The Simply White Dinner

simply white dinner

           The Simply White Dinner is an annual event which originated in Paris twenty-five years ago and has now spread to cities all over the world.   The local version of this outdoor picnic has sold out again.  Every year this event gets bigger and more extravagant and every year people pay for the privilege of sitting with 300 other guests all wearing white on a summer evening and listen to jazz music while they dine on their own picnic fare.    Tickets are $60 per pair, (only pairs as the organizers want an even number of tables), and every year it sells out.   And yes, you bring your own food.   The $60 charge is only for the ambiance.   Bottles of wine (presumably white) are available for purchase, but you must bring your own bottle opener, white picnic basket/bag/cooler, white china, glass ware, real cutlery, (no plastic please), white linen napkins (to wave in the air for the group picture) and centerpiece (perhaps white hydrangeas).   You must wear white, and only white, except for footwear.    Elegance is encouraged, hats, fascinators, white boas, white gloves etc.   They supply the tables and chairs, the white tablecloths and the music.   The rest is up to you.   The location is top secret until the day before the event, presumably to avoid gawkers (although it might be hard to hide 300 chairs) but is usually somewhere along the waterfront.   This year they had a perfect summer evening with a lovely breeze coming off the water, last year it was sultry and sweltering hot.   It’s hard to dress chic when the humidity soars to over 40 C. 

           Now if you are a romantic at heart this sounds very enticing.   The event organizers promise a magical evening of outdoor dining, music and dancing under the stars.   It does sound wonderful and very Gatsbyish….who wouldn’t want to dress up like Daisy Buchanan?

       Except even the local newspaper christened it The Chic Potluck because……where are all the men?    The closeup in the paper showed a long table of stylishly dressed women with hats and white flowers or wreaths in their hair, with a few dapper men here and there, coerced into white suits or white golf shirts and white pants by their wives, but they were older, grayer men who may have grown up with John Travolta’s white disco suit in Saturday Night Fever, or perhaps Don Johnson’s pale linen jackets in Miami Vice, or maybe even Humphrey Bogart’s white tuxedo in Casablanca.    White is not a color favored by a lot of men, except for the classic white dress shirt which accompanies suits and ties, and I believe even that has fallen out of favor except for funerals and weddings.   Women enjoy wearing white, and as Jane Austen famously quoted in Mansfeld Park, “A woman can never be too fine while she is all in white” but I think Jane was probably thinking of younger women.    I abandoned white years ago as it can be unflattering to the skin tone of women over fifty.   In fact I don’t believe I own a single white item in my wardrobe.  I also can’t sit in the direct sun for three hours – would my beige parasol be confiscated at the door?   Parasol

Informal poll:  Female readers would your boyfriend/husband/male significant other be willing to don white (and we’re not talking white t-shirts here), to attend such an event?  (Male readers I would like your opinion too).  Men might be enticed by the promise of a good meal, but remember you are bringing your own food and it probably won’t be them making or packing the picnic lunch.   All of these are perfectly valid reasons to just stay home.   Still I am feeling a bit wistful about missing the promise of an enchanting evening(musical interlude from South Pacific) 

             The first year they allowed registrants to pre-order a boxed meal of a salad with protein/chicken for $22 (has anyone noticed that the $15 salad has now become $20) but that was soon abandoned, probably for liability reasons.   There are suggestions for picnic fare on the website…..appetizers, sandwiches, deserts.   The food does not have to be white, but what if it was?  If we’re going to have a theme here let’s go all out.   How about aged white cheddar with crackers, and white radishes and cauliflower veggies with ranch dip as appetizers.   Lobster or lobster rolls, or tuna on French bread.  Or that perennial picnic favorite, cold chicken and potato salad with white chocolate mousse or  crème brulee for desert?    Sounds like a plan, and you don’t have to pay sixty dollars to do it – you can put the money you save towards the lobsters.   Just organize a party for your own backyard some soft summer evening.   Invite some friends over and serve Prosecco or Pina Coladas.   Play old vintage Frank Sinatra/Dean Martin tunes instead of that horrible screechy jazz.   You might even cheat and stay out until midnight if your neighbors don’t object, instead of packing it in at ten as the official white party does.   (I’m not sure how much dancing under the stars would get done when it doesn’t even get dark here until well after nine, but you might get a good forty-five minutes of twilight twirling in). 

