Friday, April 29, 2011

I firmly believe that at least once every late spring/early summer, dinner should consist of nothing but strawberry shortcake!  It's not nutritionally balanced, but it's not the worst thing you could have for a meal, and everybody needs to take some time out once a year and truly savor strawberries.  As William Allan Butler reminds us "doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did."

If you really want to look like a cooking genius with very little effort, make homemade biscuits to use as shortcakes.  Biscuits are truly one of the easiest foods in the world, if you have the essential tool (show above): a pastry blender (or cutter).  Sure, you could cut the butter into the flour using two butter knives, but that takes too long - invest in one of these gizmos and make biscuits every week.  And while you're indulging in really good kitchen tools, pick up the best ice cream scoop you can find, and use it for portioning out biscuits, muffins (these are AMAZING for filling muffin tins) or even ice cream.

World's easiest biscuit recipe:

1 stick butter
2 cups flour
1 T baking powder
1 t salt
2 T sugar

Cut the above ingredients together with your snazzy new pastry blender.  Stir in 1 cup milk.  Portion out onto a greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes.  You can make one BIG biscuit, which needs to bake about 25 minutes, or you can make teeny little ones that bake in 10 minutes.  Ice cream scoop sized ones bake in 15, and this recipe yields 8 to 10 biscuits.

If you want shortcake, add a bit more sugar.

If you want savory, add less sugar, and throw in some herbs or some grated cheese.

Sprinkling cinnamon sugar on these before baking is never a bad idea.

I'm still working on a way to make chocolate biscuits - I'll let you know if it ever works out!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

These tiny little shops are tucked all over Paris, and they are like little floral jewelry boxes, with fragrance added.  They often spread rose petals on the sidewalk outside their shops, which just about breaks your heart.  Floral arrangements are available from the most tiny nosegay (what a treat to carry to dinner!) to the most immense "boy did I screw up" apology bouquet imaginable.  Only in Paris could roses be so cherished!

I think this will be the regular Wednesday post until I run out of the original content!  As I noted last Wednesday, this information remains timeless, which is as good as reason as any to seriously consider incorporating these insights into my life.

"She buys a new outfit every 3 or 4 months, and thus gets rid of an outfit about that same time.  This is her work wardrobe only, remember (although that is the lion's share of her clothes) so out of the 15 outfits she has, they last 3 or 4 years each. Bear in mind, she buys REALLY REALLY good things - Sonia Rykiel is one of her favorites.  She made a strong point of reminding me that she does NOT dry clean everything each time she wears it. She rinses out sweaters and blouses every time they are worn, but jackets, cardigans, skirts and pants get a good brushing and hang overnight in her bathroom, and then she steams them if they're still a bit flattened.

Wonder of wonders, she talked to me about money!  Vivienne spends about as much on clothes as I do, but since she only shops every few months, she has an edge on me in doing it wisely.

  1. She literally goes out shopping with over 1000 Euros to spend, but with absolutely no sense of urgency to spend it.  If she doesn't see what she wants and has in mind, she goes home.
  2. She goes shopping with a fairly clear idea of what she wants to get. Not really really specific (like a pair of Gap boot cut jeans in a bleached wash with blah blah blah) but more a general "I need a pair of pants that I can wear for 6 months out of the year, and then I want 2 really beautiful tops to go with them."
  3. Because she focuses so carefully on the few clothes she has, she has a really good idea of what suits her, and is very limited in terms of what her "signature" look should be. As I said earlier, she only wears clothes in 4 colors, and just doesn't consider anything that doesn't fit in really tightly with her existing wardrobe.
  4. She takes HOURS to shop - tries things on, bends, sits, stands, moves around etc. etc. She knows if something will be comfortable before she gets it home.
  5. She alters things. All the time.  Shortens the sleeves on t-shirts so they hit her arm at just the right point.  "What is the good reason to have a shirt that is cheap if you don't like the way it looks on you?" She factors alterations costs into the price of the garment.  Also, she will pay to re-line or re-make something that she really loves; she has a winter coat that is on its 3rd lining."

