Saturday, March 31, 2012

Brigid's Cross

Do you know about Brigid’s cross?  We have one in our living room.  Our daughter made it when she studied in Ireland a couple of years ago and presented it to us as a Christmas gift.  While it was a thoughtful gift, I suspect it was more for her than for us.  Brigid’s cross, you see, is said to protect the home from fire.  When our daughter was four years old, she began to worry about home fires.

Note: the rubber bands are not traditional fastenings!

It was Halloween.  We had friends with a daughter the same age who lived on a rural road outside town.  They brought their little girl to our house to go trick or treating with our children.  (Our son was only one year old, so he doesn’t remember this at all.)  I stayed home to answer the door and hand out candy while the others went on their rounds. 

The Halloween of the fire -- how appropriate that she was dressed as a devil. 
Everyone returned from trick or treating, and the children sorted their candy loot.  When our friends were leaving, the husband came back in to say he smelled smoke and thought maybe one of the jack-o’-lanterns was burning.  We checked the pumpkins on the porch and both were okay.  My husband and our friend grabbed flashlights and walked all around the house to see if they could figure out what was burning.  Then they noticed smoke seeping out of our neighbors’ attached garage.  Our neighbors were an older couple, Mr. and Mrs. S., maybe in their late 60s or early 70s.  We knocked on their door and got them out of the house.  It turned out their car was on fire.  They had come home not too long before, and their car had evidently developed a short.  Our friends went on home, and we left our children safely in the house while we waited for the fire department and tried to calm down our neighbors.  Mrs. S. was crying and Mr. S., being an old-fashioned man of the house, was determined to take care of things.  He wanted to back the car out to help save the house.

“No,” I told him firmly.  “You can’t move the car.  It’s going to blow up.”  Sure enough, in a couple of minutes, the fire hit the gas tank, and a ball of flame shot out of the garage into the dark night.  About that time, I figured I better check on the little darlings.  I walked in to find our daughter sitting right in front of a large picture window watching the fire, which had really flared up with the gas tank explosion.  The window faced directly onto the neighbors’ garage.  With visions of shattering glass in my head, I snatched her away and hustled both children cattycorner across the street to another house.  Our picture window did not shatter, but a second floor window above did crack from the heat.

I don’t know if I was overly exuberant in my snatching, but ever since, our daughter has been a little wary of fire.  Not terrified or obsessive about it, but she does emphasize that she never wants an attached garage on her house.  And she certainly did latch onto the symbolism of Brigid’s cross.  That’s fine with me.  As talismans go, it’s quite a charming one.

On the living room hutch doors, protecting my flow blue china from fire.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Light as Air Banana Muffins

Banana bread is a classic way to use overripe bananas.  I've always enjoyed my mother's classic banana bread recipe. As a change of pace though, sometimes I like to make banana walnut muffins.  These are an especially good option if you have trouble getting your banana bread cooked thoroughly.  Some people like that little gooey center at the top of banana bread but, frankly, I find it kind of disconcerting.  Muffins solve that problem beautifully.  This recipe makes a light muffin that is soft without being gooey.

Banana Walnut Muffins

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (I use three bananas)
3/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

In large bowl, cream together butter, sugar, and vanilla until smooth.  Beat in eggs, one at a time.  Add mashed bananas and beat until well combined.

Lightly stir dry ingredients into butter mixture, just until flour disappears.  Lightly stir in nuts.

Spoon batter into muffin cups to the top.  Bake 20-25 minutes.  Makes 12 muffins.

The real key to this recipe is to be very light when you stir in the flour and nuts.  Do NOT beat it in.  A light touch will assure a lighter muffin.  As a side note, you can use pecans in this recipe instead of walnuts if you prefer.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Get Well Potato Soup

This potato cheese soup is my go-to soup when someone in the family is sick.  I know, I know, chicken soup is the original medicinal soup, but this soup is popular at our house for sore throats, wisdom teeth removal, and also just for everyday eating.  It's quick and easy to make, and I almost always have all the ingredients on hand.

served with grilled chicken and stir-fried vegetables

Potato Cheese Soup

2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, minced
1 large clove garlic, minced
6 medium russet potatoes, diced
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup cream
1/2 cup milk (you can vary the proportions of milk to cream – even all milk)
2-3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Melt butter in large pot.  Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is soft.  Add broth, potatoes and dried thyme.  Bring to a boil and cook approximately 20 minutes or until potatoes are soft.  Remove pot from heat.  If you have an immersion blender, blend right in the pot, leaving some potato chunks.  If not using an immersion blender, pour 2/3 – 3/4 of the soup into a blender and blend smooth.  Then add soup back into pot.

