Book Reviews: Audrey at Home-Memories of my Mother’s Kitchen by Luca Dotti (with Luigi Spinola)

audrey at home“Let’s face it, a nice creamy chocolate cake does a lot for a lot of people; it does for me.” ― Audrey Hepburn

When I learned of Audrey at Home-Memories of my Mother’s Kitchen by Luca Dotti last year, I just knew I had to put it on my reading list. It’s no secret I am a huge fan of the late Audrey Hepburn. I also find great joy puttering in my kitchen with a pot of chicken soup on the stove, a pot roast in my slow cooker and my much beloved sugar mint cookies baking in the oven.

Most people know Audrey mainly through her film work and her humanitarian work with UNICEF. She is also notable for her Givenchy-honed sense of style. But to Luca Dotti, Audrey’s son with Andreas Dotti, she was simply his mother who loved him and his elder brother Sean. Audrey also love gardening and puttering in her kitchen discovering new recipes and savoring the tried and true.

But Audrey at Home isn’t merely a collection of recipes; it is lovingly written book filled with family photos and Luca’s sweet (and sometimes bittersweet) memories of being Audrey’s son. I always thought I knew her, but Audrey at Home gave me insight into a delightfully singular, yet everyday woman more than I could ever know.

After creating a career, most notably in movies like Roman Holiday (for which she won an Oscar), Sabrina, Funny Face, A Nun’s Story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Wait Until Dark, Audrey decided to dial back and focus on being a wife, mother and homemaker. First in the country of Luca’s birth, Italy, and later in Switzerland, in a home called “La Paisable,” (The Peaceful Place). I can’t think of a better name for a home owned by Audrey Hepburn, especially considering how she barely survived the Holocaust as a child and spent her later years as a tireless advocate for children through her work with UNICEF. Audrey desired peace, not only for herself, but for others.

“There is a science of war, but how strange that there isn’t a science of peace. There are colleges of war; why can’t we study peace?” – Audrey Hepburn

Audrey also brought her desire for peace to her home, making it a welcoming place not just for her sons and the love her live, Robert Wolders. But also for her extended family and close friends (both famous and not famous). Food was just one way Audrey used to express a place of peace, love, comfort and joy.

Though Milwaukee is a great food town, and I have access to a wide-range of ingredients and food products in my east side neighborhood, I like Audrey’s idea of simplicity and less is more when it comes to cooking. Most of the ingredients in Audrey’s recipes can be found at your local grocery store, your garden and your favorite farmer’s market. While reading the book, I made note of Audrey’s recipes – flourless chocolate cake, mac and cheese, cutlets and various seasonal salads.

This past May 4th (Audrey’s birthday), I made the book’s first noted recipe called Hutspot, which sounds like a slightly elevated version of Pocket Stew. I learned how to make Pocket Stew when I was a freckle-faced Girl Scout and I still eat it to this day. Here is Audrey’s recipe for Hutspot:

HUTSPOT (Serves 2)

Ingredients: ½  pound  (225 grams) beef shoulder or chuck roast

Salt and Pepper

2 large eggs

2 large potatoes, peeled and quartered

2 large carrots, peeled and diced

1 large onion, peeled and sliced

Whole grain mustard for serving

Add 1 cup of water (250 ml) to a braiser (I used my slow cooker). Add beef, lightly salted and peppered. Cook at a low temperature until tender.

Remove and set aside.

Increase the heat to medium and stir to thicken the gravy. Pour the gravy over the meat to keep warm.

In the meantime, place the potatoes in a pan and add water to cover the potatoes, then add the carrots and onion. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat, cover the pan, and cook the vegetables until tender, about 20 minutes. Mash the vegetables until tender, about 20 minutes. Mash the vegetables into a puree, and season with salt and pepper. On a platter, place the sliced meat on top of the puree and serve accompanied by mustard.

