Monday, September 30, 2013

All White. But Only After Labor Day.

Hello there Lovelies!  And Happy Monday?

Getting back to the grind can be difficult, but I hope that your weekend was a fabulous one.  A few weeks ago, my friend Brianne and I did something truly different.  If you either know me or have been paying any level of attention, one thing that you know is truly different for me is white.  All white.

Some of you may have heard about Paris' epic White Parties.

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If not, let me give you a little history.  Exactly twenty-five years ago, a group of Parisians got together, wearing white, and held an impromptu dinner party.  Not just any dinner party, but a party with white tablecloths and champagne in historic, and therefore off-limits, locations.  And thus the Dîner en Blanc was born.  The past few years, these events have grown exponentially and spread across the globe.  I follow a phenomenal blog, Messy Nessy Chic that is based in Paris and just recently posted about a documentary that chronicles this phenomenon.  The French really do know how to throw a grand dinner party...they not only started the very public Dîner en Blanc concept, but again, through Mess Nessy Chic, I learned that they also enjoy an underground and forbidden dinner quite a bit!  Seems like secret locations are their thing.  But let's bring things back to my neck of the woods...

photo credit. PS - how fabulous are these ice buckets?!?!

I had just been talking about this with another friend of mine, so it seemed like kismet when Brianne asked me if I wanted to go to the second annual PopUp Evening in White - Los Angeles.  About a week later, I was dressed in a white dress(?!?) and was waiting to find out where we were going, as they do not reveal the location until 2 hours before the event.  All we knew was that it would be somewhere on the West Side of L.A.

And at 3:00, Brianne received an email and we scheduled our Uber.  A little while later, we arrived at our destination with our picnic and a few bottles of (white) wine.

That's right...our Dîner en Blanc would be taking place on the Santa Monica pier.  We were very excited, but didn't quite know where to go, so we just started following other people in all white.

Who said men aren't fashionable??

And here is the moment that many of you have been waiting for...photographic evidence.  Yes, that is me in white from head to toe (you'll just have to trust me when I tell you I was wearing a pair of heeled sandals in white as well)!.  Let me tell you, it's EXTREMELY difficult to find a white dress the weekend after Labor Day!  Though, I found it pretty fitting that of all the times I could have been looking to purchase something in white, it would be the time that it was socially frowned upon...

Since Brianne and I did not attend this event last year, we did not really know what we were getting ourselves into.  It wasn't until about an hour before we were supposed to leave that we realized just how elaborate people get.  Unbenownst to us, we were supposed to supply a white linen tablecloth and napkins as well as some type of tablescape in addition to our dinner.  All in white...which meant it was up to Brianne to see what she could scrounge up in the hour before she left her place.  Bless her for it, she took a white wrap which she turned into a table runner and pulled out some Chinese lanterns and flameless candles (sadly, but understandably, open flames are a big no-no).

It seemed like we were the only ones who had not been to the first Los Angeles PopUp White Dinner.  It was incredibly impressive to see what others did - it was as if everyone was trying to out-do each other!

This table was my favorite!

There was also some awesome fashion.  Men in top hats?  Fantastic!

The only thing that could top the top hat is a powdered wig!

And some people even used fashion as part of their tablescape.

But mainly people stuck to more traditional tablescapes.  And they were all beautiful.

By far, the most over the top thing we saw was the table in the center of the event on a white runner which we found out was someone's 25th wedding anniversary party!

All the guests brought their own wedding photos (I guess single people weren't invited to this one).

It was catered and there were even servers.  They thought of everything!

I gave high marks to those who brought and polished their own flatware.

And fancy ice buckets for their bubbly!  Also, this was the first white Radio-Flier I've ever seen.

I was admiring this woman's tulle skirt all night - I think I've found my ensemble for next year!!

The cumulative effect of all the white in such a great location was pretty spectacular!

As the sun started going down, dinner commenced, but before we were allowed to eat, they called everyone to participate in the traditional napkin wave.

Since it was only us two, it was probably a good thing that we didn't have a tablescape, since our food spread was pretty out of control!

Full and very happy, I HAD to get my photo taken with the captain who also apparently made wine.  Random, but that's a combination I can definitely get behind!

Spending an evening in white and having a bit of a Marilyn moment was a SPECTACULAR time!

Brianne and I are looking forward to getting a group of people together next year to have the space to really do up our table right!  Everyone better watch's going to be epic!!

Have yourself a happy Monday everyone!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Cinematic Experience - The Graduate

The Graduate, 1967

Hello Lovelies!

