjoying another is very French, so we felt we were on the right track! We decided to attempt the Boeuf Bourguignon and the Ile Flottante . We read the recipes out loud, reread them to ourselves, and then assigned posts in the kitchen. We were three musketeers, one for all and all for one; but we had high expectations, strong wills, and hot heads! Mind you the oven hadn't even been turned on and we were already on fire! Attitudes had to readjust, temperatures had to be turned down and we all had to remember the purpose of our project. Boeuf Bourguignon a la Julia! We worked beautifully for hours making sure that every step was followed to perfection. And then, when it came time to work on the dessert, everyone vanished. It was I who wanted to make the Ile flottante so, here I was faced with the prospect of making one of my favorite desserts alone. I thought the creme Anglaise would be a breeze, but I thought wrong. With two failed attempts I remembered the French saying, "jamais deux sans trois" (third time is a charm!). The third time was a charm and feeling triumphant, I began the meringue. It rose beautifully and with it my spirits! I placed it in the oven and waited. We were closing in on the dinner hour and I felt that the trials were behind me now. I made myself a martini (well, Julia did it!) and waited. The meringue came out beautifully and I sat down to enjoy my drink. When I returned to the kitchen, my smile came crashing down at the sight of the fallen meringue! What had gone wrong? I didn't have time to remake it, so I figured I would serve it anyway, without apology! Our friends arrived, so anxious to partake in this Julia inspired dinner and when it came time for dessert, I served the fallen Ile flottante. I closed my eyes and focused on flavor. It was delicious, not beautiful, but delicious. Our friends were the beautiful ones....they all applauded our efforts and drank up every last drop of the creme anglaise! Who needs perfection when you have great friends?
So, you might ask, why is there a photograph of the Reine de Saba cake?
That is the perfectionist in me. I needed to redeem myself and so I made a different dessert in the cookbook. It was delicious and it left me knowing that inspiration, effort, persistence and patience are major ingredients in the recipe of life.

Fast Asleep

Oh our Lucy Belle, so majestic, so sublime
How could hours have passed so quick
How could it be your time?

Pampered, loved and cared about, to say the very least
Cushioned on your pillow grand
We know that you were pleased.

In final days your appetite was minimal at best,
Roast chicken, steak, fromage du jour
You were the honored guest.
Yes, our Lucy Belle, the memories we shall keep
Devoted love you gave to us
And now you're fast asleep.

Rest, and know how loved you are. Always.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Surrender to Shopping!

I headed South on 101 to Los Angeles just to have a peek at the fall fashions on Wilshire Boulevard....just a peek! I parked my car and headed into my favorite store and low and behold (actually, high and behold!) there she was! My first star sighting of the day! What might Mary Poppins have to do with shopping? Everything! She can arrange a bird's eye view of all the fashions on any floor with a pop of her umbrella and she can pull any trick out of her satchel to seal the deal! Plus, she is just plain chic. I couldn't stop smiling at her-- she didn't return the smile but she gave me the feeling that it was going to be great day! A little Mary Poppins magic and the economy just might lift!

So, with all the girls lined up, we began our fall fashion moment!
Now, I almost lost my head a few times; so many gorgeous garments and accessories... I kept reminding myself that inspiration was the best deal of the day and much less expensive than anything that Alber Elbaz had to offer!
So, I set my head straight and began again. We stuck to our shopping agenda, had lunch at our favorite Brighton Cafe and dished on all the fake ____________________( you fill in the blank) we saw walking around.
When we resumed our looking, we were delighted to see a real pair of ____________amongst the many delightful pairs of shoes! It must have been that Mary again--performing her magic!
As the day came to a finish, we plopped down in the shoe department of Barney's and felt victorious that we had made it out with so few "injuries". Just when I thought I had won the shopping battle, I spied a fabulous pair of Dries pumps and tried them on just to see if they were comfortable.... Well, they were quite comfortable and in that moment I knew that surrender was imminent! Victory? It's all in the packaging!