Sunday, February 28, 2010

If You Freeze Ginger . . .

. . . where does that leave Mary Ann?

Sorry for the lame joke, but I always think of it when I'm freezing or thawing ginger - and it cracks me up (which certainly says something about me . . . but what?). And this brings me to our topic, which is actually a two-parter.

Here's a little song (to the tune of the Gilligan's Island Theme) that serves a hint for tomorrow's post. You really need to sing along . . .

Just come right back and you'll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful bake,
That started from this southern town,
When I thought, "cake I'll make."

The chef was a mighty baking girl,
Ingredients at hand,
Her Kitchen Aid was standing by,
With greased and floured pan.

The batter started rising high,
The oven it was hot,
If not for the courage of the fearless cook,
The cake it would be not, the cake it would be not.

The cook saw smoke through the door of this uncharted oven aisle,
With Ginger Root, the Butter, too, the Broken Egg and his Wife,
The Cake Flour, the Molasses and Lemon Zest,
Here on the kitchen isle!

So join us here Mon-day my friend,
You're sure to get a smile,
From ginger cake that went astray,
Here on my kitchen isle!

Tune in tomorrow to see how this:

And this:

Ended up like this . . . (and, no, unfortunately I did not have the cookie sheet under the cake pan in the beginning!).

Happy Baking and see you tomorrow!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Not All Moss Is Created Equal

So what do we know about moss? It likes wet areas, it comes in lots of fabulous green colors, and it is rarely seen on a rolling stone. I've been on a bit of a moss-roll myself this week - taking lots of pictures of moss growing in the wooded area by our house. As we don't normally have moss growing in our yard, it has a certain attraction - especially its vivid colors.

My little moss is nothing, though, compared to the moss used by talented 'green artists' like Anna Garforth. Her moss designs are seen below:

Aren't they wonderful? I've only seen them in photos, but would love to see them in person.

Check out her website for more pictures of her fascinating work (she does amazing things with leaves as well . . .).

And then there's the master of vegitecture, Patrick Blanc. His designs are growing in major cities the world over and his website gives you a glimpse into his magical world.

Of course, his vertical gardens are not entirely moss . . .

Click here to see the step-by-step installation of a recent project in Melbourne.

I hope you enjoyed these mossy finds. Happy Saturday!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Happy Birthday Levi . . . and thanks!

Today is a red-letter day for everyone who wears jeans; it's the birthday of Levi Strauss who is, of course, the Father of Blue Jeans. He traveled west during the early days of the Gold Rush, hoping to make his fortune outfitting the miners. In 1873, he partnered with tailor Jacob Davis to patent the pants with metal rivets that would make his name a household word. They've been worn by everyone from Gary Cooper:

To Marilyn Monroe:
To the Gremlin:

Today Levi's remain popular and highly collectible. Levi Strauss & Co. has an amazing archive of jeans, including a pair from 1906 that was recently found in an old bunkhouse. Read about them here. (You may remember them from the History Channel or eBay - where they sold for over $46,000!)

So, whether you prefer boyfriend jeans like Jennifer, or a Gremlin with riveted-denim seats, celebrate Levi's birthday by wearing your favorite jeans!

Hope you have a comfy weekend!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What's Cheery in the February Garden?

Are you tired of this winter? I am! It's been colder than normal, wetter than normal, and rather dreary - or at least that's how it seems here in the last week of February. Perhaps the problem with my outlook results from spending too much time inside. After all, if you really look there are always cheery things to be found in the garden. Here are three that I found this afternoon.

These Star Magnolia buds! This is always the first tree to bloom in our yard and each year the buds almost get zapped with a late cold snap. So far, so good . . .

This daffodil! I love daffodils and this is the first to bloom this year. So, so cheery!!

And I saved the best for last - look at this great green and orange. This moss and fungi are growing in a wooded area in our neighbor's yard. Just when you think everything is brown, you look down and spot this . . . so perhaps the moral of this story is to look down? Sort of a twist on stopping to smell the roses - looking down to find the unexpected pops of color?

What's cheery in your garden (or world) today?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"Everything" Bagel

Did you know that next Thursday is National Grammar Day? Fans of good grammar will perhaps celebrate by reading the classic Eats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss, or by viewing the many websites devoted to grammar and punctuation. Some of these sites feature hilarious photos of signs with blatant mistakes - you know the ones, the rules we all learn in 4th grade and then sometimes forget.

My favorites are the misused quotation marks. Who hasn't seen funny signs for "stamps" or "beef" or "Thank You"? (The "Thank You" ones are the most snarky, don't you think?) And that brings me to my bagel - take a good look at it. It's actually an everything bagel, but instead of being covered with seeds and salt, it's almost bare. I bought this at the only "gourmet" market in town (see how handy the "" are when irony is intended?) and as the bread is self-serve, I selected the best one. So, I'm thinking of this as an "everything" bagel instead of a yummy everything bagel!

