Musings from Quince

Kosmo – Cat Extraordinaire, and then some….
March 14, 2012, 5:54 pm
Filed under: Essence | Tags: , ,

Hi, it’s been way too long since I’ve posted a new blog! I could offer a zillion legitimate excuses, but this time there’s no bailing out.  Kosmo deserves at least some semblance of a tribute recalling what made him truly one-of-a-kind, and I’m very sure he would expect this acknowledgment at the very least!  It’s so hard to believe he’s not around….Kosmo was quite the exceptional kitty, and I’m very sad that he’s “crossed the bridge”, so to speak.  But, it was his time, after 18 years of a near-perfect life, to peacefully “move on” after a pretty rough year, health-wise.  So, here are some of the high points of his life which illustrate what made him so darn special.  All of you fortunates who have been on the receiving end of his affection already understand exactly what all of the hoopla is about.  Back in 1994, after semi-agonizing over whether or not I could actually take responsibility for…a pet…. I decided to go ahead and check out the CASPCA, figuring that I’d know “it” when I saw “it”. I went every single day for a week, all dressed up in fancy business attire, making my way through a semi-stinky, wet series of rooms which housed dozens of cats. I was getting impatient until, on day 7, I rounded the corner and there he was, in a corner cage, waiting patiently for me to show up.   Just brought in by someone who found him in the bushes along Rt. 29, about 6 months old, tuxedo on, gorgeous, ready to come home….yes!  We locked eyes, and I knew he was it; unfortunately, he had to remain there for another 5 days to rule out any weird bug, germ, etc.  So, I visited every day, and he couldn’t wait for me to get him out of there!  I brought him home, and that night had about 6 people over for dinner….trying to figure out a name, someone suggested “Kosmo”, and bingo, that was it! I also realized, at that point, that he had chosen me.

So, basically he had this “air” about him; if he could wear a smoking jacket and smoke a pipe, it would have been so right.  His facial expressions ranged from debonair to aloof, and when he wasn’t tormenting Babs, his counterpart who joined him a year later, he was very busy lounging in front of huge windows, watching the cardinals, snowflakes, and bees twirl around outside…snoozing on the porch, choosing the warmest lap for a nap, or supervising all activities throughout the house (whew, busy schedule!).  While he seemed like he was in such control over so many things, he was downright greedy for hugs and love – he never, ever got enough!  He made it a point for his entire 18 years to greet every visitor, whether a new friend, old friend, repairman, houseguest, etc. to be sure they had everything they needed throughout their stay.  If there were 2 people or 10 people seated in the living room, he would travel from lap to lap for some petting and reassurance that everyone was happy – I’m not kidding, he continued this practice right up until his last week!  People were amazed, and immediately melted – even cat non-enthusiasts (and you know who you are, gentle reader(s)).

Of course, being feline in nature, there were many opportunities for him to push the envelope.  I remember very clearly the night he went up in flames (literally!).  I had just finished a complete renovation of my master bathroom and was celebrating with a glass of wine by candlelight, the cell phone in hand, while enjoying an inaugural bubble bath, on the way to a party.  The votive candle was set on the toilet tank lid, out-of-the-way, or so I thought.  Koz decided to investigate, gave it a sniff and turned away, his tail brushing the flame, and within 2 seconds, he was COMPLETELY engulfed in blue flames!  He took off, I dropped the phone, and I, dripping, buck naked, found him sitting under my bed, probably the most flammable thing in the house!  The flames had extinguished, but the stench of burning fur was horrible.  I lunged for him and he took off, this time, running under the dining room table….My windows provided any UVA student next door (I was living on U-Circle at the time) a full range of comical shots of a crazy naked cat woman chasing her charred cat around the house.  Luckily, the only damaged he sustained was to his ego….that was a close one!

He always loved to investigate bowls containing any kind of liquid or food – he lapped up water, most beverages, butter, bowls with remnants of food in them, whatever.  I always had to be on stand-by, ready to shoo him off the kitchen counters or dining table.  One New Year’s Eve, I had a party and had the house all spiffed up.  Some guests (ironically his vet. was in attendance) noticed he seemed to be staggering around….couldn’t figure it out until later until I noticed the essential oil I had poured into a vessel was bone dry…seems he had lapped it all up…again, luckily no harm done.

