Wednesday, September 30, 2009

El maestro Cristobal Balenciaga

First there is the musicality of the name, Cristobal Balenciaga is a name which sings. I think the first time I read his name was on a flask of his famous perfume Le Dix. Then because I like fashion and designers I read more about him when I was a student or rather it's a friend who studied at the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris who made me discover his work.

Cristobal Balenciaga, whom Christian Dior baptized notre maître à tous, (the master of all masters) was born in 1895 in a little fishermen village Getaria, in Spain on the Basque coast. His mother was a seamstress and undoubtedly the little boy developed his taste for fabrics and clothes from seeing his mother work. He started at the age of 12 as an apprentice for a tailor then was sent to Madrid to learn the trade. Interestingly, he started as a buyer. At that time, Gabrielle Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli and Madeleine Vionnet were his fashion icons. He bought their models which he would undo then reconstruct in order to understand the construction of a garment.

He opened his first shop in San Sebastian in 1919, quickly became successful and opened other shops in Madrid and Barcelona. Many of his clients were members of the Spanish royal family and aristocrats.
When the civil war divided Spain in 1936, Cristobal left for Paris where he created his own maison de couture, on 10 avenue George V in 1937.

His first collection was a total success : everybody raved about his perfect little black dresses and the name of Balenciaga quickly became a reference. They all wanted him: the Duchess of Windsor, Barbara Hutton, Pauline de Rothschild and Countess Mona Bismarck.

Throughout his career Balenciaga always strived to work on the construction and volume of the garment and considered his trade as a combination of several arts. He used to say a couturier must be an "architect for the plans, a sculptor for the shape, a painter for the colours, a musician for the harmony and a philosopher for measure".

When Christian Dior's New Look was all rage, Balenciaga responded with balloon volumes, voluminous coats and more fluid lines.
In the 50s, he created the sack-dress, the tunique-dress, the semi-fitted suit and the baby doll dress.
It is said that he imposed the marinière (sailor's shirt) but didn't Chanel feature the sailor's style in her former collections too ?

Unlike most couturiers, who only designed their models, Balenciaga designed, cut and assembled its own models. Hubert de Givenchy, one of his great admirers, said: "Balenciaga not only created a style but also a technique. He was the architect of haute couture".

The dress below is quite exemplary of Balenciaga's genius, the elegant balance between right lines and curves.

© Balenciaga Archives Paris - Kublin

Here is one of his famous suits with a slightly curved back

© L'Officiel 1955 - Pottier

An amazing semi flower dress

© L'Officiel 1951 - Pottier

One of his famous cape coats with a voluminous collar and which wraps like a cape

© Balenciaga Archives Paris - Kublin

In 1968, Paris is shaken by the spirit of the révolution culturelle. Six years before, Balenciaga presented for the first time very high boots in his collection which his models wore with mini skirts. Again he had shown his genius but the master was weary and didn't feel the spirit anymore. So he chose to leave and close his maison de couture in 1968. He retired to his beloved Spain where he died in 1972.

I wish I had the means to buy myself a pretty black vintage Balenciaga dress at Didier Ludot shop ! I'm not a 100% fashionista but I think it must be very moving to touch and own a garment created by such a rigorous and talented designer.

At least, I have these shoes.....
A few years ago, I had to go to Paris for my work and waited 4 hours at the Madrid airport. I was a bit nervous about the clothes I brought with me and decided I needed new shoes so I took the tube and dashed off to the nearest El Corte Inglès store. The minute I saw them, it was love at first sight and it's still is....Of course, they're not vintage but at least to me they capture a bit the spirit of the master !

last pic : Monchéri

Monday, September 28, 2009

La tarte des demoiselles Tatin

At the end of the XIXth century, two sisters Caroline and Stéphanie Tatin ran this charming country hotel in the village of Lamotte-Beuvron situated in the beautiful region of Sologne, in France. Stéphanie was in charge of managing the hotel and Caroline cooked and prepared meals for the many hunters who spent the week end in Sologne. One day, there were so many clients that Caroline got a bit distracted and while making an apple tart, she did it the wrong way, put the apples first in the mold then the pastry. She got all confused and turned it over before presenting it to the customers who found this dessert truly delicious : the caramelized apples were pleasantly sweet and soft. And a new sweet star was born : the tarte Tatin which Curnonsky, the famous gastronomy critic baptized the tarte des demoiselles Tatin in 1926.