      Being possessed of an analytical mind, I decided to do the math.    300 tickets X $30 is $9000.   Nine thousand dollars to cover the rental of the table and chairs, the tablecloths and the jazz trio and DJ, might still leave some money left over, but as I don’t know anything about event planning, maybe they just break even?   They say they do it for the fun, it’s not a charity event.   It does seem like a lot of money though for some ambiance.   Last year I had tickets for a Local Harvest dinner, where for $30 a person you got an actual meal outdoors at the local farmers market square.   Although it was the end of September (timed for the harvest moon) and a coolish night they had heaters and a band played later.  (This reasonable price however might have been subsidized by the culinary arts students from the local college learning their trade).   The meal itself consisted of artisan bread, potato soup, locally sourced salad greens, a beef and a turkey entree, rustic vegetables and assorted homemade pies for desert.   And recently I attended a church dinner where the menu was a starter chopped salad, roast beef, chicken cordon bleu, mashed potatoes, carrots, coleslaw and homemade strawberry trifle for desert.  (This meal however might have been subsidized by the church coffers as a thank you to the volunteers).    And last June I attended a WW2 swing dance in an airport hangar, with a truly memorable roast beef and chicken buffet with the most scrumptious cheesecake for desert with a choice of lemon, cherry or blueberry toppings, and afterwards an evening of big band music with a 23-person orchestra.   Vintage dress was encouraged, some women did, most men did not, although I did see a few who might have been wearing their grandpa’s old uniform.   Tickets for that charity event were $75 per person, but as they have increased it to $100 per person this year they must not have made any money.   So, it is possible to have both food and ambiance for a price, (and it is possible to get members of the male species out for an evening of dining and dancing if there is a vintage B17 bomber on display to tour). B17 bomber

        Perhaps it is a case of country mouse versus city mouse, but if given a choice I think I prefer food over ambiance.   Still if Jay Gatsby offered to buy the tickets next year and pack me a picnic basket I might be persuaded to attend.     

Song of the Night:   Dancing in the Moonlight

Quote of the Day:    “There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights.  In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.  (The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald)

 

 

         

 

 

Four Quotes and a Wedding

A month ago, Chomeuse with a Chou, knowing how much I love quotes, challenged me to a repeat of the Three Days Three Quotes Challenge.   The whole month of May was devoted to gardening and all things floral, so I set it aside to ponder while digging in the dirt.    And speaking of dirt, while viewing the Royal Wedding on Saturday, this Jane Austen quote came to mind as being particularly appropriate, because who doesn’t love a little gossip.    Jane Austen quote

While the royals would hardly be considered my neighbors, I do live in a commonwealth country, (which makes me common and them royal), and I remember learning God Save the Queen years ago in grade school, but otherwise the monarchy doesn’t mean much here in Canada anymore, other than the occasional royal visit, which are few and far between now as people complain about the wasted tax dollars.   (Imagine how you would feel if people were expected to give you a party but then complained about the cost – would you want to go?)   I am not a royal-watcher but I do have a bit of a soft spot for the Queen as she is the same age as my mum and she has been through so much in her sixty-year reign.    So, a few random observations about the wedding of Harry and Megs.

I thought the Queen looked lovely and spring-like in her lime green and purple ensemble – so kudos to whoever put that combination together, plus Prince Philip was looking dapper and quite spry too – no cane two months after hip surgery at 97!

