Archive for March, 2011

March 30, 2011

mrs. beeton’s words of wisdom

on ladies’ attire…

on the important subject of dress and fashion we cannot do better than to quote an opinion from the eighth volume of the “englishwoman’s domestic magazine” the writer there says ” let people write, talk, lecture, satirize, as they may, it cannot be denied that, whatever is the prevailing mode in attire, let it intrinsically be ever so absurd, it will never look as ridiculous as another, or as any other, which however convenient, comfortable, or even becoming, is totally opposite in style to that generally worn”.

did you get all that?

mrs. isabella mary beeton (1836-1865) was one of the first domestic divas; the victorian answer to martha stewart.  she was the author of mrs. beeton’s book of household management published in 1861.  the volume’s 1,112 pages  contain over 900 recipes and numerous hints and bits of advice on running the proper victorian household.  a wife, and mother of four children, she died at the age of 28 following the birth of her fourth child.  to learn more,  i highly recommend the secret life of mrs. beeton.   a tad bit dark, i suggest off-setting it with a cup of tea and a package of milano cookies.

March 26, 2011

sunny pictures for a cloudy day…

fairy garden tulips

daffodils in bloom under the willow

helleborus blooming in the shade


March 25, 2011

prelude to the long awaited kitchen tour part 2

think back to a time when apron clad women would hang out the laundry while chatting with a neighbor on the other side of a chain link fence.  they chat about the weather while their children play together in the yard or walk to the nearby drugstore for a little something from the soda fountain.  they might stop home on an errand to the bakery across the street  for a loaf of bread for dinner before father comes home,  hanging his fedora on the hat stand by the door.  evenings are spent gathered around the radio listening to little orphan annie before tucking the children safely in to bed for the night.  pearl harbor is still a few years off in the distance, the atomic age is yet unheard of.  life is simple and uncomplicated.

it was during this era that an architect by the name of edgar strong built a lovely brick home in the colonial revival style.  he built two actually, side by side, selling one and living in the other.   i was now sitting in the driveway of the one that he had sold.  if i continued to look ahead at the detached garage, and the chain link fence with the sweet autumn clematis spilling over the side, i remained in the vintage era of the mid-30’s.

however, if i looked into the rear-view mirror of my realtor’s truck i saw a garrish mark left by modern progress of the 1950’s:

a one way street that became the access road to highway I-244. in seeing the busy street with a steep embankment on the other side of it, and a highway at the bottom of that,  i really didn’t want to get out of the car to look at this house.  while the house itself was lovely, i wasn’t crazy about the location.  we were here though, and this was the last one on the list, i figured i might as well go in and have a look.

as soon as we went through that side door into the kitchen i saw the wood floors, the original paned windows,  a beautiful white mantel fireplace, the hexagonal subway tile in the bathroom, the for-real dormer windows, the solid wood doors with the glass knobs.  standing in the backyard, i noticed the spirea bush in bloom, the shrub roses beginning to bud, and the old fashioned daylilies nodding in the side yard.  whoever had lived here, years ago, had planted these things with a great deal of care.  the noise of the highway was no longer noticeable and the location no longer seemed to pose a problem. within twenty minutes  i was head over heels in love with this little house.  it provided everything that we needed and wanted: formal dining room, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, wood floors and all.  this was it.

back inside, i discussed final details with our realtor while leaning against the kitchen counter.    the little vintage kitchen was perfect.  well, almost perfect.  just prior to being sold, the house had been a rental property and the kitchen had been the victim of a tacky update.  while the architecture of the vintage era was still intact, the counters, floor, and backsplash had been hastily covered in just enough granite and tumbled tile to be considered modern, but not enough to be considered tasteful.  something would have to be done.  this was not too big of a problem though, as we really wanted something we could restore. unlike our original pick in AR, this house had the big $$ projects already out of the way.  all that needed to be done was some minor (haha) cosmetic work to get it back to the way it had been when those roses were planted out back.

by that afternoon we had a contract on the place.  since it was already empty, we were able to keep our original closing date and move in according to our original schedule.  we enjoyed our first dinner under our new roof camped out in the empty living room with a celebratory bottle of wine and a take-out pizza.  when we began moving our antique and vintage furniture in over the weekend we were both pleasantly astonished at how “at home” everything seemed to look.  in our other newer home we were constantly at a loss as to where and how to place our growing collection of antiques.  nothing seemed to look quite right.  everything seemed out of place.   it was years before we felt like we were truly home.  here, in just a matter of  hours we had settled in and felt we had been living there for years. this spring will mark three years that we have been here and we both agree they have been some of the happiest in our marriage.

