Friday, August 11, 2017

Our Little Lion

The passing of a loved one is never an easy thing to go through.  As much as we think we can prepare for it, it is not easy.

Our beloved Lion passed away this morning in our home as peacefully and as gently as he lived his life.  Having had everything his way and on his own terms these past eighteen years, our baby decided that it was time to go.  As much as I wanted to bottle up his love, soul and affection, and keep it forever, I knew that I too had to let go and make my peace.  It's difficult to put into words how upsetting this is for us.

Isn't it always the case that we feel as if we are going to have our babies forever?  That the affection and unconditional love they give us each and every day, will be there for us day in and day out?  I can't believe that the little kitten we adopted back when we moved into our first home is no longer with us.  

Two days before he passed away, Lion took a small stroll outside and sat on the driveway for a couple of minutes.  It seemed as if he were taking a final look at his territory, the beautiful kingdom we were able to provide for him.  I know deep down that he was happy with the good, long life that was his.

Our house is empty now of the sounds of his little feet walking on the hardwood floors, or of them going up the old pumpkin pine staircase for bedtime.  No longer will I have Lion's furry little face and whiskers waking me up in the morning to tell me that he's hungry.  The companion that sat on my husband's lap during tea and purred for minutes on end, is but a sweet memory that will endure in our hearts forever.

The comfort that we take at this moment, however, is with the fact that we gave Lion one of the best lives anyone could have had.  

Our home that always provided him with love, nourishment and boundless devotion, was his for the taking.  I am honored that Lion gave us so much unconditional love. 

Lion: 10/1/1999 - 8/11/2017

Lion was our king.  

He will be greatly missed.


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Farm Fresh Eggs

Life seems so much better with farm fresh eggs, don't you think?  The day I arrived back from my trip to California, I had a text message from my friend and neighbor, Luke, saying that he had a little surprise for me.  The airplane was literally taxiing down the runway when I got his message.  I told him to stop by the house later that afternoon after I had settled back home and unpacked.  

When he arrived I noticed that he had a small bounty of vegetables from his garden in one hand, and an egg carton in the other.  He said that they were small gifts from his home that he hoped I would enjoy.  I was really touched at such a thoughtful gift.  

I knew that Luke was a kindred spirit the moment I opened the egg carton. The multi-colored, farm fresh eggs from his chickens were absolutely beautiful and simply perfect.  I began asking him about his animal husbandry, and came to find out that his flock of chickens were just getting started.  I also asked if his starter chicks had come from Murray McMurray Hatchery.  As soon as I said that, Luke's eyes narrowed and he asked, "how did you know?".  I responded with, "Martha Stewart".  We had quite a chuckle at this because he said that he had no idea she ordered her chickens from them.  Small world!

Araucana Eggs & Jadeite Glass

His "Easter Eggers" from Murray McMurray include Bantams, Araucanas (hence the green-colored eggs), Ameraucanas, Faverolles, and several others. I'm so happy that I now have a weekly standing order of freshly-laid eggs from Luke.  My baking and my cooking is going to be that much better because of these eggs.  I can't thank my friend enough for his generosity and for his animal husbandry endeavors! 

I wasted no time in utilizing several eggs for a chocolate cake straight out of Martha Stewart's 'Cake' book.

As much as I like the convenience of organic, cage-free eggs from the supermarket, nothing beats getting eggs straight from the source or from a farmers market.  I try my best to get the best of the best for my cooking and baking, so it's good to know that my eggs will now come from my neighbor's chickens.  Not to worry readers, I've already asked Luke if I could visit his chickens and blog about them in the near future.  Stay tuned for that in the coming weeks!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Flea Market Shopping in Los Angeles

I've written at length about the flea market shopping that can be found throughout Southern California.  It's always fun to show you the items I encounter at these markets, because it gives you an idea of the variety that people sell and collect.  Certain vendors come back year after year, but new ones crop up here and there.  For me, it's all about the thrill of the hunt for the things that I like. 

Friends are always telling me that it would be fun to go on these trips with me to the flea markets, and I think to myself: "as long as we don't fight for the same items, sure!"  Can you imagine having to fight and elbow your way for something with one of your friends?  I certainly wouldn't want to be in that situation. 

