Monday, August 11, 2014

Have an Affaire de Coeur!

(Originally posted at OC Tastemakers on September 6, 2013.)

I don’t believe in one-stop shopping for good taste, but a great place to start would be Affaire de Coeur in Old Towne Orange.
Owner Lisa Fehmer has collected beautiful things for her store, any one of which will beautify your abode. From elegant furniture to colorful, one-of-a-kind glassware to statement jewelry to sweet soaps and candles, and even Pasta Moré vinegars and oils (they are all great, but my personal favorite is Elderberry White Balsamic Vinegar), Affaire de Coeur will delight your world.
Affaire de Coeur, 132 S. Glassell Street, Orange, 714-516-9779,

Brunch at Quinn’s

(Originally posted at OC Tastemakers on June 23, 2013.)

A hibiscus and a mimosa at Quinn's Old Town Grill.

Carrie's Benedict with spinach and artichokes at Quinn's.

It’s the first weekend of summer, and it’s time to enjoy a good old-fashioned outdoor brunch with your family and friends.
We went to Quinn’s Old Town Grill in the early afternoon. I had Carrie’s Benedict, which is made with spinach and artichokes instead of the traditional ham. I like unusual Benedicts (such as crab and beef).

Tasteful times in O.C.!

Ten Tasteful Ideas You Can Bring Into Your Home Today

(Originally posted at OC Tastemakers on June 6, 2013.)

Roses from Trader Joe's.

1. Two different colors of rose in a clear glass vase. (I prefer pink and yellow.)
2. A square of dark chocolate with sea salt sprinkled on it.
3. Listening to Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” on your computer or smartphone.
4. A box of Bigelow tea. (My special favorites are Lemon Lift and Raspberry Royale.)
5. Cold water (still or sparkling) with a slice of sweet orange.
6. Grilled white fish with an orange juice reduction…
7. …and broccoli, too!
8. Watching the sunset from one of Orange County’s many parks, large and small.
9. Buying the biggest, fluffiest pillow that you can afford.
10. A bedtime that ensures sufficient sleep.

Pardon me for the lack of O.C.-specific content here. This is a big county, and I wanted this to be a list of things you can do today (without driving a long way). Later on, I will make lists of tasteful things to do on O.C. weekends.

Everyone loves a home tour…

(Originally posted at OC Tastemakers on May 6, 2013.)

…everyone who is looking for scenes of good taste.
On Saturday, May 4, I attended the annual Tustin Home and Garden Tour, which traditionally happens on the first Saturday in May. I make it a goal to attend at least one home tour a year. 2013 was my year for Tustin (unless Orange has one in the fall).

We were blessed with perfect springtime weather that day, brightening every flower and blade of grass. Some of the homes opened their backyards to us as well. I say that all dwellings, homes and apartments alike, need some outdoor space for sitting, for eating meals, for reading books.
My photos of the day are all outdoors – no inside pictures because that is the rule. I can, however, tell you about some tasteful ideas that I saw:

1. One home had a living room with two ivory couches facing each other with a round table between them. The backs of each couch were angled like the sides of STOP signs, and they had teal satin pillows on top. It was a room set up for conversation. (P.S. No television, either!)
2. One home had a wall with built-in shelves and cabinets painted white. The wall behind was painted pink, and nearly every object on the shelves was white. Limiting colors often reveals an impressive visual effect.

3. One home had a kitchen in mostly gray colors, all the way to a silvertone Kitchen Aid upright mixer. It may sound counterintuitive to decorate a food preparation space in a color that is rarely seen in food – ideally speaking. But it worked in this case.
I thank the Tustin Historical Society – and all organizers of home tours everywhere, as well as those who generously open their homes – for giving people the opportunity to see new tasteful decorating ideas in real life. You can buy Better Homes and Gardens, Architectural Digest, etc., but there’s a difference between staring at paper and standing in the middle of a living room, kitchen, bedroom, or backyard, seeing with your own eyes.

It’s good to know that taste is living in your neighborhood, right now.

No “Twinkie” homes here!

(Originally posted at OC Tastemakers on April 22, 2013.)

