The Week That Was, 6.3.2023

WITH THE Memorial Day weekend, MLB had a short week, but we made the most of it.

British actress Annabelle Dexter-Jones in Succession. / Photo courtesy of HBO.

We marked the end of HBO Max’s Succession by having Boids Janet Kelly, Kathy Legg, and Nancy McKeon weigh in on the clothing worn by the women over the series’s four seasons. Who said clothes were just clothes? There were some added complications because actress Sarah Snook, who played Siobhán (Shiv) Roy, was pregnant IRL. But in the end a good time was had by . . . at least us!

The minimalist interiors in Succession weren’t the origin of LittleBird Nancy’s piece on round, curvy, sometimes cuddly furniture, but they certainly confirmed the trend, which we’ll notice all around us now, of course. Just as round was the Tarte Tropézienne, below left, a slightly complicated confection proposed by Kitchen Detail’s Nancy Pollard, who has spent a considerable number of hours devising and revising (and having to eat all those false starts, poor puppy). If it was good enough for Brigitte Bardot, how could it not be good enough for the rest of us?

Nancy’s Tarte Tropézienne.

LittleBird Stephanie Cavanaugh, who craves gardening porn like a crack addict, bemoaned this spring’s crop of shelter magazines, which seemed to have decided to remain indoors. Only Veranda fed her habit, and she was grateful.

The only truly serious note this past week was struck by Well-Being columnist Mary Carpenter, who explained the world of wound centers (who knew!?) and how boo-boos we might have dismissed when we were younger may point to more serious goings-on.

We’ll be back tomorrow, right in your (yes, we know, cluttered) inbox. (If this post was sent to you by a friend, you can sign up for the newsletter at the very, very bottom of this page.)

Round and Round We Go


The Chromeo Chair and Ottoman, designed by Sarah Ellison, call to mind the tubular furniture of the Deco period but more cloud-like. The pair are currently $3,221.50 (down from $3,790) at Design Within Reach. The chair alone is $2,120.75. The pieces are available in a chunky pale Sorrento Corduroy (shown) and dark brown Avalon Velvet. Ellison’s Muse Sofa and Huggy Chair are similarly round and huggable.


By Nancy McKeon

THE SAME CURVES that made the Mazda Miata and Teletubbies so cuddly are attempting to invade our living rooms. Start looking at furniture ads and home-furnishings catalogues (and Succession!) and you’ll see them everywhere, from the stratospheric Roche-Bobois, where Joana Vasconcelos’s Bombom 2½-seater sofa starts at $9,010, to the millennial-friendly West Elm, where the Addie Swivel Chair ranges in price (for a limited time) from $599.20 to $849, depending on fabric.

If you have any doubts about the high-net-worth imprimatur of curvy pieces, consider the Manhattan aerie of “Succession” character Kendall Roy. The in-real-life triplex penthouse, at 180 East 88th Street on the Upper East Side, is currently on the market for $29 million. The furnishings in brother Roman Kendall’s equally airy place are even rounder and more sculptural, not to mention closer to the floor.

And as long as furniture is going round, it may as well go around. There’s a whole new, or at least recent, world of swivel chairs on offer, for indoors and out.

Depending on your current style, it may be a challenge to make a home for one of these bouncy babies, but it may be worth a try. Maybe we go round more than once?


Elements of the Roche-Bobois’s Bombom collection by Joana Vasconcelos. All can be color-customized. The four-seat sofa starts at $11,760 (the 121-inch-long five-seater retails for $17,175). The 2½-seater Bombom sofa, starts at $9,010. And Bombom’s playful appearance was launched as an outdoor collection at the Milan Furniture Fair this spring

The Addie Swivel Chair from West Elm is certainly cuddly-looking and comes in a wide range of fabrics and colors. A limited-time offer prices the chair at $599.20 to $849, depending on details (chenille, basketweave, twill, performance fabric, etc.). Not shown, the Addie Swivel Armchair, which looks like a pouffy barrel chair, is priced from $799 to $949, also in a range of fabrics and colors, including 22 colors of velvet.

The curvy Mason Wicker Cocoon Chair, above, is made from resin wicker for outdoor use. A pair of these is currently on sale from the Grandin Road catalogue for $1,259.30 (down from $1,799 for two). Mason also comes as a Swivel Chair for the same per-pair price. Not shown, a lighter-weight, airier, but just as round all-weather wicker chair is the Costa Cocoon Chair in natural color, $359.99 at World Market.

The Fitz Channeled Green Velvet Swivel Chair is $1,099 at CB2 (a pair is $2,119). It is stocked in a chunky white bouclé and three colors of velvet, plus two dozen custom fabrics and colors to order. There’s also a matching loveseat ($1,599) and coordinating Gideon Ottoman ($449).

The Pumpkin Arm Chair was designed in 1971 by Modernist French designer Pierre Paulin, who was a pioneer in “low-level living” (he left it to us to figure out how to get up out of his furniture; the seat height of the Pumpkin chair is 14½ inches, standard seat height being 17 inches). Being re-issued by Ligne Roset, Pumpkin is $3,160; a swivel version is $3,900.

The Heidi Swivel Chair takes a discreet turn in your living room at 34½ inches wide and 19 inches high. Available in three neutrals (a nubby white, darkest blue, and graphite gray, shown), it’s on sale for $959.20 at Grandin Road.


If your living room needs a real jolt of color, you could always opt for Roche-Bobois’s Pivoting Bubble Chair, now $3,905. The first challenge for Sacha Lakic, the designer of this puffball, was to craft a fabric that could stretch in all directions. Would that pocketbooks could do the same. The Techno 3D fabric comes in topaz green (shown), cobalt blue, orange, ruby red, cedar yellow, fuchsia, deep purple, plus light and dark gray. The Bubble collection includes two sofas, an ottoman, and a snuggly bed. If you want to explore the world of round and puffy, and you can hack the price tags, Roche-Bobois is the motherlode, for real.

More About Martha!

By Nancy McKeon

This essay first appeared on

Domestic goddess Martha Stewart is one of four Sports Illustrated covers for the annual swimsuit issue.

MARTHA STEWART’S cheesecake. Yum. Martha Stewart AS cheesecake? Um . . .

We’ve now had ample time to digest, as it were, the well-choreographed vision of the 81-year-old Martha Stewart, and her “melons,” on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue. It’s what we SI staffers used to call the annual “Please cancel my son’s subscription” issue.

This year it’s the “aging gracefully, thank you” crowd (and possibly those sons!) who may want to opt out. And the questions, rather than fading away, keep popping up.

How COULD she? (Would I?) How DID she? (Are there enough vials of Juvederm in the universe to do that for me?)

And finally, with all the cloaking and camouflaging and styling, what’s with the saggy boob cleavage?

Bonus question: As Martha chatted on the Today show about her latest publicity coup, did those filler injections work? Did they leave her looking like Martha Stewart? Or some slightly distorted simulacrum?

“The whole aging thing is so boring,” she told the Today audience. And she managed to say it with a straight, well-plumped, slightly distorted face. She also said she’s hoping that her SI cover will encourage “good living” and inspire women not to be afraid of trying things, of . . . “change.” Except, I guess, of any change that lets your face and body show your age.

But here’s an even better question: Why on Earth would she want to rise to that borderline-tawdry bait? If women

“Shark Tank” star Barbara Corcoran, a mere 74 to Martha Stewart’s 81, posted a response to the Martha Sports Illustrated cover image. “I can’t cook, but I sure can swim,” she wrote on her Instagram page.

looked up to her or envied her, it wasn’t her come-hither glance they wanted to replicate (not sure she even has one). Her strength has been her business savvy and steely resolve, the way she transformed a one-off catering job into a billion-dollar publishing and TV empire.

But nothing has ever been enough for the domestic goddess (witness the penny-ante insider stock trading, and lying about it to the Feds, that sent her billionaire behind to the slammer 19 years ago), so that question practically answers itself.

Of course, we could blame Sport Illustrated. It was looking for a new show pony, a gimmick to sell extra mags. So it found 23 women, some well known, to feature inside, and four women on four different covers, of whom Stewart was the oldest by a factor of, I dunno, 28? The younger beach bods are shown in publicity footage yapping about “empowerment,” but I suspect that’s not what they and their skimpy suits are inspiring among teenage boy readers. (Moms, please note, you can order one for your kid for $15.99, or the whole four-cover set for $54 plus $4 shipping. Or you can . . . not.)

By being “inclusive” (gotta love that word), the mag is saying aging can be great too. Yeah, as long as you live the regimen of a diva who’s always camera-ready. As Jane Fonda, now 85, once said about why she looks so good, it takes “good genes and a lot of money.”

Stewart clearly has the money for all the beautification efforts she has acknowledged: frequent facials, filler injections, Pilates, even a recent full-body spray tan and waxing. In the gene category, she has that luminescent Polish complexion, plus just enough extra body fat. Yes, Stewart carries a little extra around the middle. But here’s the deal: Fat in the face keeps wrinkles somewhat at bay. And what finds a happy home in fat cells? Estrogen, the only real youth serum.

Some women have applauded Stewart’s rising to the “challenge”; some have lambasted it. One has posted a challenge of her own: A mere stripling of 74, real estate entrepreneur and Shark Tank star Barbara Corcoran responded with an Instagram riposte. “You’ve seen Martha Stewart . . . But have you seen me?” accompanied by her own version of the white bathing suit, billowing cape, and pose of extreme foreshortening (and much more inspiring boobage).

Okay, where does aging gracefully enter the picture? If such a thing exists, surely it’s Helen Mirren, 77, baring all of her crow’s feet and smile lines, and looking supremely confident while doing so. Meryl Streep can act anything, so no wonder at 73 she acts her age (and oh, that glowing complexion). Gloria Steinem, at 89, still looks like Gloria Steinem. And as noted earlier, Jane Fonda looks spectacular, though “aging” has long been her sworn enemy.

Does aging gracefully mean we’re not supposed to do anything, just droop on into mortality? Or maybe it means not fighting it every step of the way but each of us drawing the line in a different place: Stop at peels? Inject a little here and there? Go for the full lift?

There does come a time when you look in the mirror and you’re not sure you recognize the person reflected there. Perhaps you see your mother (Is that so awful?), perhaps a disconcerted stranger (When did this happen?).

What you won’t have to deal with, though, is the look of confusion on the face of a person who has seen Martha Stewart’s swimsuit cover—and then meets her in person.