from time to time people will comment about the location.  i recall describing to someone where we lived and was met with “ew. over there by the highway?” the response really put a bee in my bonnet.   just like virgina lee burton’s little house, our house has a story, and her “location” is just a part of that story.  there was once a time when she was settled in a quiet spot,  in a simpler era, before the city began to grow in and crowd around her.

our little house too, is sound, and strong, and very well built.   we are fiercely proud of her and hope she doesn’t hear any of those comments made about her location.  she is actually quite sensitive.  personally the location has proved to be perfect for us.  we treasure the few remnants of what used to be:

the historical route 66,

and ann’s bakery (building with the awnings) in it’s original location, dating two years before our little house, and with it’s vintage neon sign.

the street and the houses on it are still quite lovely:

as is our little house.  she and those around here  have seen a lot in their time. a world war, the dawn of the nuclear age,  the civil rights movement, the assassination of a president.  we often sit at the breakfast table and wonder what sort of conversations were had here in the years past.

from time to time we also hear rumors of the prestigious private university a few blocks south of us wanting to buy up all the property to the highway.  the first time i heard that i nearly cried.  what will happen to our little house?  then i realized that if the houses would have to go,  perhaps ours too will make a journey and move back to the country.  to a spot on top of a hill, with daisies, and cherry blossoms growing all around.

we’ll see what happens.  until then, we’re quite happy here and quite contented to stay.

March 24, 2011

prelude to the long awaited kitchen tour.

i have had the kitchen tour on my to-do list for a long time.  i am almost ready.  i am just gathering all the before and after photos,  cleaning up for a final photo shoot,  and setting the virtual pot to boil in order to fix you a virtual cup of tea while ya’ll come on through.

before i stage The Tour, i wanted to set the scene a bit by giving a little background on our home and how we came about living here.

as i have said before, marco and i started our marriage in a brand spanking-new house in a relatively new community. we really liked it.  it was a nice little house, and we did a lot of work on it to make it ours.  as time went on however, we realized that more and more of what we were doing was in an effort to make the home look like it had been their for ages instead of just a few years.

growing up, i had always fantasized about having a snug older home in an older part of town.  a home with wood floors that creaked, paned windows, and plaster walls.  from time to time, marco and i would talk about this fantasy and wonder “what if?”

one year we were vacationing in eureka springs, arkansas and happened upon an older home for sale.  on a whim, we asked to see it before we left town.  it was a gem.  three stories, a bay window, and sliding pocket doors in the parlor.  it had no garage, it had virtually no yard. the kitchen was still in its original location: the basement.   i suspect it was haunted.

we talked about it the long way home (we got lost and a four hour drive took us six).  a week later we put our new house on the market, and made an offer on the old one.  we sold within 90 days and i found myself on my way back for a final inspection of this home we thought was soon to be ours.

the inspection did not go well.  when i got there, i saw a look on the realtor’s face that gave me great cause for concern.  she was saying something about the bank and i needed to visit with them before i left.  she gave a nervous laugh though saying everything would be fine and lets go inside for a final look around.  well, the ceiling upstairs in what was to be our glorious study overlooking a grove of trees had fallen through.  as in, there was a hole.  in the ceiling.  then we learned that the home would need to be completely rewired as it still maintained the old knob and tube wiring.   i was still hopeful, tricky wiring, hole in the ceiling, and all.  then i went to the bank before heading home.   i learned that because of the hole in the ceiling the bank would not finance the loan.  well….that……was a problem.

after discussing it over, and reviewing all of our options marco and i decided to go with what had been our plan b.  we decided to move to my hometown just twenty miles south, and see if we couldn’t locate an older home in an older neighborhood.  since we already had a contract on our home and needed to be out within several weeks, we hoped (haha) to be able to keep the same closing date so we wouldn’t have to stay in a hotel or apartment.

we had an excellent realtor and within a week we were looking at some really great older homes.  we kept running into a few issues though.  one was that older homes were built when life was simpler.  because life was simpler people had fewer things.  because people had fewer things, they didn’t need as much space.  older homes were smaller.  many had one bathroom.  many had originally had just two bedrooms.  but now, many of these had three, because the modern day homeowner would simply wall in the back porch and tadaaaa! there was a third bedroom.  right off the kitchen.  leading out to the back yard.   not cool.

while we really didn’t need an excessive amount of space, and really did want to reduce the size of the lot we were on; we still wanted room for our family to grow, just in case.  also, unlike some couples we really live in our home.  marco offices out of the home, and i am primarily a homemaker.   we spend more time at home than away from it.  we really needed the 3 bed 2 bath scenario.  and i really wanted a formal dining room to house the lovely round dining table i had brought with me alllllll the way from honduras.

we knew the right place was out there, it was just taking us a while to find it.  there were a few we thought would work, but just didn’t have that “this is the place!!” feeling.

i don’t really remember how many days we went house hunting but on one particularly discouraging day, i came home to find an email from our realtor with photos attached of a darling brick house with shutters.  it immediately brought to mind the house in the book by virginia lee burton.

i agreed to take a look on the following day.  there were a few others on the list for that morning as well and we quickly checked them off.  nope. nope. nope. mmmmayyybe. nope. nope. nope.  we finally pulled into the drive of the little house; the last one on the list.  i took one look around me, saw the “awkward” location, and didn’t want to get out of the car.