If you're in the mood for some funny quotation mark usage, check out the Blog of Unnecessary Quotation Marks. Here's one of their best:

More about National Grammar Day next week! Right now, I'm off to "toast" my bagel.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sometimes you just don't want to Sail the Ocean Blue

Can you guess what happened on this day in 1505? Three hints: 1) it illustrates the concept that politics never change, 2) it pertains to a radical mode of transportation, and 3) it involves both famous and royal figures. Still not sure? These visual hints may help:

If you recognized the 1949 Tennessee Mule Day King and Queen and Christopher Columbus, you're close to the answer. However, this may be a case where close isn't enough as our story takes a bizarre turn . . .

On February 23, 1505 King Ferdinand granted Columbus the much-coveted mule riding license. You may ask why a license was needed to ride a mule, and this is the 'politics as usual' part of our story. As mules were becoming a popular mode of transport, the Andalusian Horse dealers/breeders grew concerned. They lobbied for a law prohibiting the use of mules as saddle animals - and won. Columbus was able to convince the court that the jostling horses were too painful for someone suffering from old age and arthritis, and the license was awarded (apparently mules provide a smooth, gentle ride).

Columbus had a long appreciation for mules - many histories about his life include scenes of him riding a mule at pivotal moments. (Perhaps heading out on your mule made more of a statement then . . .) He even carried mules to Haiti in 1493. Today there are many fans of the lowly mule and mule festivals are held across the country. Just Google 'Mule Day' and you'll be surprised! Perhaps Columbus was right - I haven't heard of any Andalusian Days, have you?

Monday, February 22, 2010

5 Etiquette Questions That Can Be Answered "No"*

Last summer, when this blog was just a baby, I posted a list of etiquette questions that can be answered "yes". This has been a popular post and I often get e-mails about it which led me to today's post of etiquette questions that can be answered "no".

  1. Is it too late to send a thank-you note for a gift received three months ago?

  2. Is it rude to not answer a nosy question?

  3. When being introduced to someone, is it rude to ask the person to repeat his/her name?

  4. If you drop your fork on the floor while dining in a restaurant, should you pick it up?

  5. If you have something inedible in your mouth (bone, gristle, etc.), should you put it in your napkin?

And remember, etiquette makes life easier every day - whether you're a guest at a State Dinner or going about your normal life. Wishing you a polite day . . .

*There are exceptions to all rules and in a few isolated cases these questions may be answered with a "Yes" or "Maybe". Generally, these exceptions involve emergencies, crazy people, close friends/relatives, or all of the above.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Voltaire's Three Evils & Why I'm Not Blogging Today!

Obviously, to say you're not blogging in a blog post is a bit of an untruth . . . what I mean is that I don't have time to blog 'properly' or time for anything this weekend! So, what's this have to do with Voltaire? This quote explains my week and weekend:

Work banishes those three great evils, boredom, vice, and poverty. ~ Voltaire

I love this quote and try to think of it when I'm feeling overwhelmed with work (which, as we all know, does not have to be in the '9 to 5' category to eat up your time and your good humor!). I'll be back in blogland in a day or so.

Hope your weekend is filled with the opposite of boredom, vice, and poverty (after all, it is the Best of All Possible Worlds)!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

"I'm serving the crumbliest bread . . ." she thought

And what kind of dastardly plan is a host or hostess hatching when bread is selected based on its crumbliness? A not-so-subtle plan to use this lovely crumber!

When sterling flatware was at its height, there were specialized pieces for every imaginable purpose. The crumber is an excellent example, a large item with a singular role - removing crumbs from the table. It would be used between courses to gather the crumbs and leave the table clean for the next course.

This crumber was made in 1910 and is English. Many American silver patterns of this time included crumbers and you can easily find them online and in antique shops. Many have lovely monograms like the 'M. D.' seen above.

This one has an ivory handle and is about 12" - the hallmarks on the reverse tell us when and where it was created. It was an eBay purchase and rather inexpensive because there is a small crack in the handle; it doesn't affect the use of the crumber, however, so I don't mind.

To see other crumber examples, check out the Antique Cupboard. You might find one you can't live without - and then you'll be hoping for messy diners, too!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

And now, making their 10th Ash Wednesday appearance . . .

. . . the mysterious little Carnival Dolls!

I purchased these adorable dolls in Basel, Switzerland ten years ago just before Carnival. Like many European cities, Basel has a fun Carnival, but with a twist. It begins on the Monday after Ash Wednesday . . . and it's rather orderly. There's even a rule about the confetti - no multi-colored allowed. This is actually a great rule because confetti is sold in solid colors, so if you're tossing Confetti of Many-Colors, you've scooped it up from the street. And that's pretty yucky - even in ├╝ber-clean Switzerland!

The doll heads, hands, and feet are wooden and the bodies are bendable - almost like sturdy chenille craft sticks (formerly known as pipe-cleaners - really!). The mystery of the dolls is who they are and why they're sold only during Carnival (Basler Fasnacht). I spent lots of time working in Basel in the late '90s, but never learned the story of the dolls. But, I'm sure there's more to them than simply representing Carnival costumes . . . perhaps someone in Blogland knows their significance?