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Everlasting Lagerfeld

Sketch and finished garment: Coat, House of Chanel (French, founded 1910), Fall-Winter 2017/18 Haute Couture; courtesy Patrimoine de Chanel, Paris. / Photo © Julia Hetta. / On the front: Sketch and garment: Dress, House of Chanel (French, founded 1910), Spring-Summer 2019 Haute Couture; courtesy Patrimoine de Chanel, Paris. / Photo © Julia Hetta.

By Nancy McKeon

THE NEW exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute celebrates the 65-year career of the late designer Karl Lagerfeld, who distinguished himself by creating not for one fashion house but for four. And that output—for Chanel, Fendi, Chloé, and his own Karl Lagerfeld line—wasn’t sequential but overlapping.

The most elaborate Costume Institute exhibit to date, according to Andrew Bolton, the curator in charge of the Institute, the show features 180 garments and accessories. Lush? Lavish? Yes, both. Also at times austere and tailored. In their totality: breathtaking.

It was always fun to watch as Lagerfeld danced within the boundaries of Coco Chanel’s demure open-front jacket, adding bounce and sex and youth to what had become, over the years, a rather dowdy “lady look.” The longtime fashion editor of the Washington Post, the late Nina Hyde, once instructed me not to pay attention to the skirts, cut scandalously short in one 1980s foray, but to look closely at the jackets. That, she said, was where the action was. Back in those days, a Chanel ready-to-wear jacket could cost maybe $1,600, a day suit $4,000. Now: At Saks Fifth Avenue, I just found that one cotton-tweed jacket from the Spring-Summer 2023 ready-to-wear collection is $7,300, its matching skirt $15,200. A black-and-white cotton T-shirt from the same collection is $2,000.

No wonder then that the relatively unadorned ready-to-wear fashion most of us “know” from newspaper and magazine fashion coverage is rarely encountered in the wild. Much, much less the truly elaborate confections Lagerfeld created for Chanel’s haute couture collections. The notes on those dresses and suits catalogue materials such as leather, sheets of gold metal, embroidery, sequins, bugle beads, tulle, cotton-and-synthetic tweed, silk jersey—sometimes on the same outfit. Also noted, the hundreds of hours by artisans to do all that embroidering, beading, tucking, welting, and, yes, sewing, by hand.

The genius of Kaiser Karl becomes apparent as you wander through the exhibit and see all his many manifestations. Yes, the Institute has divided the looks into  the straight line and the serpentine, but the lines are crossed in inventive ways, with a different personality emerging depending on which house Lagerfeld was addressing, Fendi seemingly getting more geometrics, Chloé more patterns.

One charming aspect of the retrospective is a pair of videos, interviews with the premières d’atelier in the Chanel and Fendi workrooms, the head seamstresses whose talent was to take the sketches given to them by Lagerfeld and translate them from two dimensions into three. They speak with a certain amount of reverence for the designer but also with what seems to be a genuine affection.

And if you absolutely cannot get yourself to New York for the show, you can get a very hearty glimpse of the treasures through this walk-through with Institute curator Bolton:

Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty runs through July 16, 2023. Costume Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue (81st Street), New York, NY 10028; phone 212-535-7710; met 


Mother’s Day Questions and Answers

iStock photo.

By Nancy McKeon

A COUPLE OF days ago MyLittleBird posted my Mother’s Day essay on not having children. I talked about how I had given up being “honest” about not being a mother when someone wished me a Happy Mother’s Day, how I was just going with the flow from now on. It was only my perspective and I wondered what some other women, mothers and not,  might say. I got some responses.

M in Manhattan has no children and agreed about the awkwardness to being wished a Happy Mother’s Day:

I just don’t know how to respond. By saying “thanks” I feel like I’m “pretending” that I’m a mom; but in the other hand, if I say I’m not a mom, I worry about embarrassing or offending the person who just wished me a Happy Mother’s Day.

Is it like “Happy St. Patrick’s Day”? I’m not Irish. Never felt the need to tell anyone that!

Guess it’s time to embrace it and follow your lead!

Jane in Maryland has a grown son and said:

Possibly I live around unkind people, or maybe I’m unkind and do not attract sweet wishes, but if anyone has ever wished me a Happy Mother’s Day, I can’t recall it. If they were to do so it would bring to mind that during the first decade of married life I was sure I did not want children. Had a change of heart and was pregnant before I came to my senses. Never regretted the decision, though . . . well, except during the teenage eon.

LittleBird Mary Carpenter, who has two sons, pointed out:

My concern with all holiday greetings is for individual circumstances. . . . Knowing women who have lost children in tragic ways makes me hesitant to say Happy Mother’s Day unless I know the person pretty well. . . . On the other hand, the greeting can just mean Have a great day!


AT ONE POINT I confessed privately to some friends that I had harbored my own prejudice regarding parenthood: When I would meet married couples who said they had decided not to have kids, I would wonder (rather unkindly), Do they think they’re enough for each other? Don’t marriages need children?

LittleBird Kathy reacted to my embarrassing prejudice:

I don’t know that people who choose to be childless do so because they believe they’re “enough.” Perhaps some do. But I think there’s a whole host of reasons. Primarily they just aren’t interested in procreating. I’m of the opinion opting out of reproducing is actually selfless rather than selfish.

This really has nothing to do with anything, but I remember watching an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, when it first aired in the 60s when I was at a very impressionable age. I probably didn’t even know yet the details of conception and/or birth. It centered on a character called Mother Orchis, who was one of several women confined in some weird otherworldly realm that vaguely resembled a setting where a Roman orgy might take place. All wispy togas covering opulent women reclining on fancy couches. Mother Orchis wanted out. It seems that all these women were used for was having babies. I sympathized with Orchis. I wouldn’t have wanted any part in it either. Clearly it made an impression. Thank you, Alfred Hitchcock.

PM from Washington DC, who has one grown child, said:

Many of my friends have chosen not to have children, and that strikes me as a reasonable choice. Raising children is expensive, it tends to dominate your life while it’s happening, and you never know if the kids you raise are going to end up loving you the way you hope they will or appreciating what you’ve done. When it’s going well, parenthood can feel life-changing in a good way—especially if you have the temperament for it. But in my experience it’s always competing for time and attention with other interests that are less demanding or are demanding at the same time, so you are often having to make a choice that will disappoint someone.

PM added:

The process of trying to get pregnant is exhausting, especially if it’s taking its damned time to happen. And women trying to have children who have repeated miscarriages, especially if they lose a child well into the pregnancy, go through hell. You [Nancy] were lucky: You didn’t have to go through that!  And you can direct your parent-like instincts toward [your sister’s]  children.

Carol wrote:

Happy Mother’s Day to ALL! We know numerous couples who are childless. I find myself wondering if this was their choice or it just didn’t happen for them. Nonetheless, these couples seem fine and satisfied with their childlessness. I don’t judge: All women were not cut out to be moms (I know a few moms who weren’t cut out for the role). But after three kids and four grandsons, I am happy it was my choice.


A COUPLE OF women without kids spoke sweetly and directly to that point.

F of Manhattan was one of them. She wrote:

Having grown up as an “only,” I was lucky enough to have a bunch of cousins who did, and do, fill that gap of siblings. Their children became my extended offspring. I am Auntie.

But I must admit I do regret not having any of my own. So instead I talk to every dog and child on the street, visit my friends’ grandchildren and do my best on trying to understand them all.

So I think it is okay to say Happy Mother’s Day to all of us who don’t have our own offspring. I take it as saying you are a caring woman, just like my Mom.


IN MY PIECE, I also wrote that I often reacted resentfully when journalists would (to my petty mind) “flaunt” their parental status in first-person articles.

LittleBird Stephanie Cavanaugh, MLB’s Green Acre columnist, responded in her usual tongue-in-cheek way:

One day when MY DAUGHTER AND I (see how cleverly I worked that in?) were off to the store for something—I suppose she was about 10—the cashier looked from her to me and said: YOU have children?

Maybe it was my “wife-beater” T-shirt and combat boots . . . ?

I do have a  child—the one in the first paragraph—who has managed to be brilliant, kind, and beautiful without much input from me. If anyone were to be wished a Happy Mother’s Day around here, it would be my husband, who did all the school volunteering and schlepping to this and that practice. All I did was read to her.

But even he, on the occasion of my first Mother’s Day, which took place less than a month after the babe was born, didn’t say a happy word acknowledging my labors until . . . he suddenly remembered what the day was and said: I have to call my mother and sister!

THE ESSAY triggered some other great recollections as well.

Grace Cooper wrote:

So much to unpack here. Thank you for a thought-provoking piece.

I love my children, but I must admit to being relieved when they launched and left the nest. Shortly afterward, I left their father. Admitting to others that both these events were positive forces towards rebuilding a better life for myself going forward, have been heavily judged by others in our ridiculously intrusive and judgmental world as selfish and odd.

It’s nature’s way to have an unconscious instinct to reproduce. It’s also natural for offspring to leave home once the parents teach them to survive on their own. Only in some human societies has motherhood been elevated almost to sainthood, while simultaneously leaving many women diminished economically, physically, and emotionally. It’s also becoming increasingly obvious that the natural world and global economy is becoming inhospitable to all living creatures in many other respects. Why indeed do we continue to breed and populate our planet under these conditions?

So why do I feel judged for admitting to decades of my own ambivalence towards motherhood and marriage? I suppose it’s because I realize finally that my real discomfort—and the reason for ruminating about why I made questionable life choices for myself—stemmed mostly from worrying about how others perceive me. Rather, I should accept that as a human being I can think and reason and project outcomes for myself, rising above instinctual impulses.

In other words, congratulations are in order. As Descartes declared perhaps you chose not to decide to have children, and in doing so still made a choice. Yet you indeed made life choices many of us were too young and inexperienced and influenced by societal pressures to defy during our reproductive years. I respect your intellect . . . and your choices. Brava.

Years ago my sister, seven years my junior, was summoned by my husband to come take care of my two toddlers when I had emergency surgery and a two-week hospital convalescence. Mind you, she’s was a busy scientist, but it never occurred to my husband to stay home with his two offspring. She left her lab for those two weeks and drove three hours to come to my aid. 

Admittedly, her attempt to engage toddlers in rolling sushi or making scratch Chinese dumplings one night was predictably disastrous, but she tried her best and I love her for that unconditional love and generosity. 