March 23, 2011

save the date souvenir. it’s on my fridge.  so when people come over, they’ll think we’re actually going.

March 23, 2011

mrs. beeton’s words of wisdom

on friends and acquaintances…

the choice of acquaintances is very important to the happiness of a mistress and her family. a gossiping acquaintance, who indulges in the scandal and ridicule of her neighbours, should be avoided as a pestilence. if the duties of a family do not sufficiently occupy the time of a mistress, society should be formed of such a kind as will tend to the mutual interchange of general and interesting information.

mrs. isabella mary beeton (1836-1865) was one of the first domestic divas; the victorian answer to martha stewart.  she was the author of mrs. beeton’s book of household management published in 1861.  the volume’s 1,112 pages  contain over 900 recipes and numerous hints and bits of advice on running the proper victorian household.  a wife, and mother of four children, she died at the age of 28 following the birth of her fourth child.  to learn more,  i highly recommend the secret life of mrs. beeton.   a tad bit dark, i suggest off-setting it with a cup of tea and a package of milano cookies.

March 22, 2011

spring garden clean-up

i love the spring.  i love watching the roses wake up, waiting for the daffodils to bloom, and hounding the vegetable and flower beds for the seeds to sprout and the perennials to start coming back.  marco and i have a sunday evening ritual (weather permitting) of sitting on our back porch with a glass of wine, just enjoying the yard and making plans for the potager and perennial beds.  last night was our first sunday- night-on-the-porch for this year.  these past two or three weeks the weather has been nice enough to get some much needed clean-up done in the yard.  so far we have:

*applied the crab-grass preventor to the front and back.

*raked the neighbor’s leaves out of all of my flower beds (have to confess i did not have happy thoughts towards my neighbor while i did this).

*pruned my apothecary’s rose.

*fertilized my irises.  i’m hoping at least one of the traditional irises that i planted over a year ago will bloom this year.

*moved my false indigo from the shade in the back, to the sunny bed facing west.  i had no idea how much adding a fence would change my landscape.

*weeded out endless patches of henbit.

*enjoyed my daffodils.  mine always seem to be a bit late and i feel “left out” when i see the rest of the neighborhood’s in bloom.  they finally took off last week and i’m thrilled that my idea of planting a group under the dwarf willow worked.  they look so pretty with the light green sprouting leaves of the willow.

*planned my container garden for the back porch.  i had loads of terra-cotta pots last year hosting just this, that, and the other thing.  it was pretty, but not very cohesive.  this year i spent a lot of time choosing plants and trying to follow a color scheme.  i am stoked and hope it works out.

*gone perennial shopping. at this point it is just window shopping.  as i said before, i didn’t realize how much the fence we added last year would change the landscape.  the bed i thought would be in full sun, is now in full shade.  i’m having to rethink it a bit and need some new plants.  so far we’re considering astilbe, and a lovely fern, among other things.

i have yet to:

*clean out, and clean up one of the long beds in the potager.  then i need to plant some asparagus although it will be three years before we harvest any.

*move my dianthus.  i planted these last year: the annual variety.  i didn’t expect to see them again this year, and i am still not sure how i feel about them.  however, they survived the blizzard without so much as losing their leaves.  i feel like they deserve a chance.  they surround the apothecary’s rose and just need a bit of rearranging.

*nurse my tomato seedlings along so they can be planted come tax day.  so far they look great.   we’re hoping for a great harvest of cherokee purples this year.

what is everyone else doing by way of spring gardening?

March 21, 2011

vintage postcard cookies

i first saw these in a catalog that came through the mail last summer when our kitchen was under construction.  being the huge fan of anything vintage i was instantly wowed by them.  these edible postcard transfers are available through a company called fancy flours.  the images are printed onto an edible paper (think, very very thin communion wafer) then fixed to a cookie.  the result is an amazing, absolutely adorable edible vintage postcard.

the trouble for me was finding a sugar cookie recipe.  i am usually not a huge fan of decorated sugar cookies.  in my opinion, they are pretty to look at but usually lacking in flavor, or overly sweet.   i think i have settled though, on the sugar cookie recipe from the williams-sonoma cookie cookbook.  the recipe is simple: butter, sugar, flour, and egg yolks; but a generous addition of vanilla gives a great flavor.