In my opinion, there are two kinds of neighborhoods of single-family, stand-alone homes.
One consists of “Twinkie” houses, named after the late-and-possibly-soon-to-be-revived Hostess cake. Twinkie houses look alike. They may be tasteful and individual on the inside, but walking in a neighborhood of Twinkie houses can be a numbing experience (unless you concentrate on something else, like trees or flowers).  Homeowners’ associations (HOAs) do not allow Twinkie house owners to paint their homes in bright, lively colors (like, ironically, an actual Twinkie would be), nor do they allow personal touches such as gardens or landscaping in the front yard.

The other kind of neighborhood is a Gallery of Homes. Each house is different, and this variety delights the eye. You may see an adobe-style home right next to a Colonial right next to an Art Deco right next to a bungalow. People love to walk in Gallery of Homes neighborhoods. People get in their cars and drive to Gallery of Homes neighborhoods just so they can walk in them.
It’s exercise, aesthetics, meditation – and sometimes therapy.

This upcoming weekend, April 27 and 28 (10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day), you will have the opportunity to walk  – and much more – at the annual Floral Park Home and Garden Tour. Floral Park is within the borders of Santa Ana, but it is not “like” the stereotypes you might attach to Santa Ana – or, for that matter, most other Orange County neighborhoods.
Floral Park started to grow right after World War I, and without a dictatorial HOA on hand, homeowners were allowed to build in the style that their hearts desired. Thanks to a dedicated and active Neighborhood Association, Floral Park has been allowed to stay the way it is – a Gallery of Homes neighborhood.
For the price of a ticket ($30), you will receive the privilege of actually going into a select few of the Floral Park homes for docent-led tours. No matter which homes you go to, I guarantee (and I don’t guarantee often) that you will see prime examples of good taste in interior and backyard decorating.
In addition to the Home Tour, there will also be a “Street of Treasures” (i.e., arts, crafts, and antiques) and a classic car exhibition.
According to the 2012 Home Tour brochure,
“We are proud of our heritage and endeavor to maintain historic correctness [italics mine] in the process of refurbishing, remodeling and upgrading our classic homes.”

(If you want to keep the magic going, Tustin will have its own Home Tour one week later on Saturday, May 4, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.)



Taste takes time

(Originally posted at OC Tastemakers on April 17, 2013.)

The Tastemaker has had Alexandra Stoddard in mind recently. I have read almost all of her books so far (and am eager to read her latest, The Shared Wisdom of Mothers and Daughters). I read Living Beautifully Together this week, and this paragraph spoke to me:
Think of your nurturing time as recess. Teachers have a snack. Soldiers marching get ten-minute breaks every hour so they can march farther. Union workers have coffee breaks. Ministers take time out to meditate, and go on retreats for renewal. You and I need a few regular breaks, too. Take them. Disappear and have a nap or a massage or a walk alone. Learn to feel comfortable with yourself when you escape. Alone, you find your center and feel better not only about yourself but everything else. You need time to think things through and listen to your own voice, because everyone else has something else in mind for you. You can’t react to others’ idea of who and what you are; you have to be authentically you.

Ms. Stoddard is a steadfast proponent of leisure time. Whether it take the form of a two-week vacation in Europe or a quiet half-hour to yourself in bed, taking time for being – not doing – is essential for the good life.
Before starting her own interior design firm, Ms. Stoddard worked for Eleanor McMillen Brown, one of the premier interior designers of the mid-twentieth century. One of Mrs. Brown’s non-negotiable rules was that business shut down at 5:30 in the afternoon. No exceptions. Ms. Stoddard herself once got locked in the office building for working overtime and needed to call the locksmith to get out.

I don’t think that Ms. Stoddard would have been able to grant her special wisdom to her readers – teaching us about taste and beauty and kindness and yes, leisure – if she had been trapped in the office for 80 (or more) hours a week.
What kind of job does not allow you to make significant progress in no more than eight hours a day, 40 per week?

