February 29, 2020

It's Leap Day! That special quadrennial date that arrives at the end of February, tacked on to year's second month to "keep the calendar" on track. It has to do with adjusting the calendar periodically to to ensure that annual seasonal events occur at about the same time each year, so an additional day is added to the calendar every four years just to ensure that happens. It actually began in Roman times, so you can thank Julius Caesar...really.

It's also known in some corners as "Sadie Hawkins Day" when ladies ostensibly are given leave to propose marriage to their chosen beaus. To be more politically correct in this 21st Century, it really should be a date when any female has leave to propose to their chosen partner...male or female or somewhere in between., a right they should have th ability to act on any day of the year, and not just on a one that only arrives on the calendar every four years.

In my region, a nice trend began a few years ago called "Leap of Kindness Day" - a day to encourage people within a community to use this extra day of Leap Year to do something kind for someone else. That might just be the best idea of all, not just on Leap Day, but something to keep in mind and act upon every day of the year, every year.  

Go out and make your Leap Day a good - and kind - one!

February 23, 2020

Mardi Gras 2020 ~ Laissez les bon temps rouler!

No sooner do we celebrate Valentine's Day and President's Day and it's time for one of the most fun cultural holidays of the year - Mardi Gras! While still rooted in religion like Carnival in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Mardi Gras in the US has evolved beyond its purely religious origins to become a wide-ranging celebration of  the marvelous traditions of music, food and revelry found in the deepest part of the South - in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The official poster of the 2020 Mardi Gras celebration was designed by artist Andrea Mistretta and is available to purchase online here: 2020 Mardi Gras Commemorative Poster

I had a chance to visit New Orleans more than 25 years ago and it was a wonderful experience. There is nothing quite like the culture of New Orleans and one should make the effort to visit there at least once, and preferably more often. While I wasn't there for Mardi Gras, I did visit the renowned "French Quarter" and heard some fabulous jazz played at the very rustic but legendary Preservation Hall and strolled around that historic district's marvelous and distinctive architecture.

Over the years, I have picked up mementos of my original New Orleans, including postcards from the original visit and I continue to add few items that I have stumbled upon elsewhere. I always enjoy bringing them out each year to recall those fond memories of that initial trip to the "Big Easy". It's always a treat to see them again. I pulled a few pieces together in the photo below and added them to my mantel to celebrate the holiday this year.

 The postcard at the rear in the photo is of "Mr. Ed", a handsome mule wearing a classic, flower-bedecked straw hat as he pulled a carriage on the streets of the city. Although I expect the Mr. Ed depicted in the postcard is probably no longer with us, such mule-drawn carriage tours are still available for those who wish to see the sights of New Orleans at a slower pace.

I picked up the Mardi Gras rooster mug and the classic purple, green and gold Mardi Gras beads on separate visits to my local Goodwill. They both epitomize the marvelously colorful celebration that is Mardi Gras.

Mardi Gras - or "Fat Tuesday" - is the symbolic Christian religious celebration that occurs just before the start of the 40 days of Lent on Ash Wednesday, the next day, that continue until the arrival of Easter Sunday. Mardi Gras marks the culmination of six weeks of revelry that began on Epiphany (January 6 - 12 days after Christmas) and continued until their culmination on Mardi Gras and Lent begins the next day on Ash Wednesday. 

I also think of Mardi Gras as a celebration of all things New Orleans, a city rich with history and culinary traditions combining the best of its original French heritage and the indiginous Creole and Cajun cultures of the region and of Louisiana. Marvelous local dishes like jambalaya, gumbo and crawfish etouffee (stuffed crawfish), and the more recent specialties like blackened redfish popularized by the late chef Paul Prudhomme, and other fine foods.

Among the most celebrated of traditions is the use of dried and roasted chickory to make a special blend of "coffee" or added to roasted coffee beans to create a distinctive and smooth coffee popular in New Orleans and environs. A popular cafe in New Orleans, the Cafe du Monde (or "world cafe"), now with many locations around the city and the greater region, is known for its special coffee blend and its marvelous sweet pastry treat, beignets (or "ben-yays") - deep fried square pastries dusted with powdered sugar. Cafe du Monde coffee and its special beignet mix can be ordered online, along with other New Orleans specialties from the cafe's website here: Cafe du Monde Shop.