When I finally returned home she told me that she and her husband, now deceased, had been on the fence about having children. After caring for my two, she’d decided that their lives—rich with work and international travel—were too precious to sacrifice for children. I heard her clearly and supported her decision wholeheartedly. 

I love my two children, but they move on with their own lives . . . as it should be. And my sister, now widowed, has sometimes questioned her decision. That’s when I assure her that her role as the favorite auntie is less fraught with angst and the old parental grudges against me that my kids will presumably take to their graves! As for me, I’m happy to be available to my children on an as-needed basis but finally delighting in my favorite role as the “fun grannie” with what my daughter ruefully calls “CeCe’s own set of rules”  for her offspring. 

Here’s to women having choices! And here’s to women supporting women in whatever choices they make. 

I think it’s a good topic and high time to revisit what years ago we labeled “the mommy wars.” I believe that each one of us has to find our own solid truth within, then perhaps we won’t be so apt to project our internal fears and biases onto others. I vote “go for it!”


A COUPLE OF readers appended their remarks to the Comments box on the page of the original essay. To wit . . .

From Jennifer Reed:

And a Happy Mother’s Day to you. We don’t need children to nurture and support those around us. We’re all mothers. In my mind, having children is what is selfish. The drive to spread one’s DNA into the future seems bizarre to me when it’s clear the planet doesn’t need more human beings and there are plenty of children already here who need help. Who’s so special that we need more of them? It’s the ultimate act of narcissism. And yet, people are emotionally and biologically tied to the act and do it every day. But live and let live, I say. So again, Happy Mother’s Day!

To which Valerie Monroe, the How Not to F*ck Up Your Face columnist, replied:

The ultimate act of narcissism? Oh, well, I’ve been accused of worse!

Happy Mother’s Day to you, too, dear Nancy. May 14 is also National Buttermilk Biscuit Day, International Dylan Thomas Day and (best of all) National Chicken Dance Day. So Happy All Of Them to you, as well!

Mother of None


By Nancy McKeon

This essay first appeared on

I USED TO correct people when they wished me a Happy Mother’s Day. Explaining that I didn’t have children felt like the “honest” thing to do.

Then I realized I was unnecessarily embarrassing strangers—doormen, store clerks, garage attendants—who were just trying to be thoughtful and polite: See a woman in her 50s or 60s or, heaven knows, older, and it’s not abnormal—even in career-driven Washington DC and New York City—to assume that she once gave birth to a child. 

So now I simply say “thank you” and move on. No dishonesty intended.

Some of these stranger relationships do take a turn for the more personal—to wit, with the doormen in my Manhattan apartment building, who seem to know everything about everybody, including my-sister-in-New-Jersey’s name, where exactly uptown my nephew and his wife live, and when was the last time I hosted Thanksgiving. When we reach that level, I share more. To their credit, these not-so-strangers have yet to quiz me on whether I’m divorced, widowed or just stubborn. (Take a guess.) So far they seem to like me, so I just leave it at that.

I’ve also realized (and this is probably only natural) that many of my friends—in book club, in investment club, in my building, in the newsroom where I worked for 30 years—have no children either. And that circumstance doesn’t even come up in our conversations! No moaning, no woulda-coulda-shoulda, just . . . conversation—politics, books, restaurants, whatever. Of course, some women friends do have kids, but in many cases our groups coalesced after the children had gone off to live lives of their own. 

To say I never think about children would be . . . just about correct. About 25 years ago, though, I was worried that I was living a selfish life and had the thought one Saturday afternoon that maybe I should adopt a child. On the phone, my sister promptly offered me one of hers (then a rule-defying teen, now a clinical social worker and mom), and my accountant told me I couldn’t afford one. Case closed—although I will admit that I began to be annoyed by every female essayist who managed to work “my daughter,” or “as I was telling my son,” into columns about the budget deficit. (Exaggerating, but not by all that much.)

We often read that we will model the behavior we saw growing up, but that can’t always be true. I grew up in a family with a mild-mannered (okay, slightly distant) college professor father, a dedicated homemaker mother, and two siblings—and we sat down to dinner together every night, chatting about school and our lives. We liked one another. Such a mostly pleasant setup should have put all of us on the path toward family creation, right? Instead, only my sister went off in that direction.

Does my sister, with her two kids and three grandkids, have a richer life than I do? The easy answer is yes. The big old Victorian pile where she and my brother-in-law raised their children is the center of family events, their kitchen the place where my brother and his wife and I feel comfortable dropping in for a sandwich (yes, we call first). When it comes to family, we seem to have let her do all the heavy lifting.

A woman I used to know, in her bleaker moments, saw herself as an old crone sitting at the edge of her sister’s family’s hearth, contenting herself with a little reflected warmth from the fire. Grim, I know, but we were in group therapy, where such inner demons are allowed to come out to play.

That harsh image came to my mind after I read that Etsy, Door Dash, and Levi’s had put a kind of warning label on their Mother’s Day marketing hoo-ha, explaining they understood that motherhood could be a sensitive issue and inviting delicate consumers to opt out of such emails. Yikes!

I’m made of sterner stuff than that. Nonetheless, I am aware of paying my dues to be an integral part of what I sometimes think of as my sister’s family, the family she created with that generous husband and two head-screwed-on-straight kids who have gone on to create the next generation. I’m not good at remembering birthdays (selfish!), and really dislike buying more crap for little kids who already have too much crap (8-year-olds now need honey face masks?). But I’m good for estate-planning and the occasional college-fund contribution; in one grand gesture a decade ago, I bought a condo where the nephew and his wife could live for half a dozen years, paying the monthlies, until they could afford to buy it. 

So, is mine a selfish life? Quite possibly. When I read the age-old plaint that women take care of everyone else in their sphere first, leaving little time for themselves, I certainly don’t recognize myself. 

To be honest, especially with myself, not having children never really felt like a choice. It was just a fact. But in recent years I’ve found myself being, if not a mother, at least trying to be “mothering,” engaging with young women with children, establishing what relationships I can with the little ones (who one day will no doubt ask, Mom, who was that lady with the dog who always talked to us in the park?). 

I even offer to take care of the kids in a pinch. Now, a woman who would leave her infant in my hands is clearly not a good mother! But as my niece Carolyn assured me about her 6- and 8-year-olds, Don’t worry, they’ll tell you what to do. Much better. 

And the last thing I’ve done as I’ve journeyed across this mine-strewn motherhood thing: I’ve begun to wish just about every woman I encounter a Happy Mother’s Day. It just seems like the right thing to do.

Kitchen Detail: In Vino Veritas?

Book jacket for “The Billionaire’s Vinegar” and poster for the documentary “Sour Grapes.” / Image on the front from iStock.

By Nancy Pollard

After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years—La Cuisine in Alexandria, Virginia—Nancy Pollard writes Kitchen Detail, a blog about food in all its aspects—recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources, and food-related issues.

The Affordable Disappears

A meal made perfect by a lovely bottle of wine in Heathrow Airport

A meal made perfect by a lovely bottle of wine in Heathrow Airport. / Photo by Nancy Pollard.

WHEN I WAS a child, my father had a few wood crates of French wine under his amateur carpenter’s workbench in our garage. He was very knowledgeable about wine and always let me have a taste at the dinner table. He knew how to pick a good affordable wine from France and later from Portugal, Chile, and California. He had been forced to attend Lycée Henri IV in Paris as an adolescent, and suffered enormous bullying by French students as the “American.” But out of this experience he became fluent in French, held an amazing proficiency in French history, developed a love of  mountain hiking, and fell in love with French Burgundy. The last part he bequeathed to my husband.

If you were interested in wine and did not have a lot to spend, in the 1960s and 1970s you could, for not too much money, discover the almost mystical world of French Burgundy, the greatest of which have been described as “an iron fist in a velvet glove.” Perhaps the most famous examples are the wines from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, lovingly referred to by their fans as DRCs.  And even DRCs were in an earthly price range. Unfortunately they became unaffordable. Even Bordeaux, which are now VSOQ (Very Special Occasion Quaffs), were within reach. An off-year Château Yquem, you might get a sniff at some pricey wine tasting. There were many, many other once-accessible estates that are now simply collected by über-wealthy people who most likely won’t even drink them. When dining out, my father counseled my husband to first look for a reasonably priced Burgundy. Next, look for a Château-Neuf-du- Pape, and, failing that, to see if there were a bottle of Moulin-à-Vent on the  list.

In Vino Veritas

image of Hardy Rodenstock from from

An image of Hardy Rodenstock from

cover image of Billionaires VinegarAnd this is where a book and a documentary film come into play. The Billionaire’s Vinegar, written by Benjamin Wallace in 2008, is still  supposed to be made into a film with Matthew McConaughy. Regardless of its adaptation to the big screen, you will love this story of detection, in which crime seems to have paid the criminal very well. Wallace artfully takes you along the path of the 1787 bottle of Château Lafite Bordeaux (with the cryptic Th.J. inscribed on the bottle) that went for $150,000 at a Christie’s auction in 1985. There follows the engaging story of wine writers who were paid to pen knowledgeable wine reviews, collectors with more money than taste or sense, all following a Pied Piper of Wine, Hardy Rodenstock. On my part, there was a bit of Schadenfreude, when Bill Koch (yes, that Koch family) hires an investigator who uncovers an astonishing network of wine frauds. So much so, that this particular Koch (because he has the money to waste) builds a wing in his wine cellar/museum dedicated to all the fraudulent bottles he has purchased. Later, Bill Koch actually recovered several million dollars in damages. But Hardy Rodenstock melted away to the slopes of Kitzbuhël, Austria, and the beaches of Marbella, Spain, before passing away in June 2018. If you are interested in wine, Wallace’s portraits of such wine luminaries as Robert Parker, Michael Broadbent, and Jancis Robinson will make you much more secure in your own taste the next time you sample a vintage.

Ah, California

sour Grapes Official Poster

Rudy Kurniawan, the subject of “Sour Grapes.”