I do love writing and designing, but I cannot do it for cruelly long periods of time. I would burn out. I would lose the care and concern for craft that I need to do my best.
Being tasteful means having not only the means to explore the beauty of the world, but the time as well. An afternoon tea in the garden, complete with dainty sandwiches (and, perhaps, petits-fours from Surfas) can do more for your creativity than a canned “motivational” meeting under fluorescent lights, fueled with fast food.

“Nothing excellent can be done without leisure.” – André Gide

Happy Quasquicentennial, City of Orange!

(Originally posted at OC Tastemakers on April 6, 2013.)

Today, April 6, is a special day in Orange County.

The City of Orange – one of our most tasteful cities – will be celebrating its 125th anniversary.
This city of 140,000, the county’s third incorporated city, is the home of California’s largest historical district. This dedication to preserving what is best about the past – while keeping one foot on the pulse of the present – brings people back to this community over and over again.

What is it that makes the City of Orange a city of good taste?

1. A dedication to preservation. It takes the combined efforts of city government, business owners, and property owners both commercial and residential to keep this town beautiful.
2. Keeping it independent. With few exceptions, most of the business in Old Towne is non-chain and owned by dedicated individuals seeking to give customers a unique, personalized experience. From high tea at Paris in a Cup to the nostalgic cornucopia of Mr. C’s Rare Records to the endless gifts (for others and yourself) to be found at the antique malls and vintage stores, you will not regret spending your dollars here.

3. Easy walking spaces. Let me elaborate on that.
When I have a problem that defies an easy sitcom solution, when I want to open my mind to new tasteful ideas, or when my feet just need to move in a beautiful place, I will get in my car and drive to the Orange Circle and its surroundings – usually the area framed by La Veta on the south, Cambridge on the east, Batavia on the west, and Walnut on the north.
I turn off Glassell, either left or right, and tuck my car on a quiet residential street, like a little mouse finding a burrow. I open my trunk and take out my walking stick, which I don’t need for health but which my husband Chris insists on for protection. It’s not really necessary in the Circle, but I bring the stick anyway because it’s such a small thing to do to make Chris happy.
With stick in hand, I set out on my walk. I always also bring a pen and paper for ideas (I don’t have a steel-trap memory).
I am grateful that Orange holds on to its tall, sprawling trees, instead of cutting them down to make room for big boxy houses with puny patches of lawn. (I admit that I am ashamed that I can’t name the trees on sight; to me it feels as much of a handicap as dyslexia to a creative writer). I am glad that Orange holds on to its older, human-scale homes; using only what you need is going to be tomorrow’s great virtue. I am pleased that Orange keeps the residential and the commercial close together; you don’t know the joy of being able to walk to a restaurant or art gallery until you actually can.
I have been here on sunny days and cloudy days, in the morning and the evening, in each of the four seasons. Every walk has been good for me; every walk has taught me something.
Each section has its own charm. The southwest is where the apartment buildings are, where Chapman students and families just getting their toehold in Orange stay. It’s the place of fruition, of ideas newly born.
The southeast is where the classic Orange homes are, the ones painted in pastel colors, guarded with tall trees. I wonder how we lost the ability to build large two-story homes with generous porch and lawn space. Here’s where I find the porches I wish I had, places to gather friends to sip wine and tell stories (but why is it I usually find the porches empty?).
The northeast is where Chapman University sits. I can smell the education wafting in the air like the aroma of cinnamon buns. It’s the place which tells me to take action, to turn thoughts into action.
The northwest is an industrial area. The homes are smaller and flatter, as if the thunder of the railroad tracks acts as a check on growth. But it’s not a place of cowering. It takes a strong people to live here.
4. (most important to me) It’s where I met Chris. On February 25, 2007, I decided to eat breakfast in Old Towne Orange instead of at home. I am not sure why – perhaps it was the sunshine beckoning me, perhaps it felt like a special day because it was Oscar Sunday. I set out, stopping to buy a Sunday paper at 7-11, and found myself in Orange minutes later.
My first choice of restaurant was Café Lucca, and I was hoping for a croissant there. They didn’t have any, a fact for which I will be forever grateful, for it sent me down the street. (Don’t let this stop you from going to Café Lucca, which among other things has fine gelato.)
I did not expect to eat at Felix Continental Café, but a handsome man in a silver fake-fur coat and a cigar case next to his coffee made me stop. I sat near him and gently tried to get his attention. When he finally smiled at me, it was like the sun rising all over again. More than six years later, the happiness that each day together brings still amazes us.
I’m glad that we both had good taste that day!
This is the bench where Chris proposed to me.

