Posts from the “Lifestyle” Category

Southern Snow Days

Posted on January 31, 2014

snowday

 

As everyone knows by now, the South had a winter storm that, among other things, dumped a menacing (and I say that in the sarcasm font) 1-3 inches of snow on Atlanta and brought the city to its knees. Children were stranded at school, cars were abandoned on the interstate, commuters were forced to hole up in the aisles of pharmacies and supermarkets because they couldn’t make the soul-punishing commute home. By soul-punishing, I mean it took some people more than 24 hours to do what normally takes about 30 minutes. Much has been written and said this week about that brand of snowmageddon (and the lack of political accountability), so I’m afraid all I have to add is that I still can’t wrap my head around what happened in my old hometown.

My husband was in Atlanta for business, so unfortunately he got caught in the middle of that mess. We were grateful to have him back home yesterday afternoon, so he could enjoy the balmy 50 degree weather and some roast beef po-boys for dinner. Where he had ice and snow and mayhem, we had sleet and cold and dangerously icy streets. School was closed here for three days. Our Yellow Lab Murray didn’t want to be cooped up, but didn’t want to brave the 20-degree weather either. So there was a lot of indoor fetch this week, which was fine because our Murray still hasn’t grown into his meaty boy paws.

Granted, this week’s snow days were not at all like the ones I had when I grew up in the Greater Baltimore area. Those days off involved knee-high snow, epic snowball fights and piping-hot cocoa after hours of outdoor play. This week, the most precipitation I saw was yesterday, when my daughter and her best friend unleashed a blizzard of glitter on my kitchen countertops. Nevertheless, the spirit of snow days — and all days involving inclement weather — remained: You accept the situation and make the most of things until the sun comes out.

So…

The sun came out.

The roads are no longer slick.

Murray only has a little bit of glitter behind his ears now.

School is back in session.

This weekend, the weather should be spring-like, with temperatures in the 70s.

Go figure.

*****

Speaking of making the most of things: I roasted a chicken one night this week and turned the leftovers into a homemade chicken noodle soup, which was perfect for the weather. You’ll need:

* Roasted chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces

* Diced onions and sliced carrots and celery

* Two boxes of chicken stock

* Whatever small pasta noodles you have on hand. I used a mix of elbow macaroni and shells.

* salt and black pepper to taste.

* A few hits of parsley

* Red pepper and celery salt  (optional, but the celery salt really gives it a nice flavor)

Directions: Cook the pasta as directed on the package and drain it. Put the chicken, vegetables and stock together in a pan, before adding about three cups of pasta. Season to taste, then simmer for 30 minutes and serve.

Here is the end result:

chickensoup

New Year, New Goal

Posted on January 10, 2014

A dose of sweetness at Pierre Herme.

A dose of sweetness at Pierre Herme.

This time last year I was returning from a research trip in Paris. I spent two weeks there by myself, both sifting through archival material about an architect who captured my imagination and indulging in goodies like the ones pictured above. In my waning moments in the City of Light, I told myself that if I did one thing in 2013, it would be to turn this research interest of mine into a book proposal that would capture a literary agent’s imagination too. By September 11 of last year, I did just that and I am beyond grateful to be represented by Jane Dystel of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. I spent the latter part of last year refining my book proposal to her and her fabulous business partner Miriam Goderich’s standards. Now that I’ve completed that milestone, I have a new goal: If I do one thing in 2014, it’s to become a published author.

Yes, I did say “goal” and not “resolution.”  Jane wrote about resolution-setting this week on DGLM’s blog, and like her I tend to set goals, rather than resolutions that seem made to be broken. It’s because I prefer to work toward something in my own little imperfect way, rather than resolve to do something, fall short of my resolve and then feel like I’ve bungled everything in my efforts to get from point A to point B.