Throughout the years, I had some misgivings about confining Kosmo & Babs to the house.  Was I being cruel by denying them the delights of running around freely?  Well, I think not – I wanted them to live longer, and my neighborhood wasn’t exactly prime for safe roaming….on occasion, however, Kosmo would bolt when he had the chance.  He once got out after a snowstorm, and all I could see was the tip of his tail making its way down the driveway towards the street, along a narrowly shoveled pathway….another time, I followed him to a neighbor’s garage at the end of the street…the most embarrassing time was when I was going to a black tie event, waiting for 3 people to show up (yes, Cindy & Sanjiv).  My date was a blind date (forever the last one I will ever have) and I was dressed in chiffon and sequins….we had a few drinks and as I opened the door (it was now dark outside) for us to leave, Kosmo ran out, straight down a very sharp incline in my next door neighbor’s lot.  Well, that wouldn’t do, so I took off after him, slipped and landed, face first, in a pile of leaves and mud. Nice!  I managed to retrieve Koz, but I was a messy wreck.  All 3 stared at me in disbelief as I marched into the house, with cat, to freshen up.  They swear I was drunk (no way after 2 drinks), but I was not, only afraid Koz would be run over or kidnapped by UVA undergrads.

Three years ago, Millie & Dexter, 2 black & white shelter kittens, took up residence with Kosmo, and it was a very slow transition.  After about a month, he finally gave up and allowed them to be part of the family, but I know they tired him out with their energy and playfulness.  We moved from Ivy back into the city last summer, and he, in his curmudgeonly way, seemed to be content.  So, he was a cat.  Big deal.  Yes, he was, actually, a very big deal!

Thank you, Kosmo, for all your charm, personality, and everything else that made you so absolutely fabulous!  You had a great run, and will be sorely missed!  If any of you readers would like to comment on Kosmo, he and I would love it!


Aunt Lucy’s Legacy

Corn Puddin'

Here comes the holiday season!  We’re into Fall full swing:  crisp air, blue skies, piles of leaves, fireplaces ready for action, perfect excuses for entertaining, and the opportunity to shine as an invited guest….how does one shine?  Well, by bringing, as requested or offered, an outstanding side dish which will stand on its own as part of a huge gathering or small dinner party.  I just happen to have a very yummy dish, Aunt Lucy’s corn puddin’ which is not only easy to prepare, but is so delicious people may end up swooning at the table as they reach for seconds and thirds.  By request and permission (given by Aunt Lucy’s great-niece), I am providing the recipe, complete with Aunt Lucy’s special terminology (i.e. “stir real good”)…..for maximum effect, please read recipe aloud with the most southern drawl you can muster:

1     2 quart casserole dish

1     can cream-style corn

3     eggs

2     tablespoons flour

2/3 cup sugar

2     cups milk

1/2 stick butter, melted


Beat eggs well – add sugar and flour.  Add corn and beat well.  Add milk and stir real good.  Sprinkle a very small amt. of nutmeg over the top.  Put in dish and pour melted butter on top – stir again.  Sprinkle a little more nutmeg over the top, and put in the oven,  400 degrees for 20 minutes, then turn oven down to 300 degrees and continue baking 20-30 minutes more, until done.  Knife in middle should come out clean.  Enjoy!!

With love, Aunt Lucy

Note:  Feel free to double recipe if feeding an army.  Also, please provide feedback on how well this went over at your festive event!  Gotta run…time to rake some leaves!

Easy as Pie? YOU be the Judge!

Triple Coconut Cream Pie

Aah, pie, wonderful pie…..I don’t bake much these days, but when I saw the Cville Pie Fest coming up, I realized the one pie I do enjoy making which people always scream and swoon over might be a good contender…Triple Coconut Cream pie…yes, there is coconut in the crust, in the filling, and toasted on top (along with white chocolate shavings, of course).   And since it was for a very good cause, PACEM, it just seemed like the right thing to do, so I entered my pie in the contest.  The event was held yesterday, on a Sunday, which is probably the best day to hold something like this as it gives contestants most of the weekend to prepare….unless you happen to be working all day Friday and Saturday….and so my adventure begins…..

This pie is a complicated pie to bake – the steps are mind-boggling, from the crust, right on through to the end. With all the various stages of chilling the pie dough and cooking/cooling the filling, it takes 2 days, from start to finish.  Making a crust seems simple enough….just need the basic food processor, rolling pin, and ingredients, right?….Oh, the ingredients!  When I was in the check out line at the grocery store, people were staring at my cart – a cart full of baking goods…this was only the first trip…there were 4 more trips to the store for things I had either forgotten or run out of. 

