Friday, November 28, 2014

We all need. . . . . . .

. . . . a short break at the coast, now and then.

Carolina Beach, North Carolina

I'm about to fall asleep to the sound of waves.
There was no shopping for bargains today, just enjoying the beach.
Nothing better.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thankful for so much . . . . . .

Today we are celebrating Thanksgiving as always, but this year I'm 
taking a break from cooking the huge meal and we will be eating out.
Tomorrow, still stuffed from the traditional holiday delicacies, we'll head 
to the North Carolina coast for the weekend. With pleasant weather 
expected, we'll dress warmly and walk the beach, stroll the old boardwalk,
eat fresh from the ocean seafood, and join in the annual start 
to the busy Christmas season - beach style. 

I love this delicate china, in a rich brown transferware pattern named 
Petunia, from Johnson Brothers. Beside petunias there are fuchsia, dianthus, 
and sprigs of other dainty British garden flowers.
From what I've discerned online, Petunia was perhaps one of their first patterns 
and produced around 1885. At present, there seem to be very few pieces 
available to collectors here in the USA. The four Johnson brothers 
bought their grandfather's business, the famous Meakin china factory in 
Stoke-On-Trent, England, in 1882, and launched themselves into the dinnerware 
business, producing sturdy whiteware with glaze as fine as that on good porcelains. 
Following WWI, the company also began producing dinnerware that was a solid color 
throughout so that chips didn't show as badly. Business boomed to such an extent 
that by 1900, an additional five factories opened in England and brother Robert Johnson 
moved to the USA to handle the trans-Atlantic sales.
Johnson Brothers china company joined the Wedgwood Group in 1968 and, 
sadly, by 2003 all manufacturing operations were moved to China.

I own just two pieces of Petunia, one a dinner plate, the other a side plate.
In fact I've never really made an effort to collect brown transferware, my little stash
consists mostly of some antique blue, grey and black patterns. 
So, if you enjoy the lovely brown designs you must take a look HERE where
 blog friend Loi, at the beautiful blog Tone On Tone, is displaying his fabulous collection
of transferware - including an unusual shaped platter in the Petunia pattern.
 Loi is a Washington, DC antiques dealer, shop owner, designer, 
gardener, grower of topiaries, and photographer extraordinaire. 
I can honestly say I have never not fallen in love with anything Loi has shared 
on his wonderful blog. 
If you've not visited Tone On Tone yet, do so soon. I promise you will love it.

So dear friends, whether eating your holiday meal on priceless antiques, 
your every day china, or even paper plates, enjoy and be thankful.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A rather calm Thanksgiving. . . . . .

Here it is, the day before Thanksgiving and I actually feel relieved at having nothing
pressing regarding roasting, baking, setting, serving, cleaning, scrubbing, washing up.
You know, the myriad chores associated with producing a groaning table of food 
for others. Does that sound mean? Hope not. I am very thankful for very many things. 
Over the past 50+ years, in kitchens of my various abodes, I've produced those huge
meals requiring two days of preparation, followed by 24 endless hours in a hot kitchen.
My hair got frizzed from opening the oven while basting a big old bird I never 
tasted, all while trying to get the lumps out of the gravy with one hand and mashing 
rutabaga and butternut squash with the other.
I won't expound on the clean-up and dish washing late into the night, other than
to say thankfully my lovely man always insisted in helping with that part.
Don't get me wrong, I didn't mind the cooking, I love cooking, but these days I love it 
on a smaller scale.
Now, if not invited elsewhere - and I'd be only too happy to bring along a dish of 
something delicious - a restaurant is the place I want to be. Being a non-turkey eater 
I don't require a traditional Thanksgiving meal other than some great veggies, perhaps 
a nice portion of tasty meatless stuffing, cranberry sauce. . . . . . and the ultimate 
splurge for me, a slice of pecan pie with real whipped cream please!

 This morning. . . . . . . . calm, and quite delicious.
What did I decide to do early as I sipped my first coffee? As there's no big bird 
chilling in my 'frig requiring my attention, I baked a big batch of our now favorite 
muffins, The Mennonite Girls Can Cook carrot raisin beauties. 
See my recent post HERE for more on this fabulous recipe, and the link is there 
if you would like to make them. I measured all the dry ingredients last night 
making less work this morning.
The recipe makes 18 and they freeze very well. I store two to a bag
and freeze them until we pull them out for a morning breakfast or teatime snack.

