Friday, December 31, 2010

The French House Wife Dinner

One of my favorite fantasies is to be a French house wife. You know, live in France, shop the food markets, and cook like a French woman.

I have been this way for years and years after spending time in France, and then working in a French restaurant in New York for six years. So I schooled myself to cook French dishes, to think like a French house wife at the market, and to latch onto what I perceived as a more genteel lifestyle.

Visual Vamp table setting inspired by France

So for Christmas Eve dinner, I knew I wanted to do a classic French house wife supper, simple and fresh food, well prepared. I chose to do roast chicken with herbs, a medley of vegetables (baby beets, baby carrots, squash, shallots), and herb roasted potatoes. I asked Jack to make a chutney, and he obliged with one made from black berries, apples, and cherries. The wine choice was a festive sparkling rose.

Dessert (and a baguette for the dinner) was purchased from the local patisserie: A hazelnut Buche de Noel. Added to the dessert table: Miss Elaine's cashew toffee, a cranberry lemon cake in the shape of Christmas trees, Alberto's arroz con leche, a bowl of dark chocolates, and the star of the show, flaming Cafe Brulot.

Cafe Brulot cups and dessert plates on the sideboard

Classic New Orleans Cafe Brulot cups have a devilish jester on them

A special copper pot to flame the Cafe Brulot

Setting the table is as much fun as cooking for me. I knew I wanted to do red this year, so I raided the cupboards for all the red ornaments I could find.

Vintage ornaments, sugared fruit, sequin flowers, all in shades of red

I had two yards of a red damask print fabric, that I used for a tablecloth. The print is called Mairselles!

Red Le Cadeaux plates from perch.

I used a white under plate, and a red dinner plate from a company called Le Cadeaux. It's Melamine, and we sell this line at perch. The plates come in many classic French colors and patterns, and you have to touch them to realize they are not china, and even then you aren't completely sure.

Mix and match glassware

I mixed and matched glassware, one glass for champagne, and one glass for water. I used red linen napkins with tiny a twig wreath as a napkin ring. A place card was tucked into the napkin ring. White ironstone butter pats were used to hold individual servings of sea salt and cracked pepper.

White under plate, red dinner plate, red linen napkin
White ironstone butter pat for salt and pepper

Antique flatware - we use it everyday

Chairs were mixed and matched too. The dining room is tiny, and the table unopened holds a snug eight.

Visual Vamp dining room - dinner for eight on Christmas Eve

You can see a couple of videos Alberto made of the night HERE and HERE.

The table was set with L*O*V*E

We are totally enjoying the holidays, and I love when Alberto films our good times so we can share them with you.

Paper white narcissus plant on the white lacquer bar tray

Other little touches included a paper white narcissus plant on the bar tray, and some baubles added to the chandelier.

More baubles on the chandelier

The candles were lighted, the music was playing, the dinner was ready, and ding-dong there's the door bell!

Visual Vamp Christmas Eve table setting by candlelight

Hope you enjoyed this last Visual Vamp Tablescape Thursday. Stop by Susan's Between Naps On The Porch HERE to see what everyone else did to close out 2010.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Does Your Furniture Talk?

How many times have you rearranged the furniture in a room? What makes you jump up from the couch and start to push it around? Does it whisper in your ear and say "move me"?

The after Christmas lull gets me moving on small projects, like rearranging furniture. I take my Christmas decorations down on January 7, the day after Three Kings Day. Moving the furniture is a prelude to the post-Christmas refresh.

I have a small living room, no family room, so the living room is well-used. There is not one clear wall in the space, that is, not one wall without doors or windows. It's a tricky little room to get just right.

Visual Vamp Living Room
Pattern chair, lime green silk drapes, drawing of Cholo by PVE
Walls are a softer version of Billy Baldwin brown

It's no secret that I was influenced by the interior decorator Mr. Billy Baldwin at a tender age. To me the rooms he created were the filled with things I loved: color, books, flowers, pictures, pattern, sophistication, a mix of high and low furnishings, furniture arranged for conversation, rooms filled with warmth and interest.