I remember getting up at 5 am to watch Lady Diana’s fairy-tale wedding (and we all know how that turned out, poor girl), but on Saturday I slept in until 7:30 and woke up just as they were saying their vows, so I missed the grand entrance into the church but like fashionistas everywhere all I wanted was to see The Dress.  I think  it is the nicest royal wedding dress yet.   Lady Diana’s was lovely and fitting for a young girl of 21, full of frills and bows and puffy sleeves in the style of the time, but Meghan’s was classic and elegant, in an Audrey Hepburnish way.    It was covered, and form-fitting, but not too tight, and no cleavage, (I hate it when brides yank at their strapless gowns to pull them up), so everyone’s attention was on her face.   (Beyonce-lovers of the barely-there-strategically-placed-cut-out look should take note of what true elegance is).   The veil was exquisite with the additional feature of all that embroidery representing the 52 countries in the commonwealth.  Her hair was lovely too, a simple chignon, but those strands on the one side that she kept pushing back annoyed the heck out of me so I can imagine how she felt, plus they ruined the first kiss by dangling in her face.  Was it a windy day?  Was there a shortage of hairspray?  Or maybe they were supposed to be there, as in one of the official photographs they have pulled them out even more, perhaps a quick repair job?    Conversely, I did not at all like the dress she wore to the evening reception, some high-necked halter thing that looked saggy in front, but I did like that little Jag convertible, very James Bondish.  Imagine driving away to your reception in that little gem.

The bridesmaids and pages were cute, but there should be an age limit on that position.  That littlest toddler waddled up the aisle like she was still in diapers.  As for Charlotte, she has that royal wave down pat, but no child should be required to wear a hair wreath with flowers bigger than she is.   The Mulroney page boys were cute, even if they did photobomb the entrance pic with their missing-teeth grins.    One of my favorite pics was a silhouette of the twins holding up her train at the entrance to the church.

Meghan seemed to be a very composed, relaxed, happy bride, but wouldn’t you expect a bit of nerves on your big day?   I suppose if you were an actress you would be skilled at covering it up.   I recall Kate barely cracked a smile in the church on her wedding day, and looked pale and tired, (plus her and Wills barely glanced at each other so nervous were they), and Diana who was young and nervous (and searching for Camilla), also looked tired under her veil.    In contrast Megan was smiling and looked rested, like she’d had a good night’s sleep.  But perhaps that is the difference between an introvert and an extrovert.   An introvert doesn’t like being the center of attention, (especially when millions of people are watching), while an extrovert actually enjoys it, and as an actress she would be used to having all eyes upon her.   If she was nervous, it didn’t show.   She certainly has a lot of poise, which is admirable in a way.   But all that gaze-into-your eyes and smiling just seemed a wee bit much to me, (like roll playing to the camera), but maybe it just seemed excessive in  contrast to the rest of the royals and guests none of whom looked very excited.   Maybe it’s against protocol to smile on such a solemn dignified occasion?   When they panned the camera over the pews, all I saw was a bunch of blank stoic faces, probably thinking, let’s get this over with and on to the party, although even coming out of the church they didn’t seem like a very joyful crowd.   (This could just have been the Canadian telecast however, maybe others had a different point of view?)

The guests:  Amal Clooney.   If you are that tall, you don’t need sky high heels, even if you do have bored-looking George to cling to if you feel off balance, but no one should ever wear mustard yellow, so pass on the mustard unless you’re at a barbecue.    And why oh why did they keep showing Harry’s old girlfriend – she’s jolly well relieved she didn’t sign up for all that pomp and circumstance.    Oprah, that dress was too tight, and too pink, and that hat way too extravagant.   I didn’t recognize anyone else, but I am not a big TV watcher, and have never seen a single episode of Suits even though it was filmed in Toronto.