Rodenstock’s skulduggery was overshadowed by that of an under-30-year-old Indonesian, Rudy Kurniawan, the subject of the 2016 documentary film Sour Grapes. Kurniawan had an affinity for Burgundy, which he crafted into a mind-boggling get-rich scheme. This documentary has some eyebrow-raising comic moments, with wealthy self-professed wine connoisseurs in California discoursing pompously on the merits of the fraudulent wines they have purchased. And like Hardy Rodenstock, Kurniawan concocted wines and stories of their provenance that were accepted at face value by their ignorant purchasers. It was only when a winemaker in France decided to become a detective to restore honor to his house that the scheme gradually collapsed. Laurent Ponsot persevered and convinced the FBI to step in, and a landmark case in wine fraud was successfully prosecuted. Unlike Hardy Rodenstock tanning in Marbella, Rudy Kurniawan is serving hard time in New York.

Both The Billionaire’s Vinegar and Sour Grapes can be enjoyed with some of the modestly priced wines that are available to all of us from Italy, Spain, France, and several countries in North and South America. And whatever you pick, trust your own judgment. As a footnote to this post, if you have not read Judgment of Paris, pick up a copy and enjoy it along with the other two.

Kitchen Detail: Superior Beans

From Zursun Beans, left, heirloom Calypso beans (also called Yin/Yang beans) have a distinct potato flavor. Right, Anasazi beans, which can be used to substitute for pinto beans.

By Nancy Pollard

After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years—La Cuisine in Alexandria, Virginia—Nancy Pollard writes Kitchen Detail, a blog about food in all its aspects—recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources, and food-related issues.

BACK WHEN I ran my La Cuisine cookware shop, we Cuisinettes had the brainstorm that we would become a hotbed of beans, both in the shop and online. But not just any old bags o’ beans drying out on grocery shelves. Nope. We had in mind the gorgeous morsels grown by small independent farmers under the aegis of Zursun—Zursun beans. I discovered Lola Weyman, who founded the company in 1985, when a chef at Jean-Louis Palladin’s restaurant in DC told me they bought most of their beans from her. A tip like that is a culinary gold nugget.

Lola’s company was the first to offer authentic US-grown heirloom beans, all nurtured on small family farms in locales including the Snake River Canyon region, known as the Magic Valley Growing Area. This spot’s arid climate; rich, well-drained, loamy soil; moderate temperatures; and stable moisture level have made it internationally recognized as environmentally ideal for bean-growing. We converted many a bean-tolerater into a bean-lover, as many of our customers will attest, because Zursun beans are heaps better than what you can purchase at most grocery stores.

A Little Helping of Zursun Beans History

Zursun bean field with Jim Soran

A Zursun bean field with owner Jim Soran.

In Idaho, home to verdant fields of lentils known as the Palouse (from the French word pelouse, meaning “green lawn”), Zursun founder Lola Weyman found several farmers growing unknown lentil varieties. During the late 1980s, Lola began distributing American-grown lentils, to US, Canadian, and European customers. Lola also helped develop new lentil varieties, like Montana’s Black Beluga, named for its resemblance to caviar; Petite Crimson, smaller and quicker-cooking than the standard Red Chief; and an American version of Lentilles du Puy.

Jim Soran,  with 60 years of family roots in the Idaho bean industry, acquired Zursun in 2004. Under his guidance, and with the skills of 300 independent farmers who grow beans for him, Zursun heirloom beans are continually inspected during the growing season for plant health, pure strains, and consistent appearance. Jim’s passionate focus on producing the best-quality beans ensures Zursun Idaho Heirloom Beans are fresh and beautifully cleaned and milled.  When the harvest is sold out, as La Cuisine customers found out, you wait until the next one. There was never an unending supply, as there is from other purveyors.

Little Known Facts About Zursun Beans

helpful Zursun beans plant diagram for non botanists

One of the most interesting facts I learned from Jim was that beans and other similar legumes do not have to be bought from organic sources, (and they do grow some certified organic bean crops) as the “seed” matures inside the pods of the plants and not in the actual soil. The pod provides protection that flowering seed plants like tomatoes and squashes don’t enjoy. Generally, crop rotation rather than pesticides is used on these farms, because there is a low level of insects in this area of Western Idaho.  An even greater plus is that Roundup weed killer is not used; soybeans are the main recipient of Roundup—and no soybeans are grown under Zursun.

Since we have closed the shop, Karla Hartzell at Zursun has developed an online platform for purchasing their beans. My preference is to order them in boxes of six baa tested recipe from a Zursun bean baggs (they can be mixed), as that is how they were packed for the shop. When you get your box, each bean type has a tasty and well-tested recipe on the back of the bag. The Cuisinettes know how good those recipes are, because we’ve made most of them ourselves. Drive yourself crazy choosing which gorgeous beans to have packed in those cartons of six bags. The site also offers you a listing of local vendors that carry their beans.

Green Acre #422: Spring, Sprang, Sprung!

The giant Kwanzan cherry chez Cavanaugh. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

By Stephanie Cavanaugh

Don’t be afraid to experiment and see what works, says Stephen Ryan, an Australian gardening expert. The worst that can happen is that a plant dies, which will create something that’s very precious in a garden—an empty space.

YES! I SAID to myself. Every gardening disaster is an opportunity. This is not exactly what he said, but I expect that’s what he meant. Or part of what he meant. 

Ryan was speaking to Alexandra of the always-intriguing British gardening site, The Middlesized Garden. I stopped at the quote, blossoming with happiness. 

What a way to put a positive spin on dumb mistakes and fine words to kick off the gardening season. I just hope whichever of my experiments goes belly-up this year has the decency to do it before the garden centers are depleted of whatever I might wish to try next.

I realize I almost want things to fail so I can move on to the next. There’s only so much I can cram into my tiny back yard.

Also, I kind of like things that break. My butter dish, for example, is depressing. After shattering so many made of glass and pottery we bought a stainless-steel number that’s kind of industrial chic, like a racy 1920s coupe, with a sleek domed lid. This will not break, I announced, standing in a kitchen-supply shop in Philadelphia after we’d hit the flower show or a funeral, the two reasons we have for visiting the city. And it has not broken. There’s not even a dent. There is no excuse to replace it. I will die with this butter dish. Now that’s depressing. 

In more inspiring news . . . 

I told you this was going to be a stupendous spring. Yesterday, on the six-block walk between my house and Trader Joe’s, where I’d gone for camembert and bananas, I noticed a rose.

Oh, wow, a rose, I said to myself. 

Years ago, our elderly neighbor Bob, a plasterer who worked on various repairs to the Capitol and our bedroom ceiling, said that roses always begin to bloom on Mother’s Day. And year after year they did. 

This year, Mother’s Day is May 14th, and the roses are already blooming. 

Not only did I see roses, but iris, phlox and cherries, dogwood, redbud, and lilacs. Mmm, lilacs!

It got so I needed to scribble a list of what I was seeing on the back of the Trader Joe’s receipt, adding camelias, tulips, hyacinth, and azaleas. Also: candytuft, honeysuckle, blue bells, tulip magnolias, periwinkle, pansies, and a spectacular Carolina Jasmine climbing a rail. Plus, the dandelions, which many consider weeds. Their fluffy yellow heads make me smile. It was sensory overload, the flower bonanza (I) promised several weeks ago. 

Oh, I am so full of myself this morning. 

Enjoy it now, right now, this instant. Get thee to the streets. The heat is on so this can’t last. But right now, this instant, spring blooms, early and late, have emerged in a riot of scent and color. Take a good whiff. The mix of scents is exquisite. It’s all blossoming at once. This happens maybe once a decade. A flower show on the street. 

I did call it, several weeks ago, and the weather cooperated. Early extended warmth turned to mild chill, snapping the flowering trees and flower beds into stasis, later bloomers joining the earlies and all hanging in. What a delight. 

But today the temperature will be prematurely summerish, well into the 80s, and the warmth will continue, they say, and so farewell to the tulips, suddenly gasping, and the cherries that have lingered past their sell-by.

While the last frost date for Washington DC is around about April 21, I’m going to risk moving my tender housebound plants out into the fresh air. The various plants, plucked from the garden, roots intact, that I’ve preserved in vases through the winter are screaming to get started in the garden. I suspect they’ll be fine. I’m on a roll. 

Meanwhile, since last week, the Kwanzan cherry in my backyard is now in full bloom. Between it and the never-blooming wisteria (once again living up to its nickname) that lines the garage roof, the houses behind us are nearly completely hidden. 

The plants’ purpose is fulfilled. 

Scary Hair


By the MyLittleBird Staff

The New York Times recently posted this illustrated story (“The Last Strand: Let’s Talk About Hair Loss,” March 31, 2023) by reporters Julia Rothman (who also illustrated the piece) and Shaina Feinberg about hair loss and what women (mostly) are doing about it. To read their story, click on the link in the copy at right.

LITTLEBIRDS Janet, Nancy, and Mary were sitting around talking (okay, emailing) about our hair problems when LittleBird Janet spotted this horrifying piece in the New York Times. These folks are injecting their own blood into their scalp and other extreme—and, not to put too fine a point on it, expensive—measures. Our back-and-forth, on the other hand, starts with a whine and ends with a whimper—but no blood loss.

Nancy:  I remember exactly how I realized I had a hair-loss problem: Looking in the bathroom mirror one evening, I noticed something sorta pink caught in my hair; when I went to pluck it out, I realized it was my scalp—I’d never seen it before! Now I’m more or less patchy bald on top, and my formerly frizzy “bangs,” straightened with keratin, start at the crown of my head and fall forward. I feel like every sad guy with a comb-over, afraid to be unmasked by a gust of wind.

What really horrifies me is that I always had terrible, unruly hair, curly and unmanageable. But there was so much of it! And now . . .

Janet: I’ve noticed at least one bald spot on the back of my head—a cowlick I’m told. Still, I have been adding marine collagen to my coffee to see if that does anything at all. So far, very little. Windy days aggravate the situation.

Mary: Wind is the tricky problem. I only noticed my spot in a hotel bathroom with many mirrors and bright lights. I have been wearing ponytails to try to prevent more sightings by me—and especially other people!!!

LittleBird Nancy McKeon: left, a 2×3-foot giant Polaroid taken at age 35; right, an iPhone selfie at age 75.

Nancy: I tried Rogaine (minoxidil) for women, wound up (very quickly) with weird spiky black hairs sticking up out of my eyebrows (or what’s left of them). When that happens, they tell you to stop using the product immediately. I also tried Viviscal tablets. Took them for months. Nothing. Biotin. Nothing.

Janet: I’ve heard the problem with Rogaine products is that you have to keep using them, plus they’re expensive. The woman who cuts my mane, who has thinning hair, likes Vegamour and Routine, which both sell shampoo, as well as conditioner and hair-growth serum.