O.C.’s most tasteful supermarket

(Originally posted at OC Tastemakers on March 31, 2013.)

Photo credit: Microsoft Clip Art

We in Orange County are blessed with a full shelf of choices when it comes to buying food. We have natural food markets (Whole Foods, Sprouts, and our very own Mother’s Market), high-end gourmet emporiums (Gelson’s, Bristol Farms, and the Ranch Markets named Pacific and Irvine), and the playful little brothers of the market world, Trader Joe’s and Fresh & Easy (please don’t go, F&E!). Let’s not forget our farmers’ markets, which provide us with fresh seasonal produce, local seasonings and oils, and community life.

Truth be told, the natural and the gourmet supermarkets are few and far between, and farmers’ markets happen near you just once a week. If you are like me, you find yourself doing a considerable amount of shopping at Southern California’s Big Three – Vons, Ralphs, and Albertsons.
It is difficult to stick with one market in any event, because each one sells items unavailable in the rest. Ralphs sells flat iron steaks, Albertsons sells a variety of chicken wings, and Vons has unique bakery items. You can create many tasteful meals shopping exclusively at any one of these three markets.
But, I believe, one of them is just a little more tasteful than the rest.
Can you guess which one?
(Pause to think about it.)
Here’s a hint: Its sister market is Pavilions.
You’ve got it: Vons/Pavilions is the most tasteful market in O.C.
What makes it so?

Let’s start with an outstanding meat/seafood department. When it’s time for filet mignon, my husband insists upon Ranchers Reserve. It is beef most excellent, awakening to the touch of pepper and herbs.

The seafood is superb as well, whether it comes under the Waterfront Bistro label or is on ice under glass. (I like the small packages of shrimp which fall under my gaze whenever I am in a “shrimpy” mood.)
The quality of the items under the Safeway Select banner rivals any “major” name brand.  It is an added bonus that the packaging is elegant as well, gold lettering on a black background. This is store-brand fare you don’t mind letting your neighbors see!
Vons/Pavilions stores give you a uniformly excellent shopping experience. Whether you’re in Anaheim Hills or Laguna Beach, or anywhere in between, you will be in a neat, shiny, navigable shopping environment. This is a store you can actually look forward to going to.
The cherry on top is that Vons/Pavilions has reasonable prices – even more so if you participate in the just for U rewards program. It records your favorites (for me: Fage yogurt, Bigelow tea, and Safeway brand calrose rice, among others) and gives you special discounts on them. Plus, it has the best prices for wine overall of the Big Three.  (I can see some of you perking up at that fact!)
The next time you go grocery shopping, why not go to the Vons/Pavilions nearest you and experience the good taste?

The staff of life

(Originally posted at OC Tastemakers on March 25, 2013.)

I admit I do not eat as much bread as I used to. Not because of gluten paranoia, but because I have become more discerning when it comes to “the staff of life.” Bread is like wine – if the quality is not up to par, the disappointment is crushing because we know what great tastes like.

I define great bread as:
1.     Freshly baked

2.     Crisp on the outside

3.     Chewy on the inside

Drab, spongy dinner rolls disappoint, as well as nutritionally correct but dull-tasting whole wheat loaves. I enjoy the fresh artisanal bread which most good supermarkets provide, or a croissant from a coffee shop. I almost always pair the latter with a cappuccino.

The croissant-and-cappuccino combo is, in fact, one of my favorite lunches when I eat out. It’s simple, it’s satisfying, and it’s tasteful. And inexpensive – I typically spend between five and seven dollars, including tip.

