BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS: A WELL BEHAVED WOMAN

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By now you know I am obsessed with historical fiction especially when the book concerns “real” people.  When this exceptionally written book came into my consciousness I knew it would be one I would not only enjoy but would devour and, of course, would want to share with you. I was correct in that assumption.  (As usual, I recommend The Book Stall my Independent Bookseller, as your source when purchasing your books.)

The protagonist is none other than Alva Vanderbilt who married into one of the wealthiest, if not THE wealthiest at the time, American dynasties.  Wealth was new to Alva and the story tells us of a world known to very few.  The Astor’s ruled New York Society, especially their Matriarch, Caroline.  Snubbed by Mrs. Astor, Alva was determined to make her place, along with her husband, William, and the rest of the Vanderbilt family to reach the top of the Gilded Age social scene.  And not only did she do exactly that but did it with grace and class  Fowler takes us into this rarified world via, their exquisite homes, think Marble House (The Biltmore is briefly mentioned), the many homes in New York City.  I particularly enjoyed Alva’s forays into every detail of her many homes and her participation with the noted architect, Richard Hunt, in planning the architecture and each and every phase of the construction of the mansions and the interiors from paint colors, fabrics, to furniture….everything!  Having literally millions to spend she thought out every possible item in her homes and became the personification of elegance of her era.

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Alva Vanderbilt

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William Vanderbilt

Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island

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A couple of the interiors …

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Living in a strained marriage, (I’m not doing spoilers here, if you know the background of the era you know of the scandals) Alva made herself a pilar of New York, Newport, Paris and London society in lifestyle including her Charles Frederick Worth wardrobe (you know I enjoyed those descriptions!), the exquisite entertaining….balls, formal dinners…highlighting the developing of the Arts in New York City, making sure her children were exposed to the best of educations, associating with the “right” people (including Oliver Belmont) while respecting everyone no matter their social status…which I greatly admired.  She was always a philanthropist and became very involved in women’s suffrage.  In many ways she reminds me of our own Bertha Palmer as well as others of her time. It gives us details of the women (or The woman, Alva) behind the wealth which was always in the hands of their husbands, fathers, guardians. Fowler’s eye for detail parallels that of Alva’s…her research is impeccable.  Read it you will be transfixed!

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A couple of books to give you thoughts on the food of the time…

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I’m including a recipe for Beef Wellington, which happens to a favorite of mine to serve at special dinner parties.  This recipe is from Epicurious.com

 

BEEF WELLINGTON

FROM EPICURIOUS.COM

INGREDIENTS

    • a 3 1/2-pound fillet of beef tied with thin sheets of larding fat at room temperature
    • 3/4 pound mushrooms, chopped fine
    • 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
    • 1/2 pound pâté de foie gras (available at specialty foods shops) at room temperature
    • 1 pound puff paste or thawed frozen puff pastry plus additional for garnish if desired
    • N/A frozen puff pastry
    • 1 large egg white beaten
    • an egg wash made by beating 1 large egg yolk with 1 teaspoon of water
    • 1/2 cup Sercial Madeira
    • 2 teaspoons arrowroot dissolved in 1 teaspoon cold water
    • 1 teaspoon water
    • 1/2 cup beef broth
    • 2 tablespoons finely chopped black truffles (available at specialty food shops) if desired
    • watercress for garnish if desired

PREPARATION

    1. In a roasting pan roast the beef in the middle of a preheated 400°F oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the thermometer registers 120°F. Let the fillet cool completely and discard the larding fat and the strings. Skim the fat from the pan juices and reserve the pan juices.
    2. In a heavy skillet cook the mushrooms in the butter over moderately low heat, stirring, until all the liquid they give off is evaporated and the mixture is dry, season them with salt and pepper, and let them cool completely. Spread the fillet evenly with the pâté de foie gras, covering the top and sides, and spread the mushrooms evenly over the pâté de foie gras. On a floured surface roll 1 pound of the puff paste into a rectangle about 20- by 12- inches, or large enough to enclose the fillet completely, invert the coated fillet carefully under the middle of the dough, and fold up the long sides of the dough to enclose the fillet brushing the edges of the dough with some of the egg white to seal them. Fold ends of the dough over the fillet and seal them with the remaining egg white. Transfer the fillet, seam side down to a jelly-roll pan or shallow roasting pan and brush the dough with some of the egg wash. Roll out the additional dough and cut the shapes with decorative cutters. Arrange the cutouts on the dough decoratively, brush them with the remaining egg wash, and chill the fillet for at least 1 hour and up to 2 hours. Bake the fillet in the middle of a preheated 400°F oven for 30 minutes, reduce the heat to 350°, and bake the fillet for 5 to 10 minutes more, or until the meat thermometer registers 130°F. for medium-rare meat and the pastry is cooked through. Let the fillet stand for 15 minutes.
    3. In a saucepan boil the reserved pan juices and the Madeira until the mixture is reduced by one fourth. Add the arrowroot mixture, the broth, the truffles, and salt and pepper to taste and cook the sauce over moderate heat, stirring, being careful not to let it boil, for 5 minutes, or until it is thickened. Loosen the fillet from the jelly-roll pan, transfer it with two spatulas to a heated platter, and garnish it with watercress. Serve the fillet, cut into 3/4-inch-thick slices, with the sauce.