rolling them out can prove to be a bit tricky  however, as the dough softens pretty quickly.  it helps somewhat to put the cookie sheet, cut out cookies and all, into the fridge for a few minutes before putting them into the oven to bake.  they are not as apt to spread and lose shape.

fancy flours recommends a 3×5″ rectangular cookie cutter just for the postcard cookies.  it proved to be a bit large in transferring the cut cookie to the sheet, and it did spread some  in baking.  to keep a nice shape, i cut them out a second time after baking.  i did this immediately after they were removed from the oven, still soft, and still on the pan.

the directions for the edible paper recommended using either a buttercream or royal icing and i decided to go with the royal so they could be stacked when stored.  the icing needs to be completely dry, and completely smooth.  i learned this the hard way.

the transfers are cut out and affixed to the cookie with clear corn syrup.  i used a pastry brush and carefully brushed the back of each transfer, then gently stuck it to the iced cookie.  it was a bit tricky getting the corners to stick.

as with the sample in the catalog, i used the edible iridescent glitter to finish them off.  not perfect, but for the first try completely acceptable.  we enjoyed them as a finish to our belated saint paddy’s day dinner.

i plan to try these again, piping a border around the edge to compensate for any little corners that don’t stay put and to give it a more polished, less crafty look.   in addition to the saint patrick’s day transfers that i bought, i ordered a set  that look like vintage seed packets.  i will give those shot in a few weeks or so. we may have to have a happy spring party to warrant the excuse for more cookies.   😛




fancy flours

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March 18, 2011

mocha toffee chocolate cookies. a recipe review.

recently i made these to send to a very dear friend  who claims to be a fan of chocolate, coffee, and toffee.  in contemplating recipes,  i came across this one from betty crocker and was thrilled to find all three flavors combined together in one little package.  i have to admit i was a bit dubious about the toffee and the mocha, especially when i saw that it was a cake mix that bound it all together.  i’m not one for cake mix cookies.  i feel like they are cheating.  and then, i am a total snob when it comes to ingredients.  sodium stearoyl lactylate anyone? however, i was needing to get these in the mail, time was running short, so i decided to just give it a whirl.  i am so glad that i did.  these were wonderful!  they came together very quickly, had a yummy, gooey texture, a great flavor, and, as far as i know, traveled very well.  i was unable to find instant espresso powder so i just used instant coffee granules instead.  it is possible they lacked a little bit of kick for that reason, but the mocha flavor still came through just fine.  if i were to do these again, and i plan to, i would probably substitute my own chocolate cookie dough recipe for the cake mix just to be able to avoid all the artificial what-have-you and feel a little better about eating them.    they don’t last long and would be great with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  made from scratch, of course.

you can find the recipe here.

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March 17, 2011

happy clover day!

in honor of st. patrick’s day i thought i would take a break from making my vintage postcard cookies (more on that later) to share my thoughts and experiences about keeping clover in the lawn.  if your husband is a hank hill sortofaguy and prizes a lush green lawn, he may not appreciate my perspective.

we were in our showy, somewhat  upscale neighborhood when we first discovered the quaint charm of the white pom-pom flowers and the lovely green  leaves.  because we love the look of an unkept cottage garden, we encouraged the stuff to grow and decided against treating our lawn for weeds.  living in an area where green golf-course style lawns are the goal, we were not the popular couple at the block party.

now that we have moved to a more “green” (no pun intended) and earth friendly neighborhood, people don’t seem to mind as much as long as it is kept short and tidy.  i will say that i don’t really have as much clover going on in the front yard as my goal there is a more formal look, but we do encourage it in the back yard where we have our vegetable garden.

back in the day lawns were comprised of both grass and clover.  it hasn’t been until the last few decades that clover was demoted to “weed” status and a “weed free” lawn was desirable.   what homeowners may or may  not realize though is that the chemicals required to maintain that “weed free” green lawn  can be very harmful to the surrounding environment and those that share it such as bees and earthworms.  not to mention the amount of extra water needed to keep it green, so there are many benefits to consider in having clover amongst the grass in your lawn.

*clover provides nitrogen to the soil making for a healthier lawn and a healthier garden

*clover requires significantly less water to maintain

*clover will stay nice and green through the heat of the summer when the grass starts to go dormant

*clover attracts the bees

we  have been fortunate to have patches that just spring up naturally every year.  as i said before, we simply mow around them and enjoy the somewhat “wild” look.  if you don’t have clover in your lawn or want more of it, clover seed can be purchased and seeded into an already existing lawn.   gardener’s supply offers white clover seed by the 1/2# with growing instructions featured on their website.  i encourage you to take a look and consider integrating some of this lovely stuff into your landscape.

enjoy looking for four leaf clover in your lawn this summer!