Sunday, April 29, 2012

City Views, Country Dreams

Good evening from New York.

As much as I have been trying to cling to the beautiful visions of my holiday, my recent weeks' real life has been giving me many challenges.  Perhaps it is always like this after a holiday.

One post-holiday routine I have adopted with the hope that it will keep my mind calm is a return to baking.  Once upon a time I baked two loaves of bread every Sunday.  That time was way back in the last century (how I love referencing the last century!)  It's been a very long time since I have bought yeast or kneaded dough.

My current weekend baking involves cup cakes.  As this baking wish began, I could not find the two "muffin" tins that I felt might be somewhere in my kitchen cabinets.  I am not very tall, and exploring the upper reaches of these cabinets involves my bringing my old folding metal step stool from the depths of a closet to the narrow channel of my kitchen space.

I could not be bothered.  I ordered a new twelve cup muffin tin on line.  In anticipation of its delivery I bought some paper muffin tin cup liners.  The next day I discovered the whereabouts of my two,  now perhaps considered vintage, muffin tins.  I explored some recipes, checked a copy of the Magnolia Bakery cookbook out from my library, consulted some Nigella Lawson cake recipes on line, and bought additional butter, sugar, vanilla extract and a lemon.

On the next day off I had a little baking frenzy and made some basic cupcakes, and iced them with a plain frosting flavored with lemon zest.

I was quite impatient with the wish to apply the icing.  The cupcakes were not quite cool enough...the icing ran a bit.  No matter.  It tasted great.  I put half of this baking endeavour in the freezer.

One of the freshly baked lemon-iced vanilla cupcakes was shared with the evening doorman in my building's lobby.  He's a fan of my Christmas cookie distribution, but also seemed pleased with the April sampling.

How delightful it's been to know that I've home-baked little cakes for dessert when returning nightly from rather overly full work days.

Today was another day off.  I tried a different cake recipe, and began an exploration of the richness that only can be bestowed by chocolate frosting.

Today's baking results are really good, if I say so myself.  Again, six of the batch now rest in the freezer.

Just underneath my little celadon plate are some of the Hockney-exhibition-related books I ordered from good old Amazon after returning from London.  I like the book cover colors against the quiet of the china plate.  The chocolate icing just speaks for itself.

Keeping with the Yorkshire landscape theme of the Hockney show, I am currently reading a new crime novel by Peter Robinson, entitled Before the Poison.  It is set in Yorkshire, a place I have visited several times and whose beauty I appreciate.

It's been a sunny, chilly weekend here in New York, and aside from baking I've had the pleasure of many phone chats with various friends and relatives, and some e-mail catching up with folks here and abroad.  I confess that I somehow never got around to doing some very needed vacuuming.  Ahh, it will have to wait.

Tomorrow I return to work, and expect that this week will be full bodied.  How wonderful to know that every evening will offer the prospect of a home baked, chocolate iced cupcake.

I hope that each of you will have equally appealing prospects ahead of you this week.

Monday, April 16, 2012

City Views, Country Dreams

Good evening from New York.

I have now been back home for almost two weeks.  I have returned to work.  I have tried to resume familiar routines. recently nourished Country Dreams continue to remind me of another land, with expanses of land and sky.  Not too many buildings, and not too many people.

I continue to thank the lovely people who treated me so well.

Part of being back home is telling my New York friends about how much I enjoyed my holiday.  I have made phone calls, and visited with folks.  I have bought a curious little droopy-limbed succulent plant, and am pretending it's a tree that I can draw.  It gives me an alternative landscape possibility while it sits on my windowsill.

Perhaps this close up view will let you have an idea of why I brought this little plant home from the Union Square farmers market last week.

Eventually, I may get the watercolors out and try some mini-landscape painting.

It was very warm while I was in London, and since my return to New York there's been a bit of a chilly span, and now, as of today, we are experiencing heat that seems like summertime. This is creating some sort of havoc with the spring blooming schedule.

For the past few years, I have tried to get over to Park Avenue to take photos of the tulips that annually bloom in the middle of this elegant boulevard.  I do this photographic summary  for lovely Merisi, who writes the magnificent blog Vienna for Beginners.  If you have not yet visited Merisi's Vienna, you are in for a treat.  If you have visited this site, you will agree with my opinion!

And so, I now offer you all a few views of the giant yellow tulips that now grace Park Avenue.

The tulips share their mid-avenue garden spaces with trees and shrubs.  This avenue is quite beautiful during each season.

The fully bloomed tulips were as large as my hand.

I took this journey to the East Side between four and five-thirty this afternoon, and loved the effect that the westward bound sunlight had on all that I saw.

As I took my photographs, other passing pedestrians smiled.  They also loved the look of these extravagant flowers.

I just happened to notice that one golden tulip had a bit of a scarlet accent.  

Leaving Park Avenue, I began walking westward back towards Central Park, and noticed a rather extravagant expanse of flowers in a little garden in front of a sumptuous East Side mansion.

Closer to Fifth Avenue, this Ducati showed me that tulips were not the only ambassadors of golden yellow gleaming in the afternoon light.

