Monthly Archives: April 2009

Perfume Launch: Baroque Pearl

As much as I love scent, I had never been to a perfume launch. So when the invitation came for a perfume launch and art opening at lovely Gump’s in San Francisco to celebrate their new Baroque Pearl perfume — which my friend, scent designer Lisa Wilson, helped create — I had to go.

Gump’s began curating and selling Asian art and pearls soon after the 1906 earthquake, making it one of the first American companies to do so. As the new perfume was inspired by Gump’s pearls, so were the interpretations of the pearl that the artists created in a variety of media. The gallery show, “Pearl: Inspiring Design and Desire”, will be at Gump’s through May 17.

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Lisa looked radiant in a smart turtleneck and shimmery skirt, holding a bottle of Baroque Pearl and telling us about the collaborative effort between perfumer Olivier Gillotin (of Givaudan, the largest fragrance house in the world), Through Smoke Creative, and Gump’s to arrive at the store’s first fine fragrance.

Here is Lisa with my daughter (and fellow scent fanatic) Anna.

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We received spritzes of Baroque Pearl. I found it at once heady and unique; sophisticated, yet accessible. I recognized my favorite citrus notes: I thought I smelled bergamot and grapefruit, and was told it was bergamot, mandarin, and orange blossom. These were complimented by a blend of exotic floral mid-notes and a nice sandalwood base. Later, we noted that Baroque Pearl had a lot of staying power and continued to subtly assert itself. The slightly Oriental florals and the sandalwood deepened and became more prominent. I imagined the wearer of Baroque Pearl to be dressed in a crisp white blouse, with great jewelry, to be classic and sexy in an assured, rather than an overt, way.

Indeed, Gump’s CEO Marta Benson has said of Baroque Pearl, “It is not the sweet scent of a 20-something girl, but that of a worldly beauty”.

Lisa showed us the perfume’s lovely keepsake box, which, when untied from its Asian medallion, opens interestingly to reveal the substantial, feminine bottle.

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Courtesy of Gump’s

As we continued our tour, we ran into Marta and her husband Adam Willner. Marta looked fabulous in a black dress and a double strand of pearls. She said she was thrilled with the turnout, and pleased that the event had attracted such a variety of people — from the art and perfume worlds, as well as the arena of kids’ carpools.

Marketing guru Ellen Seebold of Seebold Marketing Communications was also on hand, as was Sarah Oliver, whose whimsical and original hand-made and -adorned wool handbags are available in the store. You can see more on Sarah’s web site.

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Through Smoke Creative had previously collaborated with Gump’s on their award-winning home fragrance line. Each of the line’s three scents is available in diffuser, room spray that can actually be worn as a cologne, candle, or scented stone (amber resin) form. Lisa described the process of creating Majestic, the line’s salute to Gump’s Bay Area home: “We wanted to capture the smell and the feeling of walking in the Marin Headlands — the mix of sea air, jasmine, eucalyptus, bay laurel and redwood.” Treasured, she said, plays homage to Gump’s tradition of seeking art and objects in the Far East. Opulent evokes the formal gardens, cut flowers, and grandeur of Europe.

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Happily, we also spent time with Gump’s other home fragrances. The Apothia line was also developed with Through Smoke for the L.A.-based company. Each scent evoked a specific L.A.-inspired mood. Lisa described one of the scents, Wave: “It makes you feel as if you’d just woken up at your Malibu beach house, and were now having a glass of grapefruit juice, overlooking the ocean”. We sniffed a diffuser and, sure enough, the fresh, inviting smell transported us to a morning by the beach.

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Anthousa also has an attractive line of diffusers in a range of breezy florals, citruses, and fruits.

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Heady with scent, we moved to the gallery, which featured an impressive amount of art and more lively mingling in the store’s understatedly grand rotunda.

San Francisco glass artist Orfeo Quagliata captures the translucent qualities of the Tahitian pearl. His often playful, colorful work can be found here.

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Anne Goldman’s work is wonderfully elemental, evoking ocean and mountain forms. The East Bay sculptor’s work can be seen here.