Add cream/milk and return pot to heat.  Heat almost to a boil.   Stir in cheese and heat thoroughly until cheese is melted.  Serve at once.  This soup also reheats well.

Printable recipe

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Spice Spice Baby

When our oldest child was a toddler, we lived in a small town just south of the Wisconsin border.  The town didn't really offer much in the way of amenities, but it was on the train line to Chicago where my husband worked.  In fact, it was the very last stop on the line.  That's how far out we had to go to get a house we liked that we could afford.  The town had a small Wal-Mart and two small grocery stores, nowhere to buy  organic or other "exotic" foods.  So when a couple of other young mothers decided to start a food buying group, I was in.  We ordered through a supplier in Wisconsin who delivered our goods to one member's house where we unloaded the truck and split up the bounty.  We bought bulk brown rice and dried beans and shared.  Juices and sauces, cheese, you name it.  It was a great social activity -- the kids played as we worked -- and a way to learn from each other about new foods.

After three years in the little town, we moved to a somewhat larger college town.  It had a wonderful natural foods co-op market, which we immediately joined.  Initially, I volunteered there.  My job was to slice the bulk blocks and wheels of cheese into smaller portions which were tightly wrapped for sale.  Sadly, they no longer do that.  The cheese all comes prepackaged in shrink-wrapped pouches.  The co-op has lost much of its buying group feel, but it remains, hands down, the best place in town to buy spices.  The spices and dried herbs are light years fresher than what one finds in the grocery store.  They sell the spices in little plastic envelopes.

The envelopes keep the spices and herbs fresh, and they don't take up much space.  For many years I have stored my spice envelopes inside Rubbermaid containers -- one for baking or sweet spices and one for cooking or savory spices. Recently, however, I began craving a new way to store my spices.  Something cuter, something more charming. Maybe it's because of Pinterest or reading blogs written by women whose homes are filled with creativity and charm.  Who knows?  But gosh darn it, I wanted something new.  And I wanted it to involve chalkboard paint.  Little glass jars with chalkboard lids.

I looked all over the web and at the craft stores for suitable glass jars.  I couldn't find anything I really liked at a price I was willing to pay.  There is no end-of-the-train-line stop for spice jars, but there is recycling.  Baby food jars seemed like the ticket.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I looked into buying empty jars on Etsy, but the price with shipping seemed too high.  So I bought baby food applesauce for fifty cents each and emptied the jars.  I made brownies with some of the sauce and froze the rest.

vinegar soak                                                                                         peanut butter

quick and easy
Removing the glue from the labels proved to be the toughest part of the whole process. I tried several earth-friendly methods.  I soaked the jars in white vinegar.  No dice.  I tried heating water-filled jars in the microwave.  The glue just spread around.  I tried the old tried and true peanut butter method.  Not very successful.  I finally gave in and tried mineral spirits.  Easy and effective.  Ran the jars back through the dishwasher and they were good to go.

I used spray chalkboard paint on the lids, two light coats.  Then I used a white charcoal pencil to write the labels.  It is not perfect.  The writing does not erase completely, but I don't really plan to erase them, so it is fine for my purposes.  I still have to figure out how to put them in the cabinet for best use of space, but I am very pleased with the way the jars turned out.  It was thyme for a change.  Spice spice baby.  Yo.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fiat Accompli

5-speed manual transmission
My husband drives a Fiat.  The man is all about gas mileage.  Small wonder as he commutes 35 miles each way to work.  That comes out to 350 miles per week!  He used to drive a Geo Metro.  It got about 40 mpg.  He loved that car and wouldn't give it up despite pleas from the whole family. He drove it for some 250,000 miles until the frame cracked and he had no choice but to replace it. Still, he knew the Metro's days were numbered, so he'd been looking around.  He'd had his eye on Fiat for a while.  He was eager for the 500 to be sold in the U.S. Then came the Jennifer Lopez commercial.  That put him off for a while.  Plus our son kept telling him the Fiat is a "girl car." But eventually he came back around to Fiat. Good mileage, low price -- those are the siren songs for my husband when it comes to car buying.  This week he finally got his little Fiat.  He couldn't be more pleased.