Serves 8.

THE nenasnotes BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS POSTS ARE MADE POSSIBLE BY AN ANONYMOUS SPONSOR.  PLEASE CONTACT ME AT nenasnotes1@gmail.com FOR SPONSORSHIP INFORMATION 

Photos are from Pinterest credits unknown. 
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BOOKNOTES: THE MASTERPIECE

THIS REVIEW IS POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 11th A DAY WE MUST NEVER FORGET. I DEDICATE IT TO THOSE WHO PERISHED, THE FIRST RESPONDERS AND THOSE OF US WHO REMAIN TO HONOR THEIR MEMORY.  WE ARE A VERY STRONG COUNTRY AND WE KNOW WE ARE SURVIVORS, NEW YORK CITY IS OUR BEACON OF LIGHT AND THIS STORY TELLS THE REBIRTH, OF TIME LONG GONE, OF AN EXQUISITE STRUCTURE THAT HAS SURVIVED DESPITE ALL ODDS, JUST LIKE ALL OF US!

563325A4-17ED-4593-B696-30915C471F00CB4C5E58-A3BF-4823-BD84-BA887661BA67                               Fiona Davis photograph by Kristen Jensen.

Having read The Dollhouse and The Address, both of which I absolutely loved, I didn’t want them to end, I waited with baited breath for Fiona Davis’ next book, The Masterpiece, to arrive.  I most certainly wasn’t disappointed  This time, like both of her other books, the story takes place in a landmark building in New York, the Grand Central Terminal.

It is the story, told in two time periods (seems to a trend in many of the novels I have been reading, wasn’t a fan, but am adjusting to them…this one definitely works!), of the art school housed in the Grand Central Terminal in New York, one of my favorite NYC structures.  You know how much I love historical fiction…this is a fascinating little known story.

Our two protagonists, Clara Darden, a noted illustrator, artist and teacher of the period, whose history has been lost to time, and Virginia Clay, recently divorced who has taken a job in the Information Booth at the dilapidated Terminal, tell stories of their different eras, one the late 1920’s and the other the 1970’s. While the stories are years apart, the way women were (are still?) treated in the workplace and in life in general isn’t much different.  Their stories intertwine with the downturn of their work place, the once glamorous GCT, and to my mind’s eye it is a tale of the arts during the Depression, how they survived, their decline in the ‘70’s and the promise of a light at “the end of the tunnel”, telling us that things can, indeed, get better, that beauty and confidence can be restored whether it is a building or a person and how our two women survive.  We follow them through love affairs, betrayed trust, found and lost friendships, power struggles (no matter your social class!), in other words, the real world.  We find the determination of one to find more about the other…the story we want to continue.  Ms. Davis is a master of mixing periods, giving us a story of architecture, New York City’s history and making the past come alive through the structures we come to admire and love

Relationships come and go, grow or die, new jobs, new directions, the promise of talent in many guises, so many life lessons in one work of fiction…I really enjoyed the book…I can’t wait to see what’s next in Ms. Davis’ oeuvre!!!

42nd Street entrance

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A cross section rendering of the building….love this and it relates perfectly to our story

The Great Hall and it’s restored constellations painted vaulted ceiling, it has always been one of my favorite places in NYC.

I try to go to the legendary Oyster Bar as often as I can, love the ambiance, the decor, the delicious good food…..oysters, of course!!!!

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Many a time I walked down this passageway to my train, The Twentieth Century…legendary, what train travel should be!! Oh my, another post…..why not!!!!

Commuting Ramp
Grand Central Station, Manhattan, New York

The catalogue for the Grand Central School of Art, one of the art instructors in the studio.  Opened in 1922 and closed in 1944 reported to have enrolled up to 900 students the year before it closed according to the author’s notes

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The restoration and rededication in 1998 was led by architecture firm Breyer Blinder Platt and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and brought the derelict building back to its glory, preserving it for the ages. This looks like yet another book I need to add to my collection.  I am mad for nostalgia, but you know that!!!