The two major flea markets that I like to visit when I'm in Southern California are the Rose Bowl Flea Market and the Long Beach Flea Market.  One is held the second Sunday of every month, and the other is held on the third Sunday of every month. 

I used to own one of these Fisher-Price record players!  I remember playing my ABBA 45s and 33s on it. 

My baby brother is, really and truly, the ideal person to shop with, because not only do we collect different items, but we always find several things that take us back to our childhood.  It's so much fun to encounter toys and little knickknacks that we used to have when we were kids, such as my yellow, heavy-duty Tonka trucks and various lego sets, or my brother's model trains (HO scale) and hot wheels. 

How many of you remember when ice cream and sherbet used to come in boxes?  

It didn't take me long to zero in on some Martha by Mail items.  Although these enamelware canisters are not truly vintage pieces, they are very collectible.  The Martha by Mail catalog offered these white-handled Bread & Biscuits canisters for a very short period of time.

As you can see, they were made in the U.K.  The steel canisters are large and heavy, making them ideal for use in the kitchen or in a mudroom for storage.

Who remembers the cast-aluminum chicken cake mold from Martha by Mail?  These can easily be found on eBay throughout the year.

My apologies for the grainy photo, but I had to include it because this set of green mixing bowls was offered through Martha by Mail.  They were made by Monmouth Pottery of Illinois.  

I felt like I was encountering miles and miles of colorful Bauer Pottery at the flea markets.

Your eyes don't deceive you.  This gigantic 15-inch punch bowl by Bauer was priced at $900.  They're obviously priced for the serious collector.

Butter churns, pickling crocks and jugs for alcohol made from heavy stoneware are always nice to encounter.  The large 15 gallon (the number on these types of crocks tell you the capacity of the vessel, in gallons) pickling crock can be used for so many things throughout the house.  I think something like this would be amazing in an entryway or next to the fireplace as a receptacle for wood, but the crocks would also be suitable for use as recycling bins in the kitchen.    

These yellow Bauer bowls had my name written all over them.  After a quick inspection, I struck a deal with the vendor.  The 13-inch and 14-inch yellowware bowls were safely packaged in one of my totes.    

I never knew that Hamilton Beach mixers offered yellow glass accessories.  This one appeared to have the bowls and the juicer attachment in prime condition.

The set of six spice tins made me smile, because all I kept thinking was how worry-free to have only bothered with 6 spices back in the 1930s and 40s.

This glass vessel, at quick glance, looked like a gumball machine.  Upon closer inspection I found it to be a soda fountain syrup dispenser.  The vaseline glass sphere and its milk glass base were in such good condition.

I don't know if this vendor was a former chef, but they were definitely French.  I caught snippets of his conversation with a potential customer, and there was a very thick French accent.  For a few minutes I toyed with the idea of picking up a few of these French copper pots and pans for my kitchen.  The thought of starting a new collection was a bit daunting, though, so I walked away from it. 

The feather basket by L.E. Smith Glass is so beautiful.  

I'm told that this pattern by Fenton Glass, "Emerald Crest", is highly desirable.  They would be perfect for serving desserts or light lunches.

The stripped metal office furniture that is available from certain vendors is so amazing.  I like to imagine what I would do with such pieces if I lived in the Los Angeles area.  

Can't you just picture this metal glass-fronted cabinet holding some superb collection of jadeite or maybe some milk glass? 

So retro.

I noticed a vendor who had this sad-looking Hobart 5qt. mixer sitting there on the asphalt, so I walked up and inspected it.  The vintage mixer looked like it had seen better days.  The metal was completely scuffed and worn down in many areas, and I noticed that it only came with the mixer bowl and the paddle attachment.  I asked the vendor if it worked, and he said yes, but there was no way to prove it.  My brother and I walked away from it.

About an hour later, I wanted to go back to see the mixer again.  It was nagging at me that the poor thing was probably still sitting there.  I remember telling my brother that if it was still there, I'd check the price out and see if I could counteroffer.  

When we finally found the vendor, sure enough, the mixer was still there.  I asked him what his price was and he told me, no joke: $45....  I was a bit dumbstruck to say the least.  My first thoughts were: counteroffer, and then worry about whether it works or not when you take it back.  We finally settled on $35.  Yes, $35!!!  I knew that the bowl itself was worth more than that!

