Sunday, July 14, 2019

Leukemia Ribbon Cookies

For those of you who have been following the blog for some time, you know how much I cherish my only niece.  In honor of a special life celebration that we are throwing her this month to celebrate her childhood cancer remission, I chose to make dozens upon dozens of leukemia ribbon sugar cookies for the 100 plus guests that we're expecting.  

I don't think I've ever made any cancer ribbon cookies for anyone, so who better than for my special niece?  Ribbon cookie cutters can be found in several sizes and styles, so it's up to you how large or how small you want your ribbon cookies to be, and if you want them to have the centers cut out or left intact.  I chose the former.

My west coast affiliate cookie crafter, who happens to be my cousin, is also helping out with the sugar cookie favors.  Johanna is becoming extremely adept at making phenomenal sugar cookies, so I am beyond thrilled that she is assisting the family.

Armed with baked and cooled sugar cookies, the royal icing for these cookies should be tinted a deep orange (I use Americolor or Wilton).  The outlines of the ribbons should be piped with a bead of icing using a #3 piping tip as shown, and each should then be immediately flooded with the same royal icing.

I let the flooded cookies sit for a couple of minutes to have the icing set somewhat.  I don't like to flock royal icing when it's completely wet, because fine sanding sugar tends to sink into the cookie.  I like the surface of the icing to be slightly wet and tacky when I dredge with clear, fine sanding sugar. Apply it generously and let the cookies dry completely.  Any excess sugar can be gently brushed off before packaging. 

If you're presenting guests with cookies at a dessert buffet, you can then stack the cookies on cake stands as shown, or you can individually wrap each one in cellophane bags tied with orange ribbons.

These cookies are very special to me because they represent the little warrior who was able to beat cancer at such a young age.  She is my hero through and through.

I must not make this blog post too long because I have a speech to write for my niece's celebration.  How long of a speech should I make, and how much such I say?  This is my first time making a speech in front of such a large crowd so I am a little nervous, but I already have an idea of what I want to say.  

For every child, every adult who has conquered leukemia, who is battling leukemia or who has lost the fight, this blog post is dedicated to you.  

You are very brave.

You are not alone.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

A Collection of Antique and Vintage Tea Towels

Vintage kitchen towels or tea towels have such special appeal to those of us who collect a variety of household textiles.  The term "tea towel" is what we often associate with the variety of toweling that was spun from linen and used in kitchens throughout the decades for drying delicate items such as glass and china.

Tea towels or kitchen towels made from either 100% linen or a cotton-linen blend are easily recognizable by touch and by their look.  These are not the type of super-absorbent cotton towels (think bar mops and other terry-cloth towels) used in today's kitchens to wipe up spills and clean the counters.

If you're lucky enough to find new-old stock with the sizing still intact, you will see how wonderfully attractive they were presented to the consumer with their bright colors, crisp texture and natural weaving.  Even better is when you find towels with their original tags.

Pricing varies from under $10 to over $30 for one towel, depending on the rarity, color combination or country of origin.  Do your research before purchasing and then go from there.  If you find sets of 2 or more, don't hesitate to get those because it's always nice to have multiples.  Think outside the box and use your vintage towels for picnics or informal dining at home.  Lapkins are always a good thing in summer.    

The process of taking flax and cotton fibers, and turning them into yarn is one that has been practiced for millennia.  The fibers of the flax plant (Linum usitatissimum) can be found in the stalks, and if it is hand harvested as opposed to machine harvested, it provides the softest linen possible.  Cotton comes from the plant Gossypium.  Its soft fibers are encased in a boll. Harvested linen and cotton fibers must first go through a cleaning process to get rid of impurities.  Once this is done, the fibers then get carded and spun into threads.  The threads themselves get woven by mechanical or hand-operated looms, which turn them into fabric.  If the threads have been dyed, the weaving process is where patterns get made.  These patterns can be as simple as a stripe or as intricate as one's imagination.  