All the same, it’s the beginning of the year, and beginnings are a good time to reflect on what you’ve done before and tweak where necessary. This article that Jane shared has a great list of things worth working towards, for better or for worse. Better sleep and less smartphone are my favorites on this list, along with supporting local businesses and donating to charity (my pick: The National Multiple Sclerosis Society because my sister was diagnosed with this a year ago).

I’d like to add the following to my own personal list:

1. Reacquainting myself with my yoga practice. My mat spent more time in the closet than under my feet at the end of 2013 and I need to change that for my own sake. Shame on me.

2. Improving my public speaking skills. I probably won’t be the first (or last) writer to say that I get a little nervous speaking in front of people. But I’m steadily working toward changing that. Last fall I spoke to an elementary school class about writing, and this spring I’ll teach my first class at LSU. Other speaking engagements are on the horizon and it is my hope that after each one I’ll get better and more confident in front of crowds.

3. Cultivating patience. I have a history of not waiting well, but I’m working on that. Although I made some strides in 2013, we can always stand to improve ourselves, non?

4. Sharing more here about writing, publishing, entrepreneurship and the latest and greatest reads. Plus, keeping up the eclectic and random stuff. Blogs and social media always seem to be a work in progress, something that shifts shape depending on a writer’s interests. This year, I’d like to open things up to readers who have questions about writing or publishing, share interviews with interesting folks and bring activity from my Goodreads feed into longer, more thought-out posts. If there’s something you’d like to see covered here, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line via my contact page, or shoot me a tweet on Twitter. You can follow me @paigebowers.

What goals have you set for 2014? Please share them in comments and let me know how you’re doing with those goals. And, if you’re not setting goals or resolutions, let me know why you don’t.

Here’s to a fruitful 2014!

 

 

 

Yogalosophy

Posted on November 13, 2013

Photo: Seal Press

Photo: Seal Press

My yoga practice has fallen apart over the past couple of months, in part because of various work projects that have kept me busy, but also because of a back injury that has been flaring up off and on during this time. With the holidays right around the corner, there is no time like now to get back on the mat (once I can move painlessly), because the breathing, twists, turns and stretches have a way of helping anyone (not just me) stay calm and focused when things get hectic.

ModernWomanThat’s my Yogalosophy, but in the recent issue of USA Today’s Modern Woman, I talked to celebrity yoga and fitness expert Mandy Ingber about hers. Ingber, a former actress, believes we already have the perfect body. It just may be hiding behind layers of fat, or (in my case) compressed spinal discs. What you have to do is love the body you have in order to get the body you want.

Ingber speaks from experience. After being “all over the map” with her own body, she overcame her own eating disorders and body image issues through the self-love she preaches. “I started making better choices as a result of loving myself,” she told me in an interview. “I used to think that if I did something wrong (like gain weight) that I ruined everything. Now I don’t have that black-and-white thinking about myself anymore.”

Now she’s known as the yoga and fitness guru behind some of Hollywood’s hottest bodies, among them, the actresses Jennifer Aniston and Helen Hunt. Her latest book, Yogalosophy: 28 Days to the Ultimate Mind-Body Makeover provides readers with an easy-to-use wellness overhaul that includes traditional yoga poses, toning and cardio exercises, recipes, music playlists, journal exercises and other action items that support physical and mental wellness throughout the day.

“This is really a ‘Start where you are, take what you like and leave the rest’ type of book,” she says. And it’s one I’ll have to reacquaint myself with very soon.

If you practice yoga, what is your favorite type of class to take and why? Or, if you’ve read Ingber’s book, what did you think of it and what sort of results did you get from following her program? And finally, what sort of fitness or wellness ideas do you have for making it through the holidays? What is your holiday-related health or wellness downfall? Please leave your insights in the comments section below.

Swimming With The Great White Shark

Posted on November 6, 2013

I was at my desk earlier than usual today so that I could interview legendary golfer Greg Norman. A top-ranked player in the 1980s and 1990s, Norman is known by his nickname “The Great White Shark,” in part because of his aggressive style of play, but also because you can find a lot of those toothy predators around his native Australia. Reebok helped him develop the shark logo and brand during his golf heyday and he has since expanded it to include about 20 different businesses, from golf course design, to eyewear and a wine label too.