Meghan’s mother did well to survive all the attention with dignity and style.  She looked nice in her soft green but should have had a better hat.    She must be commended for raising such a strong, confident daughter, (and Lady Diana likewise.  I hope she was looking down with love on Harry’s special day).   Hers was the only face I saw which showed any true emotion, as she was fighting back tears several times.   Hey, it’s a wedding, it’s okay to get weepy, although Harry apparently wiped a few tears away too.   I felt sorry for her being the only member of her family in attendance, as anyone who has ever gone to the wedding of a friend or colleague and known absolutely no one can sympathize.   I just hope they didn’t stick her at the singles table.    I felt bad about what the media did to Meghan’s dad before the wedding, but have to wonder, if she’s been going out with Harry for two years, and engaged for six months, and if the news reports are correct that her father had never even met Harry, well that should tell you something.   But what would a wedding be without some family dynamics or someone from either side disapproving?   Wedding drama always reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen Quote

Although single, Jane Austen had many quotes on the marital state, being the astute observer of human nature that she was.    She was a great defender of marrying for love, which was not a common theme in her time, as women were in need of financial support and expected to marry well to have advantages in life, (ie a carriage instead of a Jag).   Although it must be said, no one really knows what goes on in a marriage except the couple, as a seemingly  ill-suited match might be perfectly happy, while a perfect looking marriage might be hell.    

Hats –  the day was full of women of all ages in silly hats – if you are going to wear a hat, make it a hat, not a six-inch fascinator.    But Kate’s and Camilla’s hats were too elaborate and must have been strategically designed to hide their faces during the service.   They were even looking down when the vows were being said.    Perhaps they were in shock over the sermon, (does love require a 15 minute sermon, or did the happy couple know he was going to go on and on), and that gospel song I haven’t heard in decades and would rather forget.    As Meghan apparently attended a Catholic high school, (where she wore a navy and white uniform similar in ugliness to mine), I’m not sure what religion she is, if any?   If that was a nod to her heritage that’s fine, but it did leave me wondering.   I did however love the wide-brimmed hat she wore at her first post-wedding appearance – very chic.  I have faith in her choice of hats.   Except for the Queen, (I loved the purple sprigs on her matching hat), the rest of you ladies are hereby sentenced to watch reruns of Downton Abbey – take notes – not a bad hat to be seen in all six seasons.

Mr. Darcy – Harry was Harry, a decent chap, red and scruffy as usual.   (I know grizzly beards are in style, but could he have shaved on his wedding day?  His bride was perfection, while he looked ungroomed, pardon the pun).  Appearances aside, they seem well suited as a couple.   What impressed me was the fact they had gone to Botswana, (must be one of the 52 commonwealth countries), for a three week vacation early in their relationship.  Perhaps they just wanted to be alone, but any couple who can safari together can probably live together.   But who knows maybe it was glam camping.  But then she will be glam living.   (Perhaps she was very smiley at a future of not having to work, clean house, do laundry etc.  There’s something to be said for having servants, not to mention an unlimited clothing allowance).   Plus, if you can handle a herd of wildebeests on safari, you can probably handle the paparazzi.    I’m sure she knows what she’s getting into and has the poise and confidence to handle it.    I wish them all the best in their married life.   As Jane said, they have as good a chance as anyone.Jane Austen quote

The weather gods certainly smiled on them – it was a picture-perfect day for a wedding, and there’s nothing like some sunshine to light up the mood of the waiting crowds.    Even the horses were in high spirits.    I noticed they were  having a really hard time controlling some of them in the carriage procession.    I’ve often wondered who cleans up the streets afterwards?   Maybe they don’t feed them beforehand and they were hungry and galloping towards the stables…Rhubarb scones

Speaking of food, I made tea and rhubarb scones in honor of the occasion while watching the two hour recap in the evening, but the recipe was not the best, so I won’t post it.   I should have known better, as it did not have any butter just cream, and the oven temp said 400, which in my oven should be 350, so they turned out burnt on the bottom and soggy in the middle and  rather tasteless overall.  But they were certainly edible with some strawberry jam, and it gave me a chance to use my new blue teapot.    As my grandmother used to say, “there’s a lid for every teapot.”   I think I’ll stop now, as I have exceeded my three quotes. Blue Teapot

An Interview with Jane Austen

          I am a Jane Austen fan.   Although I would not consider myself a Janeite, whenever a new book comes out about her life I am sure to check it out. Recently I saw this one, Jane Austen at Home, on the new releases list, and reviewed it on Goodreads.  