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Main Image - Mycra Pac Designer Wear Reversible Pleat Hood Packable Travel Coat
coat - Mycra Pac Designer Wear

Getting off of the train on my way to visit relatives, I started chatting with a woman wearing the above jacket.  Her outfit was very simple, black pants and a classic handbag, and the jacket made her look - simple and elegant.  I've not had another rain jacket in my shopping plan, but this sighting of sleek chicness has me thinking...


Thursday, April 21, 2011

So I’ve been pondering why I chose to revive the Vivienne Files, and I think it comes down to one goal: I want women to be happier than they are.  Too many of my friends and acquaintances are bogged down in a routine that seems to have been determined by other people, and they don’t enjoy their relationships, their work, or their own life.  They drift, doing what they think they should do, and seldom if ever pause to look at their goals, their dreams, and what plans they have in place to make these things happen.

And, at least to me, it seemed like Vivienne had that all sorted out.  She shopped with a plan, saved with a plan, worked with a goal, and overall seemed to live a life of deliberate purpose and intent.  I’d like to do that in my own life, and I’d like to see lots of other people doing the same.

Your life is the sum of a million choices made every day, and I’m hopeful that Vivienne (and I) can help people make choices which more accurately reflect their true hopes and desires.

Pretty ambitious, eh?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I still have copies of all of the postings from the original "Vivienne Files" (sending lots of love to everybody at the Yahoo group Je Ne Sais Quoi), and so in the interests of full disclosure and establishing context, I'm going to post them over the next few weeks.  Her French style perspective is timeless, so I'm not concerned that these posts are nearly 10 years old!

"I was burning up the e-mails today with a friend of mine in Paris - consulting with her about clothes, what to get rid of etc., and she hit me with the completely shocking statement: She owns 5 work outfits for hot weather, 5 work outfits for cold weather, and 5 which are "transitional".  She did point out that for some of the outfits, she will have two tops - like her black wool suit, which which she wears either a grey or a red sweater.  But, all told, her ENTIRE work wardrobe fits onto 15 hangers!

Can you imagine?  Or has anyone among us reached that dazzling level of focus?

Also, she says that she only owns clothes in 4 colors: black, grey, white and red - nothing else!  Not even a blue tee shirt, or a pair of khakis.  Even her jeans are black.  I would be fascinated to know if anyone here has focused that completely...

But to balance things out, she owns mountains of jewelry, and at least 50 scarves.  But I'm still reeling at her revelation of wardrobe discipline."

Monday, April 18, 2011

Over the years I've looked at all sorts of schemes and organizational plans for how to decide what to purchase - are you building a capsule wardrobe?  maybe buying the entire matching set of sheets?  For whatever category of product you're purchasing, someone somewhere will give you some guidance regarding what to buy. But I don't really want to live my life (or spend my money) according to someone else's guidelines, so I've searched for years for a different way to evaluate the merits of the things I'm going to buy.

A few years ago, a distant relative died, leaving nobody near to her to clean out her home.  My mother and I gamely volunteered to take on the project, and in retrospect I think we were both suffering from temporary insanity.  Bless this woman for being a nice person and a good friend, but she did not own ONE thing worth passing on to posterity.  Not one nice book, not a single beautiful piece of furniture, no lovely jewelry or vintage clothing - absolutely nothing!

What she did leave behind was a vast, almost impenetrable mess of cheap clothing, cheap dishes, cheap furniture, and mounds of unsorted paperwork.  It wasn't a question of not having enough money - I know for a fact that she could have afforded fewer, nicer things.  But it was definitely a question of never feeling worthy of the one big, beautiful, enduringly precious item that could have brought joy to her every day.

So now, when I'm pondering a potential purchase, I remember her and the sad lack of heirlooms (or even just mementos) that she left behind.  And I wonder, when I look at that sweater or dish or CD, if anybody will want this thing when I'm gone.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

And so I've decided to take matters into my own hands and create my own blog!  I'm still in touch with many fascinating and fabulous French females, and so I will try to use this space as an opportunity to share with you what I learn from them.  If you have questions which you would like for me to pose to my companions, just let me know!