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And then there is this….Sir Paul McCarthy impromptu performance at Grand Central Terminal last week!!!!

All photos from Pinterest photo credits unknown.

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NENASBOOKNOTES: PAISLEY RABBIT AND THE TREEHOUSE CONTEST

 

9B407105-1DFD-4774-83F4-D555988CC8DFBefore you think I have gone totally mad stay with me…..I know this is a children’s book….but is it really.  Let me explain.  A new friend of mine, Brett Firdman, a major Media Influencer, knowing I love books, and she is no longer reviewing them, has referred nenasnotes to publishers, authors and publicists. This was the first I received. I immediately loved our heroine’s name (I collect vintage paisley and was planning a post on it…it will appear later this week) so I thought why not!  When I received the book, before I opened it, I was totally enchanted by the exquisite cover illustration. I have been enamored with books from birth.  Both my parents constantly read to me and when I started to read, well you know the rest…I haven’t stopped. I don’t have children but have always read to my friends children and grandchildren and their presents are always books. This one would be bought in bulk it is glorious in its prose and art…I want to live in Paisley’s treehouse.

The premise of the book is a lone girl rabbit, Paisley, is up against Jimmy Squirrel whose father owns the biggest construction company in the city. Jimmy challenges a close group of friends to a treehouse contest. Paisley has no building skills and no one to help her enters the contest. The story is motivational for all ages in seeing the so-called underdog take charge, get a team together and defying all odds create something magical while proving anything can happen with grit, nerve and a can do attitude. The result is extraordinary in so many ways.    Not only will children read this over and over, so will I.

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From the amazing insightful author, Steve Richardson when asked how he came up with the idea, “The book was inspired by watching my sister, Margaret Chambers who is an interior designer,  work on awe-inspiring and epic multi-million dollar houses.”

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Then he was asked what he thought was the most important message of the book, “The importance of not jumping into a project but taking it slow, doing research, thinking creatively and big.  Looking for ways to bring creative people together with all kinds of talents to work as a team.  Finally, it’s not just about winning but producing something that will help others when done.”

The artist, Chris Dunn, is only in his 20’s and this is his first children’s book.  His illustrations are glorious, I can’t wait to see what he does next. You can find him at www.chris-dunn.co.uk.

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Paisley writing thank you notes in her library.

My thanks to Smith Publicity for getting me this advanced copy, Impossible Dreams Publishing Co. releases the book on March 1, 2018.  My recommendation get it for every child in your life and be sure to get one for yourself it is a total delight.  Just you wait until you see the finished house, I want to find property and hire Paisley and her team to build my dream house!

 

COLLECTIONS: AMBER

image_538528506180605Raw amber

I have always been a huge fan of Amber jewelry I guess it is in my DNA…unfortunatly I only have one piece from my Father’s mother, the only thing I have of her and I never met any of my grandparents, so naturally, I treasure it.  I’ll show it to you in the post.

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These three photos show you some versions of raw amber some polished a bit some just the raw stones.  Amber is fossilized tree resin and has been prized through the ages.  It is found primarily in the Baltic countries but is seen elsewhere in the world. You can find many sites on Google.  Today’s post is primarily on jewelry and one spectacular room and, of course, a couple of books for good measure!

image_538528781187146All three photos from Pinterest photo credit unknown.

My friend, Barbara Varro, collected her pieces in Poland and was kind enough to bring me several pieces throughout the years.  Here is her collection, I took the photos when I was visiting last summer in anticipation of this post.

image_538528734270966image_53852869420752image_538528705838352The necklaces in different pairings, I would wear them all together.

image_538528721822936Her amber ring collection on my finger……

image_538528468394693Some of my pieces almost always worn together, some from Barbara and others collected, over the 15 years of its existence, at Randolph Street Market

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Some of the pieces I collected (wish I had gotten more for myself, I did get more pieces as gifts) on my fantastic trip to Russia in 2002.  I promise I will do a post on the trip when I can find my photos.  The top piece is lightly polished raw amber, love it, the center piece is white amber and the bottom piece is polished and probably Victorian…got that one at an antique fair in Moscow (which, by the way, was amazing!) I usually wear these as a grouping.  A Nena’s Note…each morning in Moscow we would go to a different specialty shop, one of which was all amber….extraordinary.  Each day and this was early morning for shopping, say 8ish, we were greeted by trays of small shot glasses of ice-cold vodka…8 AM…I don’t drink vodka, I know, you are saying isn’t she of Russian heritage, and yes she is!  But I don’t drink vodka, certainly not neat and at 8 AM!  Well, guess what I had to shoot the offered nectar or I would be offending our hosts, I most certainly didn’t want to cause an International incident!  Still, don’t like vodka!

image_538528976697779My faceted collection, the top piece is my Grandmother’s piece, the middle is multi-colored from St. Petersburg and the bottom piece one of my Randolph Street Market finds. I usually wear them together.