American textile mills that were producing a multitude of household linens during the early to mid twentieth century include: Startex Mill (defunct) of South Carolina, Martex, Cannon (defunct) of North Carolina, and J.P. Stevens & Co. of South Carolina.  Those tend to be my favorite American made linens to collect for my kitchen, but not all of my pieces are American.  Great examples in my collection come from France (among my favorite ones), where they are known as 'torchons'.  It's a bit difficult to find French torchons that don't include some red in them, but green single, double or multiple-striped examples are out there.  They may be a bit pricier than red torchons, but they're worth it to me

Poland, Hungary, the Soviet Union, Ireland and the United Kingdom are other countries that have beautiful examples of vintage tea towels.  For me it is not so much the country of origin that's important, as it is the quality of the color, the sturdiness of the fabric and the uniqueness of the design.   

Whether one's tastes are based on color or design, finding vintage tea towels through various sources can be a lot of fun.  Online stores, auction sites, consignment shops, antique shops and flea markets, are just some of the places where I've found the majority of my old textile treasures.

I've also been fortunate enough to find sellers who have had bolts of linen from the old Startex or Martex mills that were never turned into anything. This is when I feel like I've hit the motherlode, because it is then that I get to create a multitude of kitchen towels or lapkins.  It isn't often to find a set of 4 or more of the same design.  In fact, it is a rarity to come across that.  So if you are ever lucky to find yardage of old fabric, and it is in good condition, buy it and create your own tea towels.

I honestly don't remember why I started collecting tea towels, but it probably had something to do with the color green.  There must have been a kitchen towel that caught my attention because of its simplicity, and I had to have it.  Only then did I realize the possibility of adding more and officially starting a new collection of kitchenalia for my home.  My one caveat to myself: they had to be green.

The tea towels in my kitchen seem to have morphed into a burgeoning collection that I am very fond of.

A large part of the appeal of vintage tea towels, at least for me, is that they look inherently good paired with other kitchenalia from yesteryear.  Think of how great they look with Fiestaware, Fire King jadeite, Bauerware, Buffalo China, French cafe au lait bowls, yellowware, old enamelware and graniteware, and with mid century bakelite.

Some Fire King restaurant ware next to a stack of cream green enamelware from the 1930s and 1940s, look so good next to those tea towels that I had made from some yardage.

The soft hues of the green stripes on the tea towels are picked up by the wooden handles of the milk glass rolling pin and my collection of Fire King.

You can see how well tea towels look next to old enamelware.  One can take a stack of these linens on camping trips, out to a picnic or for casual dining on the back porch and not have to worry about wasting paper towels.  

Bakelite and vintage kitchen towels?  Natural beauties.  It doesn't matter the color or style, they were meant for one another.

After a weekend of antiquing with friends a few weeks ago, I knew that the tea towels I picked up at a booth would be excellent paired with the yellowware molds and bowls.

I don't know about you, but I always reach for a kitchen towel to put underneath a piece of heavy earthenware or glassware when I set it on top of a hard surface, such as my soapstone.  The last thing I want is to have any mishaps with my treasured pieces.

Storing my linens became somewhat of a challenge when I found myself with a stack of them that couldn't fit in my kitchen drawers.  I turned to a set of collectible bread boxes that I've gathered from the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States.  These indispensable storage boxes were repurposed!

This American bread box was from a tag sale.  Its wonderful green was what attracted me to it in the first place, and upon opening it, I noticed a removable shelf.  To my mind it was perfect.

For the purpose of storing my tea towels, I lined each shelf with a piece of tissue paper.

I like to use this particular box to hold my sets of 4 or more.  Two of these sets were custom made for me by a local seamstress (a few of my friends were gifted pieces from these sets), and others were pure luck.

If you must know, I always launder the antique and vintage kitchen towels that come into my home, and I iron each one until they are crisp and beautiful.  Only then do they get folded and stacked for storage.