Actually the anecdotes vary as to how the tarte was created. Some say, in their haste, the sisters dropped the tarte on the floor and put it back in the wrong order in the mold to bake a bit more. Others said Caroline let the tarte burn in the oven then added more pastry on top.....
Anyway, we must thank them for having created such a great dessert which on top of that is very simple to make...Ready ?

This is the recipe I use to make my tarte Tatin (a combination of Pierre Hermé's recipe and others recipe found on the net). I apologize to all my readers who are not familiar with the European measures but I don't know how to convert grams in cups !

For 6 persons, you need:

1,5 kg of apples (golden or reinette- the kind of apple which bakes well)
250g of pâte brisée (or you can buy an already made pastry roll)
250g of sugar
130g of butter

First, prepare your pâte brisée with 190g of butter, 250g of flour and 5 cl of water or milk.

Cut the butter in very small dice and crush it with a spatula in a bowl.
Pour the liquid little by little on the butter and move with the spatula.
Sift the flour and add it little by little.
Don't work the dough too much.
Make sure all the ingredients are well mixed together and that the texture is homogeneous. Roll the dough into a ball.
Wrap it into a plastic film and let it rest in the fridge for 2h.

Note: it's important to let the dough rest because then the pastry is much more elastical

Preheat the oven at 180ºC.

Peel the apples and cut them in quarters of halves.

In a pan, cook the butter and sugar together until you obtain a brown caramel. Make sure it doesn't get too dark, otherwise the caramel will taste bitter.

Pour the caramel into the mold (25cm diameter).

Place the sliced apples on the caramel and bake for 50mn to 1h at 180ºC.

Take out the mold from the oven and let it cool.

Extend the dough (it must be 2,5mm thick) then cover the apples with it. Make sure you cover the mold very well.

Bake for 30mn until the dough is golden.

Take out the mold out of the oven. Let it cool a bit. Turn the pie upside down and eat it warm or lukewarm.

In France, the tarte Tatin is often served with cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream but the purists claim this is not the real tarte Tatin...oh well...sometimes it's good to transgress traditional rules !

Bon appétit !

pic # 1 is from the official site of Lamotte-Beuvron town

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A room with a view in Casa Morisca Hotel in Granada

Today was my first day out in Granada and it was so good to feel the happy bon enfant vibrations of my beloved city. I don't know exactly which virgen is being celebrated this week end but in every corner, piles of tortas de la virgen were sold with long candle sticks to burn. Unfortunately I was out without my camera so I couldn't take any pics. And instead of showing you images of busy streets and squares, I take you to one of the fantastic places I discovered last summer. As you know, I've started a new activity as a wedding planner in Granada and I'm always looking for nice venues or romantic hotels my clients might like.

The Hotel Casa Morisca is one of those charming boutique hotels where you feel at once cozy and grateful for the quiet ambiance and the amazing views onto the Alhambra. Every year, Monchéri and I spend King's night in a nice hotel in Granada but I guess we'll have to make it a quarterly habit as there are so many lovely hotels which opened recently.
Just for now, I've been dreaming of writing long missives on this little desk, looking at the Alhambra and the old tiles roofs. There is something about old tiles which always make me feel romantic.
The hotel was built in a house dating back from the end of the XVth century and preserved the Morisco style with stucco-work arches, colored tiles and the original pool in the patio.
The outdoor patio is ideal for a quiet breakfast in the sun

Unless, you want to have it served in your room

At the time I write this post it's nearly 10pm and I think I could virtually hop into this bed just for the pleasure of gazing at the wooden ceiling.


