The author of the Maggie Hope Mystery series
writes about KBO, cocktails, code-breaking, and red lipstick.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Mr. Churchill's Secretary's Jewelry

Etsy is a site dedicated to "buying and selling all things handmade" and vintage.

I was delighted to see that their current featured seller is Elizabeth of the Etsy shop, Keys and Memories — Vintage Typewriter Key Jewelry and Other Punky Stuff. (The "C" necklace above is only one of her gorgeous designs.)

I can't help thinking about all of the people who typed with those keys, before they were resurrected into jewelry.

What a perfect holiday gift!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Artist Mark Hearld

The art of British artist Mark Hearld was featured recently on a blog I adore, called Creature Comforts. I was instantly smitten with all his work, but especially this collage of St. Paul's Cathedral and pigeons.

His art will be on display in 2010 at St. Jude's Gallery, which specializes in British printmaking and design.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Libations

Each year, we like to greet our Thanksgiving guests with a special cocktail. 

This year's is going to be one part sparkling wine, one part cranberry juice, a splash of Calvados floated on top, plus a lemon twist. Calvados (a French apple-cider brandy) makes it seasonal (and ties in with the apple stuffing and apple pie to come), and the cranberry juice gives a lovely ruby color to the fizz.

It's my own creation (at least as far as I know), but it's an pretty obvious take on the classic Poinsettia Cocktail — which is also equal parts cranberry juice and champers, plus a healthy tablespoon of Gran Marnier (or instead try Rhum Clement's Creole Shrubb, a spiced orange rum from New Orleans).

I can't help but hope that Mr. Churchill (who was, after all, half-American on his mother's side and claimed Native American blood) would approve. 

We'll call it the Jennie Jerome, in her honor.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Just had the delightful experience of watching the film, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008), a gorgeous confection of a screwball comedy set in pre-war London. It stars Amy Adams as an ambitious torch singer juggling three men and Frances McDormand as a former governess fallen on hard times who becomes her "social secretary." Wacky hijinx, of course, ensue.

Miss P's day is never given an actual date, but as far as I can tell, it's set sometime in the spring of 1940. Neville Chamberlain is still Prime Minister, and while war with Germany has been officially declared, but Britain is still in the "Bore War" phase. Only a few months later, in May 1940, Mr. Churchill will become Prime Minister and in September the Blitz will start in earnest.

I  read many of the film's reviews, many of which revel in the film's froth, some of which criticize it for being too light.

Personally, I found the imminent Blitz to be a constant shadow. It's never overtly mentioned, but we see store mannequins modeling gas masks, British Spitfires flying God knows where (France, most likely) reflected in a building's windows, and the panic of a practice air raid drill.

Frances McDormand and amazing character actor Ciaran Hinds, as the older couple who've already lived through one war, add tremendous depth and gravity to what could be a throw-away film. McDormand's Miss Pettigrew still morns her lost love, killed in the last war. Hinds is a veteran who's the only one among his contemporaries still living. While Amy Adams and her beau gallivant off to New York on the Queen Mary, McDormand and Hinds are left behind, to face the Blitz we all know is coming.

Still, there's a feeling that they, of all people, will be strong enough to pull through and "do their bit."

Definitely recommended.

Fired Up

Yes, I've already blogged about Poppy King's Lipstick Queen, but this lipgloss is too good (and good for women) not to single out.

Lipstick Queen has partnered with Count Me In For Women’s Economic Independence to launch a sheer flame-red lipgloss – with the inspiring moniker, Fired Up.

One hundred percent of the profits from the sale of Fired Up will go to Count Me In, the leading national not-for-profit provider of resources, business education, and community for women entrepreneurs.

“The power of red and its mystique is already embedded in our culture," Poppy is quoted as saying. “From Rosie the Riveter’s trademark red lips during World War II, no cosmetic item has more power to get a woman FIRED UP about the task ahead.” 

Buy Fired Up here and look for it at stores near you.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Savoy Cocktail Book

So I was browsing at Anthropologie  (a very, very, very naughty habit) when I caught sight of this absolute gem — The Savoy Cocktail Book, with a brand new and gorgeous Art Deco design on the cover. (Yes, I'm shallow. Also, just to tie all this into the blog, Winston Churchill is reputed have gone to the American Bar at the Savoy regularly, and the bartenders there created several cocktails in his honor.) 

According to the description copy:

Originally published in 1930, the book features 750 recipes, paired with Art Deco illustrations, from legendary barman Harry Craddock of London's Savoy Hotel. Perfect for budding mixologists or fans of 1930s-style decadence and sophistication, it's a fascinating record of the cocktails that set London alight at the time.

It's available at, et al. as well.

