Sunday, June 19, 2011

“Two things create a woman, pretty dresses and love letters.” Honore de Balzac, Pere Goriot, 1835

I can't remember if I've used this particular quote in the title of a previous entry or not, but I am fairly certain that good ol' Honore de Balzac has not gone unmentioned. Remember?... He's that French playwright and novelist considered one of the founders of realism in European literature, an artist known for exposing the deeply complex and often contradictory emotions of the human existence. ... Oh yeah, that guy.

And yes, a little of that just may been taken from Wikipedia.

Anyway, this quote is at the top of page 105 in Vivian Swift's, When Wanderers Cease to Roam (for those of you who remember, this is the "travel journal" that inspired Pillow Book...and hey, we have it available for checkout at the library now!). Found in the "July" section (Swift documents idiosyncrasies, funny moments, memories, artwork, and musings by month), this quote leads into a discussion as to why Swift bought four particular dresses, what each have come to mean to her, the memories they inspire, and what quippy words of advice they ill-fashionably offer.

For instance...
"I’ve never been a bridesmaid. I’m not complaining. But when I bought this frock from the consignment shop I justified the expense by telling myself that one day it will come in handy, when one of my friends has an impromptu wedding with come-as-you-are bridesmaids and I just happen to be wearing yards and yards of this tulle with a strapless, fitted bodice adorned on the back with a big pink bow. However, since the skirts are ballerina (Sugar Plum Fairy) length, and because one night I happened to be wearing it at home to re-arrange my tea cup collection while listening to the only classical record I own, I call this my Tchaikovsky Dress."

My Reward for Turning 40
If not for this dress, I would never have had the nerve to date younger men. I’d never been 40 before, and I had no experience acting my age. But I figured it was time for me to own at least one mature outfit. I let the salesgirl in a fancy dress shop pick out this beige dress for me. What’s more mature than beige? The dress was made of an elegant rayon moiré and I doubted I’d fit into the tiny size 6 I was given to try on. Amazingly, the thing slid on me like dew on a rose petal, like inspiration on a non-ironic French novelist’s woman.

So when I started meeting men I wished I’d met when I was in my 20s I’d wear this dress and let them deal with the age difference."
I have one, too. I bought this dress when I was in Los Angeles five or six years ago. Several mornings a week, I would go to the outdoor market in Santa Monica and buy fresh fruit, the occasional book or souvenir, and obviously, multi-patterned outfits at the shop that alluringly resided on the corner adjacent to said market.

I had gone in one day in search of a dress to wear to a special dinner; I tried on several very classic, Audrey-Hepburn types, but it was this turquoise number that stole my heart. Yes, it somehow reminds me of a Bill Cosby sweater; it does indeed have an inside skirt layer that would make 4-year-old beauty pageant contestants blush; it honestly doesn't fit that well, as the waist needs to be taken in a bit (and not because I'm soooooo skinny; I bought a size too big because the dress just made me happy). I freaking love this dress.

When I wear it, I kinda feel like I did when Leigh Ann and I would put on the flower girl dresses we had worn in my uncle's wedding in the early 80s, the ones excitedly jerked out of the closet when the urge to dance and twirl around the living room during American Bandstand could no longer be suppressed. I feel like a gypsy princess. I feel like Angelina Jolie on a UNICEF mission trip, caught by some photographer whose magazine editor will inevitably use phrases like "Stripped down to no make-up and an oddly whimsical dress, Jolie jetsets around poverty-stricken countries."

I have worn this dress to wedding showers, to church services, to a BBQ at a Loyola Marymount professor's house on the outskirts of LA, to the Cumberland County Public Library. If I have children, this is the dress that I will pull out and let them make fun of in 20 years. This is the dress that I just might throw on today as I'm baking bread pudding and cleaning my house. This is the dress that few would likely characterize as "pretty" and the one that has inspired exactly zero love letters.

For this point on, I shall call it my Pillow Book dress.
$100 to anyone who can help me think of the name of the stiff lace layer that makes the dress puff out. Well, maybe not a hundred.
Looks even prettier blowing in the wind, doesn't it?
And it matches my chair.

Tell me about "your dress."
Cinnamon Raisin Bread Pudding
From the Taste of Home website
Yields: 2 servings (I tripled and baked in a 9X9 square pan)

1 cup cubed cinnamon-raisin bread (If you can buy Carri Peterson's at the Cumberland County Farmers' Market, do so!)
1 egg
2/3 cup milk
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dash salt
1/3 cup raisins

Place bread cubes in a greased 2-cup baking dish. In a small bowl, whisk the egg, milk, brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt until blended. Stir in raisins. Pour over bread.

Bake at 350° for 35-40 minutes or until a knife inserted 1/2 in. from the edge comes out clean. Serve warm.
That's right, that is butter floating on top.


  1. I believe the stiff lace is called crinoline.

    Jill Shelley

  2. Thanks, Jill! And, thanks for reading! Oh, and sorry... all out of $100:)