I always enjoy talking to creative and entrepreneurial people who pursue their passions and (most importantly) execute those pursuits well, no matter what the market, or other people say. I also confess to being a bit mystified by people like Greg Norman, or actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who have been able to sell people a lifestyle or products based on whatever their brand may be. So I got off the phone with Greg Norman this morning and was really, truly inspired by his accomplishments. Then, I had a little brainstorm that I took to my Facebook page. Granted, I was being slightly tongue-in-cheek (maybe), but I asked my Facebook followers to help me develop a brand, logo and lifestyle that I could sell to the people, a la Norman or Gwyneth. The immediate feedback was that whatever it was, it had to have some element of Frenchness to it. But I pointed out that because I’m based in the South physically (only mentally do I drift along the Seine…for now), it needed to have a Southern element.

So I submitted this to them: Deep Fried French.

Deep Fried French was very well-received, so I reserved the domain name. What I’ll do with it is anyone’s good guess, but my Facebook brain trust is guiding me toward ideas that may (or may not) result in a site of some sort, someday (maybe). What I know is that the demand for something Deep Fried and French is there. I also know that I’ve hired some people (sort of) who have developed the Sheryl Sandberg-esque corporate motto of “Jean In” which has a nice ring to it. It says “casual, but purposeful” which is what I try to go for all in endeavors.

Won’t you Jean In with us?

If you have any recommendations about what may or may not be a good idea for this endeavor, please send them my way. Or, if you’d like to share your thoughts on brands and lifestyle ideas that resonate with you, please do share your wisdom in comments.

 

 

There’s Something About Lola

Posted on November 5, 2013

Photo: Michael Price

Photo: Michael Price

I profiled Russian-American piano virtuoso Lola Astanova for the November issue of Palm Beach Illustrated. By age 8, Astanova was giving performances alone and with orchestras throughout Europe. By age 13, she was featured in a UNESCO documentary about twentieth-century child prodigies. But her childhood was normal, she says, adding that she even played with friends and Barbie dolls.

Now, Astanova is bringing classical music to a new generation of listeners, thanks in no small part to her penchant for hard work and her social media savvy. She became a YouTube sensation (1.5 million page views and counting) after she infused Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” with a heavy dose of Rachmaninoff-style drama. She has also graced some of the world’s great concert venues, among them Carnegie Hall in New York City. Next week, she’ll perform in Charleston, West Virginia with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra.

You can find my story about Astanova here, or on newsstands in South Florida. In the meantime, here are a few highlights from our interview:

* Astanova’s mother was a piano teacher and didn’t want her child to pursue a musical career because it was too difficult.
* She studied at the V. Uspensky Specialized School of Music for Gifted Children and enjoyed the competition and rigor that came with learning at such an elite school. To this day, she says “I’m very critical of myself and wish I could change that, but I don’t think I can so it doesn’t make life easier for me.”
* Having said that, it’s worth noting Lola loves reading the philosophical works of Arthur Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer wrote that the world was driven by a continually dissatisfied will and was always seeking satisfaction, a belief that must speak to the perfectionist Astanova.
* Astanova moved to Houston in 2000 and studied music at Rice University. But she maintained her ties with her Russian teachers.
* She is a fashionista known for wearing Chanel and Tom Ford. She’s also a self-proclaimed “beauty product junkie.” She justifies her passion for fashion by sharing an anecdote about the time Chopin lamented a pair of fabulous gloves he couldn’t afford. “He was into fashion,” she says. “There’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s a sign of respect for the audience.”