The large Bread and Biscuit storage boxes were made exclusively for Martha by Mail by Brettel and Shaw in the United Kingdom.  Unfortunately that manufacturer is no longer in business.

This particular storage box was lined with a set of twelve MSE kitchen towels (not really vintage), and a Martha by Mail pastry cloth.

On top of them, I added the tea towel patterns of which I have pairs.

Done!  This box is ready to be closed.

My German bread box from the 1940s is great for the pieces of fine-lined checkered patterns.  These were ironed and folded so that they fit the length of the box.

I have pairs of some pieces, but most are single examples.

Don't you just love the patterns?  One can never tire of collecting this type of tea towel, especially if it's green.

OK, so this piece doesn't fit the pattern, but I love the embroidered pitcher and glasses on this tea towel.  I wonder who made it.  Was it a farmer's wife in the midwest who spent an afternoon embroidering or was it a beginner testing their skills?  I'll never know.

The other storage box was stacked with pieces of which I have only a single example.  I think of these as true treasures because some of them have never, ever been used.  Labels, tags and such, have been left intact.  There are some in here that I wish I had multiples of, but alas, it will never be.

Antique and vintage tea towels tell a story.  They tell a story about a bygone era and the people that inhabited those certain parts of the world where such wonderful textiles were being made.  Simplicity, efficiency and frugality were key to most housewives during the early part of the twentieth century, right up until the end of World War II.  Kitchen items had to be well made, affordable and long lasting.  That many tea towels can be found from this era in history is a testament to their heavy duty properties.

I hope this post has piqued your interest in vintage and antique tea towels. Whether you have an existing collection of kitchen towels or are thinking of starting one, think about what makes you happy.  What colors do you like most and what looks good with the items in your kitchen?  Do you like embroidered toweling, striped or plain checkered patterns?  Maybe you like certain color combinations or tea towels from a specific country or manufacturer.  Whatever the case may be, do searches online and visit local consignment shops, antique malls, flea markets and general stores that sell vintage items.

If you're like me, you will never tire of collecting the antique and vintage.  Tea towels from the past are a very good thing in my opinion.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Whoever came up with the combination of chocolate and peanut butter needs to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.  This is one of those classic flavor combinations that is truly all-American and very popular with the generations. In fact, I think that it is one of my favorites.  It's hard to beat a peanut butter cup during Easter and Halloween.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

For those of us who can't get enough of that favored duo, this recipe is for you. The cookie is tender, light, sweet, full of that peanut butter flavor we all love in a cookie, plus it has the added bonus of chocolate chips.  What could be better?

Take a moment to click on the printable recipe below.  Go over the ingredients and locate them in your pantry, and start baking.  This is the kind of recipe that is easily done on a lazy weekend morning or afternoon.  If your kids can partake of peanuts, make sure that you keep plenty of these in the cookie jar.  Everyone is going to want them.

Mosser Cake Stand in 'Georgia Blue'.

When the cookies come out of the oven they are puffy and just the right size. Upon cooling, though, the cookies do settle and get those wonderful cracks and crevices.  Don't be tempted to move them until they have firmed up after cooling on racks.

A peanut butter chocolate chip cookie on Fire King restaurant ware.

Back when I used to have more time on my hands for blogging, I used to write down recipes that I thought would be good to share here.  I'm glad I never threw away this particular recipe because it is a keeper.  

If you have small jadeite plates, make sure that you use them to eat one or two of these cookies.  I don't know what it is but everything tastes better on old Fire King jadeite from the 40s and 50s.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies on a Mosser Glass Cake Stand

This cookie is meant to be eaten and enjoyed whenever you have the craving for peanut butter and chocolate.  If you want, you can certainly use chunky peanut butter in place of the smooth variety.  For the chocolate chips, I go between Ghirardelli and NestlĂ© semisweet chocolate chips, but use whichever your family prefers.