Once again I used Trader Joe's lovely bag of mixed tricolor carrots - more interesting
than just orange. Tossed the remaining carrots, not required for the muffins, 
into a baking dish with a quartered red onion, a sweet red pepper, and olive oil, 
and now have a lovely roasted veggie dish to enjoy also.

Happy Thanksgiving preparation if you're the chef at your home. 
Hope you get some assistance and can then sit down and enjoy a lovely meal 
with family and friends on the big day.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Almost dry!

A quick update on my recent post HERE about drying beautiful hydrangeas 
naturally, easily.

They rustle softly. . . . .their flexible stems now stiffened, waiting to be trimmed 
as each delightful bloom is tucked into a vase, a pot, perhaps a table centerpiece, 
or even a holiday wreath for a door or window. 

I love these crusty painted pots with matching saucers - purchased at the 
Holiday Open House last week from Two Old Birds located at The Vintage Village. 
I'll be using them in my Christmas decorating.

Anyway, just ten days out and already the cut blooms have almost finished 
soaking up the water in the vase. Petals are now mostly crisp and somewhat 
shriveled, colors more muted but still very pretty.
The day after cutting these we were hit with an entire week of below freezing nights,
 unusual for this area in November. Several remaining blooms I'd planned to cut later
 for drying were completely zapped the first night. So this is it for the year - just enough
 to tuck into winter and Christmas decor along with some others from last year which 
actually still look good. . . .you can see them in the olive basket in my current header.

If you've been drying your hydrangeas, I hope you've a big bunch of really pretty
ones to enjoy around the home through the winter months.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

My Welsh love affair. . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . with the leek!

I adore this vegetable. I grew up not in Wales where the leek is the 
national emblem, worn along with the daffodil flower 
(known in Welsh as "Peter's leek) on St. David's Day, but next door in southern England. 
There we grew, bought, gobbled up very inexpensive leeks often in my 
childhood household. I love them braised, but my favorite way is in soup, 
especially chilled vichyssoise in the summertime, and this one below, a 
steaming bowl of comforting leek and potato soup on a cold autumn or winter day.

My only disappointment with purchasing leeks here in the US, is the high price.
One local store was actually charging $1.99 per leek a few weeks back!
Most stores sell them by the pound - a few such as Trader Joe's have them pre-packaged 
in poly and priced per bag. If you buy leeks, you know the loose ones, which I prefer, 
have several inches of the tough dark green leaves left on. This part is not edible, 
very tough and stringy, so has to be thrown away. My compost bin loves them of course.

Right now I notice they have come down in price a bit - leeks are best in winter - 
but still they insist on selling them with too much up top which is wasted, and you 
have to pay for all that weight which you end up throwing out. Personally I feel ripped 
off paying for waste. I have visions of sneaking up to the produce display, little scissors 
in hand, and trimming off those dark green bits, before putting them into my bag. 
How naughty would that be?

Oh well, nothing nicer right now in this cold spell than a steaming bowl 
of easy to make leek and potato soup, a true comfort food. 
We had this a couple of nights ago after coming home from SuzAnna's and 
The Vintage Village Holiday Open House which was a great night out. 
We'd nibbled on finger foods and had a toddy, but came home a bit hungry. 
The soup was waiting, just needed re-warming, as I made it in the afternoon. 

I don't puree this soup as we like it chunky, used Russet potatoes. Just mash 
gently with a potato masher, add plenty of fresh ground pepper and a little salt to taste.
I use vegetable stock then add some cream to finish and enrich, and this time 
also some buttermilk.
It was delicious.

Have you ever grown your own leeks? If so, did you get a good crop? 
I have an empty raised bed and am considering trying to grow some.
Any tips would be appreciated. . . . . otherwise I may just consider moving 
to Wales to feed my addiction!!!