I never intended to slavishly copy a Baldwin room, yet somehow so many things I saw in those rooms have trickled down in a modest way into my decor choices, personally and professionally.

I rearranged the furniture in the living room so that furniture is "talking to one another".
The French settee is now placed facing the sofa, in front of the double doors that are at the entrance. At first I was concerned it would block the way. But with a little nudging and tweaking I managed to allow enough room to pass in and out of the room.

I love seeing the back of the settee. I also love bringing back the lime slip covered wing chair and ottoman. The chaise lounge is in the guest room now. Moving furniture from room to room really makes a room feel new again.

Visual Vamp Living Room
Portraits of Kenny, Michael Pelkey, and Audrey Hepburn

When you sit on the camel back sofa and look out, the new arrangement of furniture provides a cozy cocoon.

Visual Vamp Living Room
Portrait of Marilyn Monroe by Mario Ortiz

Friday, December 24, 2010

In Lieu Of A Proper Thank You Note

I want to send each and every one of you a personal handwritten thank you note.

When that seemed impossible, I wanted to make a list of every name of every person who sent prayers (that were answered). I wanted to add to the list the names from emails that were filled with love and concern. And then thank each of you for the comments you left on the various posts I did about Canada.

You blew up Facebook with your heartfelt comments and messages.

Fund raisers were held by tango communities all over the USA for us, including a whopper in New Orleans.

I wanted to list all the bloggers who did a post for Alberto and me ( I have tried to re-post them on Facebook when I find them), and of the many bloggers who held auctions for us, or donated something for those auctions from baking cookies to beautiful works of art, or gave us something we needed from your Etsy shop, or bought our book Gotta Tango.

I so wanted to list the names of all of you who sent fruit baskets and brought over food once we made it home, and of course I wanted to post the names that showed up on the roster for a Paypal donation to

It amounts to hundreds of names.

As Alberto recovers, we have spent hours and hours reading each and every name. We cry alot reading these amazing names, so many of which are of people we "don't know". And then we cry harder reading the names of all the people we know, and who love us. We can safely say you are loved, and we are loved.

We have tried to search and acknowledge every blog post many of you did about our time in Canada.

Then we tried to cross reference it all and make a master list. This has been going on since Thanksgiving when I originally wanted to name names ha ha.

Well, we are just not up to it! It is too much for us to do. We need a a blog intern ha ha. But we couldn't let another month go by without saying something, without offering some kind of thank you note, proper or not.

First responders in Canada, doctors and nurses in two countries, family, fellow dancers, bloggers, readers, kind strangers, tangueros, and loyal friends from all over the world:

We can't begin to express our gratitude for your solidarity and compassion, for your words of comfort, love and support along with your prayers, good wishes and most important, generous contributions that helped us raise the necessary funds to return home.

Thank you and let's dance more tango in 2011, and blog, and decorate, and be good to each other.

Valorie Hart and Alberto Paz dancing Tango on Fulton Street in New Orleans

Alberto and I send our best wishes for the best holiday season and a peaceful and prosperous new year.

All of the fabulous hand lettered examples come from Stephen Rapp.

From his web site:

"Word and image are the key components in any graphic campaign. Each must effectively convey the message on both a practical and emotional level. This is where custom type and lettering excel. Hand lettered words express emotion much like the human voice. They can, in some cases, even serve as illustration. In our ever expanding digital environment the sense of human touch conveyed with hand lettering stands out as a welcoming voice.

Lettering and typography are my passion. I’ve studied and practiced lettering and type design for over 2 decades. Along the way I’ve had the opportunity to work in a variety of styles and media. If you have a project that might benefit from custom lettering or type; please don’t hesitate to call or write."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tango, Paris Tango

Paris. Tango. What two words evoke more feeling and conjure up a rush of romantic images in every person's mind, whether you dance tango or not, or have been to Paris or not. Combine the words: Paris Tango and you have this heady memoir told in words and pictures by the photographer/author Carla Coulson.