Get baking!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

A Weekend at Luna Farm

A few days ago a group of us experienced a magical weekend at a sprawling farm in Pennsylvania.  Unbeknownst to us at the time of booking, we ended up staying at chef Jose Garces' magnificent Bucks County estate.  The 40 acre compound included an antique Pennsylvania bank barn, the main house which was built in the middle part of the 1800s, a large greenhouse, some outbuildings, a pool, and acre after acre of lush meadows.  Really and truly, the estate was magnificent to say the least.

I'm extremely fortunate to have gathered with several generous and loving individuals who live by the same principles that I do, who share common interests and have the same tastes that I do, and who love of all things Martha. It was a weekend filled with cooking, baking, wine tasting, gift giving, trampoline jumping and relaxing poolside on this verdant 40 acre property called, Luna Farm.  We also spent a day antiquing and shopping for some of our favorite collectibles near and around the New Hope, Lambertville area. On this particular excursion we ran into someone we weren't expecting to, which made everything that much more exceptional.   

Friends came from around the country, including San Francisco, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, West Virginia, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia.  From the moment we walked into the main house, we knew we were in the presence of kindred spirits. Several of us had never actually met face to face, which made it all the more exciting, and in the end we found that the group clicked instantly.

We wasted no time in prepping dinner the moment us early birds arrived at the farm.  Two large chickens were placed on beds of vidalia onions, which were then given a slathering of dijon and lots of freshly ground pepper. Several sprigs of fresh herbs from the garden were tucked underneath the skins of the breasts and into the cavities of the roasters.  Everything was then given a pouring of extra virgin olive oil and the juice of a fresh lemon.  My friend Trellis prepared red bliss potatoes for roasting, adding more herbs and a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil.  All were roasted in very hot, 425F ovens.  The 5lb. birds took about 1-1/2 hours to roast, while the potatoes took about 45 minutes.

What is nice about every single one of us is that we are pros in the kitchen.  We all know how to cook and bake well, just like Martha has taught us to through her television shows, her magazines and her books.  

Having a set of commercial grade Blue Star appliances also helped.  If you look at the Blue Star website (click here), you will see that chef Jose Garces took the time and care to design his Luna Farm kitchen just as expertly as he designs his restaurant spaces.  Professional ovens, multiple burners and large refrigerators are key.  I still find it amazing that we were here.

The giant Kalvinator refrigerator was stocked with cheeses from Wisconsin, butters from the Amish in Pennsylvania, wines from around the world and vegetables from local farms.  Everything was carefully planned.

Our friend Nick who flew in from San Francisco on the red eye was very adept at handling sheet pans and frying pans filled with tender asparagus.  In they went into one of the four Blue Star convection ovens set at 400F for about 15-20 minutes.

Jeffrey opened several bottles of Vouvray, rosĂ© and Dr. Loosen German Reisling.  The latter was such a fine wine to have with the roast chicken.

Nick came up with the ingenious idea of tying a different sprig of fresh herbs around the stems of our wine glasses in order to keep track of each person's pouring.  As Martha would say, it's a good thing. 

As we were getting dinner ready, Dennis surprised each one of us with a custom made apron.  Our meadow-green aprons were embellished with an embroidered design of Martha Stewart's iconic Martha by Mail mail truck.  At the bottom of the aprons, Dennis had the Martha Stewart Everyday mixing bowl logo embroidered in white thread, to contrast with the green apron.  We all just about squealed when we saw what he had done for us.  

Do you see how richly detailed the apron is?  It's a one-of-a-kind (well 7 or 8 of a kind!) collectible.  I will forever treasure my apron and use it for cookie crafting projects.  Thank you, Dennis!!

While some of us were cooking dinner, our dear friend David from Washington decided to set up the farm table in the second dining room, with several American-made jadeite baskets filled with beautiful African violets. He surprised us all.

Dinner consisted of herbed roasted chicken with vidalia onions, roasted asparagus and herbed red bliss potatoes.  This is the typical dinner that I serve at home every single Friday to my husband, so it meant everything to have my friends partake of the same repast.

