When a Danish Modern Minimalist tries to live with a Whimsical Collector (and they are the same person)

For Christmas, Bob gave me a book titled Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives by Tim Harford.

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The note attached said something like “it will all be okay”. I’ve been stressed out by what I perceive to be chaos and mess in our home. I have always prided myself on being a neat freak, with a tidy home and everything in its place. Apparently I have Benjamin Franklin to thank (or curse) for the saying.

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As you may know if you ever read this blog, I not only work full time, but I am working on my Ph.D. full time as well. It’s hard to keep everything in its place when you have deadlines and timeclocks. And some of the things I try to keep in their places are alive: right now my extra bathroom is home to a beautiful momma cat and her 4 lively babies. I foster for the East Bay SPCA, plus we share our home with 3 resident rescue cats and Einstein, the ridiculously cute terrier saved from doggy death row.

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Foster family Rosarita and her 4 little beans, Fava, Garbanzo, Lima and Lentil.
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Einstein; just look at that messy face and try not to fall in love.

 

Trying to get everyone to sit still for a family Christmas photo proved impossible.

 

It’s hard to have a houseful of animal companions and not have a certain amount of mess and chaos. Is it a coincidence that one of my other gifts from Bob was the movie The Secret Life of Pets?

 

I adore Danish Modern furniture and home design. I see the clean wood lines and open spaces and think, “That’s where I want to be.” In my minimalist daydreams, I picture kitchens of big empty countertops and gleaming stainless steel.

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And living spaces like Don Draper’s apartment on Mad Men or the Jetson’s sky pad.

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Don Draper’s New York apartment on Mad Men.

 

If asked, I would say the kitchen I drool after is the set for the Eric Ripert show Avec Eric. It doesn’t hurt that Chef Ripert is drop-dead gorgeous, but that’s beside the point.

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This picture of a minimalist home makes me swoon.

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Think of all the reading and writing I could do in this clean, quiet space.
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And the tidy meals we would eat in the dining area.

I think I’d sleep so well in this bedroom, but then I think “where are the dogs and cats?”

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My favorite television character of all time is Mr. Monk, played by Tony Shaloub. I identified completely with his dislike of dirt and chaos. Other viewers might think he’s an exaggeration, but I can tell you he’s not.

 

But in reality, I don’t live this clean, ordered life, as much as I’d like to, or think I’d like to. And if I did move into one of these fabulous spaces, I’d probably start assembling one of my little collections of things and cluttering up the space, and bringing home all of the stray dogs and cats in the neighborhood, and loading the kitchen counters up with gadgets and appliances.

I think of the kitchens that look like they have produced not just good food but good times and family togetherness.

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This looks like a kitchen where memories are made.
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Julia Child’s kitchen. She lived a good life.

In my own experience, just recently one of the best times I’ve had was cooking Thanksgiving dinner with my friend Bev in her tiny San Francisco apartment kitchen. The crowd of 12 (15? I lost count) of us sat with our plates on her bed and floor and had a blast.

 

When I finally got my dream trip to Paris a few years ago, the kitchen in our apartment was eclectic country French something-or-other, and it was wonderful. (Note to my vegan friends: I wasn’t vegan yet then so please excuse the cheeses and butter and fish.)

When we went to Oslo a year later, our tiny cabin had a tiny kitchen and even though it was designed for someone 7′ tall, I loved putting together meals there.

 

My whimsical side has always loved the idea of living like the characters in one of my favorite childhood books, The Borrowers. I could fashion furniture out of thimbles and spools of thread and matchboxes and make my own whimsical clothes (a la Stevie Nicks) from scraps and wisps of fabrics.

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The Borrowers, illustration by Emilia Dziubak.
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Stevie Nicks

I love the idea of Hobbit Houses and tiny houses and Steampunk houses.

 

Every time I visit the Berkeley store Castle in the Air, I think I want to live there, with its puppet theaters and doll houses and troll villages.

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So which is it, less is more or more is more?

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In fashion, I admire Coco Chanel and her classic looks.

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But I also want to be Stevie Nicks twirling around in my scarves and skirts.