Lola Astanova was a really fun interview. I really enjoyed meeting her and learning about how someone has followed their passion successfully and on on their own terms. Definitely catch her in action if she comes to your town. For a taste of what she’s like live, here she is in an exclusive performance for PBI’s YouTube channel:

She also maintains a pretty sassy Twitter feed at @followlola, where she shares her global exploits, hair color changes, fashion adventures and on-stage triumphs with her fans.

The Final Frontier

Posted on November 4, 2013

In a recent article for USA Today, I interviewed some of the men and women who will be among Virgin Galactic’s first commercial space travelers. Some of them are doing it because they remember the excitement of the 1969 moon landing. Others are doing it because they seek the ultimate bucket list moment, or because they want to set an example for their young daughters. Whatever their reasons, when billionaire business magnate Richard Branson announced his goal to take Average Joes into space as frequently and affordably as the average airline, these people scrambled to pay up to $250,000 for the opportunity to float for five minutes above the Earth.

NASAcover

“When I was growing up, going to space was one of those ineffable experiences you could only conceptualize,” Marcia Fiamengo told me in an interview. “I used to dream about it, about floating in zero gravity. Now I can’t wait to get an all-consuming perspective of Earth and the stars. It will be quite a view.”

By the time my article went to press, there was no set date for Virgin Galactic’s first takeoff. But a recent article said that the company has pushed its first launch off until August, 2014, a delay that could cost the state of New Mexico millions. Delays aside, Branson recently reached a deal with NBC to create a reality series called “Space Race,” which would follow contestants competing to win a flight into space with the nascent carrier. No word yet on when that show might air, or when the winner might fly. Under the circumstances, that winner will join a list of nearly 700 customers (among them pop star Rihanna, socialite Paris Hilton and physicist Stephen Hawking) who are eager to take the next small step into space.

Mastering the Art of French Eating

Posted on October 25, 2013

Photo: Amazon.com

Photo: Amazon.com

I just finished Ann Mah‘s recently published memoir Mastering the Art of French EatingIt’s a lovely account of the year that Mah, a food writer and diplomat’s wife, spent alone in Paris as her husband was called away to serve in Iraq for a year. Some may not view a year alone in the City of Light as some sort of punishment. There are pastel-hued sunsets, the city’s storied rooftops and Pierre Herme macarons, after all. But for all its beauty and luxury, for all its decadent pleasures in every patisserie and multi-starred restaurant, the French capital can be a lonely and confounding place, especially if you’re not from around there.

Like me, Mah is a Francophile and foodie, so when I read her book, I was immediately transported into a country and subjects that I love. In the year she spent apart from her husband, she sought ways to create a new life and friends for herself. One of the ways she did it was by traveling the country in search of the history, techniques and people behind some of France’s signature dishes, from boeuf bourguignon to delicate buckwheat crepes smeared with creamy Breton butter.

“I was intoxicated and my drug was Paris,” she writes. Quite frankly, I was intoxicated and my drug was Mah’s memoir, which made me crave steak frites, red wine and a cozy cafe from page one. If you love engaging memoirs, smart food writing and a dash of history, Mah’s book is just the recipe for your interests. I gave it five stars on Goodreads this week.

****

Speaking of steak frites…sometimes I dream about this dish, from the well-seared piece of meat that runs red when your knife slices into it, to the slightly tangy (and sort of buttery) shallot sauce that is served with it, to the crisp frites that soak up some of the juices on the plate. Let’s not forget the big glass (or glasses) of red wine to wash it down. You have to do this right, after all.

Last Sunday, the New York Times Magazine ran a story about steak frites at Balthazar. The next day, I picked up Ann Mah’s book and went from thinking about steak frites to craving them. This meant I had to make them. So I did that last night, using Mah’s recipe for the steak and shallot sauce and my recipe for fresh, handcut frites. My wine choice: Chateau Coutet Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. It worked for me.