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I love the simplicity of Sara Paloma’s tidal blue nesting bowls and pearl vase. See more of the Emeryville sculptor’s work here.

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Before leaving, we stopped to ogle the store’s signature collection of pearl jewelry and generally bask further in the lovely Asian-influenced atmosphere. We learned that the gallery is the oldest continuously operating gallery in northern California and that the store actually evolved from it.
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Sniffing at our Baroque-Pearl-adorned wrists, we were back on the Union Square streets, enjoying a pretty dusk and contemplating heading to Macy’s for their annual Flower Show.

Baroque Pearl is $98 for a 1 3/4 oz. bottle.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman unless noted.

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And Then There’s Maude

When it came to TV, you could say I was an odd kid. I skipped homespun fare like “The Waltons” and “Little House on the Prairie”. “The Brady Bunch” was only mildly entertaining. I couldn’t stand the incredibly popular “Happy Days”, which ushered in the ubiquitous, homogenized, highly commercial version of 50s nostalgia that remains with us to this day.

I was drawn to characters and situations that seemed urban or sophisticated, people who did interesting things. The newsroom gang on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” “The Partridge Family”s perpetually put-upon manager, Reuben Kincaid. Even the wink-wink hijinks on the mid-70s versions of “The Match Game”.

I actually cried when I learned “The Odd Couple” had been canceled. I was 14.

It would come as no surprise, then, that I adored Norman Lear’s collection of early sitcoms — “All in the Family” and the shows it begat. “Sanford and Son”, “Good Times”, “The Jeffersons”, and, of course, “Maude”.

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Bea Arthur was Maude. There was no separating actress and character. With her deep voice, commanding presence, knowing camera takes, and long, flowing vests, she completely owned the character and the times. She was Women’s Lib incarnate, and roar she did — always with humor and always as a confidante. I believed her and Walter’s relationship. (I can hear him whining, “Mau-aude” and I can hear her deadpanning, “God’ll get you for that.”) I followed them when they made the difficult decision to terminate a mid-life pregnancy. No “deciding to keep the baby” and raising it alongside grandkids, like some kind of Palin, as would likely happen on TV today.

Let’s face it, a character like Maude is not likely to come along today.

Born Bernice Frankel in 1922, Bea Arthur (Arthur is a modified version of her first husband’s name) was a theater actress, winning a Tony for her role in “Mame”. When “Maude” debuted, Arthur was close to 50. (Take that, Desperate Housewives.) She continued her TV acting streak with “Golden Girls”, and we at home got to enjoy more of her funny, dry, basso-profondo talent.

Since learning of Arthur’s death Saturday, I have had the theme song to “Maude” in my head, to varying degrees and with utmost appreciation for its creators and the envelopes they pushed. In high school I wrote a paper on Lear and his groundbreaking television. My English teacher had wanted me to write about someone more mainstream — or maybe just more fusty — and I fought to write my paper. Perhaps it was these immortal words that inspired me:

Lady Godiva was a freedom rider,
she didn’t care of the whole world looked.
Joan of Arc, with the lord to guide her,
she was a sister who really cooked.
Isadora was a first bra burner
Aint’ ya glad she showed up?
And when the country was falling apart
Betsy Ross got it all sewed up
And then there’s Maude
And then there’s Maude
And then there’s Maude
And then there’s Maude
And then there’s Maude
And then there’s Maude
And then there’s that old compromisin’, enterprisin’ anything but traqulizin’ Right on Maude!!!

“And Then There’s Maude” was written by Marilyn and Alan Bergman and Dave Grusin, and sung by Donny Hathaway. (Yes, the same Donny Hathaway who sang “Where is the Love” with Roberta Flack.)

Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Cheese of the Week: Rolf Beeler Reserve Gruyere

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Wow! Master cheesemaker Rolf Beeler has swept this gruyere gal off her feet. I was already a passionate fan of gruyere – a greatly undersung cheese, I think, wasted in the vast melting pot of the typical less-than-exciting fondue. My fave cheese of late has been the L’Etivaz gruyere. So when I visited Berkeley’s eye-poppingly vast Cheese Board recently and asked the cheese expert what he had that was similar to L’Etivaz, he pulled out a great wheel of Rolf Beeler Gruyere.