Father and son checking out the "girl car."

Monday, March 19, 2012


Deliciciousness -- that's what my daughter calls this super easy (so easy it's like cheating!) summer dessert.  I love these strawberry parfaits in warm weather.  Even though spring doesn't officially arrive until tomorrow, I've already made parfaits this season.

Cheat-y Strawberry Parfait

Store-bought pound cake (I use Sara Lee)
Strawberries, washed, capped and cored -- approximately 3-4 average sized berries per serving
8 ounces vanilla yogurt (per 3-4 servings)
Whipped cream

To make:

Slice pound cake into 1/2-inch slices, one slice per serving.  Cute each slice into eight cubes.  Place four cake cubes into each individual serving container.  Cut strawberries into halves or quarters, depending on size of berries.  Place a few berries on cake.  Top with a spoonful of yogurt.  Repeat layers.  Top with whipped cream.

It just couldn't be any easier.  You can adjust the amounts of berries and yogurt to suit your own tastes, switch up the flavors by using raspberries, or whatever you like.  Fast, easy, and delicious.  How can you beat that?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Ben Bulben, taken in County Sligo August 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Friday, March 16, 2012


Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love! -- attributed to Sitting Bull

Spring doesn't officially arrived until March 20, but I decided that spring came to my little corner of the world yesterday. It has been freakishly warm in northern Illinois for mid March.  The grass is beginning to green.  And yesterday several things came together in the universe to create SPRING.

back door pansies
First, Lowe's began selling pansies -- two weeks before they originally planned to stock them.  I know the original date because I am like a drug addict for pansies in the spring.  I've been calling everywhere to find my pansy fix.  Pansies are probably my favorite flower.  Yesterday I stopped by Lowe's to make a return, and [trumpets sound] there were pansies!  Two days before, a garden center employee had all but wagged a finger at me as she told me that it was still too early and uncertain to plant pansies. Luckily, someone above her in the chain didn't agree.  Many years I focus on purples and blues with maybe some yellow mixed in.  This year I went for the whole cornucopia of color.  I put my pansies in pots all by themselves.  I've heard the whole thing about a thriller, a spiller, and Phyllis Diller (ok, not Phyllis Diller), but I really like a simple, one-flower look.  They look a little bedraggled now from the transplanting, but they'll be gorgeous in no time.  That is, if the squirrels leave them alone.  I went out a couple of hours after planting and some of the back door pansies were already on the ground.  A squirrel had dug in to search for a nut he must have buried there in the fall.

front porch pansies

Second, while I was potting up my pansies, I saw my first pair of robins.  Robins are a sure sign of spring.  The house finches and mourning doves are also back.  Third, the forsythia buds are getting fat and heavy, ready to burst into bloom before too long.

forsythia buds

Yep, more pansies, but see the
cocoa shell mulch behind the pot?

I continued with yard clean-up yesterday, raking and bagging up leaves and debris. After raking walnut leaf stems from the side of the garage, I decided to reward myself with some cocoa.  No, not to drink.  I had half a bag of cocoa shell mulch left over from last year, so I spread it on the hosta bed by the garage.  I think I've mentioned cocoa mulch before, but it is worth talking about again.  Honey child, I do love cocoa mulch! Even the leftover mulch released the faint aroma of chocolate.  I'll need to pick up some fresh bags; then I can just stand by the flower beds and breathe.

Finally, my earliest daffodils opened up.  For me, that makes it official.  If the daffodils are blooming, it must be spring.

Ah, spring!  

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cauliflower with a Twist

I first tasted this creamy baked cauliflower at a dinner party in Vero Beach, Florida.  We were invited to dinner by my husband's uncle and aunt.  One of their friends made this delectable cauliflower and prosciutto casserole.  I couldn't ask for the recipe fast enough.  This is a rich dish, filled with butter, cream, and cheese, so we don't have it often, but it is a real treat when we do.

Fresh parsley is best, but if you don't want to purchase parsley in the winter, dried will work fine.  When we are not serving this to guests, I leave in the chunks of garlic since the husband loves garlic.