 The first hint that making this pie might be an extra challenge was when I noticed my fridge had gone completely dead Friday night, after 9 years of perfect service – not good when everything has to be chilled in stages.  I called a friend in a panic state and we figured out I could take all the ingredients and supplies to Quince (we have a huge refrigerator on site) and continue the process really late at night or early in the morning.  I decided to just pretend everything was OK instead, and left the first pie dough in the fridge anyway, and went to bed.  When I woke up Saturday a.m., the fridge had miraculously come back on (though it was sputtering a bit), so I decided to just take my chances at home.  The first ball of dough had successfully chilled all night, so I then rolled it out, plopped it in the pie pan, and set the oven timer.  Of course, one doesn’t just throw something like this in the oven; the inside of the pie tin must first be lined with parchment paper and weighted down with uncooked rice or beans over the dough, to ensure even cooking.  Well, when I took the crust out of the oven and threw off the beans and parchment paper, I freaked because the crust was a tad too brown for my liking, so I had to make the executive decision to go ahead and make A SECOND pie for judging, offering up the first pie for the silent auction (hadn’t really planned on doing 2 pies)… that point I realized, on Saturday, that I needed another pie tin.  So, I sped to The Seasonal Cook after work, where I purchased one of those super-duper pie plates that is non-stick and weighs a lot…apparently this is the Rolls-Royce of pie tins, and the gal in the store instructed me to “season” the tin before using so the crust would brown evenly…OK, so what’s that all about?  “Well, fill the pie tin to the top with water and leave it in the oven for 45 minutes at 350 degrees…careful taking it out of the oven so you don’t burn yourself!”  At this point I was getting a little anxious – sounds complicated, and what if I drop the whole thing?  I’ll end up in the burn unit at UVA…but, I didn’t know what else to do.  So, when the timer rang, I was a little nervous as the tin was almost completely full with 350 degree water.  In the meantime, my cats really like to place themselves right behind me when I’m at the kitchen counter (I guess they think they’ll miss something), so I constantly have to look before I step.  They are mostly black and always sit on the black painted diamonds on my parquet floor, so it’s really hard to see them; anyone looking at me through the kitchen window will think I’m doing some sort of spastic tribal dance, when what I’m actually doing is trying to keep from tripping over the cats.  Anyway, I clear the area, open the door and in slo-mo manage to get the full pie tin over to the sink without spilling a drop!  Yahoo!!!

I get home from work early Saturday evening and know that I’ve got to hustle to get the second crust baked and the filling done, ready to chill overnight….one annoying feature of the filling is that once it’s cooked, it has to be placed in an ice water bath to cool it down even more before popping it in the fridge.  At that point, I’ve run out of dishes, and coconut is all over the entire kitchen….I manage to somehow get everything done and set my alarm for 5:30 Sunday morning so I will have enough time to whip the cream, toast the coconut, shave the chocolate, and drop those pies off by 10:30am……

Sunday morning I leap into action….I’m really upset because both crusts are a tad too brown (the new pie tin actually shrunk the entire second crust a little, in addition to browning too much….geez…) but there’s nothing I can do about this now.  In the name of being time efficient while I’m waiting for the final stage of cooling, etc.,  I decide to run a few loads of laundry in between things….you’ll love what’s next.

Dexter = Cheetah

  I come up from my basement and throw a huge mound of warm, dried clothes on my bed and proceed to fold things….little do I know that Dexter, my all-muscle cheetah-like cat is revving up to do a major sprint from the far side of the kitchen all the way over to a warm mountain of clean laundry on the bed.  I dropped something on the floor at the same time he takes off, and he manages to slam into my head at full speed, not only bending my eyeglass frames, but scaring the hell out of me and him.  He freaks out and hides under the bed while I loudly moan in pain.  What next?  I slowly recover, give him a few hugs, and can’t wait for all of this to be over with!  I amazingly manage to get both pies done, hope nobody notices the crusts being a little too brown, and get them submitted in time.

My pie didn’t win any awards, but I received the highest bid for a pie during the silent auction.  The nice thing about all of this is that the bidder got to take my pie home for $25 and enjoy it, and I had the chance to help out a group in need.  All 20 of the judged pies were divided up into individual bites and were sold individually at 3 for $1.  I’m happy to say I watched many people enjoying my pie, including a little kid who gave it a thumbs up.  Next time, I’ll watch the crust bake more closely….even after all the drama, I still feel like I have enough momentum left in me to get one more TCCP made sometime this week.  Any takers?