I have to say the result was very delicious, and quite comforting on a cold, windy day. I’m sure I will make Hutspot again and again

While reading this book I couldn’t help but think of my mom cooking for my sister and me. To this day, I still think she makes the best chicken soup ever. And though my mother was no Julia Child (too short) and no Martha Stewart (she’s never been to prison – well, not as far as I know), she made sure her kids got a decent meal while growing up. Though my sugar mint cookies should be declared a national treasure, I was inspired to make a favorite since childhood that my mother taught me- the classic chocolate chip cookie. Delicious!!

Interspersed throughout Audrey Hepburn are handwritten notes on gardening, food and actual photos of index cards with various recipes written on them. Remember when we used to have little boxes filled with index cards of recipes?

Audrey Hepburn at Home is a nearly-perfect book, one that not only celebrates Audrey Hepburn as the multi-faceted woman she was, but also one that celebrates the two greatest gifts we can give to our families, our friends, our communities and our world as a whole- our love and our labor.

On this mother’s day I would like to dedicate this post to my mother and my sister, Julie. I would also like to dedicate this post to two non-moms, my foodie friends Nora and Elaine who inspired me to trust myself more in the kitchen.

“The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” ― Audrey Hepburn

 

 

Book Review: A Night in With Audrey Hepburn by Lucy Holliday

A Night in With Audrey HepburnWhat girl, raised on fairy tales and classic movies, hasn’t dreamed of having her own fairy godmother? Jeepers, I’m a grown woman and I could use a fairy godmother. And I can’t think of a better fairy godmother than Audrey Hepburn. She would advise me on fashion, love, work and making our world a better place. And now that I think of it, Miss Hepburn did guide me on those things. I just wish I could have met her.

Fortunately, Libby Lomax is going to do just that—meet Audrey Hepburn. And not does she meet Audrey Hepburn; Libby meets her as one of the most iconic film roles ever—Holly Golightly, in the novel A Night in With Audrey Hepburn by British author Lucy Holliday.

To say struggling actress Libby Lomax is having a bad day is an understatement. After years being an extra on TV shows and movies, Libby finally gets her big break saying a smattering of lines in a science fiction TV series. While wearing her TV character’s alien costume, Libby accidentally lights herself on fire, singeing off some of her hair. And if this workplace faux pas isn’t humiliating enough, she lights her hair on fire in front of the shows bad boy star, Dillon O’Hara.

The powers that be sack Libby at once, and she goes home to her tiny apartment to shed a few tears and lick her wounds. While contemplating her sad state of affairs while sitting on an ugly couch given to her by her best bud Olly (more on him later) Libby pops in the classic movie Breakfast Tiffany featuring the wonderful Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly.

Well, guess how pops up next to Libby outfitted in her best Holly Golightly chic? Yes, Audrey Hepburn!

Is Libby going mad? Is she hallucinating?

Well, does it matter? The wonderful Audrey Hepburn is sitting right next our flummoxed heroine. So shouldn’t Libby converse with her and get some finely-honed insight on men, mothers and making a career?

Did I mention mother? Oh, yes, Libby’s mother, a stage mother to end all stage mothers and one who puts the P in pushy. Libby’s very own Mama Rose has been pushing both her daughters, Libby and Cass, to become huge stars. Whereas, Libby has her struggles and can barely get past the extra stage, high maintenance Cass is getting more parts and more success. This doesn’t do much for Libby’s self-esteem.

As for Libby’s father, the sperm donor? Well, he ran out ages ago, fancies himself as a notable writer, and ignores his daddy duties to Libby and Cass. Sadly, enough, Audrey’s own father ran out on her when she was very young.

To keep herself busy, Libby is making a necklace for her friend’s upcoming wedding. This particular necklace has been inspired by a beautiful necklace Audrey wears in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Audrey finds this necklace and is positively enchanted with Libby’s talent. Audrey also discovers Libby’s iPad, which she charmingly calls a “lovely padlet” (note to self, adopt the phrase “lovely padlet”). Audrey also discovers the Internet, most notably Twitter.

Before you can sing a bar from “Moon River” Audrey starts a Twitter account for Libby to showcase her jewelry making skills (unbeknownst to Libby). It isn’t long before Libby’s Twitter is gaining many followers. And many followers want to buy this talented lady’s work.

At first Libby is confused. Audrey let’s the honey-colored Cat out of the bag, and tells Libby she has set up the Twitter account and encourages her to embrace her skills and talents and start a career as a jewelry designer. Battered and bruised from her non-existent acting career, Libby is initially hesitant. But thanks to Audrey’s loving guidance, encouragement and savvy, Libby begins to believe in herself and treasure her talents.

She also learns to stand up for herself when it comes to her mother, sister, father and other jerk who might come in her path.

But wait? Am I missing something? A certain Dillon O’Hara, the A-list hottie Libby tried to flirt with to fire-fried results? Seems Dillon is actually quite smitten with Libby, which is quite a shock considering the gossip pages show mostly himsquiring models with pneumatic breasts. Will Libby and Dillon hook up? Well, that is a secret that I have up my Givenchy (okay, H & M) sleeve.

Libby goes from strength to strength, but also faces some hurdles (including a truly mortifying moment at a high-end spa), which shows up on YouTube. Is this humiliation one she can survive and ultimately thrive?

Initially, A Night in With Audrey Hepburn started a bit slow, but soon it gained steam. Lucy Holliday writes with a down-to-earth, appealing, and warm voice. And you can tell she’s a big fan of Audrey Hepburn fan, which as a huge Audrey fan myself, I greatly appreciated.

What I also liked was a hint of mystery at the end. Though Libby is over the moon when it comes to Dillon, I detected a bit of a spark between her and Olly even though they are in the friendzone. Perhaps we’ll find out in the sequel to A Night in With Marilyn Monroe what happens with both of these fellows and how they relate to Libby. Yes. Lucy Holliday has a whole series of Libby Lomax bonding with the best of Hollywood’s Golden Age, and I hope they are just as fun to read as A Night in With Audrey Hepburn.

In Audrey Hepburn’s other classic film Sabrina, she states, “Paris is always a good idea.” I’d like to say “Audrey Hepburn is always a good idea.”

 

Book Review: In the Company of Legends by Joan Kramer and David Heeley

In the company of legendsStarting in 1980 and lasting until 2005, documentary filmmakers Joan Kramer and David Heeley focused their creative eye on the best and brightest of Hollywood’s golden age. Beginning with Fred Astaire and including documentaries on other film greats like Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, and Henry Fonda, Kramer and Heeley’s documentaries (many shown on PBS) won countless awards. They also allowed viewers to see these movie stars as they really were beyond the calculated machinations of the old studio system.

Now Kramer and Heeley are sharing their notable filmmaking careers, the stars they covered and all the hard work that went into making these documentaries in their hugely entertaining and fascinating book In the Company of Legends.

Kramer and Heeley’s documentaries showcased these stars film legacies, often bringing on other stars to talk about their peers’ notable work. But these documentaries recognized so much more than a movie star’s career. They also covered the anecdotes, opinions, ideas, friendships and odd quirks that made these stars so much more interesting than the glossy veneer of the studios’ publicity machine. And finding the innate humanity behind these movie stars is probably why Kramer and Heeley’s documentaries were so successful and why In the Company of Legends is such a great read.

While reading In the Company of Legends I couldn’t help be reminded why I love classic movies and the stars that made these movies so legendary. What a body of work these amazing talents left the world.

I also really appreciated the sensitive and respectful nature of Kramer and Heeley’s treatment towards their subjects. They are reverent without debasing themselves and their subjects. They never slip into embarrassing and unprofessional squealing fandom. Kramer and Heeley are both fair and firm (not exactly easy considering some of their subjects could be a bit challenging).

While it was fun to take a walk down a celluloid memory lane, I also loved the various personal stories the authors share about the stars. These stories showed more personable and relatable aspects of the stars. Sure, Katharine Hepburn could be a bit prickly, but when someone accidentally dropped some raspberry sauce on her couch, she just turned over the couch cushion-no muss, no fuss. Jimmy Stewart at the time was frail and a bit insecure, but once he put his toupee on top of his head, he regained some confidence and reminded everyone why he was a true star. The regal Audrey Hepburn made couturier Hubert de Givenchy a household name, but loved to kick back in simple sweaters and trousers (and being Audrey Hepburn, made them effortlessly stylishly). And my mom, a long time fan of the late Paul Newman, will be thrilled to know he was a funny, down-to-earth man, and fully devoted to his wife, Joanne Woodward.

I also learned about the lifelong friendships these stars had with each other. Jimmy Stewart and his wife Gloria were friends with President Reagan and the first lady, Nancy Reagan. Judy Garland was close to President Kennedy and would sometimes sing her signature song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to him. The oddest and most surprising friendship had to be the one Katharine Hepburn had with Michael Jackson. And she wasn’t exactly thrilled with his vulgar stage moves, and let him know it! Does that surprise you?

Through the In the Company of Legends I also learned about legendary movie mogul Lew Wasserman of MCA/Universal, the controversial theater troupe The Group Theatre, which was accused of being rife with Communists, and character actor John Garfield who you probably best know from the movie “Gentleman’s Agreement.”

Inspired by Kramer and Heeley I will probably treat myself to a classic movie binge some upcoming week-end. And I’m thrilled my local library carries some of Kramer and Heely’s work. You know I’ll be checking them out soon.

As much as I enjoyed reading In the Company of Legends, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of a loss. I know we will never go back to Hollywood’s golden age and the studio system, which is probably a topic for another book.  However, I do feel a sense of melancholy on how fame has been so cheapened in this day of insipid bloggers, reality show cretins and other assorted D-list celebrities. In the Company of Legends reminds the important of talent and hardwork that leads to lasting and deserving fame. One I hope our society can get back to. But nevertheless, thank Joan Kramer and David Heeley. In the Company of Legends is a book I will treasure and turn to again.

What Would Audrey Do? Timeless Lessons for Living with Grace and Style by Pamela Keogh

jpeg-3A few months ago, I wrote a review of Jordan Christy’s book, How to Be a Hepburn in a Hilton World. I found Ms. Christy’s tome to be shallow, bitchy, materialistic and judgmental, traits that the late Audrey Hepburn rarely showed. While reading Christy’s blathering, I thought to myself, “You don’t know Audrey Hepburn at all, toots.” I’ve been a huge fan of the late Audrey Hepburn for over twenty years. Not only do I love her movies, I also greatly admire her work with UNICEF. And on a shallow note, when it came to fashion and style, Audrey is primer on how to look stylish no matter your wardrobe budget.

So it was only fitting that I would be drawn to a book like Pamela Keogh’s What Would Audrey Do? Timeless Lessons for Living With Style and Grace. What Would Audrey Do? is a delightful combination of biography, helpful hints and analysis on a woman who was a movie star, style icon, tireless philanthropist, and wife, mother and daughter. And I must say, this book helped cleanse the stank of How to Be a Hepburn in a Hilton World.

What Would Audrey Do? is divided into different sections on how Audrey lived both her public and private life. You can cull wisdom on how Audrey handled dating and romance, how she managed her career and the glare of the spotlight, how she found solace in her home life and her two sons, and why giving back through UNICEF was so important to her. And you’ll also find out how the little black dress, big sunglasses, ballet flats and other classics became every woman’s wardrobe staples because of Audrey’s innate sense of style.

When it came to romance, did Audrey hang by the phone waiting for Mr. Right to call? No. She had a life and she lived it. Audrey kept her options open when it came to dating. Like a lot of us, she desired romance, marriage and family, but knew they would come in due time. She didn’t act like getting a big fat engagement ring was the most important thing in her life.

Throughout her career, Audrey made sure she stood out from the rest of the pack without being a transparent, grasping fame whore. In a time where women were supposed to be blond and buxom, Audrey was definitely memorable with her spare figure and dark hair. When it came to acting, Audrey trusted her instincts and relied on the discipline she gained from her dance lessons. She charmed the press and had no problem promoting her movies, and later UNICEF. But for the most part, she kept the press at arm’s length. And most importantly, she did not pull rank and expect people to cater to excessive whims. She treated everyone with decency and respect.

Considered one of the best-dressed women of the modern age, Audrey relied on the French couturier Hubert de Givenchy to outfit her both in her movies and in her real life. Granted most of us don’t have the money to buy haute couture, but many Audrey-like pieces like crisp white shirts, ballet flats and little black dresses can be found at most department stores and inexpensive mass merchandisers and they suit most figure types. Also, when it came to fashion, Audrey knew her body very well, and played up her assets while underplaying her flaws (not that she had that many). If something didn’t suit her, she didn’t wear it no matter how trendy it was. When it comes to fashion, the best thing we can glean from Audrey is, “do what works for you.” If you like the color yellow go for it, even if the fashion experts are saying yellow is out and red is in.

But Audrey was so much more than a movie star and fashion icon. Audrey spent the latter part of her life traveling the globe on behalf of UNICEF. Through her humanitarian efforts, she shed a light on the struggle and strife facing children in countries like Vietnam, El Salvador, Ethiopia and Somalia. Whereas some celeb philanthropic junkets seem like total PR pieces, Audrey got her hands dirty. She wrote her own speeches, researched the countries she visited and spoke to journalists in their native tongue.

However, Audrey’s life was not 100% charmed. Her father abandoned her family when she was a little girl. She nearly starved to death during World War II. She had her heart broken plenty of times, and experienced two failed marriages. She also suffered several miscarriages before she had her beloved sons Sean and Luca. Audrey was not an angel either. For one thing, she smoked nearly three packs of cigarettes a day.

Keogh, who also wrote the book Audrey Style, shows her passion for Audrey and the life she led on every page. For the most part Keogh has done a lot of exhaustive research and has interviewed the people who knew and loved Audrey best. Though I’m a true blue Audrey fan I found myself learning new things about her. For one thing, Audrey loved dark chocolate but hated garlic. She also had a great fear of getting her head dunked under water.

What Would Audrey Do? is not a perfect book. For one thing Keogh mistakenly claims that Audrey played a lesbian in the movie The Children’s Hour when she actually played a teacher accused of being a lesbian. And there is also a glaring typo on one page. I’m not sure if the typo is a mistake of Keogh’s or the publisher’s. But these quibbles are minor when it comes to learning about a true class act. If charm schools ever came back in style, What Would Audrey Do? Timeless Lessons for Living With Grace and Style would be the perfect text book.

Audrey Hepburn-A Tribute

Audrey Hepburn Children's Fund Somalia 1992Jordan Christy’s book seriously ticked me off so I decided to dust off a tribute I wrote to Audrey Hepburn and post it here. Please forgive me for this self-serving indulgence. I’ll get back to writing book reviews and book/writer related-posts shortly.

 “I never think of myself as an icon. What is in other people’s minds is not in my mind. I just do my thing.” – Audrey Hepburn 1929-1993

If she had lived, Audrey Hepburn would have turned 85 years old in May of next year. Sadly, we lost her over twenty years ago. She never had the chance to reach this milestone. Being a huge fan of Audrey Hepburn, I could continue to mourn her death but I’d rather reflect on why she and her amazing life means so much to me.