I’m not sure why this is, but one of the secrets to making really good frites is soaking the Idaho potatoes you’ve cut in cold water. It has something to do with getting rid of some of the starches, but I’m not sure what that has to do with flavor or texture. All the same, I do it, and last night I was in such a manic must-have-frites state that I did it three times. When I was done, I put those babies in hot oil until they were golden brown:


Next, I took a skirt steak, patted it dry and then seasoned it with sea salt and freshly-ground pepper. I seared it for a couple of minutes on one side, then flipped it over to cook it for a few more minutes on the opposite side (the Mah recipe calls for about 50 seconds, but my husband doesn’t like his steak as red as I, or the French, do):

When the steak was done, I covered it in foil and then cooked some sliced shallots in the pan drippings with butter until they were tender. I added thyme, red wine vinegar and some beef stock and cooked it down until there was barely any liquid. Then I added more butter to the sauce. Here is the end result:

One of my Instagram followers said that I was “really killing it in the kitchen” last night. But honestly? I love cooking and do it frequently, even though I may not always post about it. This week I’m just feeling lonesome for Paris and wanted a way to connect myself with a food and a people that I adore. This got me there, if only for a moment. Judging from Ann Mah’s memoir, she probably understands the sentiment all too well.

Blossoming

Posted on October 23, 2013

floralpainting

 

My younger sister was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis late last year. Shortly after her diagnosis, I signed up for two M.S. fundraising walks, one in Baton Rouge, the other in New Orleans. I was beyond grateful to the people who sponsored me on these walks because I was so sad about what my sister faces on a daily basis. I can’t make her ongoing pain and struggles easier (which is always frustrating for someone as anal and eager to please as I am), but I can walk in her name to raise money so that talented scientists and doctors can work to find a cure.

If you don’t know what M.S. is, here are some facts:

* It’s a chronic and often disabling disease of the central nervous system.

* The disease occurs when the immune system attacks the myelin (or fatty protective tissue) that surrounds nerves, damaging it and the nerves themselves. When the myelin is attacked and scarred, nerve impulses are interrupted or distorted.

* Person to person, symptoms vary and range from numbness in the limbs to paralysis and loss of vision.

* There are treatments that can slow the progression of the disease and help people live satisfying, productive lives. But  to date, there is nothing that can wipe it out altogether.

Having said all this and being totally aware of my sister’s struggles, I get up every day and look for reasons to be hopeful. She’s handling her diagnosis with humor (most of the time) and tries to find ways to manage her limits, lessen her stress and ask for help when she needs it. Although I am fully aware that she has bad, debilitating days, and hate that for her, I’m tickled beyond words that she has begun to paint again. Above is one of her works-in-progress, an impressionistic triptych of flowers in a field. She began this piece a few hours ago, after selling two of them last night on Facebook.

Disclaimer: I bought one of those two paintings. I’m a proud big sister. What can I say? Isn’t her work gorgeous?

To close, if you would like to get involved with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, here are ways you can help.

If biking and walking and other physical events are not your cup of tea, please consider making a donation to NMSS, either as a gift to support general research and education, or one to honor my sister, Katherine Warren.

It Happened in Paris

Posted on September 13, 2013

The universe works in mysterious ways.

This story begins four years ago in a Parisian playground. My daughter was riding a weathered merry-go-round, and as I sat there watching her happy little freckled face, I quietly worried that maybe I wasn’t really good enough to make it as a writer. The market was just plain hard and I had begun to consider other things I could do.

I decided to go to graduate school and last fall I got my M.A. in Modern European History. During this period of much reading and footnoting, I rebuilt my self-confidence as I delved into the colorful life story of a nineteenth-century Parisian man. My goal was to take the work I had done in class and in dusty archives and turn it into a book.

This spring, I spent eight weeks working with the editor Jill Rothenberg on a proposal for this book that has consumed my brain for the past four years. I originally thought that this should be straight history/biography, but Jill encouraged me to infuse it with a little bit of memoir, because my journey toward this subject was obviously very personal and life-altering. I hemmed and hawed about this until I thought back to my thesis defense, which began with my advisor asking me to explain to my committee why I became interested in this subject. Jill said, “If you tell us why you fell in love with this person, we’ll fall in love with him too.”