The next photo is for Gretel, whose Middle of Nowhere blog is another magical place to visit. I know that she is a fan of the Stuart Little stories written by E.B. White. and think she might enjoy seeing this view of the model boat pond where Stuart had a harrowing sailing adventure.

The pond looked tranquil and breeze free this afternoon, and I made note of the rather amusing sign posted nearby.  The remote-controlled model boats sailing in the pond must have had some sort of exemption to this warning.

Continuing on my walk, I passed by beautiful Bethesda Fountain, surrounded on one side by flowering trees and shrubs, and on the other by the Lake where rowboats and one gondola were sailing.  None of these were motorized by other than person-power.

Getting closer now to Central Park West, I took this photo because I liked the look of the back lighting on the familiar statue of Daniel Webster.

You can perhaps also see the umbrellas in front of the tree.  These mark the location of three  vendors who most likely did a wonderful bit of business today, selling hot dogs, ice cream sodas and water.  I thought these fellows deserved a bit a of close up.

I crossed over into the Strawberry Fields area, and made my way past the usual collection of tourists paying their respects, and having their photos taken near the Imagine mosaic.

My hopes that the nearby wisteria, that luxuriantly wraps itself around a rustic wooden archway, might still be in bloom were answered positively.

Can't you imagine how this sort of tangled wisteria might have inspired many Art Nouveau artists?  I also very much admire wisteria left to just be a shrub.

Nearing the western edge of the Park, I came upon some additional showy groups of tulips.

Yellow is not the only color that tulips favor.

Just before leaving the Park, I noticed these demure little blue beauties.

Not long thereafter, I was home, and able to take another look at another treat I brought back from the East Side.  I think that these macarons are flown in daily from Paris.

When I checked my mailbox, I found an additional Federal income tax refund check had arrived!

I return to work very early tomorrow, attending a meeting, and will try not to drift off into continuing Country Dreams.

I do hope that your mid-April days are equally pleasant.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

City Views, Country Dreams

Hello from New York on Easter afternoon.

I did not go to the big Fifth Avenue Parade today, as I preferred to stay away from the crowds, and the tree pollen that's making my eyes sting.  Also, this was a good day to sort out some of the photos I took on my recent holiday visit to ... the UK.

It had been six years since my last stay in London, and I was so curious to see how airports, air travel and London had changed since that trip.

The airport security process was much easier than I had expected, and aside from just a bit of overnight turbulence, my journey was pleasant.  The plane was not full, and so even in a coach seat I had some space around me, which helped with a little dozing.

The next photo shows some Kensington rooftops visible from my comfortable hotel room.  Please do notice that blue sky.  The weather was remarkable during my stay with temperatures veering between springlike to almost summertime highs.

Within a day I was well over my touch of jet lag and began making my way around the city using an Oyster card.  Since Easter was near, there was a fund-raising contest underway involving trying to spot many of the over-sized, decorated, Easter eggs in various locations.  I must have seen about six during my travels.

I always find my way to the Trafalgar Square area, to see the square itself, St Martin's, and visit some of the nearby museums.  I spent a little time in the National Gallery, as always marveling at its glories.

The National Portrait Gallery was featuring a good Lucian Freud retrospective that I could not resist.  The NPG has small rooms, and some of the Freud paintings were quite large, so it was very good that timed tickets were required for entry.  Even so, crowding was a bit of a problem.  Still, I loved the show, particularly the opportunity to see some of the early works that I had not previously seen.

Speaking of crowds, it seemed to me that the London Underground trains were never quite as crowded as our New York City subway trains.  I also prefer the lighting of the Underground stations and carriages.  

The following photo shows part of the rather glamorous cafe at the Victoria & Albert Museum, a cafe and museum in which I spent quite a bit of time during my holiday.  It was also the location of a wonderful morning coffee get together with a Karen, of Pas Grand Chose, a blog I always enjoy reading.  Meeting Karen was delightful!

My hotel was just across (or "over") the road from the V&A.  I saw several special exhibits there, and loved sitting outdoors in its interior courtyard garden area, watching toddlers splashing around in the large shallow pool, while other folks sipped cappuccinos and chatted away.

I was able to meet several other bloggers, including Celia, whose Purple Podded Peas blog had already shown me what a fine artist she is.  Meeting her for a delicious lunch at a restaurant near the British Museum showed me what a friendly, funny and wise lady she is.

It was a pleasure to visit Persephone Books, also in Bloomsbury, have a catch-up chat over tea with a Persephone founder, and to deliberate over which of the Persephone books I was going to bring home.  I finally decided on Kitchen Essays, by Agnes Jekyll.  (I don't think I would every find that book anywhere else and its witty way of taking on kitchen and entertaining challenges is very wise.)

Prior to this London visit I had never explored any of the East End, having only gotten as far as the Tower of London back in 1975.  This time around, I was well prepared to see more of the area easily reached from the Liverpool Street Station Underground Station.  I immediately liked the contrasts of the skyline, but instantly preferred the older buildings.

For some years, I have been a regular reader of a blog, Spitalsfield Life, written anonymously, with great verve, dedication and style by The Gentle Author.  I have learned quite a bit about beautiful churches, like Christ Church, pictured below, and many other aspects of historic and contemporary life in Spitalfields and other East End neighborhoods.