I'm trying to get back to tackling the VERY long Film School list that I created.  I've really been slacking on that front, so a few nights ago, I popped my copy of The Graduate into the DVD player and settled onto my couch to watch #17 on AFI's 10th Anniversary revamp of their 100 Years...100 Movies list.  In 1996, it was added to the Library of Congress' National Film Registry as it was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".  So, let's get to it.

watch the trailer
While The Graduate may not be as significant today as it once was, it is still a great way to spend 105 minutes. Though perhaps I'm being a bit harsh since, adjusted for inflation, this film made over $698 million, so in a way, the impact it had in 1967 should be factored into its enduring significance.  At the time, this film encapsulated the uncertainty that many young people felt about their futures.  The youth of the late 1960's was divided between the counterculture and those that still felt like they had to play by the rules established by their parents' generation.  Benjamin Braddock, played by Dustin Hoffman, has just come home to Los Angeles after graduating college on the East Coast and is continually being asked what his plans for his future are and what he intends on doing with himself.  He cannot give anyone a real answer and on more than one occasion states that he is "a little worried about is future."

His parents, while nice and well meaning, are incredibly smothering and put great pressure on him - his past achievements as well as the success that they are certain he will have in the future...even reading the inscriptions in his college yearbook out loud at his graduation party.  Ben, being a very awkward young man, does not cope well with his parents and copes even worse when he finds himself alone with Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father's law partner.  This is arguably one of the most famous and iconic scenes in cinema.

"Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me."  Everyone knows this line, even if they haven't seen the film.  Just like "Big Brother is watching you" from Nineteen Eighty-Four, this line has become ingrained in pop culture and that speaks volumes.  Unfortunately, the line that most people know stops there.  But my favorite part is the end.  "...Aren't you?"  This is where I cannot see anyone aside from Dustin Hoffman playing Benjamin Braddock.  He is so nervous and awkward and that's part of his charm.  It's essential for us to like him and pity him a bit for his inability to successfully navigate situations and the lack of control he has in his own life.  I say essential because the shift in character that we see not long after this scene requires it so we do not completely write this character off...'cause things get kinda creepy.

But before we go any further, let's take a moment to give this iconic shot its due.  Alright, moving on...
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While this film deals with some pretty heavy themes, there is so much humor worked in.  Shortly after Ben's encounter with Mrs. Robinson, his parents invite their friends over to celebrate his 21st birthday.  They want him to show everyone the present they got for him.  This scene most likely influenced the pink bunny suit scene in A Christmas Story.  You know the one...

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After being utterly humiliated in the scuba suit by his parents, Ben seeks escape at the bottom of the pool and moments later, we see him seeking escape with Mrs. Robinson.  The affair begins and Ben loses his virginity along with the uncertainty and the awkwardness he carried around with him only moments before.  He is no longer worried about his future and instead spends his days lounging by the pool and his nights with Mrs. Robinson.  Ben carries himself differently, he speaks differently, and he is no longer the endearingly awkward guy we met at the start of the film when this conversation with Mrs. Robinson took place:
"Do you find me undesirable?"
"Oh no, Mrs. Robinson, I think you're the most attractive of all my parents' friends."

No, now he's just kind of an asshole.
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I say he's become kind of an asshole, but below all his new found swagger and ego is still a boy who is looking for connection.  One that he is decidedly not getting in his affair with Mrs. Robinson.  Something that is quite telling, and also pretty funny, is the fact that no matter how long the affair goes on, Ben never calls her anything other than Mrs. Robinson and she never calls him anything other than Benjamin.  There is no real closeness or ease, there seems to be a constant struggle for control - and that can be seen in something as seemingly insignificant as Mrs. Robinson turning out the lights and Ben turning them back on each time she does it.  One night at the hotel, Ben tries to forge some type of connection by trying to have a conversation with her...and she wants no part of it.

In many ways, this scene is very sad.  Ben reaching out, Mrs. Robinson only reluctantly opening up and us realizing that this woman is not completely cold and callous.  This is a very sad woman, one who is unhappy with her life and marriage (OBVIOUSLY!).  She was forced to live her life for others - having to drop out of college and get married when Mr. Robinson knocked her up and putting her life on hold to raise her daughter, Elaine.  While she is using Ben and this tryst to be able to feel young and alive and in control of something, we are able to glimpse her vulnerability and actually feel sorry for her.