I have had a difficult time trying to find earrings that don’t have silver mountings…I do have one pair again from RSM that is multicolor dropped stones and a pair of hoops that go with my amber but are faux! Here are a couple of earrings that I would love to have.

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Aren’t they stunning!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a necklace I would love as well, wouldn’t you…..image_538528577106783The three photos are from Pinterest photo credit unknown.

image_538528633270362A necklace from the talented hands of Margaret Buckman

Information from Margaret (who was one of my first profiles, go to my archives to learn all about this talented lady!) “This piece is natural shaped beads of Tibetan amber, inset with turquoise mosaics and coral pieces.  Each side of the bead has a Chinese coin silver zodiac character, the entire bead is inlaid with silver and inset with biwa pearls.”

image_538528485931445Made especially for me by Margaret Buckman several years ago, it includes many of my broken necklaces pieces along with some from the designer.  It is a huge statement piece and I wear it often usually with my embroidered jacket from my Moscow trip.  It is one of my most favorite necklaces.

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Now on to an amazing treasure, The Amber Room in Catherine’s Palace outside of St. Petersburg.  It was just being reconstructed when I was there.  The Room had been “lost” during World War II and there are many stories of what happened to it.  Most of the stories said the keepers of the Palace removed the pieces and hid them from capture from the invading Nazi’s.

image_538528762711932image_538528585061127image_538528594167856Isn’t it glorious….when I find my Russian trip photos I’ll show you it being restored. Photos from Pinterest photo credit unknown.

I have suggested two books for you, one non-fiction and one fiction, both exciting tales.  This is the book that got me into reading Steve Berry, one of my favorite authors.image_538528515077854image_538528524145195

 

 

 

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS: THE ADDRESS

imageI have been waiting for this book to come out for months, having enjoyed Fiona Davis’ first book The Dollhouse and anticipated a good read, I wasn’t disappointed!  I usually don’t like plots that go from one time to another, this one begins in 1884 and then travels to 1985, this is done in different chapters.  In this case, it works extremely well and brings the story to contemporary times.

We begin at a luxury hotel in England where our protagonist, Sara Smythe, is head housekeeper and sees a little girl balancing on a window ledge, rushes to save her (which she does), the father of the little girl, Theodore Camden, is so grateful he offers Sara a position at the soon to be opened Dakota, in New York where he is one of the architects and project manager.  She thinks the offer is not sincere but because she saved his daughter.  Shortly after Camden, his wife and children return to New York, Sara receives a ticket and travel expenses to join them.  Without much hesitation, she boards her ship and sails for New York and her new life….by the way, all this is in the first few pages of the book!

When she arrives at the Dakota she is stunned by the size, the beauty of the structure and the location, in the middle of nowhere, remember this is 1884.  Sara finds herself as managerette (don’t you love this title!) and totally in charge of basically everything.  She is very much up to the task and the new apartment dwelling opens beautifully.  Naturally, she lives in the building as does Theo and his family.

We then meet our other protagonist, Bailey Camden, a modern young woman who is an interior decorator and has just been released from rehab where she was treated for alcoholism and drug addiction.  Her boss has taken care of her rehab expenses and promptly fires her.  Her “cousin” (are they really cousins!!!!???) and friend Melinda, is rehabbing an apartment in the Dakota with the idea of making it very modern much to Bailey’s chagrin.  As part of their agreement, Melinda allows Bailey to live in the apartment during the renovation along with the promise of her fee when Melinda turns 30 in a few weeks and receives her substantial inheritance. If you have ever been in the building you know it is tradition personified and still considered a prestigious building, it is a stunner.

Both stories have lives of their own but, of course, mesh together as well. We meet many characters along the way, learn about New York as it begins to become the City we all know and love by learning about its architecture, go inside an insane asylum (not my favorite part of the story, I felt it was a bit long), the glamour of the Gilded Age and the excess of the 1980’s New York scene.  My take away was how talented women, in any age, with the drive, the know how, skills and willingness to succeed do so.  A feminist story, perhaps, but more one of human nature, self-worth and lots and lots of intrigue along the way, romance, yes that too!.  Did I like the book, yes, indeed I did!

From the last paragraph on the fly leaf of the book….”A century apart, Sara and Bailey are both tempted and struggled against the golden excess of their respective ages—for Sara, the opulence of a world ruled by the Astors and Vanderbilts; for Bailey, the nightlife’s free-flowing drinks and cocaine—and take refuge in the Upper West Side’s gilded fortress.”