Point made.

So I wrote a brand-spanking new first chapter, and when I was done it made me believe in myself and this book just a little bit more. It also made me grateful to have people in my life — like Jill and the aforementioned advisor — who can point me in the right direction.

I spent the summer revising my book proposal and quietly hoping that it would be good enough to attract an agent’s interest. When I was done revising and felt good about the work I had done, I went to Mignon Faget and bought myself a silver wishbone pendant.

And then I made a wish.

Late Monday night, I sent a query letter to a well-regarded agent and figured that would be the end of it. First thing Tuesday morning, this agent sent me an email asking for my proposal. Midday Wednesday she emailed again, saying she wanted to talk to me about representing me. After I peeled myself off the ceiling, after I scoured the house looking for the film crew from “Candid Camera,” after I realized that this was no joke, I realized that everything that has happened since I sat watching my daughter ride that merry-go-round in Paris four years ago was meant to be.

I am grateful for every last bit of it. And now I am going to do every single solitary thing my agent asks me to do, so I can make this dream of becoming a published author a reality. I hope you’ll join me on this journey. It has been a wonderful ride so far!

 

Napoleon III and Other Stories

Posted on May 22, 2013

napoleon_iiiSee this guy and his well-waxed mustache? This is Napoleon III, emperor of the French Second Empire and I devoted a couple of years of my life to learning all about him, his era and a wild-haired architect whose life had a rags-to-riches narrative arc. You may find that wildly impractical, but to me, it made and continues to make good sense. Having spent so much time reading about this particular Napoleon, I was pleasantly surprised to see that he got a shout-out in “Mad Men” two weeks ago, when the creative team was brainstorming ideas for a new margarine account. I am probably one of the few people on the planet to realize that the shout-out was not quite right. In the show, Peggy said that margarine was invented by Napoleon III, who wanted to create a butter substitute for his army that wouldn’t spoil. What actually happened is that the price of butter skyrocketed and in 1869 Napoleon III offered a prize to anyone who could create a more affordable butter substitute.  A chemist by the name of Hippolyte Mege-Mouries created a process for churning beef tallow with milk to create what became known as oleomargarine. Although Mege-Mouries won the emperor’s prize, the French never took to the product and so in 1871, the inventor worked with a Dutch firm that bolstered the product’s appeal by dyeing it yellow. The rest, as they say, is history.

But I still prefer butter.

***

I moved across town recently and am slowly (but gratefully) digging out and trying to get a reliable wifi signal. I christened the new kitchen the other night by cooking a tasty, improvised (and fairly easy) tilapia dish. I don’t have pictures, but I can give you a rough idea of the recipe and promise you that it is good. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Coat a baking dish with olive oil and put four tilapia pieces in it. Season both sides with salt, freshly ground black pepper and parsley. Then, squirt the juice of one lemon over the fish and then pepper it with capers. Bake for 15 minutes and serve with a green salad. Next recipe I post will have pictures and specific steps and all the other things that make blog posts worth a damn. For now, just take my word on this, try it, and let me know what you think.

***

Two blogs I enjoy right now:

* Amy Haimerl’s The Detroit House: Amy is a business journalist. Her husband is a jazz pianist. They bought a big old house with a great history and are trying to renovate it without killing each other. She’s writing about the experience with great humor and transparency, all against the backdrop of a city that is undergoing a renovation of its own. Great story here. You should check it out.

* Katherine McCoy’s Paleo Living in the Crescent City: Katherine is a marketing professional in New Orleans and a former swimmer for Tulane. Part of the fun of her blog is watching how she tries to pursue this healthy, paleo lifestyle in a city where indulgence is always just around the corner. Her discipline is amazing and her dog Pearl is super-cute.

***

I’ll leave you with this view from my new backyard:

 IMG_20130520_191508