It should be noted that New Orleans (not Seattle) was instrumental in the initial importing of coffee beans to the US and remains the country's pre-eminent port of arrival, according to this 2017 article from Thrillist.com:

"Since the 1700s, coffee beans poured into New Orleans from Cuba, the Caribbean, and Latin America, and today the Crescent City is the country’s most prodigious java-handling port, with some of the world’s largest silos to store it. In 2015 alone, 250,000 tons of coffee came through the Port of New Orleans, enough to make 20 billion cups of coffee. It’s thought that New Orleans’ historic easygoing attitude is what created the mid-morning “coffee break” in the 1920s, when business owners would skip out of work throughout the day for a cup."

The Cafe du Monde website also provides this fascinating history of the French Market in New Orleans and the French Quarter:

The location of the French Market and of New Orleans dates back to the Choctaw Indians, before the Europeans settled the New World. The Choctaw Indians used this natural Mississippi river levee location to trade their wares to the river traffic.

The early European settlers came by boat to this location to sell produce and dairy products. The City of New Orleans was established on this location of the Mississippi River in 1718 by Jean Baptiste LeMoyne. This old New Orleans is called the “Vieux Carré" [Old Corner] or French Quarter.

The French Quarter has a collection of old buildings that exhibit the architectural styles of the countries that once held power in Louisiana. At one time or another, Louisiana has been under the influence of the French, Spanish and British governments. The first French Market building was put up by the Spanish in 1771. This building was destroyed by a hurricane in 1812. The following year it was replaced by the building which now houses the Cafe Du Monde. Back then it was known as The Butcher’s Hall. In the 1930’s the Works Progress Administration renovated and added to the French Market buildings. The French Market now comprises of seven buildings anchored at the Jackson Square end by the Cafe Du Monde and on the other end by the Farmers and Flea Market sheds.

Enjoy this annual celebration of Mardi Gras and all things New Orleans and Laissez les bon temps rouler (Let the good times roll) on this most colorful, tasty, wild and crazy holidays of the year!

February 5, 2020

Vintage Valentines and a Tasty Treat

I thought I'd written here previously about vintage Valentine cards, but in reviewing the posts I've written in the past 11-plus years of blogging - yes, 11 years! - I only did a few February posts in total, and only one of those specifically featured a Valentine card, but it was 10 years ago! So, I am compelled to make treasured Valentine cards the focus of this post.

The one Valentine card that I did post back then was this classic, multi-layered vintage card (above) that I've had for years. I think my late mom gave it to me about 35-40 years ago or more, because she knew how much I liked those old-style lacy, Victorian-inspired cards, even if this one was newly printed at the time. It doesn't unfold, but it is three-dimensional, which makes it intricate with a lacy, gold filigree on the bottom layer, stylized flowers - lilies, mostly - on the middle layer, and cherub cupids with arrows and birds in a heart-shaped top layer.

This tapesty design, on a card made by Caspari, is inspired by a historic, circa 1500 French tapestry titled "La Dame a La Licorne" ("The Lady and the Unicorn"). This portion is part of a group of six tapestries woven of wool and silk in Flanders that are considered among the greatest European works of art from the Middle Ages. It's exquisite as a card, so I'm sure the real thing must be simply stunning. I think I purchased this card myself, but that, too, was at least 30 or more years ago.

Pre-dating both of the cards pictured is this image of one of two boxes of Hallmark Make-Your-Own Valentine's Kits that I've kept for more than 50 years. This one is the newer one of the two as the cover of other one suffered some damage over the years, but I did tape it back together. Both of them were sold in the 1960s and I used most of their contents - honeycomb hearts, feathers, plastic "rubies" and other ornaments and textured papers - to make Valentines myself. I remember I used glue from a bottle of amber-colored LePage's glue for paper to stick the various bits and bobs onto the cards to create unique Valentines for my friends and family. My creative crafting life started early! Note that the cover of this box shows a price of $1.50! Although they're no longer made by Hallmark, one can occasionally find a box of Valentine components from the company, but you'll pay far more dearly for them now. I saw one more recent box than mine priced online at $20 plus shipping. No surprise there given how scarce they are now, but they were great fun to make!