Nancy: The shampoo is probably effective at improving your hair—if you have hair.

Mary: Hair loss seems to have soared during the pandemic. I’m specifically looking into “traction alopecia,” which I seem to

LittleBird Janet Kelly bares her bare spot.

have, due to easily tangling fine hair, which then needs to be untangled with difficulty, and has caused hair loss in that one spot on the back of my head.

Nancy: At a certain (severe) point, which is where I am, I think the follicles just close up. You know how bald men can have shiny heads? The strip of skin at the front of my hairline is all smooth and shiny. I think it’s where my hairline used to be. The skin there is smoother than my adjacent forehead, kinda weird.

Janet: If these crazy people don’t stop passing anti-abortion measures and talking about “woke,” we’re all going to lose our minds, let alone our hair.

Nancy: Just by chance I recently got this PR email about wigs. But do NOT be influenced by the one that woman in the red dress wears in the picture. She looks like she’s trying out for Elsa in Frozen! Or maybe Rapunzel.

A page from the Peggy Knight Wigs website,

Here’s the one I would consider (but obviously not blond). And did you see the price? Though it’s cheap by contrast with the numbers cited in the NYT piece.

Janet: That wig looks great.

Mary: Wigs definitely look appealing at this point!! (I did see that price.) My first step, though, is a multivitamin and untangling methods and products: Have you heard of the “pre-poo”—terrible name for what you do before shampooing . . . ?

Janet: Never heard of pre-poo. (Right, bad name, kinda like that bathroom stuff, is it poo-pourri? Something like that.)

Nancy: Someone the other day mentioned that something is known for causing hair loss—thyroid meds, was it?

Janet: I’ve read those meds make you lose hair.

Nancy: And I’ve been taking them for decades. Sigh. I basically have no eyebrows left either. So I had a microblading consultation last week. The technician, also a makeup artist, penciled in brows, a little too skimpy (kinda ’40s, I thought), but okay.

The problem is that the ink is very dense; the final color will be only 20% of what’s applied. But meanwhile you walk around looking like a circus freak.

I wouldn’t mind people knowing, but I can’t stand the idea of explaining it to doormen and curious store clerks every day for a month. I guess I’d have to explain only once to each but . . .  I’m outside all the time with the dog, running into strangers and half-strangers (other dog owners). I’d get tired pretty quickly of their curious looks and my incessant babbling.

Don’t think I’ll do it until/unless I can find some wide-frame glasses that will cover the brows.

Janet: I haven’t asked, but I’m pretty sure someone I know has had her brows microbladed—they look terrific, btw.

Nancy: Back to my head! One thing I use, when I remember, is XFusion, little particles of keratin protein (it says), that you shake onto your bald spots so your pale scalp doesn’t blind people when the wind does its thing. I use a color a little lighter than my own so it doesn’t show up as dark splotches.

Janet: I just looked up XFusion, which sounds like a brilliant fix.

Mary: OMG, great!! Will order immediately.

Nancy: My hairdresser isn’t a huge fan because she says it drips when you sweat. When’s the last time I sweated? I’m safe.

Mary: Ewww, good warning. I sweat too much at the least provocation.

Nancy: Yeah, but you’re talking about the back of your head, not your front hairline, where it might be noticed. At worst it would be absorbed by the surrounding hair. It’s pretty dusty, so I wouldn’t apply it while wearing the white silk gown you’re about to wear to the gala!

Janet: It is a wild world out there—just now reading about Olaplex, touted by celebs, now women suing with charges of hair loss, etc. Also about “unwanted hair growth”—hypertrichosis—on arms, etc., with minoxidil.

Mary: I’m going to start with a bath now, and lots of conditioner—have just ordered some products, including a comb, which I do not own.

For your gaping or amusement, here are the products I’ve ordered so far. And I plan to wear a permanent ponytail, the best way to cover the problem, so just ordered scrunchies.

Hair loss is a bummer. If you’ve had any luck reversing or slowing it down or learning how to live with it, we’d love to hear from you. Write down your comments in that box below and send them on!
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Green Acre #419: Just the Right Amount of Winter


By Stephanie Cavanaugh

IT HAS BEEN damn cold this past week, and that’s a fine thing. 

Not so cold as to nip buds on the hydrangeas or, God forbid, the Yoshino cherries around the Tidal Basin. But cold enough to put the boiling pot of chicken soup* on the porch overnight to chill so as not to spoil the milk in the fridge. Fridge-cold is what it was. Like a florist’s cooler, keeping blossoms fresh for your bouquet. 

Look at the daffodils! Still as fresh as daisies, weeks after they began to bloom. 

So, the unseemly advance of spring has been forestalled, which promises a flower fest in the weeks to come. An everything-everywhere-all-at-once Oscar winner of a spring.


While they do stay green all year, which is certainly a positive, I do not much care for camellias (this is not a change of subject, just hold on). Washington DC’s climate is not the best for the bushes, with their dense rosettes in shades of pink and red and white and orange. While they’re full-out at this time of year, their flowering is usually a bit of a disaster.

The flowers open and look spectacular for maybe 48 hours, and then they turn brown and fall off, squishing unpleasantly underfoot like slippery, overripe fruit. While they resemble roses, their flowering (and dropping) is far more prolific, creating a disgusting mess. About now, they should be on the skids. 

Not this year! Flowers on plants around the neighborhood—some of them six feet tall and nearly as wide—began opening about 10 days ago, smothering stems with masses of blossoms, and they’re hanging in. This chilly weather arrived at the perfect moment, and perfect temperature, to preserve them, not freeze them. It’s a spectacular show, reminding me of why I wanted one in the first place. 

Not that I particularly love the one I have. It’s not the most attractive specimen. I don’t recall what it is or why I bought it; probably it was cheap and I figured, as I do, it will probably be pretty or at least prettyish. 

It’s kind of meh, when I study it, an unfortunate shade of red, a faded shade like rusted rhubarb. However, it does give a cheer to the front doorway, as long as you don’t look closely. In a few days it will be full-out and the flowers will last as long as there’s a nip in the air. Then, as the heat rises, it will do the brown-and-squish number, leaving piles of mush beside the door. 

But by then the rest of the garden will have caught up. The tulips and cherry trees will be out, alongside the magnolias, forsythia, pansies, and apple trees. Roses will start to bloom, wisteria too. It will be magical, a flower-show symphony that’s like a fairy tale.

Again, huzzah!


*Timely note for Passover: When chicken soup cools, fat rises to the surface. Don’t toss it out. The Yiddish for this rendered fat is schmaltz.

Time was, I had a poultry guy, Mel, who would save lumps of fat for me to render and use in matzoh balls and chopped liver. Sadly, Mel sold out and the new guy looks at me blankly. Rare is the whole chicken that arrives with enough fat worth saving. That risen soup fat comes to the rescue. Strain it off the top and melt it down. Even if you use a matzoh ball mix (the one from Streit’s is a little bland, but very good), the fat, now infused with chicken and vegetable flavors, will give the balls so much more flavor than vegetable oil will.

Green Acre #418: Urban Stems Steps Up!

From the Urban Stems website, Triple the Unicorn, once $165 is now on sale for $140. On the front: Juliet, $68.

By Stephanie Cavanaugh

A FEW WEEKS ago I wrote a column about buying flowers online and gave a particular mention to Urban Stems, which a friend used to send me a bouquet, a sympathy gift when my sister passed away. The flowers came without a container, packed in a jolly box. I have plenty of vases, so no problem. The flowers were joyful, a fantasy of color and composition. I loved them. 

The next week I received another incredible arrangement from friends, also from Urban Stems. This one came in a simple white ceramic vase. And again, it was a pleasure. Actually, too great a pleasure: The arrangement was so enormous it overwhelmed my tabletops—all of them, except the kitchen counter. Much as I liked seeing them as I chopped liver and flipped crepes (not the same meal), it was a bit crowded. So.

I gave half the flowers and the vase to Baby, who is heavily and imminently expecting Baby Boy Dos, and could use a lift. She set the vase on the oak dining table in her kitchen (oh, the envy—a kitchen table. Sigh). 

Then! The following week—where are we now, ummm, about 10 days ago—another arrangement arrived, a big beautiful bunch of lilies in tight bud. No vase, but again, no problem. (Have I mentioned how much I hate the phrase “no problem”? But in this case, no problem is what it was). 

I clipped the bottoms of the lilies’s stems (you need to do this to restore the stems to their function as drinking straws), put them in water, and waited and waited. Still waiting. And waited. And the buds never opened, instead browning at the tips and beginning to shrivel.

This was disappointing.

The Urban Stems website has a customer-service email address, which I figured might or might not respond, as these things go. They requested a photo of the problem, which I sent along with a note about how delighted I was with the two other bunches I’d received previously. 

The Portia from Urban Stems, $85.

And lo! Within minutes, there was an email from a “Smile Server” with the unlikely but divine name Czarina, offering me either an immediate replacement or a credit that I could use whenever I felt the need for flowers. I took the credit, with thanks. 

Then! Baby told me the vase they sent with the flowers I had shared leaked, which she hadn’t immediately noticed. The table, which My Prince made many years ago, and so is a treasure,  had a thick protective coating—thankfully—so there was no damage. But if it hadn’t been coated, oy.

Expecting nothing, simply wanting to alert the company about the issue, she emailed Urban Stems, told them exactly what had happened, including that the vase and flowers had been regifted by me.

And lo! Within minutes she too received a credit. This left me feeling guilty for five minutes or so. It didn’t sit right . . . but then, if I had kept the arrangement and the vase and had set it on a wood table and it leaked . . . oy.

SO! Despite two out of three orders having issues, Urban Stems made good. These folks really know how to handle customer service. Swiftly, graciously, one might even say beyond the call. 

Standing ovation, please.

By the way, checking their email address just now, I notice they have a 15%-off spring special. 

Kitchen Detail: The Battle of the Seasons

iStock photo.

By Nancy Pollard

After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years—La Cuisine in Alexandria, Virginia—Nancy Pollard writes Kitchen Detail, a blog about food in all its aspects—recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources, and food-related issues.

