"the" Mrs. Astor

Monday, January 31, 2005

My refuge from the insanity of South Beach: The Back Yard and part of the garden that has been in the works for 18 months. By Sunday most of us are too exhausted to go on and I usually sit out here with my dogs and a book.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

What was I Thinking?

du Bois
Miami Beach

It's all so hazy. On Friday night The Club held a Bon Voyage party for many of the 3,200 men sailing yesterday on The Navigator of the Seas for a gay cruise. It seemed that most of them were from New England and New York and were delighted to have survived the blizzard. The mood was one of wild abandon, stunning liquor consumption, and outrageous behavior. Miami Beach brings out the worst behavior in people, both in tourists and locals. The warm weather makes everyone loose, the skimpy clothing makes everyone horny, and the palm trees make you happy just to be in a town where there are so many. Excess is a religion here.

du Barry, of course, parked herself in a part of the bar known as First Class that affords her unobstructed view of the room and easy access to the bartender. No one can enter or leave this room without passing her scrutiny and I, for one, try never leave her side. We are known as "the Rhode Island bitches", although that comes much more from jealousy than anything else.

Just to prove I'm not a snob I left her side after many glasses of wine and went over to chat with an adorable Peruvian boy with whom I have enjoyed several spirited conversations. Before long, the boy--I'm sure--suggested that we go into the powder room and adjust my French Twist. The wine, the heat, the moment; well, it's all so hazy. But one thing is not: The moment du Barry imperiously flung open the door is all too clear, as well as her, "What are you thinking?".

But when you read this, du Barry, please understand that the "embrace" you barged in on was nothing more than the adjusting of my whale-boned corset. I would do nothing to sully a good Rhode Island name. And next time I'll lock the door.

Friday, January 28, 2005

The Wine Club and Goat Cheese Snack

du Bois
Miami Beach

Once the momentum of the evening had been put in motion at Happy Hour yesterday, those of us who could still stand went to one of the many Wine Clubs that exist here in Miami. I don't know when these Clubs began, but they have a firm hold on social activity here. Basically a Wine Club is a sort of tupperware party of the wine set; the clubs meet at members' homes and everyone brings a bottle (or bottles) of their favorite wine. These wines are kept in paper bags to hide the details and sampled in copious quantities; it is a given that you will consume at least one bottle of wine at these events and the result is not only the possible discovery of a fine, new wine but of a date. There is one club here in Miami that owns the much-admired title of "En Vino Veritas".

I always bring a little something in the way of food to accompany these drinking parties and last night I brought tomatoes stuffed with goat cheese and chives. (I prepared the recipe earlier in the day.) As there were 12 guests at the wine club, I rinsed 12 plumb tomatoes in cold water and cut them in half lengthwise, scooping out the the fruit. They need to be placed flat on paper towels for about 20 minutes to drain. You need to buy the creamy style of goat cheese rather than the crumbly type so common in stores; this assures the consistency needed to fill the tomato shells. The half pound of cheese is placed in a bowl with a half cup of chopped chives, five tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, and a generous amount of ground pepper and mashed until all the ingredients form a creamy mixture. A good, old fashioned wooden spoon will do fine. Scoop the mixture into the now dry tomato shells and serve.

It is a welcomed accompaniment to any wine party and allows you not only to bask in the praise of the guests, but to assure something is in your stomach other than the wine.

I just adore this WWI photo of German officers having fun. The boy looks so happy.

My Happiest Hours were spent with the wonderful and exciting Lahoma van Zandt.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Off to Happy Hour

A lovely, sunny day on South Beach. I'm going to leave my office early, grab my parisol, and walk down to gay beach. At three I will meet up with du Barry and four other ladies of Society at The Club, and drink ourselves silly. Perhaps I can finally convince du Barry (who is staying at her maison de sante here until the ice flows surrounding Newport diminish) to finally contribute something from that old and very experienced mind of hers.

Nigella Bites

by du Bois
Miami Beach

I just purchased my second cookbook written by UK television superstar, Nigella Lawson. It's entitled "Nigella Bites", the title of her TV cooking show. Nigella is not the typical cooking show host. She's not homey in a Martha Stewart way and she doesn't exude the showmanship of Emeril, but what she does possess is something rarely seen in that world: Glamour.