Long story short:  I was able to determine that the mixer worked beautifully, however, I was not thrilled with the condition of the finish.  My brother told me to ask local body shops whether or not they could refinish the mixer for me.  After being turned down by a couple of them, I began to lose hope.  Finally, though, one mom and pop body shop told me to bring it in because they thought they could tackle the mixer.  After they quoted me a price, I was then left with the task of finding a color.  Should I go with a standard white or try something bolder?  Being that I was at an auto body shop, I asked if they had any color palettes.  The gentleman gave me a book of automobile colors, which included the pain line for Fiat cars.  Remembering how much I loved that minty-green Fiat 500 color (chiaro verde), I immediately chose that on the spot.  

The results are nothing short of spectacular. 

You should have seen now giddy I was when I saw my beautiful, vintage Hobart mixer sitting there in the shop.  It was everything I had thought it would be.  

I am so happy that I took the risk, not only of buying the mixer, but of choosing a color that would complement my kitchen.  

Next time around I plan on taking a little cart or wagon with me just in case I need it.  My tote bags were rather insufficient for some of my haul.

To those who said to me, "why are you posting so many photos of hamburgers?", I have to say that I normally don't eat like this.  When I'm on vacation the diet is thrown out the window.  If I want cheeseburgers and fries, I'll have them! 

I can't visit Los Angeles without a helping of some rainbow roll sushi.  Sushi restaurants abound in Southern California, and it's always so fresh and so delicious.

Santa Monica Pier

Sure it's fun going to flea markets for my collectibles when I'm in Los Angeles, but I think that more importantly, I enjoy spending time with family and friends.  I can't wait to go back in a few months!

If you're in the Los Angeles area anytime soon, check out the local listings for the flea markets that I mentioned.  You will absolutely love them.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Childhood Memories of Baking with Mom

Some of my earliest memories from childhood have to do with mom's baking.  It's hard to pinpoint exactly when it was that I started to show an interest in baking, but I can clearly remember standing on a kitchen chair, back in the 70s, right next to mom as she was either baking a cake or portioning out cookie dough.

Here is mom helping me with a slice of homemade cake for my 1st. birthday.  

All of our birthday cakes, holiday sweets for the family, cupcakes for school P.T.A. events, and milestone celebration desserts, were made from scratch by our dear mother.  Not only that, but mom was a baker to many of our neighbors who clamored for her cakes whenever they needed them. 

I somehow became mom's pastry assistant in the kitchen for some of her biggest projects, such as wedding cakes.  I remember helping mom mix batch after batch of cake batters or cookie doughs, tinting pounds of icing if she asked me to, preparing cake pans for baking, and adding countless sprinkles or decorative toppers to cupcakes for our holiday school parties.

The large pastry boxes which sat on top of the kitchen counter, ready to go out the door, always beckoned and taunted with their sweet icing, sugar sprinkles and whatever else mom added to them.  I secretly wanted to devour those cupcakes before they even made it out the door.

Homemade chocolate chips will always be my favorite cookie.

Trips to her favorite baking supply store were a real treat for me as a kid, because I was able to learn what tools were needed for specific tasks, and which supplies made mom's baking projects effortless.   

Kitchenaid Heavy Duty 5qt. mixer.

These days when I visit mom, I always request that we bake a little something, just so that I can use her classic heavy duty mixer.  Mom's 5qt. mixer is so retro, and yet, it looks great in any type of kitchen.  I was lucky enough to have found one of these mixers a few weeks ago, untouched in its original box!  It's perfect (ūüĎĆ).

I treasure the moments in the kitchen with mom, because it's time well spent.  We catch up on family matters while we bake, or we reminisce about a particular event in the past.  Whether I'm standing in the kitchen while using mom's KitchenAid mixer or watching her scoop out some cookie dough onto baking sheets, I'm immediately taken back to childhood.

Thank you mom for all of the great baking memories!! 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Antiquing and Vintage Shopping Today

The world of antiques, antique shops and various antiquing venues has changed rapidly in the last decade or so.  Long gone are the days when I could hop in my car and drive to my former hometown to visit the shops I patroned on a regular basis, when I first started collecting for our home.  All of the antique shops along Kings Highway are no longer there, and the same goes for so many of the shops on "Antique Row" in Center City, Philadelphia. 

