April 2021

My gardenia blooms bring me joy.

Dear Friends,

I love you!

Happy Spring! Happy Easter!

Before I leap ahead with you in my enthusiasm, I choose to pause. There are tender markings I enjoy reflecting on. March was loaded with wonderful, meaningful memories, moments of deep reflection and loving grace.

Forty-four years ago Alexandra Stoddard Incorporated was born—March 9, 1977. Peter, as some of you remember, gave me a small enamel box with the words “All things are sweetened by risk” on the lid.

One thing indeed leads to another. Mrs. Brown, the founder and president of McMillen Incorporated, stepped down at age 88. Her firm, founded 53 years earlier, in 1924, was “Mrs. Brown.” We affectionately referred to our beloved matriarch as “the boss.” Immediately, I knew. This was my signal to act. What a journey that began with one step. I am 51 years younger than Mrs. Brown, and ASI is alive and well.

One year ago, March 11, 2020, we had our Happiness Retreat at the Inn at Stonington. What a vulnerable moment in the pandemic! I have such vivid memories of Amy reading from a pink leather notebook Brooke gave me when Choosing Happiness was published on March 9, 2002. She chose a quotation of Helen Keller’s: “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” Thank you, Amy.

Peter gave me this clock 44 years ago to commemorate the birth of Alexandra Stoddard Incorporated.

Alexandra Stoddard Incorporated’s brass carriage clock that Peter gave me 44 years ago needed a lot of “loving up.” One thing leads to another. I’d moved my ribbon cabinet from the front living room to the identical cabinet in the rear living room. I decided I wanted my library of lectures from The Great Courses in a more accessible place. Now, while I’m listening to a lecture, I can sit at my favorite piece of furniture, my French marble-top table, and look out at the harbor. I love my ribbons dearly, but they were taking up the most valuable real estate. I’m enjoying spending time arranging the CDs and DVDs in their new home, inspired to listen more often, because they are nearer to me. The ribbons are happy near a TV. Location, location, location!

Years ago, I’d placed eight carriage clocks from Peter’s collection on the top of the shelf. When I brought them down to empty and clean the shelf, I realized I’d neglected to fully appreciate, for far too many years, these clocks Peter so dearly loved. To date, I  have my treasure Peter gave me keeping perfect time. The one he had engraved with his name and the law firm he loved, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, is also “loved up.” His is larger, has a small button I can press that rings in the hour. The most poignant part of this story is that his and my keys are both required to wind our clocks. Because all life’s eternal mysteries cannot be proven scientifically, I embrace this happy coincidence. Seeing them ticking away, all polished to a brilliant gold tone, side by side on the writing table brings me unspeakable joy. Using both keys to wind and set the clocks reminds me of my $55 gold wedding band with an intertwined rope design.

My gift from Peter, shiny and ticking, makes me feel his heartbeat.

I’m acutely aware how vitally important it is to surround ourselves with symbolic, sacred objects that illuminate our past history. Incidentally, while the ASI clock is still keeping perfect time, his clock isn’t. I’m fiddling, fumbling, fondling and wondering. I’m also enjoying remembering that Peter never had all his clocks on the correct time. Peter’s theory was that it’s later than you think. In good times I will let a knowledgeable clock lover clean all the clocks’ insides. I can polish brass, but they need to be oiled.

The next March celebration was honoring Peter’s birth, on March 15, 1922. Peter loves flowers in no small measure. To remember his exuberance, I stocked up. My gardens, room to room, felt so alive and happy. Gardens in pots are a memorable, moveable feast, so alive and happy.

Pots of daffodils, with their trumpet design, felt as though bugles were all making a joyful noise to vibrate happy birthday wishes near and far. The outpouring of notes, cards, pictures you’ve found in your Covid-19 home projects, letters and loving words brightened my day. I had lunch with Brooke, at the water’s edge at Dog Watch Café, to celebrate. She’d dropped off “a host of daffodils” in pots earlier, and we remember his special fondness for the flower I put on the cover of Things I Want My Daughters to Know. We reminisced, toasting Peter as we sipped seltzer water with a splash of cranberry juice, envisioning his smile, feeling his warm, loving presence.