Friday, November 21, 2014

The perfect gift from Jane - - - - -

Do you have friends who seem to know exactly what to give you?
Friends who are the best gift shoppers and bowl you over with totally 
unexpected, awesome gifts. 
My blogger friend Jane always does this. It's as if she has a sixth sense when 
it comes to finding treasures which have me left speechless with joy on unwrapping!
Jane and the husband love to shop together - something Bob and I do a lot of also.
Apparently, just prior to visiting Asheville where we'd made plans to meet again a couple 
of weeks ago, they were perusing the old tomes in a used book shop in Chicago. 
Out of the blue, Jane reached up to a shelf and and pulled out a yellowed book with 
the word DEVON on the spine, and recalled that I am from that particular county down 
on the south coast of England. As they turned the pages they realized it was a book I 
would perhaps enjoy.

ENJOY! I am over the moon with happiness. This book, printed in 1908 but still in 
wonderful condition, is a Great Western Railway Company travel book on Devon, 
complete with beautiful vintage b/w photographs, and historic stories of all the places
I'm so familiar with, and love dearly.
A back section of the book has detailed train schedules to Devon with prices 
so inexpensive compared to today's train travel. Also coaching excursions to 
exciting tourist places such as 'Western Borderlands of Dartmoor', 'North Devon 
and the Exmoor Country' - this trip being just 11/-  return journey in the 
'old British money' before changing over to metric.
The last section contains many ads for hotels and B&B's
(many of which are still in business), restaurants and cafes, local shops, and old 
time products such as Symon's Devonshire Cyder" - "Has no Equal",
Paish & Co., Piano Merchants - where in the 1950's after I acquired my first 
record player, I visited often as they sold the first 78 rpm records and you could 
sit in little booths and listen to the latest American hits.
There's a page on Torquay my home town ------
TORQUAY - population 34,000 (now 66,000 in 2011 census)
Ideal Seaside Resort for Health and Pleasure
Magnificent Scenery - Owing to Unique Position
Summer - temperature cool
Warm in Winter

In the very back of the book is this wonderful fold-out map of the county of Devon 
where I've marked my home town TORQUAY (more info here).

The lovely, funny Jane from Blondie's Journals and her really charming husband.

It was here at the restaurant in Asheville that I was presented with this fabulous gift.
You just don't know how thrilled I am with such a wonderful book Jane and A.
It was really great to meet up with you yet again - here's to the next time.

Jane's husband, like me, enjoyed salmon, and Jane and my Bob fearlessly 
ventured into bowls of Cioppino after tying on those lobster bibs, for dinner at 
Asheville's Lobster Trap - a really fun evening in every way!

Well, needless to say I'm homesick just writing this post and sharing a little 
about my true home. I was truly blessed to grow up there.  In a simple house set 
midway between the blue water of the English Channel and the bucolic 
Devon countryside, life was especially good and childhood perfect.

You will find me curled up by the fire these winter evenings 
enjoying every page of this amazing book, thinking about and thankful
for our great Chicago friends who discovered it tucked away on that shelf.

If you've never visited southwest England, particularly Devon and Cornwall, 
I really hope you can some day - I promise you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Housework v. Decorating . . . . . . .

Thinking back over a lifetime of 'keeping house' while balancing on a step stool 
a few days back, I gave a long hard look about me and wondered about today's 
household cleaning chores, both my own and others. 
With one of the hubby's old white sport socks over my hand, and a spray bottle 
of Windex, I was up here cleaning the crystals and other parts of the kitchen chandelier,
 moving on to woodwork armed with Murphy's Oil Soap - cabinets and trim - then 
washing the floor with Bona and mop.
I used to almost enjoy housework, especially once completed. Looking about and 
seeing the furniture and woodwork sparkle, the lack of dust 'bunnies' in the corners,
 smelling that clean fragrance from the products used such as lemon oil, made it all worthwhile.
Now, I find it hard going. Bending, stretching, the difficulty of getting back up from the 
aging knees, and with the current hip problem, quite honestly, house 'work' has 
become a painful drag. 
So what do I do to make things easier on myself? Hubby helps and would do it all, 
bless his heart, but he wouldn't do it like I would! A maid service would be a last 
resort - I've never had anyone clean my home and don't know if I want that…..yet!
So I'll keep on best I can for the time being.

As for decorating?
That part of keeping house I love. Day to day, week to week, little tweaks and 
changes, redoing vignettes, arranging flowers, moving things around.
However, the big thrust now is decorating for Christmas. 
Thanksgiving is nothing more than moving the pumpkins around a bit - we will not be 
eating here, or having company, and we head to the coast the following day for the weekend.