Carla may be known to some of you Francophiles as the sidekick photographer to author Vicki Archer whose excellent recent book My French Life, and their new book French Essence have become a staple for collectors of books about the French lifestyle. Both women are ex-pat Australians, living in France.

It goes without saying that the tango in this book, is the dance Carla does with the city of Paris. The city holds her in the eternal embrace that is the tango - connected, profound, and sensual.

The frontispiece image is of dancer from the Moulin Rouge ascending the stairs, and the image on the end paper is photo of a pair of dance shoes that look as if the dancer's feet just kicked them off. Between these images are 292 delicious pages of masterful photography of glimpses of Paris life most of us will never have the pleasure to experience. Carla Coulson is the Brassai of her generation.

The great surprise in this book is the text that goes along with the masterful photography. Carla can write! And write she does, as she weaves one fabulous story after another along with the photos, words and images that intertwine like tango dancers legs.

For some odd reason the book has not been released in the USA, and it can be ordered on Amazon UK, and now on Amazon in the USA HERE via some of the second hand booksellers. Snap up this book from one of them.

Paris Tango is a lovely volume to own with a beautiful snap closure slip case, and red ribbon book mark, which are fitting elegant touches for the elegance the pages hold inside.

I asked Carla to send me some of my favorite images from the book to share with you. There are several photos that will inspire interior design fans.

But best are the stories she weaves of a personal Paris she shares with the reader. It is amazing how ex-pats and transplants rediscover what natives know innately and express by living it daily. Outsiders who claim and adopt a place often write the most revealing back story.

Paris Tango is a magnificent book to get for yourself, or to give as a spectacular gift.
Engage in your own visual tango as you savor its pages.

All images from Carla Coulson from her book Paris Tango.

Stop by her blog and tell her hello!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Glam Holiday Breakfast Tray From Pier One

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Pier 1 Imports. All opinions are 100% mine.

My Christmas tree is inspired by Breakfast at Tiffanys. I use Tiffany blue, silver, pearls, and accents of black in honor of Audrey Hepburn/Holly Golightly's little black dress.

Visual Vamp Christmas tree

I wanted to carry the color scheme over into a glam breakfast tray for breakfast in bed on Christmas morning, so I went shopping for a few things at Pier 1.

My shopping basket at Pier 1

Glam breakfast tray setting I did from things at Pier 1

Sparkly mini tree - $6.95, blue glitter ornament - $3.50

Pier 1 is the perfect place to go for gifts, ornaments, dishes, glasses and napkins, and I found the perfect tray for my glamour girl place setting.

White lacquer tray from Pier 1 - $29.99

I chose a white lacquer tray with silver accents. I added a sparkly silver Christmas tree to reference the large Holly Golightly tree. A tall champagne flute with dots etched on it is perfect for a Mimosa. The dots look like bubbles.

Polka dot champagne flute from Pier 1 - $4.00

There's a glass compote (actually a Margarita glass) swirled with shades of turquoise that I will use for fruit. I show it with a glittery blue ornament, and a pretty white under plate with a delicate pierced border.

Glass compote $1.98, white Doily under plate $6.00, from Pier 1

Pier 1 has a tremendous napkin collection and the one I chose is linen with pearls stitched on the edges.

Gorgeous linen napkin with beaded border from Pier 1 - $4.99

The holiday ribbon selection is ginormous and I found this totally cool wire ribbon encrusted with pearls and gems and used it as a glam napkin "ring.

Fab wire ribbon with pearls from Pier 1 - $6. per roll

I saw so many wonderful Christmas things, including a huge lime green peace sign wreath.

Huge lime green peace sign wreath at Pier 1 - $99.

I also liked a wall hanging composed by overlapping several different color and size plates, an instant plate collection for the plate queen on your gift list!

Instant plate collection wall hanging, $79. at Pier 1

Pier 1 is always a great place to browse and shop in, but holiday time is extra festive and fun! There's still time to shop, so stop by your local Pier 1 today and get your holiday gifts, and everything you need to set a pretty holiday table, and decorate everywhere in your home.

Pier 1 in New Orleans

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