Yes. Oh, yes. It. Must. Be. Mine.

If anyone's curious, the terrific host of the of Underhill-Lounge blog has devoted himself to making all 750 cocktails from the Savoy Cocktail Book. His explanation, "Why the Savoy?" may be found here. Trace his progress through the recipes at Stomping Through the Savoy. 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

New York Sensation

Aymee G. and I decided to go to see the film, Precious. Which was powerful, harrowing, frightening, difficult and ultimately beautiful.

Not surprisingly, afterwards we decided we needed a drink.

It was a cold and drizzly grey day here in New York — and so I thought a cocktail with warming and reinvigorating port would be perfect.

We went home and I decided to go with Mr. Churchill's Sensation:

Sensation (also known as Brandied Port)

Shake well with cracked ice:

2 oz ruby port
1 oz brandy
Dash of fresh-squeezed orange juice

Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of orange peel.

However, I didn't look up the recipe — and ended up doing my own version, which was (if I may say so myself) remarkably good. I've decided to call it the New York (as opposed to the original London) Sensation

New York Sensation 

Shake well with cracked ice:

2 oz ruby port
1 oz Cointreau (Grand Marnier, Creole Shrubb or anything orange would do)
1 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of lemon peel.


P.S. Vintage port ad by the artist Leonetto Cappiello.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembrance Day

It's Veterans Day here in the U.S. and Remembrance Day (or Poppy Day) in the U.K.

In Britain, a two-minute silence is traditionally observed. The First Two Minute Silence in London took place on November 11, 1919 — and was reported in the Manchester Guardian the following day:

The first stroke of eleven produced a magical effect. The tram cars glided into stillness, motors ceased to cough and fume, and stopped dead, and the mighty-limbed dray horses hunched back upon their loads and stopped also, seeming to do it of their own volition. Someone took off his hat, and with a nervous hesitancy the rest of the men bowed their heads also. Here and there an old soldier could be detected slipping unconsciously into the posture of 'attention'. An elderly woman, not far away, wiped her eyes, and the man beside her looked white and stern. Everyone stood very still ... The hush deepened. It had spread over the whole city and become so pronounced as to impress one with a sense of audibility. It was a silence which was almost pain ... And the spirit of memory brooded over it all.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Lipstick Queen

The only thing I love more than red lipstick is a successful female entrepreneur. Poppy King knows all about both.

Poppy's the creator of the brand Lipstick Queen, which specializes in 1940s-style lipsticks, glosses, lip liners — everything for the lips. And only for the lips.

Her story's pretty darned inspiring. In her own words:

Gosh... It is hard to know how to tell this without it sounding like I made it up... But I didn’t! I started my own lipstick brand in 1992 in Melbourne Australia when I was about 6 months out of high school and had just turned 18.

I did this not because I was a chemist, a make up artist, a designer or anything else (I was barely an adult and sometimes wonder if I am one yet!) I did this because I
couldn’t find any lipsticks I liked. They were all thin, slimy and too greasy feeling. Plus there were no deep colors or browns and most reds went pink. I wanted lipsticks that gave me the look of the 1940’s. Rich, opaque and filled with pigment.

Her lipsticks, available online and in stores around the country (and around the world), are fabulous. For the vintage 1940s look, try Red Sinner, a full-strength matte red that won't budge. For a more everyday version, try Medieval, a sheer red that looks gorgeous, moisturizes and stays on.

P.S. Lipstick Queen lipsticks are vegan and there is no animal testing. (Thanks Danielle, for reminding me to check this out!) Lipsticks should be tested only on supermodels and not on animals, no?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

For Sentimental Reasons

For Sentimental Reasons: An Evening of 1940s Nostalgia is a Boston-based singing group devoted to performing the music of the early 1940s. In their own words:

The world is at war...Jitterbug, Rosie the Riveter, the Andrews Sisters, Dance Marathons, Ration Coupons, Betty Grable, Frank Swoonatra"...the list goes on and on. These images instantly take you back to a more innocent time, when Big Band music ruled the airwaves...and our hearts.

For Sentimental Reasons was created as a result of our affinity for the music and the nostalgia of the 1940s. So let us take you back--or introduce you--to these songs filled with bittersweet and melancholy lyrics and swing tunes that set your toes tapping and your spirits soaring.

Ok, disclaimer here — Bob De Vivo, the founder and lead singer of For Sentimental Reasons is a friend (we did musical theater at MIT together several lifetimes ago). But I just looooove this group and their music. They post their performance schedule on their web site and are also available for private gigs.

Coming to New York anytime soon, guys?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Chap

One of my male friends recently pointed out that while cocktails are gender-neutral, there's quite a lot about lipstick on this blog, without anything offered for the blokes.