Jane Austen at HomeJane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Can there be such a thing as a bad book about Jane Austen – no. Even though we know every detail of her story, and there is really nothing new to be discovered about her life, (excepting the photo of the blue and white egg cup excavated at the Steventon Rectory), Austen fans still find any new book about her fascinating. This is a particularly satisfying read as it focuses more on her quest for a home – after all she is the author who wrote “There’s nothing like staying home for real comfort.” Of course, there are the usual biographical facts, literary and otherwise, seeming to focus more on her personal life, including her five marriage proposals, thus dispelling the myth that she was a lonely old spinster. (Really the woman was so intelligent as to be intimidating, and would she have been happy with any of them?) There is a satisfying number (40 pages or so) of footnotes, always a sign of a good biography, and some photographs, including said egg cup. A lovely read for commemorating the two hundredth anniversary of her death – we remain as captivated as ever.

       A friend gave me The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen, (edited by Joelle Herr), for Christmas as she knew I was a fan, and it is full of her famous quotes and observations.   Pride and Prejudice is my favorite Austen book, and then Emma, but some of the others I must admit I have never read, although I have seen the movie versions.  It is her life that I find most intriguing.   I often find authors lives to be as or sometimes more interesting than their books, (check out Margaret Mitchell’s biography for parallels to Gone with The Wind, the character of Rhett Butler was thought to be based on her first husband and Ashley Wilkes on her second).   If you are a reader, you want to know where they got their ideas.   Due to the lack of media back then and the passage of time we have little to base our conclusions upon, and baring someone discovering a cache of old letters in their great house, there is nothing new under the sun about Jane Austen, but we still can’t get enough of her life.   She remains a puzzle, an enigma, we want to figure her out.   A fellow blogger asked me which historical figure I would most like to interview, and my answer was Jane.  And so, as Jane said, indulge your imagination in every possible flight.      

 An Interview with Jane Austen

         Welcome to the BBC show, Portal to the Past.  We would like to welcome renowned British author, Jane Austen.   Even though she has been dead for over two hundred years she has been gracious enough to grant us this exclusive interview, and we thank her for the opportunity, because two centuries later we remain as fascinated by her as ever.  (Cue opening pianoforte music link).    Jane enters, wearing a white flowing Stella McCarthy gown, because a woman can never be too fine while she is all in white.  (Camera man sighs, white is not good for the camera, adjusts lighting).  

 Host:  Welcome Jane.   Would you like some  tea?  

Jane:    (demurely declines refreshments.  She doesn’t want to smear her lipstick – lipstick, imagine something to make your lips ruby-red and kiss-worthy.  She wonders if she’ll get a free swag bag from Sephora).

Host:   I’m so glad you could join us today.

Jane:   There is nothing like staying home for real comfort, but if adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.    

Host:  Did you ever imagine when you were sitting at your little writing table in Chawton Cottage, scribbling away about three or four families in a country village, that your novels would still be read two hundred years later? 

Jane:   (smiles sweetly)  Alas, it is only a novel… or, in short, some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humor are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language.

Host:  Did you ever dream that you would become so famous?

Jane:    I have no talent for certainty, but I always had a quiet confidence in my abilities.   The fame though was quite unexpected, though slight initially it has now has grown to such proportions that I find myself adorning the ten pound note.  (blushes modestly).  Pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked.   I lay the blame on my nephew for that biography he penned.    Fame can be a double-edged sword, for regrettably I have now lost all privacy, and sometimes when I want to pay a visit to Chawton Cottage, there are too many tourists milling about.    

Host:   (surprised)    Are you saying you haunt your old sites?