Finally, I had to share these wonderful French porcelain "coeur a la creme" molds. (Coeur a la creme means "cream heart" and is pronounced: "kur ah lah krem".) The perforated heart-shaped molds hold a cheesecloth wrapped chunk of softened and sweetened cream cheese - a classic French chilled dessert. The cheese mixture is folded into the mold, which is lined with cheesecloth, and placed in the refrigerator to drain (hence the purpose of the perforations) until it is chilled and the shape set. That results in the beautiful heart-shaped mound with the distinctive texture of the cheesecloth's impression when un-molded onto a pretty plate to slice and serve with berries or a drizzle of whatever sauce one desires. I have these molds in two sizes and discovered, when I took them out of the box the other day, that my set of pretty, red wicker heart-shaped baskets happen to be just the right size for each mold. Aren't they fun?!

For a straightforward and tasty recipe for coeur a la creme, I recommend this one from the inimitable Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten, from her Barefoot in Paris cookbook.

Barefoot Contessa's Coeur a La Creme Recipe

I love that the treasures and keepsakes in my Valentines storage box always bring back such wonderful memories of childhood and the many years since.


P.S. If sweetness isn't your "jam", you also can tempt your beloved by making a savory version of coeur a la creme. Just eliminate the sugar and vanilla and add scallions and some fresh herbs, including dill and chives, coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Ina offers this tasty version - topped with Major Grey's chutney (from a jar - no need to make your own), that's perfect as an appetizer served with crackers:

Ina Garten's Savory Coeur a la Creme



January 30, 2020

A Month of Brilliant Reds

I've always loved Valentine's Day since the time we'd exchange cards as kids in school. I still love the home-made ones, as well as the store-bought versions, and particularly the incredibly elaborate, multi-layered faux Victorian ones that would gradually unfold into three-dimensional confections of romanticsm. So fun!

As I've noted here before, Valentine's Day provides those welcome pops of vibrant reds - the rich rubies, crimsons, cardinals, vermilions, cinnabars, cerises, and the innumerable variations that lean either toward dark pinks or purples - to break up the monochromatic tones of January and propel us into the literal heart (no pun intended) of mid-winter. The photo above is an assemblage I pulled together last year using pieces I had at hand, including the pine cones, which ties them into my earlier January natural greenery and pine cone theme that I find so restful after the intensity of the red-and-green dazzle of the holiday season.

I can't recall where I got the twig heart basket, but the little red-and-white dotted pin cushion was made for me years ago by my oldest and dearest childhood friend (since first grade and right through to high school graduation). A special little gifts like that is a real friendship keepsake. The red tray was a thrift shop find - it's bright yet not screamingly red, and while is has some minor dents, they just give it that vintage character that's appealing. The blue and white checked pottery bowl with a single red heart came from Pottery Barn, but I think it, too, was a thrift shop find some years ago. Near that is one of a set of Pimpernel coasters with fox hunting scenes and among many that I've also had for years, and they're all sitting on an old vintage army trunk that originally belonged to my dad, so World War II era.  I painted red and white when I was a teenager in the mid-late 1960 to use as "tack" trunk for my horse stuff, long before I ever had a horse, and eventually as a storage piece in my college dorm room, but I've had it in each of my homes ever since. Currently, it's  in my living room holding all of my CDs and cassette tapes and occasionally it serves as a coffee table. I'll always have a place and a use for it.