Well, my friend, here you go: I recently discovered the web site for the U.K. magazine The Chap — and instantly fell in love.

The Chap is — well, I'll let the gentlemen describe themselves:

The Chap Manifesto

latest issue

Society has become sick with some nameless malady of the soul. We have become the playthings of corporations intent on converting our world into a gargantuan shopping precinct. Pleasantness and civility are being discarded as the worthless ephemera of a bygone age - an age when men doffed their hats to the ladies, and small children could be counted upon to mind one's Jack Russell while one took a mild and bitter in the local hostelry.

Instead, we live in a world where children are huge hooded creatures lurking in the shadows; the local hostelry has been taken over by a large chain that specialises in chilled lager, whose principal function is to aggravate the nervous system. Needless to say, the Jack Russell is no longer there upon one's return.

The Chap proposes to take a stand against this culture of vulgarity. We must show our children that the things worth fighting for are not the latest plastic plimsolls but a shiny pair of brogues. We must wean them off their alcopops and teach them how to mix martinis. Let the young not be ashamed of their flabby paunches, which they try to hide in their nylon tracksuits - we shall show them how a well-tailored suit can disguise the most ruined of bodies. Finally, let us capitalise on youth's love of peculiar argot Ð only replace their pidgin ghetto-speak with fruity bons mots and dry witticisms.

It is time for Chaps and Chapettes from all walks of life to stand up and be counted. But fear not, ye languid and ye plain idle: ours is a revolution based not on getting up early and exerting oneself - but a revolution that can be achieved by a single raised eyebrow over a monocle; the ordering of a glass of port in All Bar One; the wearing of a particularly fetching cardigan upon a visit to one's bookmaker. In other words: a revolution of panache. We shall bewilder the masses with seams in our trousers that could cut paper, trilbies angled so rakishly that traffic comes to a standstill; and by refusing the bland, watery substances that are foisted upon us by faceless corporations, we shall bring the establishment to its knees, begging for sartorial advice and a nip from our hip flasks.

I'll be getting a subscription post-haste.... (Santa, are you listening?) Just call me a Chapette!

P.S. If the chaps from The Chap and the broads (yes, their word) from Ladies for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails ever got together — oh my, what a party that would be!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Cambridge Five

One of the interesting things about writing is you often end up researching what may seem to be random topics. Sometimes the research done doesn't make it into the final draft, but it's always a weird and wonderful journey.

Doing some research for a character who may (or may not) have Soviet ties lead me to investigate the rise of the Communist movement during the Thirties among British university students (especially those at Trinity and King's Colleges at Cambridge University).

The Cambridge Five were the most infamous of the Cambridge students infatuated with Marxism. They became passionate believers in during their student years in the Thirties and ultimately became spies for Stalin, passing British state secrets to Russia.

Because of their education and high social class, they were able to not only keep their cover, but achieve prominent careers with MI-5 (oh, the irony), the BBC and the Royal Family.

For those who'd prefer not to wade through all the reading, Cambridge Spies (2003) is a two-disk multi-part series dramatizing the lives of the five from 1934 through the Fifties. It was written by Peter Moffat and directed by Tim Fywell and produced and first shown on the BBC.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Bésame Mucho

Bésame is a line of vintage-inspired cosmetics (Bésame meaning "kiss me" in Spanish) made in the United States and available online and in select stores.

The line, developed by Gabriela Hernandez (pictured above), is a 1940s-inspired collection of compacts and lipsticks and more. The original collection includes rouge, lipstick, powder, mascara and pencils, and has now expanded to include some Art Deco pieces as well as "Mad Men" 1960s-inspired shades.

All right, here comes the disclaimer: I've never even seen the Bésame line, let alone tried it. (Alas.) It's not readily available to test here in New York City (at least right now). And while it is available through various online retailers, I'm wary about purchasing cosmetics untested.

Still, when we next visit Southern California (and I'm hoping that'll be soon!), I'll be sure to scout out one of the the many stores that carry the line there and issue back a full report.....

In the meantime, I just love the fact that a woman (claro!) has created such an amazing-sounding business (and amazing-looking — check out all the shiny baubles and gorgeous reds on the site!). Also, her commitment to recreating the vintage formulations is admirable.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Mr. C. and the FTC

Recently the Federal Trade Commission has updated its regulations regarding the product discussion, specifically on blogs.

In light of this, I would like to formally disclose that I receive no samples, free products or financial reimbursement for mentioning any products.

However, if anyone would like to send me things, particularly cases Pol Roget and fine claret, Shalimar and Chanel, Churchill biographies, and lots and lots of red lipstick, I'd be delighted! And, of course, I'd be upfront about anything I receive that I write about.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled blogging....