Actually, he started me on an Emmi cave-aged gruyere, which was very good – tasty, redolent, interesting. But then he handed over the Rolf Beeler and, I repeat, Wow!

Everything about this cheese is right up front. Nothing holds back as an aftertaste. This bold cheese just hits you between the taste buds with its nutty, tangy, sweet, complex, cave-musty, buttery, slightly crystally, crunchy Wow. Bee-ler! Bee-ler! The man at the cheese counter elucidated how Beeler hand-crafted his cheese, visiting every cave and tapping on every wheel to choose the right ones for artisan aging. He’s definitely got a gift for gruyere.

Like L’Etivaz (also from the large Emmi producers), the Beeler is a raw-milk variety. It’s aged a full, old-school 16 months or more in carefully controlled, humid, cave-like conditions. Rolf Beeler is a relatively small-batch producer.

Unlike L’Etivaz, the Rolf Beeler Gruyere is not strictly an Alpage, or mountain pasture, cheese, a type made using only milk produced in warm seasons from high-altitude Alpine cows. Alpage cheeses have a reputation for tasting like the distinct Alpine flowers and grasses that make for summer grazing.

As the L’Etivaz is gone for the season, I’ll have to taste these Swiss gruyere giants against one another next year. In the meantime, I’m loading up on the outstanding Rolf Beeler.

This cheese pairs well with plenty of wines, especially a Syrah, but you may want to pop open a bottle of champagne to enjoy with the Beeler, toast the man, and celebrate the cheese’s specialness.

And, I know, you don’t have to tell me, it’s probably great in a fondue.

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The big board at the Cheese Board

Top photo: Ready for our repast. We enjoyed our Rolf Beeler Gruyere with French oil-cured olives and a fresh ciabatta.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Wildflowers in Bloom

You could forgive us Bay Area types for going gaga for the outdoors in Spring. This is our time of year. The hills are green and spotted with wildflowers, so that they appear Alpine. The blue Bay glistens. The sun shining, the ferry boat captains sound their gleeful air horns, their vessels trailing streaks of foam.

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Come July, we’ll be bundled in woolens while people in less maritime summer climates swat mosquitoes from lawn chairs, the sun still hanging in the sky at Nine.

Think about it: One 4th of July, when my daughter was little, she was given a prize at a BBQ for “Best Red Coat”. A coat!

But for now we bask in the sun, walk the trails, plant our own gardens, and marvel at the special wildflowers that need no planting, but faithfully — seemingly magically — return … with perhaps a little pollination push from a bee, a hummingbird, or the wind. Fairy Lanterns, Lady’s Tresses — Their names can be as whimsical and fleeting as they are.

Recently, on Ring Mountain in Tiburon, I had the good fortune to spot some special flowers and enjoy world-class views, all while getting a little workout on nature’s stairmaster. Ring Mountain happens to be home to the Tiburon Mariposa Lily, which grows nowhere else on the planet, but which isn’t due out until about June. It also happens to have been largely saved from developers by Phyllis Ellman, among others. (Thank you!) The main trail bears Phyllis’ name.

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Suncups greeted me on my path. They were once used to scent wine, but I couldn’t smell anything.

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I love the romantic, viney Vetch, as I do anything in the pea family.

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“If the weather you would tell, Look at the Scarlet Pimpernel.” So it is said of this “Poor Man’s Weather Glass,” whose flowers open in sun and close when rain nears.

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An Oakland Star Tulip sighting! Also known as the Oakland Mariposa Lily, it’s rare and stunning.

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After a little climb, I was greeted by Milk Maids.

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And pretty Blue-Eyed Grass, a cousin of the Iris.

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And, Ta da! Poppies, the California State Flower. Spanish explorers, spying carpets of them, called California “Tierra del Fuego”, “Land of Fire”. Native Americans used Poppies to treat headaches and insomnia. I read that they were also used as some sort of love charm, but since it’s illegal to pick wildflowers, I didn’t get the chance to test the Poppy mojo.