Baked Cauliflower with Prosciutto
6 tablespoons butter
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and halved
4-6 ounces thinly sliced Prosciutto ham, visible fat trimmed and julienned
1 head cauliflower, sliced in 1/4-inch slices
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups grated Swiss cheese
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped or 2 tablespoons dried parsley
Cayenne pepper and black or white pepper to taste (I use 1/8 teaspoon cayenne and about four grinds of the pepper mill)

Melt butter in large non-stick skillet; add garlic cloves and sauté for 2 minutes.  Remove garlic (or leave in if you like).  Stir in ham; sauté 2 additional minutes, stirring frequently to separate slices of ham.  Add cauliflower; sauté 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently.  Stir in cream, flour, and pepper.  Heat until mixture just comes to a boil.  Remove from heat immediately.  Pour into 9x13 baking dish.  Cover with Swiss cheese and parsley.

Bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Illinois Sure Can Pick 'Em

Image: Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich
photo by M. Spencer Green / AP 

Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich heads to prison in Colorado tomorrow.  The second straight Illinois governor to be thrown in jail.  Blagojevich's predecessor, George Ryan, has been in prison since 2007, serving a six-and-a half-year term.  Blagojevich will begin his fourteen-year term tomorrow.  Ryan, a Republican, and Blagojevich, a Democrat, show that corruption knows no party boundaries in the state of Illinois.

Blagojevich ended his televised farewell address today with the words, "I'll see you around."  Not anytime soon.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Different Brownie

I have a project up my sleeve involving baby food jars.  My "baby" just turned twenty years old last week, so I really don't have a use for baby food.  I looked into buying empty jars on Etsy, but the cost with shipping was about twice what I could pay for full jars at the big box discount store here in town.  I'm pretty frugal, so I knew it would be foolish to pay double, but I also grew up with parents who do not believe in waste.  I can't just pour out all that baby food.  I solved my dilemma by buying baby applesauce and making chocolate applesauce brownies.  (To be truthful, though, they are better with regular, non-baby applesauce.  Baby food applesauce is so finely processed that it is almost a liquid.) These brownies are a favorite of mine from childhood.  They are moist and dense, and the applesauce adds a different taste. Over the years, I updated the recipe to reduce the original amounts of sugar and salt.  Give them a try for a change of pace.  I'm going to be eating a lot of them in order to empty my baby food jars!

Chocolate Applesauce Brownies

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup butter
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup applesauce (or two baby food jars)
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Spray a 9x13 pan with vegetable spray; set aside.

In microwave-safe bowl, melt chocolate and butter together in microwave; stir to combine.  While chocolate and butter are melting, sift together flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl.

In a large bowl, beat or whisk eggs until light.  Gradually add sugar and continue to whisk.    Stir in chocolate/butter mixture.  Whisk for 30 seconds or until fully incorporated.  Add flour mixture and whisk until smooth.  Stir in applesauce, nuts, and vanilla. 

Pour into 9x13 pan.  Tap pan gently to release air bubbles.  Bake at 350 degrees F. for about 30 minutes (check for doneness after 25 minutes).    Let cool and cut into squares.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Big Stuff on the Road South

Recently, I made a quick trip down to Tennessee for my father’s birthday.  It’s not a very scenic drive, as much of it passes through Illinois farm fields, but there are a few interesting sights along the way.  For example, for the last eleven years, I have driven past an enormous cross which stands right at the side of Interstate 57.  The cross was built in 2001.  It rises 198 feet.  I’m not particularly religious, but the cross is an impressive sight when the sun is shining on the surface, especially for drivers heading north on I-57, as the cross suddenly appears to drivers after they round a curve.

in Effingham, Illinois

On Illinois’ southern border, in Metropolis, there is another tall monument, right in the center of town.  This is one super statue – a fifteen-foot tall painted bronze replica of the man of steel.  I hadn't been to see the statue for a long time.  He doesn't look as tall when there are no little kids standing next to him!  According to the Metropolis tourism website, this statue replaces a seven-foot statue that used to stand at the site.  They held a “funeral” at the old statue when Superman died in the comic book series in 1992.  The following year, 1993, the new statue was erected for a cost of around $100,000!  Super!

It's a bird, it's a plane . . .

Metropolis is also a good spot to check out the mighty Ohio River, which marks the border between Illinois and Kentucky.  The river is littered with massive barges, which ferry goods along the water.  