I have been fortunate to have sat down in some of Orange County’s best coffee shops for this special meal . My favorites include:

1. Zov’s Bakery and Café – 17440 E. 17th St., Tustin (in the Enderle Center) 714-838-8855. Whether I eat inside or on the patio, I feel special every time I hold one of Zov’s signature orange coffee cups. (Orange…I wonder why I like that?)

2. Blue Frog Café – 136 South Glassell Street, Orange 714-538-3764. Make sure to take the stairs to the upstairs loft – or eat outside, as I did on a late summer afternoon. I had a chocolate mousse this time – yes, sometimes a sweet pastry or cupcake substitutes for the croissant (more on cupcakes later!)
3. Kean Coffee – 13681 Newport Avenue, Suite 14, Tustin 714-838-5326; 2043 Westcliff Drive, Suite 100, Newport Beach 949-642-5326. A happy irony: The Tustin shop used to be a Diedrich Coffee. Then Starbucks bought and consumed the Diedrich brand, making the short-sighted (and selfish) decision to change all Diedrich shops to Starbucks stores. Shortly afterwards, Starbucks imploded (not a moment too soon) and had to close some stores. Now Martin Diedrich has brought his coffee intelligence back to Tustin (and Newport Beach) with Kean.

4. FreeSoulCaffé – 191 East Main Street, Suite 1B, Tustin 714-371-0976. No croissants here, but you will find vegan treats like pumpkin waffles and delicious dairy-free pastry. You will feel European in the courtyard complete with fountain.
5. Le Pain Quotidien – #1103 Fashion Island, 401 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach 949-287-5592. I first encountered this shop in Santa Monica, and when I learned that it would be coming to Orange County, I rejoiced.  Note the handle-free cappuccino cup – most tasteful!

The Ten Timeless Principles of Good Taste

(Originally posted at OC Tastemakers on March 10, 2013.)

Remember when Dr. Benjamin Spock told parents, “you know more than you think you do”? The same goes for good taste. We have an intuition of what is tasteful and what is not – but a perceived imperative to follow fashion and trends can block us from this intuition.
What is taste? There are as many answers as there are heads in the world. However, I hope that the following principles will be good lifelong guidelines.

1. Fashion and taste are not synonyms. Fashion is meant to dazzle, to awe, and sometimes to shock. Taste doesn’t do anything but be tasteful – and that is more than enough. Keeping up with fashion eats up too much money, time, and mental acreage. It’s easier to just be tasteful – and it’s more enduring. Fashion is fleeting, but taste is timeless.

2. What was tasteful in the past is likely to be tasteful now. Old things are often good things. The antique store and the vintage store contain many items of taste, and they have stood the test of time. It’s definitely worth your time to shop at these places.
3. Good taste is not just for special occasions, like parties or weddings. You can express good taste even when walking your dog or riding your bike on the beach. Casual does not equal sloppy.

4. Match bright colors with neutrals (white, black, brown, tan, navy), and neutrals with neutrals, but not two bright colors together (except for orange and pink, which will take you back to the swinging Sixties). When you wear two neutrals together, wear colorful accessories.
5. There is no reason for anyone to wear a shoe with a heel higher than one-and-a-half inches. Two, at the absolute maximum.
6. Wear clothing in the size you are now, not the size you want to be or think you should be. You can’t be your tasteful best if you are too aware of your clothing. Better a comfortable size 10 than a tight size 8. And remember, Spanx is just another word for girdle.
Photo credit: The Swedish (freeimages)
7. In the home, it is best to avoid too many dark colors. It makes visitors feel like they are swimming in mud. Best to balance both light and dark – dark furniture with light walls and light furniture with dark, for example.
8. You don’t need to be wealthy to be tasteful. Inexpensive options are everywhere. Taste is far more than what you wear – it is a way of life.
9. Taste is a matter of behavior, too. Taste is never mean or sarcastic or arrogant. Instead, it is kind, gentle, and supportive.
10. When your taste compass is sure, you can face bad taste without falling under its spell. This site is here to help.
In the days to come, you will read about how to live a tasteful life right here in Orange County. It is a subject that will not grow old; it will evolve and go into new and fascinating directions.
Welcome to taste, my friends.