Many of these blogs have now been compiled and published as a book, also entitled Spitalfields Life.  I was so fortunate to discover that there would be a launch party for the book during my London stay.  It was a great pleasure to attend this gathering, meet TGA and many of the people described in the blogs.  I was made to feel totally at home.

I had a grand time wandering around, seeing how new meshes with old, getting a sense of the atmosphere of this changing part of the city.

Having once lived in New York City's SoHo neighborhood during a time when that neighborhood was undergoing a big transformation from a scruffy, not too desirable area which housed some artists along side of various light industry businesses gave me some insights into what is now going on in Spitalfields.

I hope that the current mixture can be retained for a good while yet wondered about that when I saw the presence of a big Urban Outfitters shop.

The area has many walls that talented artists have used as their canvases, usually I believe with permission.  Sometimes, however, the invited artwork has been blanketed by another style of urban art.

I chose to paint the Pro Pro Pro side of this street instead of the equally strong, colorful type face opposite it that read Anti Anti Anti.

I met many fine folks while wandering around Spitalfields and had a very delicious lunch in the warmly hospitable E. Pellicci restaurant on Bethnal Green Road.  I highly recommend this restaurant to you.

With the splendid weather, I could not resist a ride out to magnificent Kew Gardens on Palm Sunday.  

I have been to this lovely place many times, but never quite at this particular point of spring.  It was blissful to stroll at my own pace from path to path, seeing birds, flowers, bees, other garden appreciators.

The Temperate House in the following photo is being restored bit by bit.  When this process is complete it will surely rival the more familiar pictured above.

I could not resist taking a close up photo of this monkey puzzle tree.  I remember first seeing these trees mentioned in stories by Barbara Pym, and wondering what on earth they looked like.  When I first saw one in the garden of a neighbor of a British friend I found its prehistoric looks remarkable.

Before returning to Kensington from Kew, I could not resist having a traditional Sunday lunch at the very traditional Maids of Honour restaurant.  Everything was absolutely perfect about that experience.  I hope to have lunch there again in the future.

Before leaving New York, I had obtained a ticket to the very large, very well-attended David Hockney exhibit at the Royal Academy.  By the time I got to London, the RA was staying open until midnight to accommodate the crowds hoping that queue-ing would yield them a sort of standing room only ticket.

I enjoyed the exhibit very much.  It's theme is DH's return to his childhood Yorkshire and his immersion in the Yorkshire landscape, resulting in many sketchbooks, many watercolor studies, many charcoal drawings, some acrylic paintings, many oil paintings, and finally many, many very large oil paintings.

I had previously seen some of the large paintings at the Pace Galleries here in New York, and they represented only a bit of what was on the RA walls.  One of my favorite rooms in this exhibit featured many sketchbooks of all sizes, pages of drawings in pencil, charcoal, ink, colored pencil and some watercolor washes, too.  I found them very fine, and was glad that David Hockey had decided to share those books with the public.

When I left the Royal Academy building to make my way through the courtyard to Piccadilly I saw the almost full moon very bright in the sky.  Hundreds of folks were still waiting in the queue.

On the next morning, I took a train from Paddington to see some gorgeous English landscape for myself.  I was incredibly fortunate and honored to be the guest of Gretel Parker, the creator of the Middle of Nowhere blog.  I hope that all of you have visited Gretel's blog.  If not, you are missing a treat.

I had a marvelous time seeing so much Cotswalds beauty.  Walking in the woods, investigating the quiet, ancient atmosphere of old, very old, churches.  I saw young lambs and mama ewes, young calves with with their moms, hundreds of slow moving pheasants and my very first hare.  Gretel and Andy were so very kind to me, sharing their lovely part of the world with this visitor from far away.

Gretel had baked a fantastic chocolate cherry cake and I am determined that she will give me the recipe.  We had all sorts of refreshments, although afternoon showers did change some picnic plans.  The delicious assortment of delicacies and restorative mugs of tea were served back indoors at the cottage.

I will never forget how much fun I had that day.  It truly did seem as if we'd known each other for a very long time, and we had the opportunity to trade lots of tales and laughter and get to know each other even better.  It was grand!

The following day I checked out of my London hotel and my Oyster card granted me a reluctant return trip to Heathrow's futuristic terminal five for my flight home.  I received a wonderful surprise when I learned that my ticket status had been greatly upgraded!  I traveled in a style that was previously completely unknown to me.  I think this upgrade might have been related to my having completed a questionnaire on the flight to the UK.  I have assured British Air that I am very willing to continue to complete any questionnaires that they might wish to send me.

And now I am home.  I have done my laundry, purchased groceries, cooked my own meals and washed my own dishes.  I have returned to work.  My mind is still full of vivid memories of the exceptionally fine days I spent across the Atlantic.  I saw other City Views, and I felt as if some of my Country Dreams came true.

Perhaps you can just make out in the above photo my recently-purchased addition to my egg cup collection.  I could not resist a little something to commemorate the Jubilee.

And now, let me wish you a very Happy Easter!