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Much like Ben's short visit to Asshole-ville, Mrs. Robinson showing her vulnerability does not last long.  Her vulnerability soon morphs into something very different.  She becomes paranoid and angry and threatens Ben if he becomes in any way involved with Elaine.  The problem lies in the fact that both Ben's parents and Mr. Robinson push Ben to ask Elaine out on a date.  He agrees after he is threatened by his parents with a formal dinner party with Elaine and her parents.  Because he is forced to take Elaine out on a date, he seems determined to make the worst of it and takes her to a strip club.  

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Understandably, Elaine gets upset and storms out.  Ben follows her, kisses her, and neither one can deny their connection to the other.  Ben finally finds someone who he can be open and honest about his fears with, someone who understands him.  Elaine can understand his struggles to figure his life out when no one else can.  "It's like I was playing some kind of game, but the rules don't make any sense to me.  They're being made up by all the wrong people.  I mean no one makes them up.  They seem to make themselves up."  Things go well and Ben asks to see her the following day.  And that's where things get complicated.

Ben pulls up to the Robinsons' and instead of Elaine waiting for him, it is Mrs. Robinson who then threatens to tell Elaine about the two of them.  Not wanting to risk that, Ben runs inside and tells her himself.  Elaine gets angry and throws him out and leaves to go back to college the next day.  After only one date, Ben tells his parents that he is going up to Berkeley and that the two of them will be married.
"Well, when did you talk this over?"
"We haven't."
"You haven't?!...Ben, this whole idea seems pretty half-baked."
"No it's not. It's completely baked. It's a decision I've made."
"Well what makes you think she wants to marry you?"
"She doesn't.  To be perfectly honest, she doesn't like me."

This is what I mean when I said before that Ben gets creepy.  Who has one date, tells their date that they've been sleeping with their mother, and then expects to marry them??  Ben Braddock.  That's who.  He follows Elaine to Berkeley, stalks her on campus, rents an apartment, and chases after buses so that he can follow her on dates at the zoo.  Yeah, nothing odd about that.  Elaine seems pretty rational until she goes to confront Ben at his apartment and instead of slapping him, requests a kiss.  He wastes no time in asking her to marry him and she does not turn him down, but tells him that she's agreed to consider marriage to someone else.  What?  Seriously??

Ben comes back to his apartment, on Cloud 9 because Elaine is considering marrying him (after one date and being under the impression that he not only slept with her mother, but raped her) to find Mr. Robinson waiting for him.  Mr. Robinson confronts Ben about the affair and tells him that he and Mrs. Robinson are getting divorced.  When Ben tells him he is in love with Elaine, Mr. Robinson pulls her out of school and only a few days later, she is set to marry the guy from the zoo.  Ben drives between Los Angeles to Berkeley about 7 times while Simon and Garfunkel play and ends up finding the wedding just as the groom kisses his bride.
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Ben makes a scene.  The Robinsons get upset.  The groom gets upset.  The bride leaves her new husband at the altar and runs off into the proverbial sunset with Ben.  I typically don't like to give the endings of movies away, but everyone seems to know the last scene or has seen it parodied numerous times.
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I love how this film seems to come full circle with the idea of not knowing what you are doing with your life.  Everything about Ben breaking up Elaine's wedding and Elaine running away with Ben seemed so exciting, but once they jumped onto the bus and sat down, reality started to sink in...what did they just do?  Is this really what they wanted?  Who really knows.  But I will say that, while somewhat irritating, when a film does not wrap things up in a tidy little bow, it can make for the perfect ending.  And in this case it does.

-Mrs. Robinson tells Ben that she is twice his age, but Dustin Hoffman was 30 when this was filmed and Anne Bancroft was only 36.

-The list of people who were considered for the roles of Ben, Elaine, and Mrs. Robinson is incredibly long and read like the 'who's who' of the 1960's.  See the casting section of The Graduate's Wikipedia page.  I've seen many names on this list verified by many other reputable sources.

-Essentially all of Ben's driving scenes are inaccurate as the car is headed in the wrong direction.

-Mr. Roper (Norman Fell) played Dustin Hoffman's landlord...are we sensing a theme here?

-Richard Dreyfuss was an uncredited boarding house resident

-While a perfect fit for the time, all the music in the film is from Simon & Garfunkel.  The original Mrs. Robinson was an unfinished song entitled Mrs. Roosevelt that was modified for the film and only finished and released after the film hit the theatres.

-The film was nominated for several Academy Awards including Best Picture, but won only one.  Mike Nichols won for Best Director.

I look forward to getting back to my Film School.  Such a fabulous time!  Have you seen The Graduate recently?  If so, what are your thoughts?