 

Mae West said:

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But should I take her as a role model? I bet she had a good time and didn’t worry about chaos.

The late fashion designer L’Wren Scott, whose work I only just discovered but find to be quite lovely, said:

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I am confused! But that’s okay. 2017 is going to be the year that I embrace disorder and chaos. Tim Harford says it’s okay and will make me more creative and resilient.

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After all, Einstein (the other one) was a pretty smart guy and he embraced chaos. So here I go, and I plan to enjoy the ride!

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Peace and hugs.

My first vegan holiday feast

Funny thing, when I started this blog I was really planning on it being a food and recipe blog. I do sometimes mention food and restaurants, and I wrote one post Eating Vegan in the East Bay early on. But this is the first time I am writing a post about cooking. A sign of how busy my life has become! This year will be the first time I have planned and prepared a completely vegan holiday meal for family and friends. Non-vegan family and friends, at that. It’s going to be an amazing meal (fingers crossed)!

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Sounds good to me.

The menu is planned and the shopping list is made.

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The shopping list isn’t too bad.

I was getting frustrated searching for vegan appetizers: it seems like all any non-vegans can think of for us is hummus. Don’t get me wrong, I love hummus. But it’s become so ubiquitous that it’s not got that special holiday something about it. But then I found The Full Helping blog

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The Full Helping

You know that hot, gooey, bad for you, but delicious artichoke/spinach dip that became popular in the 1980s? There’s a vegan version! And I’m making it.

Vegan artichoke and spinach dip

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Comfort food, mmm.

To balance out the gooey, cashew-cheesiness, of course there should be a salad. One thing I miss as a vegan is a good Caesar salad. And I found a recipe for a vegan one on another plant-based food blog, Oh She Glows, by Angela Liddon.

Oh She Glows

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I could just eat a whole big bowl of this and be happy.

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Crowd-Pleasing Vegan Caesar Salad

The main event: I wanted to do something special, not a lasagna or a something-over-rice dish. I love to watch food competition television, and on Hell’s Kitchen the contestants are always tripped up by Gordon Ramsay’s Beef Wellington recipe. I was wondering if anyone had ever made a vegan mushroom version, and of course they have. And who knew that Pepperidge Farm puff pastry is vegan?!

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Gordon Ramsay is probably about to drop an f-bomb on one of the poor “cheftestants”.
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This is bad news for my waistline: it’s vegan.

Enter The Vegan Version blog. Yes, a recipe for Mushroom Wellington! And it sounds a lot easier than anything Gordon Ramsay would throw at me (literally throw, I mean).

The Vegan Version

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Holiday plate worthy.

Mushroom Wellington

Gotta have some vegetables on the side, especially at a vegan feast, and after the artichoke dip I didn’t want anything heavy like green bean casserole, but green beans, yes. So it will be a simple green bean sauté with pearl onions and sliced almonds. No recipe required.

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I’m always looking for a reason to get out my Jim Lahey cookbook My Bread. Its the source of the no-knead bread recipe that went viral after Mark Bittman published it in the NY Times a few years ago. Jim Lahey  is the pastry chef at Sullivan Street Bakery (2 locations, 533 W 47th Street and 236 Ninth Avenue, New York) and pizza maker supreme at pizzeria Co. (230 9th Ave., New York), which I have been to once on a pilgrimage a few years ago (pre-vegan days).

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One of the guests is bringing a dessert, but I can’t make a feast without making a dessert, and no meal is complete for me without chocolate anymore, so I figure I’ll make one too. Moosewood Cooks, from the legendary Moosewood restaurant in Ithaca, NY to the rescue!

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I googled “easy vegan chocolate cake” and this is what I got: Moosewood’s Six-Minute Vegan Chocolate Cake.

Moosewood Six-Minute Vegan Chocolate Cake

And now, I have to actually go to a store, my least favorite part of the adventure that is cooking. Going to get my groceries home, put on some Christmas music (James Taylor at Christmas and Tuck Andress Hymns, Carols, and Songs About Snow are the 2 most-played at our house), and get cooking!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Happy Holidays!

Love and Peace to All!