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Shooting Stars are magical. According to my “Discover California Wildflowers” book, Native American women wore them in their hair for ceremonies.

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Another vintage plant, Mountain Pennyroyal, is still used to make a soothing tea, as it was for early settlers.

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Irises love nice shady spots and are often found in groups. They’re so majestic and a thrill to come upon. In Greek mythology, Iris, the messenger of the Gods, was personified by a rainbow.

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A Checker-Bloom: Another lovely sighting.

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After a climb, I was rewarded with green hills and this stunning view across Richardson Bay to San Francisco.

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600 feet up the mountain is Turtle Rock, a huge metamorphic boulder that was once on the ocean floor. I touched it to feel its history.

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Some of the white serpentine rock on Ring Mountain is over 165 million years old and originated deep in the Earth’s mantle. The area is a rich geologic diary.

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Looking across the fields into the network of paths put me in mind of the area’s Rancho past. Until it became Open Space (and narrowly averted development), Ring Mountain was owned by the first official Land Grantee in Marin, John Reed, and his generations of descendants. Cattle grazed on beautiful ranch land.
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I drank in the view of Mt. Tamalpais and the Gold Field-dotted hills. It was hard to leave.

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A Smattering of Gold Fields and Poppies.

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I paused to take in some old-fashioned Tidy Tips.

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On the way down, a solid gray snake slithered across my path. I did not stop to take a picture of it.

I felt like I had gone back into history, being among ancient land and grazing fields, where you can still look across to the same views from hundreds of years ago, still imagine the land when it was just being built on, and before. I felt fortunate to be alive on a stunning Spring day, taking time to notice the signs of Spring’s renewal, both subtle and grand, each delicate wildflower a fresh discovery.

To get to Ring Mountain, enter from Paradise Drive, coming from either Corte Madera or Tiburon. The trailhead is just west of Marin Country Day School. The Phyllis Ellman Loop Trail is 1.76 miles and very easy to follow.

These books were helpful in identifying wildflowers and providing other information:

Wildflowers of Marin, Lilian McHoul, Celia Elke

Discover California Wildflowers, MaryRuth Casebeer

California Spring Wildflowers, Philip A. Munz

Open Spaces, Lands of the Marin County Open Space District, Barry Spitz

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Cheese of the Week: Alta Langa La Tur

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I first had this superb cheese, which hails from the Alta Langa Dairy in Italy’s Piedmont region, at Absinthe Brasserie in San Francisco. It was part of an after-dinner course of cheese, during which I thought, multiple times, Why would anyone ever have a dessert course consisting of anything other than cheese?

(For the record, the cheese course also consisted of a Monsenicio blue, also from Piedmont, which was drizzled with Il Caratello aged balsamic vinegar, and a Coupole goat cheese, from Websterville, Vermont, which was paired with cherry chutney. Yum!)

Even given those spectacular cheeses, the La Tur might have been the standout. This extremely creamy cheese is made from a combination of cow, goat and sheep milk. When store-bought, it comes in a disk shape in a pleasingly delicate paper wrapper. As the cheese warms to room temperature, it practically oozes from beneath its flavorful, bloomy rind, which itself adds an interesting juxtaposition of flavor and texture.

The flavors of this soft cheese come alive only after one takes in the buttery texture, and when they do, they yield a mushroomy and pleasantly cave-like taste that I can only describe as ancient. The taste is complicated, earthy, and redolent. The texture continues to add a sensuous and delightful element and, as is especially easy with such a creamy and interesting cheese, it is gone before you can say, “La Tur”, or “Do you think we can get some more?”

Because it spreads so well, La Tur is made to go with crackers or slices of baguette. Absinthe paired it with Medjool dates, as did I. My beloved Dalmatia Orange Fig Spread also worked (with a little going a long way, as the tastes toggled back and forth), as did a medium-bodied Syrah.

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Snapshot

Anna’s Bathroom in Springtime.

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Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

Snapshot

Carrots in Springtime.

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Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman