Qu'ils Mangent du le Gateau! (Let Them Eat Cake!)

My roommate Marilyn, who is French-Canadian, and is "Marie" to friends and family in Montreal, requested that the same rich vanilla cupcakes that attended Kasey's birthday party make an appearance at her own bash.

Even though this meant I had to follow the recipe, since it was the queen-for-a-day making the entreaty, I obliged. I did just what the recipe said I should do to produce twenty-four moist, vanilla-dense, buttery little cakes.

However, I still got artistic with the buttercream, using it to decorate their golden tops with random patterns of M-monograms of all sizes. This "Marilyn" cupcake was expressly created for presentation to the royal birthday girl.

Here, Cinderella is doing the cleaning waltz in her ballet slippers before her feet are graced with the magic of Miu Miu and her guests arrive.

Below is the only shot of the party, which an unknown photographer managed with my camera battery's last breath. That's the back of my head front-and-center, the rest of me is blurry because I'm dancing (no surprise there).

But even if you look very hard, you'll not spot a single ration of any divine floury confection, or even a smidge of pastel frosting; by this point, every last bite of gateau had been devoured by our guests, leaving only the crumbs on the wrappers.

Our Marie said, "let them eat cake," and they did!

Vanilla Cupcakes

As found on the Cupcake Bakeshop by Chockylit website

22-24 regular cupcakes / 375-350 degree oven

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla

1. Beat butter on high until soft, about 30 seconds.
2. Add sugar. Beat on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
3. Add eggs one at a time, beat for 30 seconds between each.
4. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Add to mixer bowl. Add the milk and vanilla. Mix to combine.
5. Scoop into cupcake papers about half to two-thirds full (depending on whether you want flat or domed cupcakes).
6. Bake for 22-25 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean.

Note: These cupcakes tend to rise quite a bit and will overflow if you put too much batter in the cupcake paper. Keep it under two-thirds full. They also tend to pull away from the papers as they cool. It should be minimal if the cupcakes were baked enough and shouldn’t be an issue.

The Three Men

Down a dark street in London's seedy East End, there's a haunting torchlight illuminating the sign for the infamous French restaurant Les Trois Garcons that draws people to it despite the dodgy location. With chandeliers that practically cascade to the floor, rows of antique purses suspended from the ceiling, and eerie displays of taxidermied birds and mammals, the restaurant is as known for its uniquely stylized decor as it is for well-executed cuisine.

Which is why it's such a shame that I arrived there last night for my roommate (yes, I now pay rent, that makes me an official Londoner) Marilyn's birthday dinner at Les Trois Garcons with a nearly-dead camera battery. I tried very hard to cajole it into getting at least one good shot that captured the bizarreness of the upstairs dining room, but the battery refused to cooperate.

Marvelously though, with what life remained, it was willing to immortalize my favorite courses of the dinner itself.

My architectural salad, with that little tower of red endive concealing a conical mound of soft fromage.

And the cheese course! Oh, I was in heaven over having so many luscious cheeses before me. The best was the Tete de Moine, which is that frilly flower petal you see that looks more like a garnish than a supple slice of a rich chestnut-flavored cheese and with a dense salty undertone.

Our meal was taken in the room shown below (with birthday-girl Marilyn seated at the head of the table). Large parties are scurried away in the basement, where the interior design lacked Les Trois Garcon's signature outrageousness (though there is that odd "WB" sign that you see to your left).

The room also came with a view of the kitchen via a supposed one-way window, but the eyes some of the kitchen staff shot at us left us dubious about that.

Brunch with Dali

Phones with lobster receivers. Green apples and bowler hats. Marvelously mundane objects floating through an absurdly blue, puffy-clouded sky. Oh, if there's one art movement I absolutely adore, it's Surrealism.

Most of London also appears to be taken with these fragments of dreams and utter nonsense. The Victoria and Albert Museum's Surreal Things: Surrealism and Design exhibit opens on Thursday, and the anticipatory buzz can be seen city-wide. Boutique window displays, British Vogue, even a chocolatier are giving a hallucinatory-like salute to the exhibition. My favorite? The Surrealist poems Selfridges department store is printing on their receipts.

The curtains of the V&A's homage to the impact Miro, Dali, James, and crew had on design, will not officially be drawn for another two days, but Kasey and I were treated to a sneak preview. We attended the press event this morning thanks to Kasey's affiliation with the fashion media (and surely, my retired reporter status counted for something).

Uniformed waiters served the press croissants and orange juice from linen-lined trays, and then directed us through doors which stated that food and drink were not allowed inside.

As we explored the makeshift world of dreams, we were encouraged to take what pictures we wanted, despite the ominous signs declaring that photography was strictly prohibited. It was a bit, well, surreal.

The happy outcome of my jaunt through the illusions of rules and reality being, obviously, that even those of you who won't see the inside of London's V&A before the end of July, will not be barred from entering the exhibit altogether. I think the Surrealists would be pleased.

This jacket is covered in shot glasses.

When it was originally displayed, Dali put a bottle of creme de menthe on a table alongside (I guess the museum is on a tighter budget) and a sign encouraging people to pour themselves a shot and drink up. He titled it Aphrodisian Jacket.

What a trendsetter Dali was! There are so many men who own this very garment!

This diorama is supposed to mimic what it felt like to cavemen to experience art in a cave. A very well-decorated cave.

Costumes from a Surrealist ballet.

The ballet was actually the entry-point for many Surrealists and their art.

An interesting chess set and a woman watching slides of Paris - can you see the Arc de Triomphe in the aquamarine background? The woman was not part of the exhibit.

The first murmurs of Surrealism could also be found in window displays.

They found the idea of mannequins slightly disconcerting.

It would seem Elsa Schiaparelli's parfumerie lent some inspiration to Tim Burton if you ask me.

Meret Oppenheim's Table with Bird's Legs. Obviously.

Yes, there's the Mae West Lips sofa and even the Lobster Telephones, but as much as I love Surrealism, I still would not want this for my living room.

Baking a la Anne Gogh

Baking is an artistic endeavor for me. It's cathartic. It expresses a mood. It creates something that others can take and make their own.

Since the spectrum of ingredients form the basis of my palette, I usually see recipes as suggestions: Two eggs? Sure. A teaspoon of soda? Whatever's left in this tin should be enough. A cup of buttermilk? I don't even have that - besides, some chocolate soy with a dash of cream of tartar and a dollop of yogurt would be so much better.

So I didn't hesitate to undertake a recipe for chocolate cupcakes without any of the requisite cocoa and the wrong type of flour. I didn't use the sugar or liquids recommended either, but that was just me executing my creative vision.

I measured everything out with entirely foreign metric cups, poured the batter into a type of crumpet pan, and popped it into an oven heated to an unknown temperature.

And the result? A light golden mocha spongecake with creme de cacao frosting. Voila!

The Eye of the Beholder

This post is dedicated to my father: The Engineer.

My dad is a civil engineer with a expertise in roads. For him, there's a certain allure to any conversation where he can say things like "asphalt" or "aggregate" or better yet, "aggregate-asphalt." He and my mom are annual attendants of "The Concrete Banquet."

It was he who showed me that those orange and white barricades cordoning off stretches of pavement are eminently surmountable obstacles, put up for the likes of mere civilians (a lesson which has gotten me into trouble). And if you leave him alone in a strange city, my father will sniff out any major construction project within a mile radius, make friends with the guys in hardhats, and be invited by their foreman to come on-site to get an up-close look and explanation of their work. When you rejoin him a mere ten minutes later, there he is, behind a stretch of yellow caution tape, looking right at home.

So as I was walking along Regent's Canal this morning, a scenic waterway where rustic boats glide under brick footbridges, and quaint waterfront cafes are springing up to accommodate those who'd like a repast to sustain their bird watching, I had to laugh.

There, stopped on the path, was an older English gent in a kelly green cardigan sweater and a proper blue cap, arms outstretched, camera in-hand.

But he wasn't taking a picture of the swans collecting near the branches of the willow tree swaying in the water, or of the bobbing row of primary colored barges, tethered to the dock.

No, when I followed the arc of his lens, I saw what had moved him to pause for a photograph: a large crane, glinting in the morning sun.

I smiled knowingly as I passed him by. My dad would likely have struck up a conversation. Since while others may not have lifted their gaze above the charming valley of that historic canal, such a glorious scene would never have escaped the notice of an engineer.

Unluck of the Irish

Happy Saint Paddy's Day!

While some people paid tribute to the green-themed holiday by getting soused and stumbling out of the bars at 10:30 this morning, I whipped up a batch of Irish soda bread.

If you've never had it, you should do. Irish soda bread is divine. Though the crumb is a bit dry, the bread itself has a remarkable creamy quality, with a very distinct sweet-and-soda flavor.

I borrowed a recipe from epicurious.com, and while the loaf was in the oven, I began delving into the history of soda bread (it's still under two hundred years old!), and came across a Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread.

Apparently, there's a group of folks up in arms because traditional soda bread has been modified to resemble something more like cake. They identify raisins and sugar as unacceptable additions.

Unfortunately, I'm partial to adding both of these ingredients to my so-called Irish soda bread. Who knew I'd been unwittingly contributing to its degradation.

My Kind of Orphan

Walking back from my late-night yoga class, I noticed this chair sitting complacently at the edge of the curb.

I stopped. Looked him over. And thought, "I really ought to take him home."