Happy Viewing, Lovelies!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

This Charming Dame Lesson 6 - Always Have a Bottle of Bubbly On Hand

"Always keep a bottle of champagne in the fridge for special occasions.  Sometimes the special occasion is that you've got a bottle of champagne in the fridge."
     -Hester Browne

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Can I interest you in a glass of bubbly, Kitten?  Yes?  In that case, I think it's safe to say that we can continue this beautiful friendship of ours.

I am a huge fan of bubbly, or sparkling, if you will...  I am one of those annoying people who refuse to refer to everything as simply 'champagne'.  Champagne is a very specific term for sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region in France.  Most of what Americans consider 'champagne' merely because it has bubbles is really sparkling, or as I like to refer to it as 'bubbly'.

Whether it hails from France or Italy or Spain or California, it's always a good idea to keep at least one bottle on hand.  You know, for emergencies or special occasions or impromptu celebrations.  Which brings me to the much anticipated and long overdue sixth installment of the This Charming Dame Series.  An integral aspect of incorporating more glam into the everyday is always being prepared for a toast.

There is something quite magical about bubbly and it is well-documented that many people have had quite the love affair with it for a very long time.  From authors to designers to winemakers to actors to economists to Presidents to Prime Ministers to Emperors to monks and even Royal Mistresses, there has been an intoxication of the senses by and a fascination with a glass of sparkling wine.

"There comes a time in every woman's life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne."
     -Bette Davis

"My only regret in life is that I did not drink more champagne."
     -John Maynard Keynes

"Too much of anything is bad, but too much champagne is just right."
     -Mark Twain

"I'll drink your champagne.  I'll drink every drop of it, I don't care if it kills me."
     -F. Scott Fitzgerald

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There are quite a number of reasons to pour yourself a glass of bubbly.

"I only drink champagne on two occasions.  When I am in love and when I am not."
     -Coco Chanel

"In success you deserve it and in defeat, you need it."
     -Winston Churchill on champagne

"I drink champagne when I win, to celebrate...And I drink champagne when I lose, to console myself."
     -Napoleon Bonaparte

"I drink it when I'm happy and when I'm sad.  Sometimes, I drink it when I'm alone.  When I have company I consider it obligatory.  I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and I drink it if I am; otherwise I never touch it - unless I'm thirsty."
     -Madame Bollinger

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Whatever your personal reasons for keeping a bottle or two or however many you like on hand (I'm SO not judging you), make sure you always stop yourself from consuming the bottle(s) you keep around for unannounced company.

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I've also found it quite a good idea to keep some frozen orange juice in your freezer as well, just in case your company is in the mood for a mimosa.  I do not drink juice on any type of regular basis, so while it's not fresh squeezed, it will most definitely work in a bind!

One more thing that I've found to be helpful is belonging to a sparkling club.  I belong to South Coast Winery's Sparkling Club in Temecula and I love it!  They offer eight different types of sparkling ranging from the classic Brut and Blanc de Blanc to more unique sparkling varietals such as their Pinot Noir Rose and their Ruby Cuvee which is a sparkling Syrah.  Sweet but not too's heavenly!  Two weekends ago, I went down with my family for a wine pickup and tasting day, so in addition to the bottle of Mumm I already had, the June and August selections which I was picking up, and two additional bottles I purchased, I'm totally set!

 But I will share more about my Sparkling Club at a later date... Right now, I will simply share what I consider to be the three best California wineries for bubbly - in case you are new to the magic that is sparkling wine.  I don't think you can go wrong with Mumm and Chandon from Napa, or South Coast from Temecula (though you will want to stay away from their Sparkling Pinot Grigio, their Sparkling Gewürtztraminer, and their Diamante Spumante if you are not a fan of super sweet).

Though I wouldn't suggest trying all of them one right after the might end up like Tallulah Bankhead, drinking out of your shoe.  Unless you're into that kind of thing, in which case, have at it!
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If this lesson made you thirsty (and I can't blame you if it did) here is a diddy for you while you pop your bottle of choice.  If you are unfamiliar with Champagne Charlie, I highly suggest you spend the three minutes and get yourself acquainted:

To see my inspiration for the 'This Charming Dame' series, please visit Quite Continental Charm School.

Cheers Kittens!  Just make sure to save a bottle for company!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Eating Clean - Wine Snob Tofu

Hello there Kittens!

Have we been formally introduced?  No?  Alright.  Hello, my name is Melinda and I'm a wine snob.