I haven't opened my Valentine's Day storage box yet, but I'll do that this weekend to mark the arrival of February, and will set out some of my other favorite red and heart-shaped pieces to brighten things up a bit for the month. One new item I picked up yesterday during a quick errand to replenish my supply of nuts and corn kernels for the local wildlife was this nice pair of bright red ceramic soup mugs with plastic covers, just the pair of them, from a local thrift shop. They hold 16 ounces and are immaculate, yet marked at just $1.49 each, but were on sale for a whopping 75 cents each since it was half-off day - what a fun treat enjoy during my annual celebration of the month of hearts, flowers, love and brilliant reds.

These mugs are a great option for a hearty cup of chowder by the fireside, or a for serving of comforting oatmeal in the morning, or a tasty stew to keep warm on these chilly winter evenings. So many options, and while Spring will be here soon enough, we've got the frosty month of February in the meantime endure, so adorn it with your favorite shades of red!  


January 1, 2020

And We Begin Again...

It certainly isn't a surprise as another year has ticked by, but it's always a little daunting when that year launches a new decade, as well. Welcome, 2020...I hope you bring us all good tidings and cheer to last all the year long.

I have enjoyed the holiday season thus far, spending time with dear friends nearby who are as much like family as my relatives, all of whom live far away now. It doesn't bother me at all, but it's interesting that they all followed paths that took them to lives spent in places far from where all of us were born. I have never felt compelled to leave this region of eastern New York, even though I've stated here more than once that I'm not at all a fan of the winter season's cold and snow here, but, fortunately, winter is only three months of the year's 12 months, and those remaining nine months of spring, summer and fall are that part of the annual cycle that gives a certain balance and pattern to my life.

The arrival of spring after a long winter sleep for Mother Nature's trees and plants, and the warmth of summer that is rarely so oppressive for any extended period, and the glorious color display that is autumn - which I truly love best - are simply parts of life here that I would not trade for living anywhere else. That change of seasons is so worth being here and winter is the time I get to re-charge and plan for those other months. I won't say I'll never leave here in winter, because I would love to spend time somewhere warmer for a few weeks or months as I get older, but I know I wouldn't bolt until after the holidays, for sure.

And there are some fun things about winter that I like no matter where I am. Valentine's Day is such a lovely tonic, with its infusion of bright reds, its heart-warming sentiments of love and affections, and, honestly, who can resist those pretty, multi-layered vintage Victorian-style Valentine's cards that were, and still are, so pretty? I always loved those as a child, and still do. I only have one or two, but I have a few other keepsakes from the Valentine's Days of my childhood that make me smile each year when I bring them out.

My year really is defined by the seasons and the holidays that occur within them. They are reminders of days, weeks and months that keep annual traditions alive, and allow me the opportunity to exercise my creative inclinations as I set  seasonal or holiday tables for small gatherings, or toss a pretty pillow on my couch to mark a certain occasion or to change the color palette for a new season.

My approach after the holiday season is to scale back on lots of reds in January, but to keep deep, rich greens - dark forest and muted olive - and embrace the calmness of winter's natural elements - evergreen boughs and pine cones in pretty containers as reminders that spring really isn't as far off as one imagines.

As the calendar advances and I shift the decor in my home to reflect this shiny new year and season, I'll be sharing some of my favorite things starting with these four plate settings that I assembled during the holidays. They are mostly newer items from my collection except for the octagonal taupe plates that appear in each image ("Dots" by Martha Stewart Everyday with a dot-beaded edge), but they all serve as a reminder that you don't need to spend a fortunate to create an inviting table setting. I originally picked up those taupe MSE plates as part of a 20-piece service of four 5-piece place settings that I found at my local Goodwill for a song about 10 years ago.

The faux wood chargers (underplates) and the plaid charger in the last photo each came from Big Lots. They're both stylish and affordable and a reminder that you can find great, attractive and affordable things at places like Big Lots, Target and similar retailers with moderately priced items. Of course, I have found all manner at things at thrift stores like Goodwill, Salvation Army and smaller, local next-to-new nonprofits and consignsment shops - don't pass up stopping and shopping there! You'd be amazed what people donate or consign - there are many great bargains to be had!