Ohio River

The I-24 bridge spans the river between Metropolis and Paducah, Kentucky.  The bridge is 5,623 feet long.  That’s well over a mile (5,280 feet).  Completed in 1973, it’s a lovely bridge, with a delicate double arch.

I-24 bridge over the Ohio River taken from Fort Massac State Park
It's always fun to take the trip from northern Illinois to Tennessee in the springtime.  It was cold with snow on the ground until I was two-thirds of the way south in Illinois.  Then in Kentucky I saw my first daffodil.  In Tennessee, the Bradford pears were in glorious, full bloom and trees were beginning to bud.  Now that I'm home again, I'll get to see the beginning of spring all over again.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Aw Shucks!

It's lucky you can't see me blushing.  Two fellow bloggers recognized me last week with the Liebster Blog Award.  "Liebster" means dear or beloved.  The Liebster Award is given to blogs with less than 200 followers, so it would generally go to newer blogs that fellow bloggers want to recognize.

Kim at Pop Glamour was the first to notify me of the award.  Her blog is subtitled "Ramblings of a Glam Farm Girl." She has an Etsy shop, Scented Luxuries, that carries bath and beauty products and jewelry.

Then Pamela at Mercantile Muse let me know that she had given me the same award!  Pamela's blog is a lot of fun; you never know what she'll be posting about --  Etsy, nature photography, food, whatever!  It's eclectic, just like most of our lives.  Her Etsy shop, Bates Mercantile Co., is eclectic, too.  It features vintage goods, original art prints, note cards, and more.

Thanks so much to both Kim and Pamela!  

Monday, March 5, 2012

Frosting: The Tunic Top of the Cake World

A tunic top may not be the height of fashionable clothing, but it can serve as camouflage for figure flaws.  Baked goods, unfortunately, don't have the luxury of clothing to hide their flaws.  That's what frosting is for!

Chocolate cake with whipped cream frosting is a popular birthday cake choice at our house.  Our son chose it this year to celebrate leaving his teenage years behind.  Wouldn't you know it, for the first time, the cake stuck to the pan.  It was not a full-blown disaster stuck to the pan, but both layers stuck on the sides a little bit.

My son, bless him, said it didn't matter.  He was right, of course.  I just made extra frosting and filled the damage with whipped cream.  Works for me!

The recipe comes from the May 2005 issue of Country Living magazine.  The issue featured cakes from a reader recipe contest.  I have changed the recipe only slightly.  This moist and delicious cake is not overly sweet, and the whipped cream frosting means you can omit ice cream and not miss it at all.  The recipe for another of our favorite birthday cakes, Praline Turtle Cake, comes from the same issue of Country Living.

Chocolate Whipped Cream Cake
Adapted from Country Living May 2005

1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups sugar
12 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup boiling water

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar
1/4 plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/3 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease two 9-inch round cake pans.  Line bottoms with parchment paper.  Grease the paper as well and dust with flour.  Set pan of water or kettle on to boil.

Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder and baking soda in large bowl.  Whisk in sugar.  Beat in oil, milk, eggs and vanilla using a mixer set on medium speed for 2 minutes.  Reduce speed to low and add 1 cup boiling water.  Batter will be very thin.

Pour batter into pans and tap to remove air bubbles.  Bake until pick inserted in each cake comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes.  Cool pans on wire racks for 10 minutes.  Remove from pans and cool completely.

Beat cream and confectioners’ sugar until soft peaks form.  Gently fold in granulated sugar and cocoa (add cocoa through sieve to prevent clumps).  Mix gently until combined.

Place about 1/3 of the frosting and ½ of the mini chocolate chips between the layers.  Frost top and sides of cake and decorate the top with the remaining mini chips.  Store in the refrigerator.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

All Day Vegetable Beef Soup

Homemade vegetable soup is a bowl full of love and caring.  It is a bowl of "good for you."  It is also a bowl of easy to make.  Both children came home yesterday to spend the weekend celebrating a family birthday.  The day dawned gray and drippy as so many winter days this year.  It was the perfect day for All Day Vegetable Beef Soup.  

I always start this soup sometime mid morning and just let it simmer all day on the stove.  After a while, I may turn it off and let it set for an hour and then turn it back on.  The beauty of this soup is that you can't really overcook it.  It just keeps getting better as the flavors meld and it cooks down.  It is also fabulous reheated.