Recently, I took a small trip into the city with a dear friend of mine from Washington, and we began a discussion about antiques, antiquing and everything vintage.  I lamented the fact that so many antique shops were now out of business along a stretch of road that was famous for them.  The shop owners that were so passionate about their hordes of fine china, glassware, silverware, linens, furniture and garden ornaments, have packed up and moved out.

Tureens from my antique ironstone collection.
The economy, shrinking 401ks, reality television, changes in the lifestyle magazine world, and the ever-growing popularity of those mega stores selling ultra-cheap, imported wares, have all had a hand in what the antiques world faces today.

With more and more vendors finding it easier and better for their bottom line to 'set up shop' online, brick and mortar antique/vintage stores are slowly becoming things of the past.  I do shop online via eBay, Etsy and Rubylane for some of the things that I like, but there is something about being able to see, feel, judge and make a purchasing decision in person, on the spur of the moment.  There is always peace of mind from buying something vintage or antique in person, because one doesn't have to worry about potential shipping mishaps, which do happen (it's maddening!) from time to time.

I understand wanting to own new pieces of furniture that don't require delicate treatment, or having a brand new set of inexpensive dinnerware, glassware and silverware that can get put in the dishwasher. It's absolutely convenient.  However, I find that there is an ineffable beauty in owning antiques and using vintage items throughout one's home, which can't be mimicked with something new. 

Even though I have contemporary housewares that get used often, there is nothing like using something antique or vintage on a dining table or having beautiful, old objects in various rooms throughout the house.  I get more pleasure out of setting a beautiful table with vintage or antique items that have a history, than I would if I were to use items from the "world markets".  I know I'm not alone when I say that I collect antique and vintage items because it makes me happy.  It's what I've grown to like and admire.  

The value that we attach to our vintage pieces and antique treasures, whether they're picked up at a shop or passed down to us through the generations, is quite subjective.  An old object may or may not have much market value, but the sentimental importance that we affix to said object, can be priceless.   

If I happen to be visiting a town or city outside of my area, I make it a habit of mapping out where the antique shops, consignment shops and Goodwill stores are located.  I also like to know if there are any scheduled flea markets and antique fairs in the area, because those can attract a large amount of vendors.  In fact, I'll be going to some in the next couple of weeks!

When shopping for or selling antiques and vintage items, it's imperative to know and understand the differences between the two.  Inside the trade, experts state that any object which is over 100 years old is considered an "antique".  The term "vintage" refers to items that are between 50-100 years old.  It's not uncommon, though, to see these terms used loosely by vendors, especially if they're unaware of what they have.  It is your job, as a collector, to know what's what.  

Have you ever attended the world's largest yard sale that is over 600 miles long?  It will be taking place in less than a month, and I know of a couple of people who may travel down this route for their vintage shopping.  From the photos I've seen in the past, it is quite the adventure picking through what is out there.  Click here for more information. 

Are you still antiquing these days?  Do you make an effort to visit flea markets and antique shows like I do?  What about tag sales, estate sales and yard sales? Shopping for old items is something that I will never tire of.  I hope that many of you continue to admire and collect the vintage and the antique for years to come.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Happy Independence Day!

I want to wish every American a very happy and safe Independence Day! The Fourth of July is a day to cheer our country's independence and it's a day to be a proud citizen.  Old Glory will be displayed throughout the country in various forms, so let us remember what the red, white and blue signify.   May every one of you proudly display our nation's flag.    

From sea to shining sea, Happy Fourth of July!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Larchago Rosé, Rioja 2015

Perfect for lunch or dinner, Larchago's 2015 Ros√© from Spain's Rioja region is such an easy summer sip.  I love Spanish wines made from tempranillo grapes, so it's no surprise that I find this 100% tempranillo ros√© to be worthy of keeping in stock for summer entertaining.

Its rich salmon color hints at the notes of fresh raspberries and strawberries. Furthermore, its low acidity makes it suitable for hors d'oeuvres, such as canap√©s, antipasti and cheeses. 