These salad plate below with the inset quail, rabbit and deer vignettes within the red and green "plaid" border and hounds in tan within the white inner border are from Noritake's "Royal Hunt" pattern that I bought on eBay on Christmas day. I have loved that pattern for years, but never owned any as I already have plenty of Christmas dinnerware, and I didn't need more dinner plates or full sets of any dishware, but I love creating an interesting table with some of the basic pieces I already own as the base and adding just a few pieces from another pattern, like these salad/dessert plates. It's so much more affordable to buy just a few of the smaller pieces and mix and match them to compliment my existing pieces.

The plaid dinner plate in the first photo above (which has a white center not seen in that photo because it's obscured by the taupe salad plate) and the salad plate in these last two photos below are brand new from 222 Fifth's "Wexford Plaid" pattern that I found at HomeGoods in my area  right after Christmas.

I wasn't looking for plaid dishware at all, but I love traditional plaid, being a big fan of classic wool fabrics like woven plaids and tweeds, etc., so I succumbed to the charms of this pattern with its reds and olive green. I knew it would compliment my existing pieces and would work in table settings from autumn clear through the holidays, mid-winter and well into March, where it's still fairly cold and snowy here, before I start craving the freshness and lighter feeling of spring florals.

I also have several sets of flatware, one in sterling that I inherited, and several in stainless, including a service for eight of casual stainless pieces with turned, natural wood handles that would work quite nicely with these more casual, "lodge-like" settings. I have just four plates in certain patterns, but I can create a table setting for up to eight people simply by alternating them with four complimentary plates in a different pattern, which is a nice bonus of having pieces that work well together.     

So, while I'm gradually putting away my Christmas decor, I'm not abandoning the cozy, warm feeling of nesting that is evoked from these nice chargers and combinations of plates. I'm looking forward to continuing to use them during the next few months before I put "winter" away for another year.

Happy New Year to all, embrace the new year and the decade of the "20s" wherever you are, and thanks for reading!

December 25, 2019

Merry Tidings

Just a quick message to share my illuminated but otherwise unadorned Christmas tree that went up on Christmas Eve, and wish all of my readers a merry and joyous Christmas, happy Hanukkah or whatever holiday you might celebrate during these waning days of the year. Enjoy the day!

December 8, 2019

Santa Buoy, Baby!

Because Thanksgiving was so close to December 1, I packed up all of the autumn and Thanksgiving decor literally hours after the holiday ended, put it away in storage for another year, and gradually began to pull out the things I wanted to use to decorate for Christmas this year.

Over the years and several moves, my collection of holiday items has evolved, growing with the items inherited and acquired, eliminating the items I no longer love so much, gifting to friends and family who would appreciate certain pieces, selling some online, and donating the rest to my favorite local organizations. It's more important to me to keep the things that have enduring appeal and special meaning.

Among those I have kept is this charming vintage wooden Santa buoy that I purchased about 25 years ago at a church holiday craft fair in Virginia during a business trip to Washington, D.C. I've never been a boating or water sports person, but boating, in particular, was something in which I was  involved for several years for my job at the time, so I found this particular local artist's booth at that church fair so appealing. The primary color scheme of my interior decor was (and still is) navy blue with deep red accents, and his color combination and rustic feel was just right for my country home. I no longer own that particular country home, but I still have him, so I am pulling him out again this year to reside on his usual perch on my fireplace's raised hearth, next to one of the pair of tall and slender illuminated faux trees that flank the firebox as a cheerful reminder of special times and special holiday memories.

It's a bitterly cold day again - just 1F degrees (!). It's not normal for this region at this time of year (late January maybe, but definitely not early December!), but neither was the nearly two feet of snow that blanketed us just a week ago. I'm spending the day inside and will continue to unearth some of my holiday treasures to decorate the house while I'm waiting for the "heat wave" to arrive tomorrow - we're supposed to hit 50F on Tuesday. It's crazy, but after a week of shifting gears into "instant winter" (even though it, technically, is still autumn until December 21), I'm starting to "sail" into the holiday spirit, regardless.