But when I grabbed the scruff of his neck, and felt his bubbled, weather-beaten skin, I thought better of it. So I patted his head, wished him well, and carried on without the stray in tow.

No more than a few steps later, I paused, "if not me, then who? I will give him a good home. Clean him up. Possibly transform him from streetside rubbish into an admired piece of furniture art with a few splashes of paint."

So I turned back, scooped him up into my arms, and carried his heavy body (this is no IKEA breed) the good mile back home.

When I arrived at the apartment with my new friend, both of our tails wagging, Kasey greeted us at the door. She feigned a bit of excitement for my newly adopted pet, but told me until he'd been given a proper bath, I had to keep him outside.

The Boho Diem

Since my sister, Kasey, and I dream of having a company that exalts the bohemian lifestyle, we've decided to make a more conscious effort to live what we intend to preach. After all, authenticity is central to a bohemian's beliefs.

We arrived at this conclusion while sipping sweet mint tea on the floor of a Moroccan lounge, and right there, over the humous, we resolved to start noting our bohemian behaviors and relaying them to one another - just to keep ourselves in-line. These random acts of bohoness will also often be written up here, so you'll get more insight into unconventional life of the singular Anne Spice.

From our water-pipe-filled watering hole, we headed straightaway to procure a french press - the first official nod to our commitment. And since I'd spent half an hour earlier that day meditating at a place called InnerSpace, I figured that counted too. This Magritte-like picture illustrates the inaugural "boho diem," henceforward, "bohodiem," rather nicely.

Where Carbs are Kosher: We're Not In LA Anymore

A scene from my lunch near Brick Lane.

Note the ratio of toppings to crust on my pizza.

And yet, I ate the whole thing, bottom to top, top to bottom, with hardly an eye bat (well, maybe one) in the direction of carb-consuming guilt; an utterly inconceivable act less than a year ago.

The LA in me is going, going, g . . .

"They Didn't Know They Were History . . ."

It's what Kasey said to me as we mused about the historic peoples who'd meandered down the same ancient path we were on, perhaps musing about those who'd walked it before them, not realizing their own footsteps would fade into the history of the landscape. And there we were, plodding along, making the tracks of our era, marveling at a past we would soon be part of, the idea of taking our place there as incomprehensible to us as it was to them.

We were in the Cotwolds, a region of damp foggy fields, hilly forests, and relic villages in England's countryside. We stayed the night on a farm built hundreds of years ago, tromped through pastures alongside craggy stone fences in need of mending, and crept down a darkened tree-canopied path of yore. We saw the old, the really old, and the present all blur together in the dense misty air. It's a setting that makes you understand the meaning of timelessness.

Perhaps that's why so many myths and legends hail from England's rural provinces. In wandering about the green windscape, the otherworldly kingdoms of J. R. R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis appear sensible; a natural outgrowth of the scenes that inspired them. Pastoral Britannia is a world where curtains rustle in bygone manors, gates swing open by forces unseen, beckoning passersby into restful graveyards, and names like "Rose Cottage" or "Barnclose" are written in fairy-like script on ethereal dwellings with wooden doors festooned by golden knockers shaped like maidens' heads. Altogether, it does seem enchanted.

As I traipsed about these mythical hinterlands, preoccupied with how time folds over itself, the sections so much less segregated than we think, a quote from C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, kept springing to mind, which I will leave you with -- as well as a photograph of Kasey that I took at the end of our last hike. It looks to me that she's standing at the outer edges of a wardrobe leading to Narnia, or at the threshold of a keyhole, contemplating very Alice-like, if she should cross through to the other side. Or maybe it's just a picture of a girl in a drippy tunnel, about to reenter the nebulous world of the Cotswolds. It is all much the same thing.

“But do you really mean, sir,” said Peter, “that there could be other worlds - all over the place, just round the corner - like that?”

“Nothing is more probable,” said the Professor

As Seen in Brooklyn

A tree does grow in Brooklyn!

I visited the NYC borough for the first time over the weekend, and while I won't be forsaking London for this up-and-coming neighborhood anytime soon, the following sites did catch my fancy. Enjoy!

The future site of the Anne Spice store?

Well, maybe, but right now it's a strange little "anti-perfume" gallery selling the scents of life.

Some of the smells are showcased next to objects that inspired them. And beside each little bottle is a lovely poetic verse describing its fragrant contents.

Next to "Winter 1972" it says:

Winter is a quiet time to watch the stars
And have hope

This scent contains the smells of new fallen snow, hand knit woolen mittens, ice covered forest and the frozen scent of sleeping spring . . .

I tried so desperately to capture this . . . imagine, hundreds of those Styrofoam packing chips swirling in the wind.

It was magical (even though it was garbage).