Enjoy a glass or two of this flavorful wine at your Fourth of July gathering or simply because you feel like having some ros√© this summer.  You might as well pick up a second bottle to keep on hand because it is a good bargain, and a lovely vintage.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Star Spangled Banner Cookies

It's one of my favorite times of the year.  Whenever I look at the calendar and realize that the Fourth of July is approaching, I long to make sugar cookies in the colors of our nation's flag.  I've made several different designs of iced cookies in the past showcasing our red, white and blue, but nothing beats making flag cookies.

Having a variety of star spangled banner cookies for your Independence Day celebration, is a great way to usher in the summer holiday.  I love the way they look on white cake stands, such as these from my milk glass collection.

While going through my cookie cutter sets, I immediately reached for some from Martha by Mail that I had never used before.  The large Flag & Shield cookie cutters are great for making generously-sized cookies, but you have to be careful with the flag's pole.  It has a tendency to break off when releasing the cookies onto lined baking sheets (if it does, simply wedge it back into place before baking).  The other cookie cutters that I used were a star, a rectangle and a sunflower shape.

My sugar cookie recipe is always reliable, tasty and easy to work with, and so is the royal icing.  Mixing the right shade of navy blue and red royal icing is key.  I like to add a little bit of black to these in order to darken them slightly.  You must be extra careful, though, to add black food coloring in small amounts.  Usually one drop is enough to darken a two cup portion of red or blue royal icing.

For the star cookies, I traced two smaller stars within the cookie, using food coloring markers, and filled them in with royal icing as shown.  It's up to you how you arrange the red, white and blue colors, but I do advise you to fill in the middle star first, then work outward.  

Once the areas are filled in with royal icing, it's up to you what you want to do with them.  I placed silver drage√©s along the white areas of my stars while the icing was still wet.

As you can see, the drage√©s are optional, but a nice touch.  Outlining each star with a bead of royal icing is not essential, however it does give the cookies a nice edge to them.  The sunflower cookies remind me of bursts of fireworks.  These are made by flooding the bases with white royal icing.  Red and blue dots are placed throughout the cookie while the base is wet.  This is then left to dry completely before outlining the entire cookie in a contrasting color.  Don't they look nice on this Fenton glass Spanish lace cake stand?  

Large rectangles were cut out with Ateco cutters for these fun cookies.  Using a blue icing for the canton, outline and flood a rectangle on the upper-lefthand corner.  Using the white and red royal icings, pipe stripes down the flag.  Don't worry about trying to fit thirteen stripes on these cookies.  They're cookie representations after all.  Let the icings dry completely before continuing.

Note:  if you want to carefully place silver drage√©s on the blue field, you can do so while the icing is wet.  Moreover, white dots can be dropped into the icing while it's wet, should you wish to do so.

I piped white dots for stars on top of dried icing for these cookies.  I outlined the canton and the stripes with beads of icing using a #2 plain round piping tip to give the cookies a polished look.  The cookies sit proudly on my large Pitman Dreitzer Colony cake stand.  Absolutely beautiful!

For the large flag cookies, I piped the blue canton and the stars and stripes in the same manner as the rectangular flags.  Because the Martha by Mail flag cookie cutter has that undulating shape, it makes sense to create waves in the stripes.  This closeup of the cookie shows you how I applied the beaded borders of icing along each stripe of the dried base.  Not necessary by any means, but I think they're quite spiffy this way.

The flag poles were simply iced with a white icing and were dredged in clear sanding sugar.  Our nation's flag has never looked sweeter in my opinion. Next to that firework burst, I think that they're going to be popular with the lucky friends of mine who are getting some this year.  

My interpretation of an American patriotic shield is very easy to do.  Trace a small star shape in the middle of the shield, toward the top, using a food coloring marker.  Outline and flood the star in white royal icing.  Immediately outline and flood the top third of the cookie in navy blue royal icing; while the icing is still wet, carefully place silver drage√©s as shown.  Pipe alternating rows of red and white royal icing as shown  Let the entire cookie dry completely before adding beads of royal icing along the canton, the center star, and stripes, as shown.


Star spangled banner cookies are great to commemorate our nation's independence. 

Now that I've shown you how easy it is to make some festive and patriotic star spangled banner cookies, gather a few cookie cutters and make a couple of these for your Fourth of July celebration.  Bake extras to hand out to family members, close friends and to anyone who needs a bit of sweetness in their life.  It's a guarantee that they will be a hit with everyone.

Happy Fourth of July!