I wish you all a great week end and before I go, I want to send a big hug to dear blogging friend Se'lah from Necessary Room who hosted a Gift of Jewels exchange and I was so thrilled to receive this beautiful Old Southe scented candle from Vchelle. I've been burning it at night since the past few days and its sweet Georgia peach aroma is just heavenly....Thank you Se'lah and Vchelle!
Tomorrow, the weather will certainly be cloudy and rainy here
so all the more propitious to make a tarte tatin!

ps : Hop to my other blog Un mariage au soleil to see what I'm up to workwise....definitely getting into the festive season....(and to think we're only end of september but Christmas will knock at our door in no time)

Hotel Casa Morisca

Cuesta de la Victoria,9 - Granada

pics : 1 & 6 from the hotel website

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The apple of my taste.....

It's this time of the year again when days are still warm in the morning and get chilly in the evening. The almond picking has started in the valley; soon most families will start making their own sweet wine called el mosto. I could drink a whole jug of it but it's quite treacherous so I usually keep to one glass.
There is no autumn as such here in Andalusia. The locals say aqui pasamos directamente del verano al we go directlly from summer to winter...well it's not exactly true but we take pleasure in saying que frio hace por la mañana...ya se ha ido el verano! It's cold in the morning...summer is gone!

This morning I went to the market only to get a glimpse of the red and yellow heaps of various apples. I don't know why but I always see apples as a happy fruit just like cherries or apricots. May be because it's round and has several varieties.

I'm contemplating to make tarte tatin over the week end to get in the autumnal mood.....

pics : me

Monday, September 21, 2009

Back in blogland with a smile on my face....and here's to friendship

I'm so glad to be back in blogland after all this time spent half lying down, half reading, half walking slowly. Still, no dancing for me alas but well little by little. One week ago, I celebrated my birthday with my lovely friends who brought cakes, more books to read (I've just discovered Nancy Mitford and loved it and laughed with Graham Greene with Travels with my aunt) and a beautiful handmade marmalade which my sweet friend Josiane made with tangerines from her garden.

My darling Gym gave me this exquisite perfume flask crafted by some local artisans. I love it so much and placed it right under my field of vision whenever I lie down to read. It's quite unique don't you think?

I also got this adorable vintage Spanish tea cup from Tim. So cute ! I now use it everyday for breakfast and it so brightens my day....
Monchéri was sad because he had ordered a big bunch of red roses to be delivered on that day and the guy just never showed up !
oh the end we laughed because after all this kind of thing can happen in Andalusia....
and with or without roses, I told him I couldn't have been happier...

In the morning, the postman brought a package filled with some of my favorite French sweet things and sent by my mom who is now in France. She knows I love meringue lemon pie but couldn't really send a real one by post so she got me a nice ersatz, tiny lemon tartlets by Bonne Maman (also because she knows I love the design of this brand!). She added 3 packages of my favorite madeleine, the typical madeleine de Commercy....I guess one really has to be fussy about sweets like me to tell the difference with ordinary madeleines ! By the time I write this post, alas there are only 2 madeleines left and I'm keeping them preciously for tea this afternoon with Monchéri with what is left of the exquisite tangerine marmalade.

The week following my birthday, I kept thinking I should really call my friends more often. We're so busy with our own life and we never actually ponder about the value and meaning of friendship. Now I know for sure genuine friendship is such a treasure...

I also thought I should blog more about my already know Gym from here and here. She just started a blog called The Sandpit Club about her life in Andalusia, her job as a decorator on ads and movie sets, her very special shop Camel Stop. You know Josiane's home from here. I've been wanting to post since a lot time ago, about my other dear French friend Anne-Muriel who owns a charming rural hostal in another village. I promise I'll do so in the near future. We all live in the Lecrin valley in the south of Granada in different villages.
Last but not least, some of you already know my friend Tim, a very talended photographer (he is the author of my banner) who writes the very colorful blog Mediterranean Life, Interior Design and Photography. We always have a good laugh with Tim because he's brimming with the most funny and interesting ideas. We sometimes get together for photos projects. I'm planning to make another tableau vivant with him for a new banner and he's planning to...but sssh...I can't say it yet ! Last year, we spent a series of very enjoyable sundays shooting Monchéri making a lemon meringue pie....And where is it you'll ask me ?
Well...the truth is I was supposed to edit it but I'm totally crap at it....Yes Tim, if you happen to read this post...sorry I need you again !!