The house, as you can tell from the top photo, is currently being "loved up." The bottom photo, by John Papp, shows it in more beautiful days.

The next March grace note was the cottage’s outside being renovated. I knew when the weather warmed, Ceasar and his helper Gerson would come “love up” our 245-year-old homestead. After the dark, long winter, it’s exciting to look forward to this transformation.

Flag down. Evergreens in lawn bags. Window boxes removed. Shutters off. Basement organization for room to store shutters and all their equipment.

We are not talking about slapping on a few coats of paint with a roller! This is a restoration of a historic house in Stonington Village, one of the seven original 18th century houses in its original location. Because we are so close to the water, more maintenance is required.

Angel Charlie just had a new roof put on his pink house. Together we met to discuss our mutual picket fence that is sagging at an oblique angle and is in need of spinal surgery before it can be painted. Tino to the rescue.

In anticipation of this major house improvement project, I had all the freestanding gutters replaced. Now they are shiny white. Soon, our sweet cottage will be healthy and beautiful again. Reverend John Rathbone would be pleased, indeed.

The tulips I planted with Sandy are in full bloom.

Tino and his helper Mario created a brick floor area for me in the backyard of the cottage. I’m protected from the wind (and the distractions of village life on Water Street). Sandy came and we planted tulip bulbs in the soil under the trellis fence. They are springing up and will be my “touch of yellow” in every room. The ceiling is the sky. Blue and yellow are favorite color combinations for me. Mrs. Brown painted the walls of her living room in Long Island “Atmosphere Blue.” Heaven is where you are. Paradise is a garden. We are here to cultivate our own.

The final March celebration is my first-born Alexandra’s birthday. While our lives are lived in chapters, each one well lived seems to flow quickly forward. As long as we’re alive the only thing we can cling to is every precious moment. Alexandra’s birthday was my birthing day. I love to look back at the photographs of me in the Lenox Hill Hospital, with balloons and a garden of flowers surrounding me. I also enjoyed looking through her baby book. All good memories are memories as big as years. All celebrations lift us up and remind us of how truly blessed we are. I certainly had a happy birthing day in 1967.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love all things aubergine, and these porcelain eggplants by Lady Anne Gordon are among my favorite objects.

A Detour About Eggplant!

There’s no secret, I’m crazy wild about eggplant. A friend calls me Mrs. Eggplant. Local restaurants make me my favorite meal in a variety of different ways, satisfying my passion.

I love the aubergine purple color of the shiny skin and the texture of the succulent fruit that originated in India. Recently I’ve been enjoying a Japanese variety that are small. Quite adorable, like a litter of newborn puppies.

Elissa and I agree the French word aubergine is more romantic than eggplant.

The late English porcelain artist Lady Anne Gordon created fruits and vegetables for enthusiastic American collectors. I treasure her aubergine pieces among some of my favorite objects. Peter and I became friends of Anne and her husband Alastair. When we visited her studio (their garage), she explained the aubergine color was temperamental. Several times the aubergine would explode in the kiln.

Traditional purple was worn as a symbol of royalty or high office. Before artificial dyes, purple was extracted from shellfish. The emperor of Rome, for example, was the only person allowed to wear purple.

Virginia and Tom, a couple from Virginia (coincidence!), sent soulful email requests to Elissa to please send them my eggplant casserole recipe I mentioned in my book The Art of the Possible. Elissa’s Post-it note comment to me: “These people really love eggplant.”

I telephoned Virginia to learn what sparked this interest in an eggplant casserole dish I wrote about 26 years ago. I learned that she used to make Tom a favorite eggplant parmesan recipe he loved, but she hasn’t made it recently. I got the sense that if Tom had the ingredients and cooking instructions, he was game to make my casserole dish for her. Don’t quote me. I’m an intuitive cook and concoct food combinations that are available and appeal to my taste buds at the time.

