“How to be Photographed”

Nancy Mitford, photographed *perfectly* by Cecil Beaton in 1929

A few days ago, I stumbled across the most amazing article written by Nancy Mitford in 1930 for The Lady, England’s longest running magazine for women. She was instructing people, namely women on the art of ‘being photographed.’ You should read the full text on their site, but here are a few highlights…

The desire to be reproduced three-dimensionally is as old as the human race, and comes, no doubt, from an unacknowledged craving to ‘see ourselves as others see us’.

It is noticeable that people about to be photo graphed are always at great pains to explain that their motives for taking this step are both noble and unselŽfish. They never say, ‘I wanted a picture of myself,’ but imply that countless friends and relations are clamouring for one, and that it is for their sakes alone that an unpleasant ordeal is to be faced… The truth, of course, is that all women, and most men, thoroughly enjoy the whole thing.

…the resulting picture will gaze from countless pianos and mantelpieces upon the friends who have so constantly demanded it. (I will not even mention those monsters of unfeelingness who stick the portraits of their acquaintances in an album. Such iconoclasts could never rank as true friends.)

A bad photograph is very much worse than useless. Choose, therefore, what you consider the best photographer… and go to him, regardless of expense. (If you commit a murder, swim the Channel, or gain some similar notoriety, complimentary sittings from grand studios will rain upon you. If you are comparatively unknown, it will be necessary to pay for your sitting.)

A little perspective: Nancy Mitford was used to being photographed by Cecil Beaton. Choose your photographer with care–no pressure though.

You must now decide what clothes you intend to wear, and here I am obliged to say the fewer the better… I need hardly add that it is fatal to wear a hat.

And when, some three weeks later, the proofs arrive at your home, you will be able to indulge in an orgy of enjoyable Narcissism as you pore over them…

Another point to ponder, when the Hon. Nancy Mitford wrote this in 1930, it took three weeks to get proofs back of the photo you’d spent all day taking. 80 years later, we plaster photos of our Saturday morning bloodies in less than a second to instagram. My, how far we’ve come!


Caring for Your Iron Skillet (& a Southern cornbread recipe with Rebecca Gordon!)


In the South, there are few items that can hold a candle to a belle’s iron skillet. When making out her will, a grandmother may pass down her iron skillet with as much intention as the family china. Why? An iron skillet isn’t just a cooking vessel–it’s an investment of time, a reminder of the care put into it, and a history of everything that the vessel has held before.

A good iron skillet is well-seasoned. That is, over time a surface of lard has built up making the pan non-stick as well as adding a very distinct flavor. Yes, I know your skillet says it’s pre-seasoned but, trust me honey, it’s not. Here’s how to do it right!

To season your iron skillet…

  • Preheat your oven to 300°F.
  • Thinly coat the inside of your pan with Crisco or canola oil. These are my favorites because they don’t add any particular flavor, and they won’t go rancid on the pan.
  • Leave your skillet in the 300° oven for 3 hours, then let cool completely.
  • If this is your first seasoning, repeat this process 3 times.
  • After the initial seasoning, do this about once every month or two.
  • It’ll really start to feel like yours after the first few batches of bacon. I always make these first after seasoning because it adds another layer of flavor.


Cleaning your iron skillet…

Here’s the key: Don’t let it sit. I am one of the worst when it comes to fixing a big meal, and then going straight to bed without cleaning up. This is no way to treat your iron skillet. First of all, the longer you let things sit, the harder they’ll be to clean off. Second, the fat on the bottom of your skillet can begin to pick up flavors you don’t want as it sits.

The other key: Never. EVER. use soap. NEVER! As I said before, the iron skillet is all about the surface. That’s what gives your food flavor and, in turn, that’s what makes your skillet so valuable. So don’t wash it off! Instead…

After you cook, assess your pan.

Is there anything stuck to the bottom?

  • Fill your skillet halfway with water, and bring it to a boil for a few minutes.
  • Then, empty the water and use a rubber scraper to remove anything that is stuck to the surface.

Everything out, and it just needs to be cleaned?

  • When your pan is cool to the touch, throw in a handful of kosher salt.
  • Gently rub it in with a rag. (You can use paper towels, but I prefer a rag because paper towels crumble with the salt scrubbing.)
  • You’ll see the remnants of dinner being soaked up by the salt.
  • Rinse out the salt with water. Dry your skillet. And coat with a thin layer of canola oil or Crisco.
  • Store in a dry place. I actually keep mine in the oven.

And now, Iron Skillet Rehab

When a friend brought me a rusty iron skillet a couple of weeks ago, I decided that I’d give it a little rehab and then do a blog post. Little did I know, the rusty surface was thick and flaky so ‘a little rehab’ turned into a Sunday afternoon.

In retrospect, I do not endorse trying to save an iron skillet from the grave. When iron turns to rust, it makes terrible pock marks that can totally ruin the even cooking surface you get with a good skillet. However, if there’s a smaller amount of rust you should be able to use one of the items below, in order of lightest to most abrasive…*

  • kosher salt
  • steel wool
  • a paste of baking soda and water (I rotated this with boiling water and the rust just lifted out.)
  • fine grain sand paper

*Note: Using any of these will ruin any seasoning already existing on your skillet.

I think it must be in a belle’s blood to not let an iron skillet die. In the words of a co-worker, “Can’t you buy a new skillet for like $11?” Yes. Yes you can, but that’s not the point. Southern allegiance to your skillet is very real so when you get a skillet of your own take care of it. Cherish it. If you’re good to the skillet, the skillet will be good to you.

Now… what to make in the skillet?

My friend Rebecca Gordon is the most fabulous of cooks! You may remember that I met her in September when we visited with Southern Living in Charleston. We’ll chat a little more with Rebecca later today but, for now, hop on over to Rebecca’s blog Buttermilk Lipstick to get her recipe for the perfect Southern cornbread!




Get Rid of That Vintage Smell

Love getting a new vintage frock, but hate the stench that comes with it? Well, today is your lucky day! Husband is sort of like the Goodwill Whisperer. While getting his MBA, he also acquired a closet full of sport coats from the finest tailors in town–all for a going rate of about $5 each. But the vintage smell (don’t act like you don’t know) was a bit much, so, after doing some research, he found a great solution.

The secret? Vodka. It’s not just for martinis anymore…


  • Mix 2 parts vodka with 1 part distilled water in a spray bottle.
  • Spray on your garment.
  • It will dry quickly. Then, just take it to the dry cleaner for cleaning.

On second thought, the real Secret of this Belle may just be to get yourself a husband that helps with the laundry after making you a martini.

When It’s Sleepy Time Down South

A few weeks ago, I acquired a Jawbone UP, mainly because I was interested in the sleep tracking but also because I’m hoping it will eventually inspire me to get up and go to the gym. Yes, I’m one of those people. (Sadly, that perk has yet to be realized.) The sleep tracking, however, has been fascinating! It’s amazing what an effect sleep has on our mood, our appetite, everything. Which has also got me thinking about my bedtime routine. So today I thought I’d share a few of my Must Haves…

Bedtime Accoutrement  |  Secrets of a Belle, When It's Sleepy Time Down South

And, of course, a little mood music! (P.S. If I were trapped on a desert island and could only bring one recording, it would probably be this song by Louis Armstrong.)

What about you? Is there anything that helps you get a perfect night’s Zzz’s?