Dripless vs. Droopless
July 8, 2010, 6:42 pm
Filed under: Essence | Tags: , , , , ,

Beeswax vs. Wax

Well, this week I’ve learned something about candles….more than I wanted to learn, actually, due to rather unpleasant circumstances inside Quince!  Of all the weeks to lose air-conditioning, this one is probably THE worst, with temps. soaring to 91 degrees INSIDE the store…cooler than 102 degrees outside, but nevertheless extremely uncomfy.  Now, I’m not blaming anyone for this – parts just wear out, and it just happened to be Quince’s turn.

I found these 2 whimsical hare candelabras recently on a journey out-and-about, and just had to have them….in the right setting, they will be fabulous (actually, my house would be the perfect setting, but I just don’t have any room left!)…so, they’re for sale.  They weigh a ton (solid brass) and wouldn’t have budged if left outside during Cville’s recent “microburst”.  In the meantime, I thought I’d add some candles for effect….the ones on the left are beeswax; on the right are wax….both kinds are high quality, burn cleanly, and don’t drip.  But who knew one type would droop severely if subjected to a high room temperature?  Granted, 91 degrees is way outside temp. parameters for comfortable living, but if these candles were outside in a patio setting, let’s say, during a party, the drooping would give way to countless snickers and wisecracks (you get it, don’t you?) which could add a lot of hilarity but may not please the hostess.

I’m casting my vote for beeswax vs. non-beeswax.  I sell lots of beeswax candles in the store in a variety of colors….they all seem unaffected by the temperature spike, thank goodness!

I’m also very happy to say that my a/c has been restored……the parts came in a day early, and the guys have been on the roof of the building for hours in sweltering heat doing their best to get some frosty air blowing around in here again.  The temp. in 2 hours has already dropped from 91 to 86!  So many people suggested I close the store for the week, but I just couldn’t do it in the event someone made a super-human effort to get down here and shop.  Besides, abandoning Quince is something I would never do, and I certainly wouldn’t expect anyone to sit here in agony on my behalf while I escaped to my friend’s brand new swimming pool for a dip and a quick Grey Goose & tonic, heavy on the ice and lime…..

Well, this has been a “Study in Wax”….if you have any similar stories, please comment, and please feel free to suggest a caption for the photo below!

Hmm, create your own caption!

The Virtues of Dining… Alone!
July 1, 2010, 8:20 pm
Filed under: Essence, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

My Baby!, c.1970

Well, I can remember the first time I dined alone…..I was 16 and enjoying a phase of self-discovery which had opened up the moment I got my driver’s license.  Not only was I sporting a brand new 1970 Camaro (dark metallic blue, yes!) in 1970, I felt on top of the world with this new-found freedom.  I drove to school during the week, and prayed Mom would hand me a long list of errands to run on Saturdays, requiring me to get in the car and go somewhere, anywhere!  Coral Gables, South Miami, downtown Miami, anywhere!  Usually I headed into the Gables, parking on Miracle Mile, which offered a ton of great shops and restaurants.  One restaurant which was a family favorite was Chippy’s, a New York style deli with a typically lengthy menu featuring all the usual sandwiches, sides, entrees, and desserts (I will never forget their homemade tangerine sherbet!) seen in great Jewish delicatessens.  One day, I was out and about, and decided to pop in there with all my packages, for a cherry coke.  I was seated in a booth and before I knew it, had ordered a BLT….from the first bite, that was the best BLT I’ve ever eaten in my life….was it the perfect bacon?  gobs of mayo? deli bread?  crisp lettuce, runny tomatoes? 

This Started it All

 Who knows, but I spun into orbit, finishing off the entire thing with all the chips on the side.  Wow!  Guess what, I did it again the following weekend, and before too long, this had become my little secret ritual.

Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, Fl

  At the time, I was quite svelte, so I wasn’t compromising my shape in any way. And what does one think about while dining like this?  Plenty!  Making plans, taking notes, reflecting on the week, figuring out my wardrobe for the rest of the weekend, thumbing through the latest issue of “Seventeen” magazine….it went on and on…. Usually that evening there was a school-affiliated game of some sort (foot or basketball) to plan for, or it was date night, or whatever, but I never told anyone what I had been up to earlier in the day!