Jeffrey made Martha Stewart's Le Weekend Cake in Massachusetts the night before and brought it down for us to have for dessert that first night.  Dennis had some farm-fresh cream which he whipped & sweetened to perfection, and Trellis hulled and cut some fresh strawberries picked in West Virginia.  Utterly delicious.  It was the perfect ending to our meal.

The first morning was spent lounging around to a delicious brunch of farm fresh eggs (I brought those and set them in a large bowl, Martha style), local bread, homemade jams, Amish hand pies and some Martha Stewart Cafe coffee courtesy of Dennis.  Everything was delicious! 

If the eggs are fresh and they haven't been washed of their protective coating, they can be left out at room temperature just like Martha is known to do.

Trellis runs a successful bed and breakfast in West Virginia and he is used to cooking for large crowds.  He was a master at scrambling eggs for a group of hungry guests.

After brunch and a quick clean up, we then piled into one of the large SUVs and headed toward New Hope, PA for some antiquing.  What did we do?  We watched episodes of Martha Stewart Living as we drove into town.  So much fun!

If you've never visited the New Hope area in Bucks County, you really should spend a day or weekend there, because it is such a quaint, yet lively area.  One can go to art galleries, restaurants, wine tasting bars, bistros and antique shops there.  If you cross the bridge into Lambertville you can experience more of the same.

Here we are at one of booths filled with so many collectibles.

Underneath one of the display tables, Jeffrey and I came across a stack of large ironstone bowls.  We examined each one and picked our favorites.

Armed with a stack of yellow ware bowls, some linens and pieces of jadeite, I negotiated a small deal.  Remember to ask vendors if they offer discounts when paying with cash or check.

It just so happens that on our afternoon of antiquing, Trellis spotted Fritz Karch (pronounced Karsh) while walking through a tag sale.  Our radars went off and we immediately zeroed in on him!  Fritz Karch is the former Editorial Director of Collecting for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and it is because of Fritz that we had a beautifully curated selection of merchandise for Martha by Mail while it was in business; he essentially gave it the look, style and uniqueness that we've all come to love.  It was Fritz who shaped the stories on collecting at Martha Stewart Living, which in turn sparked our interests in so many collectibles.

Fritz was so humble, generous and extremely kind to have spent time telling us stories of working with Martha for so many years (he says she'll live to be 120!).  He listened and answered so many questions we had for him.  This man is truly a one-of-a-kind treasure.  We are indebted to him for shaping our tastes and styles through his years at MSLO.

Our group standing with Fritz.  I will forever remember this moment spent with some of the best men that I know.  Truly amazing.

The morning we were due to leave, we were treated to the most amazing cinnamon rolls baked from scratch by our dear Dennis.  These oversized rolls were buttery, rich and perfectly sweet.  With hot cups of coffee, we were well fed before our journeys home.  

After I got home and began to unpack, I have to be honest with you and say that I got depressed at having to say goodbye to such wonderful friends. Nobody wanted to leave the farm and each other's company. We all made memories that will last us a lifetime.

Here is a small sampling of what I brought home with me:  vintage tea towels, chicken figurines given to me by Trellis, and some eggs laid by Dennis' hens.

Just look at the colors of those eggs.  The Marans are breathtaking.  Again, thank you Dennis.  You are pure gold!

Nick's eagle eye spotted a stack of Fire King jadeite bread and butter plates. These restaurant ware plates have eluded me, but I now have a full set on which to plate appetizers or small breakfast items.

Jeffrey, Trellis, Dennis, David and Nick: words cannot express the love that I have for each one of you.  While some may have had a little trepidation at having to spend a weekend with those of us who had never met, I knew deep down inside that we were all going to hit it off.  It is why I chose you for this experience.  It is no surprise that our group's chemistry was nothing short of perfect.  My Martha boys.  I cherish you.  I love you.  I hold you close to my heart.