Having grown up watching Julia Child, I have to say that the modern female cook has come a long way in the form of Nigella. Her inherent sense of style and beauty no doubt reflects the years she spent working for British Vogue and she was even voted number 84 on AskMen.com's list of the 99 Most desirable Women. The Two Fat Ladies, bless their hearts and souls, never could claim that on their resume. Nigella earned a degree in Medieval and Modern Languages at Oxford and went on to work for The Times, Daily Telegraph, Guardian, and other UK papers. Beauty and brains; you just don't see that on cooking shows. Her appeal and charm are always a part of her recipes, and she often says, "If it tastes good, eat it". She doesn't bend to the food fascists who would have you substitute taste for supposed health; her ingredients are natural foods prepared in classic manner for maximum pleasure. She was once quoted as saying, "I am not a chef. I am not even a trained or professional cook. My qualifications is as an eater. What a gal!

I may not be getting to the book soon with the flurry of activity here in Miami that constitutes "The Season", but when I do and when I test cook a few they will be passed on. I can't wait (and neither can my dog, KiKi, who shares all my cooking).

The sultry Nigella Lawson, star of Nigella Bites and author of four best-selling cookbooks.

Happy birthday to Lahoma van Zandt, of the van Zandts of Atlanta. An internationally renown entertainer, Lahoma's career has spanned vaudeville to video. D.W. Griffith is creditied with discovering ths multi-talented beauty. She retired from stage and screen some years ago and now is a senior editor for a national magazine. And--what do you know--she now resides on Astor Place in NYC. Thanks for the many years of friendship and laughs. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

"Do not speak of repulsive matters at table"

by du Bois
Miami Beach

Amy Vanderbilt once wrote that and this was once the cornerstone of table manners (along with keeping your mouth shut while eating). But it appears that the polarization of general society is making polite dinner conversation improbable, if not impossible. With the du Barry welcome back dinner postponed until next Monday, I gladly accepted an invitation last night to another.

Now this was a rather smart grouping of eight professional, presumably well-educated adults, and although they were not part of my "set" we all were well-acquainted. And perhaps my mind had been somewhat corrupted by another dining adventure this weekend where the talk pleasantly drifted between the subjects of entertainment, fashion, and sensual adventure. But, no sooner had our gracious host served soup when one guest--a lawyer of suspect reputation--loudly proclaimed that the United States should now hop from Arab state to Arab state and remove "the trouble-makers". The spoonful of Cream of Wild Mushroom curdled on my tongue. Several guests uncomfortably tried to steer the conversation elsewhere, like to the weather, but Mr. Lawyer continued on his way. I didn't know ambulance chasers spent so much time on affairs of state.

By the time the pork loin roast was served (in a red wine/Dijon sauce that I will get the recipe for), this simpleton had American troops in two other Arab states. How could The War be in any way dinner conversation? My discomfort was too apparent. I softly said to my host, "How boorish." whereupon Mr. Lawyer snapped, "You think it's boring?" "Boor-ISH", I replied, "BOOR-ISH." I don't think he had ever heard the term, although he was quite accomplished at it. I so wanted to chime in with something like how this endless war was going to bankrupt the economy or why were so many young men and women dying for a cause so vague and lifeless, but two things are certain. One is that you never put your host on the spot, and the other is that a boorish mind will never be changed over a pork loin. Everyone sort of made it through the salad without much more talk of war or pestilence, but it certainly made me wish for the dining companions of the weekend.

Dinner conversations should always be gay and amusing, even if your company is not. The recipe for that pork loin will be forthcoming.

War? What war? Let's go the the Ball. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Boating and Punch

du Bois
Miami Beach

Sunday was unusually warm here on The Beach, so when dear JS called with an invitation to go on an afternoon sailing trip, I took my boater out of it's hat box, slipped on my squashed-heeled canvas shoes, and dashed. I grabbed a carton of strawberries, two mangos, and a bottle of Grey Goose that I had purchased at the farmers' market earlier. We boarded on the bay side of the island at 15th Street at 12:30 PM and shortly thereafter headed north.

There is never any shortage of liquor on JS's boat, but we did want to make up something special; the ladies on board were in a festive mood. JS steered us to sea along one of the ubiquitous canals that dot the barrier islands here. Crossing through the 20th Street canal, we spotted a Publix supermarket and came to a halt. Miami is one of the few places you can pull a boat up to a supermarket and go shopping. We jumped off and quickly picked up a large watermelon, containers of orange, pineapple, cranberry, and passion fruit juice, two oranges and some club soda. I am well-known for being punch-happy and we were now ready to create the ideal Boating Punch. We took the watermelon and sliced it in half length-wise. A machete is perfect for this, but--alas--we settled for a chef's knife. We set one half aside for slicing later and scooped out the other. You don't really want to scoop everything as a little fruit adds to the taste. Quickly put, we emptied the containers of juice into the watermelon shell, added two bottles of club soda (ginger ale does nicely, too), threw in sliced oranges, cubed mango, and the strawberries. Oh, yes, the 1.5 liter of Grey Goose and a jigger of Cointreau topped this off quite nicely.

Punches are a common denominator of any event and, of course, there was no worry about breaking the bowl. In fact, you can just toss the bowl overboard and let the fishes feed on the liquor-soaked rind. They need a lift, too.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Countess du Barry relaxing after her Caribbean cruise. Posted by Hello

du Barry Is Back!

Society rejoices at the return of du Barry to her winter Maison de Sante here in Miami. And what do you know, she's throwing a dinner party on Monday evening to welcome herself back. As no one in their right mind would pass up on a du Barry dinner, it should be well-attended. Rumor is that du Barry will entertain us with ribald stories of her cruise, or "How I Learned Where the Term Coal Stoker Came From". Welcome back; now The Season can really begin.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Beechwood. Mrs. Astor's summer "cottage" in Newport, RI at which du Barry hosts her summer events. (You can see du Barry peeking out the lower right window.) Posted by Hello

Friday, January 21, 2005

Tomato Sauce for the Simple Minded

by du Bois
Miami Beach

Well, if my ears didn't fail me it seems as if President Bush got through the whole Inaugural Speech yesterday without uttering the word "Iraq". No use being at war if you can't talk about it. But, then, if you are losing the war maybe it would be wise to talk about something else like liberty or perhaps just tomato sauce. A good, simple tomato sauce is just what the people need, not all this talk about Iraq.

Tomato Sauce for the Simple-Minded

This is a basic recipe for tomato sauce. It will be referenced later when expanded upon. And if I don't hear from du Barry we will expand upon it very quickly. OK, we know that jarred tomato sauce if readily available, but this home-prepared recipe takes only minutes to prepare and offers a significant improvement in taste. Jarred tomato sauce may suffice for dinner alone, but think of your guests and they will applaud your effort.

Use a 28-ounce can of Progresso crushed tomatoes. The only other ingredients for the base are extra-virgin olive oil (or butter), 5 garlic cloves (you really can never have too many. They give life to most foods and are healthy for you, too.), a small onion, and salt and black pepper (ground, please). Also, if your grandmother made her own sauce you might remember her adding sugar to cut the acidity.

Slice and chop the onion and mince the garlic. You can crush the cloves with the side of your chef's knife, but there's nothing wrong with having a mincer around the kitchen. Set them aside. Don't skimp on the oil or butter or the sauce will be soupy. Since you don't cook like this every day ignore caloric worries and enjoy the moment. Simmer six tablespoons of oil or half a stick of butter in a large sauce pan over a medium heat and add the onions first and the garlic one minut later. In about four minutes the onions will be soft, the garlic will sizzle, and the can of tomatoes can be added. Continue simmering for 15 minutes and add the pinch of sugar, ground pepper and salt to taste. Remember to stir and taste. This is the base of all tomato sauces and it is simple and quick to prepare. Fill a gravy boat with some sauce, set aside for topping at the dinner table, and add your cooked pasta to the sauce pan, stirring in.

War, what war?

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Naughty #6: Cream

Whether you like it from your pool boy or served over your asparagus, cream is a naughty delight. One of cream's most endearing apparitions is a Bechamel sauce and it is not all that complicated to prepare.

Melt two tablespoons of butter in a saucepan, adding to it two tablespoons of flour, mixing well and cooking until a real nice brown. Add a cup of boiling milk gradually, stirring constantly, and add a cup of chopped onion, too. Season lightly and cook over a low flame for 15 minutes. Strain and serve. This is the father of all cream sauces and was named after the maitre d'hotel of Louis XIV.

10 Naughty Vices

All contact has been lost with du Barry. The poor dear may have pulled a Natalie Wood. While we await word as to if she has been picked up by a passing Russian trawler (where she will probably be dining a la Russe in a very naughty way), I want to share the Flocker Vices.