Jane:   I do enjoy dropping by occasionally, but the tourists, their fashion choices are really quite beyond comprehension.  It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire, but still…yoga pants and t-shirts.  (shakes head, and thinks silently, for what do we live, but to make sport of our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn.)   Chawton House was my only true home and I was very content there.   Sometimes I like to sit at my little desk and recollect….or I might visit the kitchen if the new cook is on, because as you know good apple pies were a considerable part of our domestic happiness.   As for my childhood home there is nothing remaining, although I read that a blue and white egg cup was discovered recently in an excavation at Steventon Rectory, but it wasn’t mine, it was Cassandra’s.  An egg cup – really!  Which of all my important nothings shall I tell you first.  It seems like a fair bit of nonsense that people would be interested in such things, but that is the price of fame.    One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.    

Host:    Are you aware of how many copies of your books have sold, 20 million of Pride and Prejudice alone?

Jane:    Yes it’s quite astonishing to be so immortal, but I wish I had the royalties.  A single woman with a narrow income must be a ridiculous, disagreeable old maid, the proper sport of boys and girls; but a single woman of good fortune is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as anybody else.

Host:    That portrait of you in the National Gallery, is it a fair likeness, because I’m not seeing too much of a resemblance?    (it might be the makeup and hair blowout, thinks to self, a little makeup can make even the plainest Jane quite pretty.) 

Jane:    I believe it has been photo-shopped too often to be an accurate portrayal.   (ponders uploading a new photo via Instagram for the ten pound note).  To look almost pretty is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive.    

Host:  Are you happy with your media image?   The sweet loving demure persona, sunny Jane?

Jane:    I must confess I was a bit annoyed with my sister Casandra for destroying most of my letters, especially the ones full of sarcasm and wit.   The ones that survive make me out to be some sort of vapid ninny.    I suppose she thought she was protecting my reputation…(sigh)…but she destroyed the best ones.   

Host:  You had five marriage proposals and turned them all down, did you ever regret being a spinster?  

Jane:     One should only marry for love.   And the more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!   You must be the best judge of your own happiness. 

Host:   What do you think of the movie versions of your novels?

Jane:    Some were of more merit than others, but Colin Firth was simply divine as Mr. Darcy.  Such a handsome man.  I wish I had thought of that wet shirt scene but that would have been too risqué for the era. 

Host:   Speaking of Mr. Darcy – who was the model for that darling man?

Jane:   ………………(prolonged silence, that wasn’t in the script, looks annoyed).

Host:   (quickly changes subject).   And  that famous speech, let me tell you how ardently I admire and love you.    Did people really talk like that back then?

Jane:    Ah, that speech……(contemplates, then laughs)…..Said. No. Man. Ever. 

Host:    Jane you seem to be well versed in the ways of the modern world, colloquial speech, photoshop, how do you know about all these things?

Jane:   The afterlife can be heaven – there is plenty of time to read and learn new endeavors.  With a book, you are regardless of time.   You ask yourself, why did we wait for any thing?  Why not seize the pleasure at once? How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation!     There are balls and a fair bit of dancing, and dancing leads to romance, for to be fond of dancing is a certain step towards falling in love.   If one has been forced into prudence in one’s youth, one can learn romance as one grows older.       

Host:   Well that sounds fascinating….romance in heaven.  (eyes camera man signalling time’s up).   Any advice for modern day lovers?

Jane:   Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.  But don’t settle.  Do anything rather than marry without affection.   Wait for your own Mr. Darcy…..(flutters false eyelashes and smiles coyly)….I have found mine…. 

Host:   Thank you Jane.  (notices camera man motioning cut).   You have delighted us long enough.  Would you like more tea?

Jane:  Thank you, but I must dash to Sephora before the portal closes and I must return to the past.     

          And so there you have it folks, Jane in her own words.    Like I said, nothing new there…..other than the blue and white egg cup was Cassandra’s.  

(Disclaimer:  I apologize in advance if I have messed up any of the quotes or facts as I am by no means an authority on Jane Austen, merely a fan.  Next up, the Brontes  – Branwell would be on board for sure, Charlotte and Anne might be tempted but Emily would never agree.)