Digging through the attic areas, on hands and knees, to pull out the storage boxes will 
be the hubby's job soon.
I will decorate as usual, although I don't do as much outdoors with lights any longer.
The faux tree will appear in the gazebo decorated with Nature's pretties I've collected.
I so enjoy seeing it outside the kitchen windows, lighting up the winter nights.
I may look for a small fresh tree for inside, taking pleasure in hanging cherished 
ornaments collected over the years.
The wooden snowflakes will dangle in the dining room window. The candles 
will glow once darkness cools the night, Christmas music will fill the air, and the fire 
will burn in the hearth.
Thankfully 'home for Christmas' will happen as always.

So, what are your feelings about house work and cleaning chores?
Do you enjoy them? Do you have help from a cleaning company, 
and if so, how did you find a competent, reliable one whose employees 
take care of your much-loved, precious things?
Does your spouse/partner give you a hand?

As for decorating, I just know you will soon be sharing your beautiful 
holiday items - this is always such a bright and beautiful time of year - and 
I enjoy seeing all your creative endeavors here on your blogs.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Painted curtains - extraordinaire!

I love the idea of taking a painter's canvas drop cloth and turning it into 
beautiful art.  I'm certain this is what was used to make these amazing wall 
hangings . . . . .seen at Asheville's fabulous ScreenDoor Antiques.
I could have, should have, would have bought the 'curtains', 
ifhad a place to hang them.

Monday, November 17, 2014

. . . . . eeeeek!!!!!! Tiny house guests soon?

How adorable are these mice!
I just found them in an Asheville shop - part of an early 
display of Christmas items.
The fact that there were girls and boys, dressed in
trousers and flirty skirts, with cute tails 
and perfect mouse ears, made a purchase of just 
two quite easy, and not expensive.

My biggest fear however is that with the cold weather now settling in, the 
real mice may be back before I can shake a stick set a humane mouse trap!
Sad as it may be to catch them this way, I cannot have those little nightly 
visitors running around the cottage. We've stuffed all access points, around pipes, 
back of stove etc. with copper mesh but, as the exterminator told us, a teeny mouse 
only requires a tiny 1/4" opening to get through!  The house is on a crawl space, 
apparently they come up from there, so traps are set down under.
We didn't spy a single mouse for the first twenty five years we lived in this house, 
now, for the past several years, they seem to enjoy sharing our home, especially
 during the winter.
Any tips for sending those tiny creatures on their merry way are welcomed, thanks.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

There is a season, a time for everything. . . . . .

Awaking to this scene beyond the front porch yesterday morning 
was quite a surprise. The first night with temperatures dropping below
freezing caused all the fig leaves to fall at once, carpeting the ground
in soft and muted greens, golds, even figgy purples.

I thought it all quite a magical sight.
This really was the color - Carolina Blue - of the sky yesterday while we were 
working in the garden.

We raked up all those leaves.
Two or three green figs are left hanging on - a winter feast for 
a lucky squirrel or hungry little bird.
So it's farewell to our lovely, leafy fig trees - we have two - for this year.
This one, the Celeste, was definitely prolific this past season. . . . . . 
I'm still handing out pots of Fig & Lemon and Fig & Ginger jam. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Antiques in Asheville. . . . .

If you're into antiques and vintage treasures, whatever you collect, whatever your 
passion for old, chipped, cracked and quirky may encompass, you just might find 
something special in Asheville, North Carolina.

Touring through the magnificent Biltmore House, stocked with priceless antiques 
and breathtaking treasures is definitely a must see when you're in town, but if you're 
on a decorating budget like me, trolling through some quite amazing depositories of 
old stuff, or other peoples' junk as a certain guy I know calls it - no names here - you 
just might find what you've been looking for. As you know, to those of us who see 
beauty in the old, it's called 'treasure hunting'.

Sharing here some things that caught my eye at my favorite places - ScreenDoor, 
Tobacco Barn,  and Oddfellows. Time was too short on this recent visit to stop 
at several more exciting places. . . . . but there's always next time!

You may recall that I love santos and have a couple from former trips to Asheville. . . . . didn't buy this time, but enjoyed looking.