It’s something that’s stuck with me my entire life.  When I traveled a lot for business and had a free night, it was either go out and explore, or sit in my room and order room service.  Believe me, unless you’re dead tired, ordering room service is a nasty, calorie-laden, expensive waste!  As business travel took me to most of the great urban centers in our country, I became an expert at figuring out the perfect place to go on my own.  My very favorite experience of all time was in Manhattan; I had been traveling all week, was exhausted, and decided to see what I could come up with.  It was around Christmas time (c.2000), so people were having holiday parties in restaurants, filling them up, but I decided I’d take a chance.  I rang up Picholine, a cheese-a-holic’s delight, explained my situation (in town on biz, on my own) and did they have room for a party of one?  The guy couldn’t have been nicer, and said if I didn’t mind being seated in the bar, to come on over….full menu, the works!  So, I got all gussied up, grabbed some design magazines, and ended up having a fantastic evening.  I went crazy – rack of lamb, etc. etc., but nothing prepared me for the cheese cart which pulled up to my table….in the meantime, I’d been conversing with people seated on both sides of me, having a great time, but dialogue ceased when I laid my eyes on the most extensive selection of the most gorgeous cheeses I’d ever seen.  I was handed a tri-fold brochure describing all the cheeses on the cart, and I took my time choosing a variety of 6, with the help of the expert….of course, I then selected a glass of port, and basically ate my way into oblivion ( I was still relatively svelte at that point)…..the bill ended up being about $200, worth every penny, and no, I did not expense this meal.

Picholine's cheese trolley

Which brings me to the present.  Living in Miami, Atlanta, Memphis, Annapolis, Washington D.C., and now Charlottesville, I admit I have practiced solo dining in all of these cities, and to this day find it perfectly gratifying to spontaneously pick a place and order up. It’s scaringly easy to do this after closing Quince at 5 or so every day, and it’s usually a spontaneous decision made at the last minute.  Unfortunately, when I think about the untold dollars and millions of calories I’ve ingested honoring this activity (and no, I no longer can be classified as svelte in any way, shape, or form), I absolutely cringe!  But, it’s a great way to unwind and run into people I haven’t seen in awhile.  I usually treat myself once a week or so – again, I’m not talking about the drive-thru or chain restaurant, but some place I can get a great glass of wine and a tasty treat….and yes, delicious hummus and grilled shrimp (thank you, Mas), an order of the best mussels in the area (thank you, Duner’s), or calamari salad with 60-second sirloin (thank you, Bang) can be respectably healthy for the most part.  And, of course, it’s always a blast catching up with Francois across the street from Quince at The X Lounge, about happenings “south of the tracks” in our Warehouse District neighborhood!

Why do many people resist dining alone?  Everyone should try it a couple of times – it’s a chance to be with yourself and explore your surroundings in an enjoyable way.  If you’re traveling, or have a free night without obligations (that could be a tough one!), grab something to read (if you want to) and head out.  You may end up not reading, but having great conversation with people around you, if you choose! Let me know how it goes!

One Toe in the Water….
quince plant

from, credit Walter Chandoha

Well, should I say “Here I go…”, or “Here I come…”? I’m taking the liberty of writing just this once about why the Quince blog has popped into reality. This is the third, and final jewel in Quince’s social media crown (preceded by facebook and Twitter), and my vision is clear but I’m definitely in unchartered waters at this point.  From here on out, “Quince” is me, and IS me, though the two will overlap at times and remain separate on occasion!

So, what in the world am I going to do with this blog?  I mean, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of great blogs focusing on aesthetics, interiors, style, etc…so who do I think I am having the nerve to move forward with this?    The whole point is to communicate the essence of Quince, and to offer the reader something to nibble on – whether it’s a bit on color, nature, food, lighting, or whatever strikes our (me and Quince) fancy.  And, we want to hear from you, NEED to hear from you – comments validate that yes, people are checking in and yes, people have opinions which can add depth and interest to the topic at hand. 

Quince will be celebrating the beginning of its 8th year in business this summer – hard to believe, to say the least.  After a rewarding 15 years in the biotech industry, I decided to take a break in 2000, focusing on renovating a c.1900’s country cottage…the “bug” officially “bit” during that time, and I’ve never looked back.  As I try to determine when this style thing took hold, I realize it began surfacing early on; no one ever knew what a kick I got out of decorating my freshman dorm room, and I have to give credit to my stepmother, Julia, whose sense of style and flair left a lasting impression on my own vision (no one could arrange flowers like she could, nor do crewel-work like she could, nor entertain like she could).  My sister, Karen, got me to embrace the color green, and was always mixing antiques with new pieces, with great results…Lila was the first really good friend I had who knew how to “do it”….every time I visited her home on the coast I took rolls and rolls of pictures and poured over them later (how did she figure out those fabrics would work with those paint colors??)…and then Camille and Miles….and then, one day, my best bud Kelley (who not only has great style, but hammered me from day one to move forward with all of this) and I walked into this great store (Bloom) at 50th and Lexington, in Manhattan, and I knew at that moment exactly what I wanted to offer Charlottesville…so here it is, and here I am.  Get ready for a bumpy, fun ride!