“Ah, yes, I remember it well.” My beloved husband Peter and our two daughters, Alexandra and Brooke, didn’t exactly share my enthusiasm for eggplant casserole. Understanding how much I enjoyed creating this oven-to-table baked vegetable dish, they did take delight in the pleasure it gave me. I remember serving my concoction in a shiny polished copper oval container placed on a brass trivet, sizzling hot, bubbling under crusty browned cheesy topping with fresh bread crumbs.

There is nothing pretty about cooked eggplant. The summer-brilliant Matisse colors of the ingredients are baked away in the heat of the oven and are all glommed together. The sliced tomatoes and red peppers maintain some of their vibrance, making the visual effect similar to the coveted French vegetable stew, ratatouille.

Renoir's flowers always make me appreciate nature's beauty.

Come to think of it, the usual ingredients of both dishes are similar—eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, garlic, herbs and onions. I sliced the eggplant and vegetables; the French stew’s ingredients are cubed. The joy is to simply use fresh ingredients from farm to table. Memory fades. Vaguely I believe I simply placed a layer of sliced eggplant, sliced tomatoes, zucchini, then some red peppers topped with some mozzarella cheese. I repeated this combination and method until the top was finished off with fresh parmesan and bread crumbs. There was olive oil involved in the process, as well as fresh basil and pepper. To this day, I don’t salt my food, not even a pinch.  

Living alone now, during the pandemic, I enjoy stir-frying on the stove as well as baking my eggplant dishes. I “season to taste” depending on my mood. Sometimes I cut up fresh basil. Often I add curry powder or ginger. When corn was abundant in season last August, I’d add corn fresh off the cob. I’m not a purist and enjoy the variety of including cauliflower, broccoli florets, baby carrots, snap peas, asparagus and squash.

I’m thankful to Virginia and Tom for awakening in me all the delicious eggplant moments of rapture I’ve shared with friends and family. I’ve forged inexplicable connections simply from mutual excitement about eggplant.

Thank you, Maggie, for your eggplant soup and your individual stacks served in ramekins. Saddia, your summer eggplant vegetable dish has no equal. Regan, everyone at Doug’s birthday party raved about the eggplant you served as a main course a few weeks before the pandemic.

Mari, thank you for your scrumptious eggplant vegetarian option at your restaurant, Breakwater. You spoil me, always creating something new for our Happiness Retreat’s celebration dinners. Chef Martin, thank you for making your eggplant stack for good friends at your Mexican restaurant Milagro. Truly a miracle.

Eggplant, in all her glory, is ambrosia, food for the gods, everlasting happiness.

Virginia and Tom didn’t exactly get an eggplant recipe. Their quest for one, however, led me to muse on the subtitle of the book they read: The Path from Perfectionism to Balance and Freedom. The kitchen is an ideal place to explore, invent, concoct and create your favorite dishes.

For all of you who can take it or leave it, substitute aubergine for ingredients you like to cook, serve and savor. Bon appétit!

The blossom-filled view of the harbor from our study.

Enjoy every daffodil emerging from the soil, all the flowering trees, all the buds bursting forth. Happy Easter, Hello Spring! I’m thinking in April of rebirth, renewal and recommitment. I’m hoping your April will bring you a lot of happiness, as Peter promised me when we joined our lives.

I’m feeling frisky. I’m ready to go on “awe walks” and wander about in the sunlight and warmth.

In closing, I want each of you to know how much you touch my life. We’ve been on this journey of discovery for a long time. Please, let’s stay together in our love for each other, in our love’s wisdom.

Love & Live Happy,

“This is the miracle that happens every time to those who really love: the more they give, the more they possess.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke

“Beauty is not caused, it is.”
—Emily Dickinson