A ‘Forlorn Hope’ Menu

The Forlorn Hope is a long-used military term from the Dutch “verloren hoop” or “lost troop,” for the bands of soldiers who were willing (or were Avocado Cilantro sauce from Together cookbookvolunteered) to be sacrificed in knocking down the weakened barriers of the enemy’s fortifications. I often feel that March represents the season of the Forlorn Hope. It is spring battling against the weakened fortifications of winter. It is the first little shoots of early bulbs that get wiped out in a sudden freeze. It’s the sudden warmth of a day or two (when you don’t wear undershirts under your sweater and hats covering your ears) followed by a week of sub-freezing weather. It’s the surprise sleet storm when you have run out of de-icer for your walk and doorway. We have forgotten the heat and humidity of August,  so we buy tomatoes four months too early.We just long for spring and it seems just that much farther away. So I dedicate this menu to our Forlorn Hope of Spring With the Realities of Winter.

Foraging Forlornly

One of the first things you can get in early spring is radishes; French Breakfast, Cherry Belle, Sparkler, and White Beauty are a few that I have found.two types of radishes You can split them crosswise almost to the base, then soak them in ice water to get a nice little flower look.  Serve them with fleur de sel or Maldon salt, and optionally with sliced baguette and butter.

In our first Gift Guide, we featured a fundraising cookbook from the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire in London. It’s a gem. These are all foods that you would cook at home, but as many of the survivors are from the Middle East and North Africa, there is lots that will be new to you. One of my favorites is this dip from Munira Mahmud, whose dream is to run a food truck. I would stand in line for her food truck any time. Serve this with either crackers or raw vegetables. I have used it as sauce on grilled vegetables, and lamb too.


Green Chili & Avocado Dip

This dip, with its spicy and summery flavors, really knows no season. Serve as a garnish on grilled meats and vegetables.
Recipe by Munira Mahmud.
Adapted from Together: Our Community Cookbook.
  1. 1 or 2 green jalapeño or similar fresh green chilies, halved and seeded
  2. 1¼ cups (25gr) cilantro leaves
  3. 3 tablespoons plain yogurt
  4. 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  5. 1 ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
  6. Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  7. 4 tablespoons mayonnaise (optional)
  1. Put all the ingredients in a blender or food processor (except for the mayonnaise).
  2. Blend until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
  3. The mayonnaise can be added if you wish before transferring to a serving bowl.
  1. This sauce can be used with tortilla chips or lavosh crackers too. Cover tightly and refrigerate and it will keep for a couple of days. I have used it also as a spread on sandwiches.

Osso Buco

osso bucco braiseThe Italian dish of veal shanks, or osso buco, surrounded with a tomato sauce and served with either polenta or rice is oneproper bouquet garni that is delicious from early fall to late spring. This is not the same as Osso Bucco Milanese as that has no tomatoes. I once posted this version on Instagram and Facebook and was roundly scolded for not giving out the recipe! It is the fortification you need in March.



Some Sauté Thoughts

Personally, I have found that getting a golden, even  sear is not easily done in enameled cast iron. You can get overly browned meat and an almost burned base that gives an off taste to the final sauce. Pictured above is the classic tin-lined copper sauté pan, which will give you an even, golden sear. Currently Mauviel and Matfer Bourgeat make their professional-weight sauté pans with a bonded 18/10 stainless lining, and that works really, really well too. Mauviel makes one that is called a rondeau in France and it works just like a sauté except that it has casserole handles, which makes it easier to slip into the oven. And Mauviel even has an online factory outlet.

Well-seasoned cast iron would be another choice, but you will need to watch your timing as it can give you a dark sear easily. If stainless steel is used, it is best to get a sauté that is 18/10 stainless steel with a heat-diffusing alloy not only on the base but on the sides sandwiched between. You can special order Mauviel tin-lined copper through their domestic distributor,

Tin-lined copper cookware has also had a renaissance from a small group of artisans in the US. Two that I am familiar with are and

Also, rather than wrapping your bay leaf, thyme, and parsley stems in cheesecloth, make a sandwich with two pieces of celery and tie with twine, shown above right. If you can find marrow spoons, so much the better as the marrow hiding inside each piece of shank bone is the prize. They have a larger spoon on one end to scoop up the bigger pieces of marrow, and on the handle side, a teeny one to get marrow from out from smaller bones.


Osso Buco With Tomatoes

Serves 6
This is not Osso Buco Alla Milanese, which does not have tomatoes, but it is our family favorite. We serve it with polenta or rice.
Recipe by Sophie Braimbridge and Jo Glynn.
Adapted from The Food of Italy.


  1. 6 veal shanks, 1½ to 2 inches thick
  2. All-purpose flour, seasoned with fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  3. ¼ cup olive oil
  4. 4 tablespoons butter
  5. 1 garlic clove
  6. 1 small carrot, peeled and finely diced
  7. 1 large yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
  8. 1 small celery stalk, finely diced (I peel mine, but that is my peculiarity)
  9. 1 cup dry white wine
  10. 1½ cups veal or chicken stock
  11. 14 ounces chopped tomatoes
  12. Bouquet garni (bay leaf, thyme and parsley stems)
  13. Salt and pepper
  1. Tie each veal shank around the middle, so that the meat stays secure to the bone.
  2. Dust them all over with the seasoned flour.
  3. Heat the oil and butter and garlic in a large casserole or sauté pan. The shanks must fit together in a single layer.
  4. Brown all sides of each shank over medium heat. This should take about 15 minutes.
  5. Remove the shanks, set aside on a plate and discard the garlic.
  6. Add the carrot, onion and celery to the pan and cook over moderate heat for a few minutes, stirring so as not to allow them to brown.
  7. Add the wine and increase the heat to high, cooking this mixture for about 3 minutes.
  8. Now add the stock, tomatoes, and bouquet garni, and season with salt and pepper.
  9. Return the shanks to the pan, standing them up in a single layer. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to a simmer, and allow the meat to cook at this low heat for an hour. The meat should be tender so that you can cut it with a fork.
  10. You may need to remove the shanks and boil down the sauce to get the consistency you want.
  11. Discard the bouquet Garni and adjust the seasoning to your taste.
  12. Serve one shank per plate with polenta or rice.
  1. This recipe can be made a day ahead, covered and refrigerated and then reheated an hour before serving. Some think it is even more delicous the next day!


Sabayon to the Rescue

Even though we think of raspberries from farm markets in the summer, they are a dependable fruit when you are suffering from the Folorn Hope doldrums. And since, let’s face it, whether they are from the Dark Side of Driscoll or another purveyor, they benefit from being heated. That said, this gratin makes cheerful use of a fruit other than apples and pears. Winter strawberries with their snow-white innards need not apply. I have tried this with blueberries and blackberries at this time of year, but they are just not as cheerful. These gratins—berries suspended in a sabayon, an egg-yolk-sugar-and-cream sauce—can be done in individual low-sided bakers in ceramic or copper. I have not seen a difference in the results. You do not have to brush them with butter: The macerated berries will release some juice while in a hot oven. This recipe is a mash-up from, Christophe Felder and Tamasin Day-Lewis’s cookbook Supper for a Song.

Raspberry Gratin

Serves 4
Delicious with winter raspberries just when you despair that spring will never come.
Recipe by Marmiton editors and Tamasin Day-Lewis.
Adapted from, Christophe Felder and Supper for a Song.
  1. 4 cups (500gr) fresh raspberries
  2. 1 tablespoon (14gr) caster sugar
  3. 1 tablespoon Triple Sec
  4. For the sabayon:
  5. 4 extra-large egg yolks
  6. ½ cup (115gr) caster sugar
  7. Juice of ½ orange
  8. ½ cup (105gr) heavy cream
  1. Preheat your oven at its highest temperature if you do not have a broiler.
  2. Put the raspberries in a bowl and add the sugar and the Triple Sec.
  3. Allow the berries to macerate while you prepare your sabayon.
  4. On the stovetop, heat a saucepan filled with abut 2 inches (5cm) of water and allow to come to a simmer.
  5. Put the egg yolks in a heat-proof bowl and add the sugar and orange juice while whisking thoroughly, then place on top of the simmering saucepan.
  6. Whisk this mixture until it becomes slightly thick: It should be like a pancake batter.
  7. Refrigerate the bowl containing the sabayon while you whisk the cream in a separate bowl until it is thick and somewhat stiff.
  8. Fold the whipped cream into the sabayon mixture.
  9. Divide the berries among 4 individual shallow bakers.
  10. Lightly top each baker with the sabayon mixture. You do not have to spread it, it will level out in the oven.
  11. Place the shallow bakers on a baking sheet and put in the preheated oven. Allow them to bake until they are lightly browned on the edges, but the middle is still pale.
  12. The berries, depending on their ripeness, will throw off a delicious juice, so serve each lucky guest a serious spoon!
  1. This is a dessert that really should be served as soon as it is browned.
  2. You can allow the bakers to cool a bit before serving,
  3. You can prep the sabayon ahead of the day of serving, but the berries cannot be macerated for more than the minutes it takes to finalize the sabayon.

Kitchen Detail: Wascally Wabbits


Still Life With Trophies of the Hunt, 17th century, Pierre Dupuis (painter) French, 1610 – 1682 / National Gallery of Art.

By Nancy Pollard

hare game terrine from Pillivuyt on ist dibs

Nancy found this hare terrine from Pillivuyt awhile back on 1st Dibs. Don’t use it on Easter, for goodness’ sake.

After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years—La Cuisine in Alexandria, Virginia—Nancy Pollard writes Kitchen Detail, a blog about food in all its aspects—recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources, and food-related issues.

THE INTRODUCTION of a rabbit meal to my family (our daughters were the impressionable ages of 4 and 9) was less than felicitous. I served it for Easter Lunch (which has become my favorite holiday meal to plan and cook) and humorously announced as I brought the platter to the table that we were serving Peter. It was not well received. But good recipes remain even if I botched their introduction, and we have had rabbit (like many families across the pond) as a delicious and economical meal for years. As it is lean meat, rabbit makes lovely stews, meaty sauces and fricassees. You can expand your culinary horizons and make rabbit sausages and  pâtés as has been done in France for years.

Some Wabbit Facts

rabbit cut into serving pieces for most recipes

Rabbit cut up into serving pieces, applicable to most recipes.

A pound of rabbit meat has only about 800 calories, less than chicken. But consider that beef weighs in just under 1,200 calories. Rabbit contains less fat and about half the cholesterol of chicken or pork. “Breeding like rabbits” as a catchphrase has its upside too.  Not only do rabbits reproduce quickly, but given the same amount of feed and water, a rabbit can produce roughly six pounds of meat whereas a cow will produce only one pound.

