Monday, April 26, 2010

coco and anna

In the past couple weeks I watched both "Coco Before Chanel" and "The September Issue." And I loved them both.

"Coco Before Chanel" provides insight into the life of Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel-- the hardships, the chances she took, the things she put up with, the things she noticed.  Obviously we all know how the story ends--with an empire-- but to see the pivotal moments and not only how she handles them but how she sometimes creates them made for wonderful cinema.

The contrast between her commonsense notions of dress and the court-influenced fashion of her day was so striking because it revealed how Chanel's revolutionary ideas became the standard-bearers.  Do you remember reading Shakespeare or the Bible and realizing those were the original sources of sayings like "Am I my brother's keeper?" or "neither rhyme nor reason?"  That's how I felt about this movie, watching Chanel create what would become the Little Black Dress.  (And I have to note that it's not how I felt watching "Forrest Gump," in that Zemeckisian sequence where it turns out Forrest Gump is running across America and also behind all the major cultural indicators of his time, which provoked some of the most sustained eye-rolling during a movie I've ever experienced and only through the miracle of time have I finally gotten over some of the schmaltz to appreciate Tom Hanks' acting.)

Audrey Tatou does a wonderful job inhabiting the character and communicating her sense of independence, even while showing the connections she makes with people.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching the evolution of her life.

The September Issue is an opposite kind of film-- snappily paced, quick scenes, focused on one project-- the production of the September issue of Vogue magazine.  But there's a fashion icon - Anna Wintour- at its center, anchoring the film, and I loved this one too.  Oh Anna Wintour! She is such a hero to me. That woman can move mountains, let alone pages. It's not really the substance but the style of what she does that impresses.  Not the what, but the how.  There's so much to learn from her as soon as people can get over the fear.  But no one does.  Except the inimitable Grace Coddington, who never had any fear to get over, because she is brilliant and she started at Vogue with Anna, and Anna respects her.  Such a fascinating duo- there's obvious mutual respect and shared backgrounds, but also differing aesthetics-- even their hair says so much. Anna has the Anna Haircut, the famous severe blonde chin length bob that she probably gets trimmed every week.  Grace has this lovely romantic cloud of red frizz that frames her shoulders. Their approach to the magazine is quite different, and it's interesting to see how this plays out in the production of shoots.

Also, the insights from and about family-- Anna's daughter Bee, her justice-oriented siblings, her partner (ex?) and other child (children?) who never cross the camera's path-- all provide perspective that fascinates because they round out the persona of a woman whose public life is so tied to her work and not her family.

Both films offer a study on the art of clothing, the motivations behind our interpretations, the work of the designer-- and in the case of the September Issue, also of the stylist, the photographer, the retailer (with little of the model and nothing of the consumer).  Inspiring to see how fashion analysis can be so rich and rewarding, and playful and fun.  All while not taking itself too seriously- which is key!

Monday, April 12, 2010

a bit of wild within walking distance

The gorgeous creek and nearby woods close to our house.  We're so happy about this protected area nearby.  I remember going exploring as a kid.  There wasn't too much wild in the SoCal suburb where we were, but there were still pockets to explore, climb, hide in.  I'm so glad to find a similar space in this NorCal suburb.  The well-manicured parks are there too for when they want to play on swings and slides, but there's also a bit of wild within walking distance.  There's also a regional open space just behind our place, so I can hear cows mooing from my office, which I find charming-- especially since I can still walk to a coffee shop.  Or, if I *have* to, to In-N-Out burger.  It is dangerous to admit to myself that In-N-Out is, in fact, an easy 10 minute walk.  Did I mention I love our new place?  Modestly sized and just right for us.

The two sisters are also happy to play indoors, especially when there are places like the Monterey Bay Aquarium where you could play inside for hours and never get bored.  I'm so glad we do this a couple times a year. I'm really looking forward to the year when we'll be able to go kayaking on the ocean just outside the aquarium, Elkhorn Slough.  It's so beautiful and fascinating.  We did it before we had kids, and now it's on the to-do list for maybe five years from now.  Cannot wait!!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

chocolate review! Bittersweet Classic Drinking Chocolate

So, it turns out I'm somewhat of a regular at Bittersweet Cafe. Not weekly, but maybe a couple times a month, usually on a Sunday. For most habits, that's not enough to be considered regular, but Bittersweet drinks and goodies are so intensely good that one or two treats a month are enough to carry you through. This is the way chocolate should be enjoyed, no?

Easter is over so you might think there ought to be a lull in chocolate consumption.  I say, ditch the Easter candy and start over with something fabulous.  Today I ordered a mocha (easily one of the best I've ever had) and then, looking at their drink menu, remembered how amazing the shakes are.  The best part of those shakes is the large handful of chocolate chips left at the bottom. So I had to ask, "What kind of chips do you use in the chocolate chocolate chip milkshake? And are they available to buy?" And the barista lighted up and brought over a tin of heaven Bittersweet Classic Drinking Chocolate.

She told me, "This is what we use in the milkshakes.  You can use it for hot chocolate or anything."

I feared it was a powder, but no.  These were IT.  The most delectable mix of milk, semisweet and dark chips of chocolate, varying in size and not powdery, except for a very fine coating of powder on all the chips.

Forget Easter candy.  These chips are all I will need for a very long time.  Especially since I'm trying to free myself from the last baby pounds, it's good to feel that a few of those tiny chips go a long, long way.  There are just a couple ingredients: Cocoa mass, cocoa butter, sugar, dried milk, soy lecithin, vanilla. The rich, creamy texture makes me think they've used more butterfat than most other chips, which makes them super satisfying.  But it's not just the texture, it's the taste. The variation of milk, semisweet and dark is fabulous for a nibbler like me.  And the quality of the chocolate is excellent.  If you're the type who hates chocolate sauce because it seems like it's basically sugar sauce colored brown, you're not going to be disappointed by these.  The chocolate flavor is second to no other ingredient, including the sugar, which is a welcome change of pace after just one Easter Cadbury creme egg (I can't even finish one of those anymore).

The tin is large at 10 oz. but it's $14.95 price tag makes it a special purchase.  But if you're using them the way I plan to-- to satisfy an occasional sweet tooth and maybe as an occasional addition to a cup of milk or coffee-- then it's well worth it.  (And yes, the link above takes you to their online store so if you don't live in proximity, you can purchase it online.  I'd highly recommend it if you're considering it.)