I first became interested in Audrey when I first saw the movie Funny Face over as a teenager. In this movie, Audrey plays Jo Stockton, a mousy bookstore clerk turned haute couture fashion model. I figured I’d love this cinematic fairy tale for the Parisian sights, Fred Astaire dance scenes, smart and subversive humor and Givenchy fashions. But I had no idea I would become besotted with a wide-eyed gamine named Audrey Hepburn.

It was a mystery why Audrey grabbed me so much. Sure, she was beautiful, talented and charming, but so are plenty of movie stars. Audrey just had that “it factor” I couldn’t explain but I knew I wanted to see more of her movies and learn more about her as a human being. Who was the Audrey Hepburn beyond the flickering celluloid?

I began renting Audrey’s movies and watching them over and over again. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Roman Holiday, Sabrina, My Fair Lady and Charade were just a few of Audrey’s movies I couldn’t get enough of. In these movies, she was both lady-like and spunky, at turns heartbreaking and strong, and so very Audrey. Sure, she made characters like Holly Golightly and Sabrina Fairchild household names, but she wasn’t afraid to court controversial topics like the possibility of lesbianism in The Children’s Hour or a nun questioning her faith in The Nun’s Story. And in her last movie, Always, she played an angel. Now she really is one.

And we can’t mention Audrey without discussing her impeccable sense of style. With her friend and confidant, the designer, Hubert de Givenchy. Audrey helped introduce women to fashionable basics we now take for granted-big sunglasses, the little black dress, ballet flats. How empty our closets would be without Audrey’s influence. And she was always willing to give Givenchy the important credit for creating the “Audrey Look.” Audrey wore his clothing in her movies and her in personal life. She often claimed knowing what she’d be wearing in a movie helped her develop a character, and complimented Givenchy’s outfits for making her feel protected.

Like any other woman, Audrey had her share of joy and heartbreak in her life. Her parents divorced when she was a child, and she rarely saw her father afterwards. She nearly starved to death during World War II after the Nazis took over her homeland, Holland. As an adult, she was married and divorced twice, finally finding lasting love with her final companion, Robert Wolders. Desperate to be a mother, Audrey suffered several miscarriages, finally giving birth to her first son, Sean, in 1960 with Luca following in 1970. Being a mother was Audrey’s greatest joy, and just like so many other mothers out there, she tried to achieve work/life balance and slowed down her career to devote time to her boys.

But Audrey’s care and concern went beyond her own children. In 1988, she got involved in UNICEF. UNRRA, UNICEF’s forerunner had helped Audrey at the end of World War II, and she wanted to pay them back. She became a Goodwill Ambassador and traveled around the world witnessing the atrocities of famine, drought, war, lack of education and how they damaged young lives. She took this new found knowledge and informed others, inspiring them to help.

It was during this time, I got to see Audrey in person. In 1990, my friend Nora and I saw Audrey read from the Diary of Anne Frank, accompanied by the New World Symphony and conducted by the legendary Michael Tilson Thomas. Audrey was one of those people who spurned us to action, and to this day, Nora and I are involved in causes within our communities and abroad.

On a final trip to Somalia, Audrey fell ill. At first she thought it was a simple virus, but it was soon found out that she had colon cancer. And sadly, she lost her battle to cancer on January 20th, 1993. Nearly everyone mourned her death. Tiffany & Co. took out an entire page of the New York Times to memorialize her, and People magazine devoted a special issue in her honor. To this day, I can remember hot, sticky tears pouring down my face when Entertainment Tonight played “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s as it showed scenes from her movie and her life.

After Audrey’s death, her sons founded the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund to commemorate her work on behalf of children everywhere. As for me personally, Audrey Hepburn has influenced me in countless ways. Probably the most important way is by improving my community and the world around us through self-education, volunteering, charitable giving, and donating my skills to causes I care about.

Audrey was like a lot of us, yet she compels us to aspire to things greater than ourselves. My life is richer because of her, and I know she will continue to inspire many others. You are missed my Huckleberry friend.