I'll end this post wishing you a very nice start of the week hoping autumn in your part of the world rhymes with alegretto ad libitum...
I haven't visited all of you yet but I'm on my way slowly but surely !

I'm so happy to tell you : see you on wednesday and most important
Let love be in the air !

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Back from San Cecilio hospital and post surgery rest

My lovelies, dear readers, it's been more than a week now that I'm back home and I can't tell you how happy I was to finally lie down in my bed and rest. Well it's going to take a while to fully recover but I'm definitely on the mend. You see, I needed to have a hysterectomy. (horrible word isn't it ?). As you can imagine, it's really not what I wished for but it was the only possible remedy offered to me and I had no choice. To explain things briefly, I had too many problems with my period for a long time due to big fibromas (am not too sure it's the correct medical term in English). The doctors also detected high grade lesions but then the biopsy was negative which my gynecologist found quite suspicious. She immediately prescribed the operation to be safer. But first I needed to treat the anemia due to the excessive bleeding.

And this is how, I ended at the San Cecilio hospital. I've never had an operation in my life, not even appendicitis and funnily enough, what I dreaded more was not the operation itself but the anesthesia. Monchéri held my hand all the way to the surgery room. We were both quite nervous and tried our best to hide it, telling each other we'll meet up very soon. That day, the surgeon who was supposed to perform the operation couldn't come so I was introduced to another surgeon: Dr Francisco Beltran. I felt immediately reassured as I knew he had a good reputation and I was relieved to be in such good hands. We chatted a bit about the operation. He guessed from my accent that I was French. As he was checking my last name, he also guessed I have Malagasy origins and then I was put to sleep on these words : Como me gustaria ir a Madagascar...How I'd love to go to Madagascar. When I woke up, it seemed only 10 minutes have gone by. A man in green came up to me and immediately after, Monchéri's smiling face was approaching mine. It was done, I felt calm and serene. The pain only came the day after. It seemed to me my guts were just moving on their own. I had nervous spasms and a terrible pain on my left side. I dreaded getting up and I'll be for ever grateful to a nurse called Trini who helped me every day to get up without hurting myself, explaining to me, I had to measure my movements like in Tai'chi. Oh, she was unbelievable and her smiling face in the early morning really cheered me up during my stay. I can't wait to be able to walk properly and bring her a big bunch of flowers at the hospital to thank her.
Unlike the other patients in my room, (we were four) I didn't have too many visits because I knew I would be sleeping most of the time. My lovely French friends Josiane and Anne-Muriel came especially to bring me some Japanese soup, as I told them the food wasn't exactly wonderful. My little bedtable soon became a miniature grocery store filled with packets of biscuits, dried fruit, exquisite Morroccan pastries brought by my French Moroccan friends. Monchéri bought fashion magazines so that I won't be too bored. My parents called everyday to check how I was getting on. I won't felt so nice to be pampered and spoilt !
I am also so grateful to all of you who left me a comment or emailed me. You are so sweet and dear to my heart ! I read each of your comments with little tears in my eyes. I was so touched....I will very soon come and visit you and thank you properly. I can't stay too long on the computer as after a while I get a bit dizzy but you will see me definitely on your blogs in the next days....
Also I want to reassure you, after having felt depressed a few days about the operation, I now feel totally positive and my old cheerful self. As you can imagine, Monchéri's support and love were essential to me and helped me tremendously. As he says, we can still adopt a baby - just like my lovely blogging friend Yoli - and life goes on. So I'm saying yes to life and its endless possibilities....

Again thank you so much for your love and kindness
You're great !!!!
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