I have a problem admitting that.  While I do not drink exorbitantly expensive wines as they are not within my budget, I do have more than my fair share of wines in the $50 price range.  While many true connoisseurs with basements that have been converted into custom wine cellars may scoff at a $50 bottle of wine, most people of average means would deem that truly excessive for one bottle of wine.  And they would not be wrong.  Most people cannot afford to be so frivolous with their hard earned money.

My fantasy.
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My reality.
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While I love my mini wine cellar - fine, wine fridge, I aspire to a full fledged underground cellar one day!  But in the mean time, I need to counteract the fact that my wine clubs will send me their higher end wine and the fact that I find my pocketbook sometimes not playing the factor that it should when I purchase wine at the last few wineries when we go wine tasting.  Because I do not feel comfortable drinking a $50 bottle of wine by myself on a random Tuesday night, I try to always have daily drinkers at home...unfortunately, even when I am trying to stay away from expensive bottles, my daily drinkers are typically in the mid $20 range because I refuse to drink bad wine.  And that can get quite expensive.

While I agree with Cliff Hakim that "Life's too short to drink cheap wine", I truly believe that good wine doesn't need to be super expensive (this belief is fueled by the fact that I've tried some truly expensive bottles that I though were terrible).  So, I have been trying to do more experimenting with more affordable daily drinkers.  It's not too difficult to find incredibly tasty yet inexpensive whites, such as my favorite Sauvignon Blanc or this New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that you can find for less than $10 at Trader Joe's!  But finding a good inexpensive red is a whole 'nother story!  So, when I was at the grocery store last week, I picked up a bottle of Sebastiani Pinot Noir since I remember having liked a cab from them in the past.  But the Pinot?  It was...TERRIBLE!!!!!!!!!!!!  Bridget had come up for the second to the last episode of The Newsroom and she didn't think it was as bad as I did.  When she thought it was a Merlot.  This wine was unrecognizable as a Pinot.  There was no discernible fruit and I'm not going to get into exactly why it was so bad, you're just going to have to trust  me on this one.  I tried, I really did, but I simply could not drink this wine, so I went for a bottle of something else and Bridget's words stuck with me.  "Looks like you're going to be cooking with wine!"

I came home from work the next day and found that I did not have the main ingredient for what I had planned to make for dinner.  I also did not have half of the ingredients I would have needed for my backup plan.  And I was hungry.  So, I threw on an apron, started pulling stuff out of the fridge, and got to chopping without knowing exactly where I was going with this whole experiment.

 Is anyone else entertained by the fact that I unintentionally pulled out my wine apron??

With good wine in my glass, it began...

 Port's help in the kitchen is always appreciated.

My tofu had excellent self-esteem!

-1/2 large onion or 1 small/medium onion, chopped
-2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-1 package extra firm organic tofu, cubed
-2 packages baby bella mushrooms, sliced
-1 large bag green beans, cut into relatively even pieces (mine were about 1 1/2 to 2 inches long)
-whatever is left in the bottle after you realize you bought bad red wine
-seasoning salt

1.  In a large pan, over medium-high heat, add the olive oil, onions, and garlic.  Cook until soft and translucent.

2.  Add mushrooms and cook until they begin releasing water.

 3.  When they begin to reabsorb the liquid, add a generous amount of wine.

4.  When the wine mixture begins to absorb into the mushrooms, add the tofu.

 5.  Turn down the heat and liberally sprinkle with seasoning salt (I love mushrooms, but think seasoning salt makes them that much better by bringing out their earthy quality).

6.  Cook for a while for the tofu to absorb as much of the flavors as possible.  As the wine mushroom sauce cooks down, add more wine.

7.  Once you are happy with the flavor of the tofu (and have come to terms with the fact that it is purple), add a little more wine and the green beans.

 8.  Turn up the heat a bit and cover to steam the green beans.  Cook until beans are desired tenderness.

9.  Add more seasoning as necessary and serve with some brown rice and a glass of GOOD red wine.

Somehow I'd never made a mushroom wine sauce before and I have the feeling I will be making this rather frequently going forward.  It was divine!!  There isn't a whole lot of measuring that went on here because I was just making things up as I went along, but I'm sure you can figure it out.  I have faith in you!

Searching for daily (red) drinkers under $20 is going to be significantly less stressful knowing that I won't have to waste bottles that I think are terrible.  If I don't like them, I can make a fabulous mushroom sauce with them!

Let's raise a glass to a great bottle of wine, or a fabulous meal as Plan B!