The Harlequin was tricky to photograph; I was even starting to think he might be like a real Harlequin when he somersaulted onto the floor!

I love this one - which I think of as colonial even though Switzerland was anything but colonial during this period! Perhaps he represents a famous musician or scientist from the 1700s? Well, we may never know his true identity, but he seems at home here. And, what's life without a few mysteries?

Wishing you a nice Ash Wednesday with no big mysteries.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Camellias: Coming to a Town Near You

What do gardeners do during the months of winter? Read garden catalogs and books, of course! And make garden plans . . . new plants to try, old plants to remove or relocate, a larger compost pile and fewer weeds, these are the winter dreams of gardeners (or at least this one!). There is another activity to get gardeners through the cold months - garden shows. And this winter, I'm stuck on shows devoted to that beautiful winter-bloomer: The Camellia.

The American Camellia Society has a great website which includes a list of Camellia Shows around the country. Imagine tables of the best camellias on display. The show season has a few more months and there are lots of upcoming shows, including three within a short drive of me!

At a quick glance, California seems to have the most shows in the coming weeks, so check out the schedule if you're on the west coast. Larger shows, like the one at California's Descanso Gardens, include many fun activities like Tea Tasting Workshops (after all, tea comes from the Camellia) and guided walks through the Camellia Forest. You can also find a list of international camellia groups on the Camellia Society site.

If you're antsy waiting for spring, check out a flower show near you. You're not limited to camellias, there's a show for almost every kind of gardener . . . and you may get some great ideas for your 2010 garden!

All photos from the sites mentioned in this post.

Monday, February 15, 2010

No Space? Not to Worry . . .

Wondering how to make the most of a small space? This article in the New York Times is sure to inspire you! It's the story of one man's apartment - all 178 square feet of it.

From clever storage solutions like this bed,

to the tightly organized kitchen,

the owner/designer, Zach Motl, proves that good design isn't exclusively for large spaces.

There are lots more photos in the original article, so enjoy! I'm off to look at my small spaces . . .

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Alma's Fishy Valentine!

Remember my friend from the past, Alma Boss? If not, you can check out her story here. In addition to many, many Christmas cards, Alma's scrapbook contained some very sweet Valentines. Here's my favorite:

It's not just the bold '30s graphics that I like, the inside is rather funny.

Most of Alma's Valentine's cards are more traditional, lots of pastel flowers bundled with lace and ribbons like this one from her friend Mildred.

And this one from her beau, Jack, of the Jonah card fame:

The message inside culminates with the phrase "you're swell" . . . somehow that's just more romantic than the modern equivalent "you're so hot".

And, in case Alma was the kind of girl who would check the back of the card, Jack purchased an up-and-coming brand - Hallmark. (I'm sure she wasn't that kind of girl, though, because that's just not consistent with being swell . . .)

Thanks for sharing this glimpse into Valentines Past and I hope your Valentine surprises you with something sweet tomorrow!

Happy Valentine's Day - back on Monday!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Pastry Forks! Do You Need Them?

With me, the answer to 'do you need it' is always yes - if the item in question is silver and I don't have it. That's not to say I always buy whatever it is . . . but, I still think I need it! I love collecting silver because it's beautiful and a joy to use. And, unlike a cashmere sweater or expensive shoes, sterling items improve with each use. Try wearing that new sweater every day for two months and see how it holds up!

The pastry fork is a basic place-setting piece. You may know it as the salad fork or dessert fork - so already we can see how useful it is, three things in one (even better than the plastic spork which is only two things and is easily snapped in half if used for ice cream . . . but, that's another post). There's another great thing about the pastry fork - it's often the prettiest piece in the regular place setting. The fork shown above is a great example. It's a pattern by Frank Whiting called 'Marquis'. The pattern was designed in 1889 - isn't that amazing? See the shape of the lower tine? It's wider to facilitate cutting. Most American silver patterns use the same fork for salad and pastry and consequently the 'cutting' tine may not be as wide as this one.

In the pattern above, which is Reed & Barton's Marlborough, both outside tines have the same shape. Isn't it lovely? The nice thing about collecting pastry forks is that they're inexpensive - you can often find sterling ones for less than $10. While silverplated pieces are even cheaper, I feel it's worth spending a bit more for sterling as it will last forever whereas the silver often wears off the tines of a plated fork and then it leaves an unpleasant metallic taste - after all, we're buying these to use! (Needless to say, eBay is a great source - the pieces above were purchased there and later resold there. If you look in the 'unknown' category under Antiques/Sterling, you'll find great deals - your best bet may be to simply search for 'fork'.)

And if you plan to create a special dessert for Valentine's Day, check out the yummy ideas from Martha Stewart. Of course - your pastry forks will be perfect with any of these!

Happy Friday!
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