Naughty Vices - Ten Bad Things That Are Good For You

1. Drinking to the point of embarrassment

2. Sleeping past noon

3. Shopping on credit

4. Sex with an ex

5. Gambling

6. Cream sauce

7. Calling in to work sick

8. Staying up late

9. Gossip

10. Plotting revenge

These are so delightful that they merit study on an individual level. We know our dear, dear friends over at PageSixSixSix pretty much have number 9 wrapped up with a bow, but we fear that The Countess du Barry might have number 1 in a death grip. Before contact was lost she gave me a buzz and described how spacious her two bedroom suite was on The Fascination. Before we got much beyond that, she excitedly exclaimed that she had to go because the ship was rocking to and fro. The poor thing was calling me from dry land in Key West.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Titanic Champagne Punch

I got a garbled email from du Barry last night and will translate her Gentlemen's Chicken recipe. Although I may have not charged into the 21st Century with as much gusto as one might have liked, du Barry is trapped in the 19th. Nothing would make her happier than to inscribe her notes on fine, linen writing paper, place them in a scented envelope, and them float them to me from her cruise.

With her cruise underway, I offer up this punch which will satisfy on sea or on land.

To each bottle of champagne add one bottle of club soda, one shot glass of brandy, and one of Cointreau. Prepare to have six to ten bottles of each (as well as the shots). Slice the rind of an orange very thin and add. What makes this "Titanic" is the berg of ice. Create the iceberg by freezing water in a plastic container or--if you want a berg of more character--in a zip-lock food bag. It creates a nice, irregular piece that you can sprinkle some powdered sugar on top of for a little more effect. (You may also float a plastic, toy soldier in the punch and make believe it's Leonardo di Caprio.) Decorate with sliced pineapple and orange and plenty of fresh mint.

Keep drinking, but never take you eyes off of Lifeboat Station #1, du Barry.

Monday, January 17, 2005

"Bye, Bye du Barry

du Bois
Miami Beach, FL

Dear, dear deluded sister. Are we hitting the sherry again? For only then could you be so confused about dates and ages, who is older and who is prettier. Oh well, you promised one of your famous recipes, Gentlemen's Chicken, for us today before the cruise and we will be waiting. And by the way, dear, modern day ships have many, many new features available like internet hook-up and running water. They're a far cry from your last sailing adventure on The Mayflower; you no longer have to carry your chamber pot to the side of the ship and hurl it.

I know you are bringing something very special to wear to The Captain's Reception and this event brings to mind the art of hand-shaking. While the shaking of hands may seem rather perfunctory, there are laws of gentleness that apply. The hand-clasp is a cordial expression of good will, but there are limits. Everyone knows, and shudders at, the woman who gives two, or at most three, fingers of a cold and lifeless hand. Likewise, everyone fears the brute who swallows up the entire hand and and crushes it. Each extreme is to be avoided. Both ladies and gentlemen always rise to shake hands. Elderly people, or invalids, are permitted to keep their seats and children shouldn't be around in the first place. At the formal reception it is quite likely that ship's officers and certain ladies will be wearing gloves. It is not necessary to remove gloves in a hand-shake. That is a old custom dating back to the Middle Ages when knights removed an armored, spiked glove before shaking hands. Gloves always have to be removed before sitting at a dinner table, though.

Speaking of dinner, we will look forward to your recipe for Gentlemen's Chicken. My, with the number of gentlemen you have entertained it must be very good, indeed.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Dinner

by du Barry
Newport, RI

My dear, older sister, Alexis du Bois kindly asked me to contribute to this site by drawing on my many years of event planning here in Newport. Much will be coming, but a family cruise pressures me into what is perhaps just a wish-list for the perfect dinner. It will be short and to the point.

Perhaps the grandest dinner is a la Russe. Imperial Russia was nothing if not over-the-top. This dinner is as follows: Oysters, soup, fish, roast, Roman punch, game, salad and cheese, dessert, fruits, sweets and coffees. This can, of course, be shortened to need, but it remains the standard of fine dining. Every dinner should begin with soup. From this there is never any deviation. Soup is to dinner what the overture is to an opera. Mock Turtle Soup is the classic and the recipe will follow after the cruise. Follow this with salmon in lobster sauce, cucumbers, chicken croquettes, roast lamb with spinach, canvas-back duck, celery, string beans served on toast, lettuce salad, assorted cheese, pineapple Bavarian cream, ices, fruits, and coffees. There will be no complaints.

It is here that your gift as a host comes into play. Wherever possible, serve every course on a different dish. There is nothing as boring as the same pattern being thrust under you nose. Make the dishes wildly diverse and you will create a thrill to match the serving of food. Recipes to follow.