So yesterday morning I pulled down my old pressure cooker pot, which is very heavy and prevents any possible scorching.  Then I got to work.  The most time-consuming part of the process for me is trimming and cutting up the chuck roast.  I always buy a roast instead of pre-cut soup or stew beef.  I like to know what I'm getting, and I believe the quality of the meat is better with a whole roast.  I am also kind of obsessive about trimming as much fat as possible from the meat.

Once the meat and onions are browned and all the ingredients are in the pot, the soup virtually minds itself.  Just check back now and then to stir and/or adjust the lid.  I leave the lid partially askew to allow steam to escape and to prevent the soup from boiling.  The key is to simmer the soup over a long time, which makes the meat melt-in-your-mouth tender.  And being from the South, I don't mind my vegetables soft.

Turns out, the All Day soup was an especially good choice yesterday.  The daughter got caught in a snowstorm and there was a wreck on the interstate.  The road was closed and she was stuck for some two hours waiting for the accident to be cleared.  No problem, the soup didn't mind waiting, and neither did we.

All Day Vegetable Beef Soup

3-3 1/2 pound chuck roast
1 medium-large onion, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 carrots, sliced
1 28-ounce can tomatoes, cored and rough chopped
1 1/2 cups frozen green peas
2 cups frozen green beans
2 cups frozen lima beans
3 cups frozen corn
1 large russet potato, diced (about 2 cups)
9 cups water
2-3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried thyme

Trim fat from chuck roast and cut meat into bite-sized pieces.  Heat skillet over medium high heat, add meat and onions.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Brown meat and onions, stirring frequently.  Transfer browned meat/onion mixture to large, heavy stockpot using a slotted spoon to allow fat to drain.

Add tomatoes, carrots, frozen vegetables and potato to pot.  Add water and stir to combine.   Stir in herbs.  Cover with lid set slightly askew and cook over low heat about six hours or more.  Stir occasionally.  Add more water if needed.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Curiosity Cabinet

Now that Downton Abbey has ended for this season, the husband and I have been looking for other television programs. A few nights ago, we watched Masterpiece's "The Old Curiosity Shop," an adaptation of the Charles Dickens' novel.  It wasn't a very good show even though it starred Derek Jacobi, who was phenomenal in I, Claudius.

The idea of a Curiosity Shop, though, made me think of the hutch in our dining room.  It is a sort of curiosity cabinet.  Despite the fact that we have a house full of "stuff," we don't have a lot on display.  We're not much on knickknacks or tchotchkes or what Alison from The Polohouse calls vignettes.  She sets up such lovely little scenes which she photographs for her blog.  I don't really have charming arrangements of items in our house, mostly because I hate to dust.

A vignette, according to Merriam-Webster, is a brief incident or scene or a short, descriptive literary sketch.  In that sense, our curiosity cabinet is filled with vignettes or, at least, with items that tell stories, if only to me and my family.  Come and look into our curiosity cabinet.

The cabinet itself originally belonged to my husband's grandparents.  He scavenged it from their basement many years ago.  (You can barely see them in the above picture, but there are mouse holes by the drawers.)  He and his father then stripped off the old paint and returned the hutch to "upstairs" quality.  When we brought it to our house, it was intended as a place to store dishes and table linens, but it has become a little like the shop in the Dickens tale, "one of those receptacles for old and curious things which seem to crouch in odd corners of this town . . . ."

The hutch is part library:  You can see a collection of Oz books scattered throughout.  They belonged to my father-in-law and his older brother when they were boys.  There is also an old Raggedy Ann book on the top shelf.  Cards and postcards from friends and family are stuck in everywhere.

Let's look a little closer.

Pitchers from art fairs; a soapstone hand, carved by my father-in-law; Easter eggs painted by
various family members; a bouquet of flowers knitted by my daughter in a mug made by my son.
Seashells gathered in Florida; Dutch figure salt and pepper shakers from my aunt's collection in front of a postcard from
Mount Vernon; a sarcophagus carved by my father-in-law when he was a boy in front of a postcard from The Biltmore.

I'm linking to The Polohouse Favorites on the First

March 1st -- Next linky party!

and Mercantile Muse.