Rabbit meat is well known for its high protein content. A 3-ounce serving of rabbit meat contains 28 g of protein, more than beef or chicken. Rabbit is also a concentrated source of iron. A serving contains more than 4 mg. Additionally, the meat provides a wide range of minerals. The highest levels include 204 mg of phosphorous and 292 mg of potassium. The calories in rabbit meat are low. A serving contains only 147 calories.

Today the awareness that environmental resources are valuable is spreading. The process for raising beef places a burden on grain and water supplies. An environmentally friendly solution to losing resources to larger animal production is producing rabbit meat. The environmental impact from raising rabbits is low. The period from conception to harvesting maturity is only three months, and the amount of food they eat is minimal when compared with other animals. The USDA regulates the meat. Some antibiotics are used, but the animals are tested for residues. No hormones are administered.

Where Is That  Wascally Wabbit

While rabbit has not caught on in major grocery store chains (all the more pity), D’Artagnan is an excellent online source. Once you try and love this underutilized source of protein, see if you can persuade your supermarket to bring them in. And if the crew behind the meat counter shrug their shoulders at you when you ask them to split a rabbit, here is the handy-dandy video from Eric Ripert and Ariane Daguin that shows you how.

Wabbit Wecipes: Two  Easy, One More Advanced

The first recipe (and the one I served for that memorable Easter lunch) is from one of my “desert island” cookbooks. We briefly had it in the shop when we first opened in the 1970s  and then the publisher ceased printing it. I think people probably are searching for my obituary so that they can get their hands on my precious copy of Narcisse and Narcissa Chamberlain’s Flavor of France. If you don’t want to wait for my demise, contact Bonnie Slotnick Books. Occasionally I have seen it on Amazon portals and other dealers in out-of-print books. And if you look at our inaugural post, we got mail from readers who tried and loved their leg of lamb with flageolets.

Rabbit Stew With White Wine

Serves 6
Often called “lapin en gibelotte” in France, this is a my go-to meal during the week for cold weather.
Recipe by Narcissa and Narcisse Chamberlain.
Adapted from The Flavor of France.
  1. 3 tablespoons bacon fat
  2. 4-to-5-pound rabbit, cut into serving pieces
  3. 2 tablespoons flour
  4. 2 cups chicken stock
  5. 2 cups white wine
  6. 1 clove garlic, chopped
  7. 2 rounded tablespoons tomato paste
  8. Bouquet garni (1 celery rib cut in half, bay leaf, several parsley stems, a few peppercorns, sandwiched in between celery ribs, then tied with string)
  9. Fine sea salt
  10. Freshly ground pepper
  11. 2 tablespoons crème fraîche or sour cream
  1. In a sauté pan or casserole large enough to fit the rabbit pieces, heat the bacon fat.
  2. When the fat is hot enough to brown the meat, lay in the rabbit pieces and brown on all sides.
  3. When all sides are nicely browned, sprinkle over the flour and blend well, turning the pieces over.
  4. Add the stock and the wine and stir gently to blend before adding the minced garlic.
  5. Add the tomato paste and blend,
  6. Nestle in the bouquet garni in the middle of the pan and add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Simmer the stew, covered, over low heat for about 45 minutes to an hour. The rabbit should be tender but not falling off the bone.
  8. Remove the rabbit pieces and reduce the sauce if necessary
  9. Stir in the crème fraîche or sour cream, then strain the sauce over the rabbit pieces on a warm serving platter.

Linda Dannenberg is probably better known for her French lifestyle books, but she wrote eight cookbooks, two of which we sold consistently in the shop, Parisian Bistro Cooking
and Paris Boulangerie-Patisserie.  Although I use the second one occasionally, the one with the bistro recipes remains one of my  favorites since it was first printed in 1991. It may be headed for my “desert island” collection. This has a half cup of Dijon mustard for the sauce, and it needs this amount to make the sauce sing. Other recipes don’t put enough mustard in the deglazed pan. Add the mustard first into the sauce and then add back the pieces of sautéed rabbit. And please use a classic Dijon-style and not ballpark mustard. My favorite mustard for this is the classic one from Fallot in France. I have tried the Maille mustard that we can get here, but it doesn’t have the same rich flavor as the same brand I  purchased in France.


Braised Rabbit With Mustard Sauce

Serves 4
There are lots of recipes for Lapin à la Moutarde, and this is my favorite. Again it is great midweek meal.
Recipe by Linda Dannenberg.
Adapted from Paris Bistro Cooking.
  1. 2 tablespoons lard
  2. 3-to-4-pound rabbit, cut into serving pieces (10 pieces in all)
  3. Sea salt
  4. Freshly ground pepper
  5. 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  6. 1 cup dry white wine
  7. 1 bay leaf
  8. 1 5-inch sprig of thyme
  9. ½ cup Dijon-style mustard
  10. 5 tablespoons crème fraîche
  1. Melt the lard in a skillet large enough to hold all the rabbit pieces.
  2. Over medium-high heat, brown the rabbit pieces on all sides and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Remove the rabbit and discard excess fat.
  4. Melt the butter in the same skillet.
  5. Stir in the wine, herbs, and mustard before you add the browned rabbit pieces back to the pan..
  6. Cover pan and simmer for 20 minutes.
  7. At this point, you can remove the loin pieces and keep them on a warm serving platter while you finish off the remaining pieces for another 10 minutes.
  8. Remove these pieces to the same platter and reduce your sauce by one-third over medium-high heat.
  9. Remove the bay leaf. The thyme leaves should have fallen off the stem and they stay in the sauce.
  10. Stir in the crème fraîche, correct the seasoning.
  11. Serve the rabbit on the warmed platter with the sauce over it.
  1. This is traditionally served with buttered pasta, and that is still my favorite choice. Rice or potatoes are okay, but not like old-fashioned noodles!
  2. Finely chopped fresh parsley or dill makes a lovely garnish.

Epicurious is not the only online source for good recipes. I use Marmiton from France and Giallo Zafferano in Italy. After the Resident Wine Maniac kept ordering the tagliatelle with rabbit ragu at San Lorenzo in DC, I found this neat version in GZ. You cook the meat on the bone (in pieces, after it has marinated) and then remove the meat, which is a lot easier than removing it before it has cooked. It is more work than the two French recipes, but it freezes well and is even more delicious the next day. In Italy, there are also rabbit-filled ravioli and Cacciatoria style, which our Italy Insider says is so good that she will include it in a future post.   Do some exploring on these sites and use your Google Translate as I did for this recipe.

Rabbit Ragu

Serves 6
Once you make this, you can add mushrooms or other diced vegetables. It is such a delicious base. Use it to make a lasagna, or a topping for rice or mashed potatoes.
Adapted from Giallo Zafferano.
  1. 2½-to-3½ pounds (1.25kg-to-2.25kg) rabbit, cut into several pieces
  2. 3 juniper berries
  3. 6 peppercorns
  4. 3 cloves garlic, peeled (dice one finely)
  5. 1 large red onion, cut into dice (half will be used for marinade)
  6. 3 bay leaves
  7. 5 sage leaves
  8. 1 5-inch branch of rosemary
  9. 2 cups (473ml) red wine, plus more to macerate the rabbit
  10. 1 peeled carrot, cut into dice
  11. 1 celery rib, cut into dice (I peel celery, but that is optional!)
  12. 5 tablespoons (74ml) Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  13. 2 cups (473ml) or more of vegetable broth
  14. Fine sea salt
  15. 14 ounces (400gr) tomato purée or chopped tomatoes
  1. In a glass, ceramic or stainless-steel bowl, add the rabbit pieces, juniper berries, peppercorns, two of the garlic cloves, half of the red onion, the bay leaves and sage leaves and the rosemary.
  2. Pour enough red wine to cover.
  3. Allow the rabbit to macerate, covered at room temperature for two hours, or overnight in the refrigerator.
  4. Drain the rabbit from the marinade.
  5. Mix the finely diced carrot, celery and remaining half onion, with the remaining garlic clove, finely diced.
  6. Gently heat the olive oil and cook this mixture until it is just soft and pale gold.
  7. Then add the rabbit pieces so that they sauté to a light golden color at a medium heat. You may have to sauté the rabbit in stages if your pan is not large enough to hold all pieces so that they are not touching each other (and therefore steaming rather than sautéing).
  8. Add about a cup of red wine and allow it to boil down, then add some salt to taste.
  9. Add the second cup of red wine, and cover your pan.
  10. Allow this to simmer on a low flame, and add the broth as needed until the rabbit is tender.
  11. When it is tender, you can easily pull the meat away from the bone.
  12. Finely chop the deboned rabbit meat with a large chef’s knife and add it back to the sauce in the pan.
  13. Add the tomato purée or sauce and cook for another 10 minutes,
  14. Adjust your seasoning with salt and pepper.
  15. You are now ready to add it to the pasta of your choice.
Adapted from Giallo Zafferano

Green Acre #417: Freezing Their Buds Off?

Ooh, let’s hope not! / iStock photo.

By Stephanie Cavanaugh

THERE HAVE been some strange weather years, but this one is unsurpassed.

The absurdly mild winter continues, with the temperature set to hit 80 degrees in Washington DC today, and in the hothouse that is DC’s Capitol Hill, where I live, that probably means it will be even hotter.

It’s February 23 and it feels like June.

In the days before I had a garden, and plants were confined to windowsills and a fire escape, I would have found this burst of warmth in midwinter delightful. A day to don flip-flops and get my toenails done. A day to read in the park. A day to sit in an outdoor café and turn my pasty face to the sun. 

A tan hides a multitude of sins, even as it encourages more. 

Instead, I fear and fret. The daffodils are beginning to bloom, the tulips have pushed their heads above the mulch, the red leaf maple is sprouting, and the forsythia is about to bloom. Worst of all, the hydrangeas, of which I have many, sport tender buds, susceptible to freezing. Once frozen it’s pfft! for the season. A disaster in the making. 

We are, the weatherpersons say, two weeks ahead of schedule, danger time. Frosts are not just possible, they’re probable. A blizzard could heap a mountain of misery on those tender shoots and buds. An ice storm could freeze the cherry blossoms, cracking new branches. 

So, I’m planning ahead.

If it freezes, I shall pile blankets and sheets into the arms of My Prince and send him forth into the cold to wrap the nascent garden, my tender budlings, in warmth.

Don’t crush them, I’ll yell.

I WON’T, he’ll yell back.

Then I’ll welcome him home with a roaring blaze in the fireplace, a jug of wine, and a hearty, garlicky stew, tiny potatoes, a crusty loaf, and peas. 

He likes peas.  

Maybe there’ll be pie. 

But, maybe it won’t freeze. We’ll have one of those rare springs when everything is in bloom all at once, like a flower show where blossoms are coddled and forced in spectacularly unnatural fashion. Where tulips and roses, peonies and allium, all pop at once. Where all you can do is goggle at the sight. 

Maybe we’ll be lucky.

The Unkindest (Prime) Cut of All


This essay first appeared in Prime Women.

By Nancy McKeon

WHAT DID YOU Google most recently? A different chicken recipe? A list of nearby veterinarians? Okay.

Was it to find out whether you were “in your prime”? I didn’t think so.

In case you missed it, here’s what happened on Thursday that raises this question. On “CNN This Morning,” the three hosts were discussing the suggestion made by Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley that politicians over age 75 undergo a mandatory mental competency test to make sure they were up to the job of president. 

A screen grab of “CNN This Morning” co-host Don Lemon asking his co-hosts (and the audience) not to shoot the messenger. It was Google that told him that women were past their prime by age 50. He later apologized. / CNN image.

Co-host Don Lemon then said the 51-year-old Haley should be careful when talking about politicians not in their prime. “Nikki Haley is not in her prime. Sorry.” A Google search had told him that a woman’s prime was in her 20s, 30s and 40s.

As his female co-hosts, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins, sputtered and reacted, Lemon doubled down: “Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m just saying what the facts are.” 

Lemon sent out a major mea culpa later that day on social media and to CNN staff and didn’t appear on the show on Friday, possibly taking the morning off to remove the large foot he had inserted in his mouth.

Aside from the fact that there are different answers that pop up on that Google search, not just the one cherry-picked by Lemon, the question immediately raised by Lemon’s co-hosts remains: Prime for what exactly? Childbearing? Sure, makes sense. Gymnastic competitions? No quarrel. Sexual attractiveness? Them’s fightin’ words.

What about corporate competence? Not even close. Climbing that ladder takes years of experience–years and experience that we as a society generally value in men. Aside from some tech Wunderkinder, there aren’t many 20-, 30- and 40-year-old CEOs out there.

In fact, I would argue that a woman doesn’t hit her stride until her 50s, when those childbearing 20s, 30s and 40s are in the rear-view mirror, when relationships have, with luck, stabilized, and when a woman can take a moment to measure the path she has been on professionally and weigh the possibilities ahead.

I’m not suggesting that women one day just poke their heads out of a gopher hole at age 52 and decide to become a Supreme Court justice (Ketanji Brown Jackson) or prime minister of the UK (Margaret Thatcher at age 54) or a US senator (Elizabeth Warren at age 64) or a presidential candidate (Nikki Haley at age 51, Hillary Clinton at ages 61 and 69). They’ve been laying the groundwork for years, layering job upon job, credential upon credential. By around age 50 the ambitious ones are champing at the bit.

You see it these days in the business world. Mary Barra became CEO of GM at age 53, Ursula Burns CEO of Xerox at 51. More recently, Karen S. Lynch, 58, and Rosalind Brewer, 59, became CEO of CVS and the Walgreens Boots Alliance, respectively. Slightly younger was Thasunda Brown Duckett, who took the helm of the TIAA retirement-investment powerhouse at 48; going back a few years, also at 48, Sherry Lansing at Paramount.

It’s an odd fact that little girls in general mature earlier than little boys, and then do better in school until . . . until the urge to mate slows them down, then even ties them down with the bulk of childrearing. But then, fast-forward, women’s opportunities do a quick fade, disappearing entirely by the end of their forties? It doesn’t sound right, but women’s “sell-by” date has always been notoriously earlier than their male counterparts’.

So, if you thought that “prime” was an arithmetical construct you forgot about from high school, last week may have been a wakeup call. Ditto if the word just triggered memories of your last great strip steak.

Bottom line: As far as having wisdom and verve and the experience to use both wisely, most women are in their prime after the age of 50. And whether it’s political or corporate leadership or just living lives in the public sphere, it’s best for all when everyone recognizes that.

Both Sides Now

Wakey, wakey! Sephira proposes Fake Awake, a universal nude gel eyeliner, on the lower lash line (look hard). It can make your eyes look shiny and bright even after a sleepless night.

By Valerie Monroe

For nearly 16 years Valerie Monroe was the beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine, where she wrote the popular “Ask Val” column.

If you’re interested in feeling happier about your appearance—especially as you age—you might like reading what she has to say about it. For more of her philosophical and practical advice, subscribe for free to How Not to F*ck Up Your Face at

Can’t get enough Valerie Monroe? There’s more at


At this moment—as war still rages in Ukraine and we warily (and eagerly) emerge from extended isolation, blinking our way, soon, into the dawn of another spring—there seems to be a plethora of observations about the juxtaposition of grief and joy.

From my friend Margaret Renkl in the New York Times (if you’re looking for some psychic relief from the dark, read Margaret’s two dazzling essay collections):

. . . It’s entirely possible to understand what human beings are doing to the woods—and to one another in this moment of dread and grief and terrible struggle—and still exult in birdsong and tiny blooming flowers peeking out from the dead leaves of autumn. In this troubled world, it would be a crime to snuff out any flicker of happiness that somehow leaps into life.

It would be a crime—but isn’t it also a responsibility to recognize, honor, and celebrate beauty in the midst of tragedy? To bear witness to the pain while also being present for the rebirth that blooms with every spring? Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield suggests we think of remembering joy as a moral obligation. Because why fight a war at all if there’s nothing beautiful to return to?


I know many (if not all) of you read HNTFUYF for practical beauty advice and I hate to disappoint. In a post last year, I focused on sleeplessness; so here I’m offering five very simple ways to look and feel more awake if you haven’t had your fair quota of Zzzz’s.

Ease into a deep or vibrant lip color with a sheer formula or jump right into a more pigmented shade, such as the ones from Dior Addict, above.

Trace a nude eyeliner along the inner rim of your lower lash line; it can create the illusion of having bigger, wider eyes. My old pal (creative director @oprahdaily) Adam Glassman swears by these Lumify eyedrops for a super-white sclera (though he would never say it that way).

A wash of rosy color with a sheer cream blush emphasizes cheekbones and gives the skin a healthier look, as if it’s actually benefiting from a blood supply.

When even your hair looks tired, falling flat along your natural part line, flip your part to the other side to add instant fullness.

A favorite scent can boost your spirits, as the sense of smell links directly to the mood-ruling limbic system. Two of my favorites: This one and this one.

And finally, a coda to both sides: Treat yourself or someone you love to this cute beanie. A portion of proceeds will be donated to @unicef_ukraine.

Green Acre #414: Clean Green

Glorious clivia, in several shades of orange or yellow, thrives in dry shade and is evergreen. This Belgian Hybrid Orange Clivia miniata is from Monrovia growers, where a 1.6-gallon size is $75.

By Stephanie Cavanaugh

Q. I’VE BEEN contemplating some kind of small-bushy plant for my balcony, which is enclosed. I made the mistake my first year here in my city apartment by putting out my fave, a lantana (I have direct east light, lots of heat and sun). But back when I had a lantana outdoors I never noticed how dirty they were, how those little florets just kept dropping everywhere. I’m too lazy to keep sweeping them up. 

So what I want is a clean plant, the kind that will keep its own counsel. Now, your readers don’t necessarily live in city apartments with enclosed terraces. So I don’t know how helpful my quest might be for them. 

A. I see many condos with enclosed terraces that probably share your woes. Yes, you can have flowers, but plants that bloom profusely are going to shed all over the place, demand water, and be a pain in the tuchus

An areca palm. / Home Depot photo.

If I were you, I’d think about creating a background screen of palms. While many palms prefer shade, the areca palm thrives on direct sun and, depending on the variety, can grow to great heights (and widths). They need fertilizing in the summer but are pretty carefree in winter. Place them where they can cast a little shade on the interior, and you’ve created an exotic background for some easy-care flowering plants. The areca palm at left comes in a 10-inch grower pot and stands 24 to 34 inches tall; it’s from United Nursery and is $45.52 at Home Depot.

Here’s a short list of brilliant blooms that last and last and require only slightly more care than fakes (which need to be dusted).

Bromeliads have some of the wildest shapes and colors, borderline tacky (particularly the pink ones, which are nearly fluorescent), but nevertheless fabulous. Enjoy the flower for a few months, which is as long as one might last, and give the plant to someone who enjoys tinkering. I’ve never found trying for repeat blooms worth it. Maybe you have a sister with a house in New Jersey?  The bromeliad shown below, in a 4-inch pot, is $29.98 at Home Depot

Bromeliads come in assorted colors. / Home Depot photo.

This is how I feel about orchids too.

Did you know that bananas grow on banana trees? I learned this a few years ago. One would think that I . . . but no! What I don’t know continually amazes me. Bananas appreciate bright but indirect sunlight, so can go in front of the palms. While it’s rare for them to fruit indoors (which is probably why it never occurred to me) it’s possible!

Clivia is a beauty you might want to move about the house. The Prince bought one for me about 10 years ago, an apology plant for some misdeed (of his) or other, and it’s still growing strong with absolutely no care whatsoever, besides haphazard watering. It can be kept in indirect light much of the year, moved into a sunny spot sometime around now, and it will toss off a beautiful bunch of sherbet-hued flowers that stay for weeks and can simply be clipped when they fade. The Belgian Hybrid Clivia miniata shown at the top of the story is $75 for a 1.6 gallon plant at

Even fake geraniums can enliven a patio or terrace. / Photo from One Allium Way.

You might also consider filling gaps with geraniums, which thrive on four to six hours of sun each day and are about as cheery a flower as one can imagine. Think Capri! Or something. You still have to pick off the spent blooms, but that’s not much of a nuisance: The flowers last a long time and can be pinched off when they wither, and the colors and variety are splendid. Many even carry a faint but lovely scent. [Editor’s note: The geraniums shown at left are faux—no scent but pinching off spent blooms either. The “plant” as shown is a cluster of three “bushes” from One Allium Way, $33.99 at, pot not included.]

Enjoy your little greenhouse!