Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Framing A Decorative Plate

I came across an antique Coalport plate in the Indian Tree pattern and was transported back to my childhood and special family dinners.

We had one covered serving bowl in that pattern and it only graced the dining table on the most special of occasions.  Mom would send us to the china cabinet to fetch the dish that we children always referred to as the pretty dish.  Oh, so carefully we would carry that bowl, eyes turned to it and fingers clamped on it in a death grip.

We knew that it was no ordinary piece of china. It had been a wedding gift to my parents from a real author! In my house, anything that had belonged to an artist, was prized above a gift from royalty.

It was even more mysterious to me because I knew the abandoned, ruined cottage that he and his wife had lived in when they retired.  There was a scandal attached to the dish because my, oh so Victorian minded grandma said he wrote, "dirty books", though she did say his wife was a most genteel British lady!

I've never forgotten the author's name, though he died in 1956 and I've never read one of his books. Finding this plate gave me the nudge to do a little research.

Frank Pollock was a science fiction writer, which completely surprised me. I had visions of Lady Chatterley's Lover, not threats from outer space. Grandma was right about the 'dirty book' part though. It must have been shocking in 1906, when he wrote his best known work Finis', a tale of the end of the world, where the protagonists, facing certain death, make love. Uh huh, they did and that must have put my grandma into a swoon!

My parents gave the dish to my brother as a wedding gift and he scoured auctions and antique stores until he put together an entire dinner service in that pattern.

I only need to have one, little luncheon plate to remind me of the story but it did look rather unimportant just plunked on the wall.

It needed a frame!

I found one in need of a paint job in my stash and gave it a coat of light blue paint to pick that colour up in the plate. ~

Far too boring for Frank Pollock and his dirty sci-fi books.

Let's dab at it wildly with gold leaf foil! ~

What do you think, Frank? I like it! It's classic and edgy at the same time.

I think that little plate holds it's own on the hallway wall now. ~

Now, I'm off to find Frank Pollock's books and short stories. This just may spice up these cold, winter nights!

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Cream Of Celeriac Soup

January is all about comfort food for me and nothing is as homey as a pot of soup simmering on the stove. I'm trying new soup recipes all the time and saw this one for Cream of Celeriac Soup in the January 2012 issue of Victoria magazine.

Gather up a few ingredients and remember, soup is very forgiving. If you don't have the exact ones, go ahead and improvise! ~

For the first stage of making your soup you will need:

3 slices of bacon
3 Tsp butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 shallot minced
1 clove garlic minced
3 lbs. celeriac (celery root) washed, peeled, diced
3 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 1/2 cups water

Bouquet Garni:

In a square of cheesecloth put 3-4 sprigs of  fresh thyme, 3 sprigs of fresh parsley, 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, and 1 bay leaf.  Tie the cheesecloth to make a packet for the herbs. If you use dried herbs, you can add them directly to the soup, without tying in cheesecloth. Just be sure to cut the amount of each back when you are using dried so you don't overpower the flavour of the celeriac.

In a dutch oven, saute the bacon until cooked through. All you want from this is the drippings. ~

That's about 4 TBS., if you are like me and save bacon drippings in a jar in the fridge. The recipe said to discard the bacon. I assume the author lives in some kind of parallel universe where you throw out bacon. If you don't want to use it as a garnish for your finished soup, just eat the darned stuff while you are waiting for dinner!

Remove the bacon from the pot, reserving the bacon fat. Add the butter to the pot and melt. Add onion, shallot and garlic. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until onion is translucent and tender (about 5 mins.).

Add celery root, chicken stock, water and the Bouquet Garni. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer, covered, until tender, about 45 mins. ~

Remove the soup from the heat and allow to cool a bit. Take out the Bouquet Garni and discard. Puree the soup with a food processor or immersion blender.

Here's a trick for making cream soup ahead of time. Once the soup is pureed, and before you add the milk, you can freeze it as a base. It works great with all the usual cream soups. Just thaw it and add the dairy when you reheat it.

For the second stage of the recipe you will need:

1 1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper (if you don't have white on hand just add more black)
1 1/2 cups half and half
1/4 cup heaving whipping cream

On medium heat, bring soup back up to a gentle simmer and add the salt, pepper, half & half and whipping cream, stirring occasionally to make sure the cream doesn't separate.

The finished soup had a delicate, celery flavour and a thin consistency.  If you like a thicker cream soup, I'd cut the water back by at least half.  ~

I loved the 'spring like' flavour of this soup and it would be perfect served at a luncheon with quiche.

It makes about 2 quarts and serves 6 generous portions.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Keep Up The Momentum

With temperatures hanging around the -19 Celsius range, it's a battle to keep the chickens warm and comfortable.  I run a heat lamp in the coop on very cold days, but the waterer has still been freezing up in about an hour.

My world looks like this right now. ~

I'm tempted to put hot water in the coop, even though I know hot water will freeze faster than cold. It's something called the Mpemba Effect and was baffling scientists as far back as the 4th century BC,, when Aristotle first observed it.  Experiment results were too irregular to come to a definitive on what caused hot to freeze faster than cold.  With today's scientific equipment, we have the answer.  In VERY layman's terms, it's caused by friction between atoms, creating energy.

I trudge to the coop, once again, and think about those atoms creating energy and building momentum until ice crystals form. ~

That makes me remember sitting in a coffee shop way back in the '70's, listening to a self made millionaire tell me how he became so successful.

He told me that it was easier for him to succeed because he had come from so far down. He and his wife came from poor families.  They had no education and jobs that barely gave them subsistence wages.

When an opportunity arose for him to go into business without a cash investment, he went for it all the way. He and his wife worked day and night. They studied other successful business people and incorporated their philosophies into their lives.

He said, "By the time I caught up to everyone else's starting point, I was at a flat out run and sailed right past them."  He had used his energy to build momentum and that momentum would carry him farther than he had ever imagined he could go!

Taking a paper napkin and starting to draw, he told me what most people do wrong as they go after their dreams. ~

One line showed the effort we expend heading upwards. We are full of energy in the beginning. The second line depicts our results. Nothing happens, nothing happens, nothing happens. We are discouraged and our effort begins to drop off.  But, that's right about when our results catch up with us. Whoa, something happened! So, we put some more effort in, thinking we are on our way to success.

Oh but, didn't we have a period when we didn't keep our effort up? Yes we did and our results are going to show it in the next cycle. Down go our results and we get discouraged all over again.

"That", he said to me, "Is why people fail. They don't keep their feet steadily climbing up the mountain path."

They lose momentum!

I get it! 

Whatever dream you are chasing, remember that simple graph on a paper napkin. We're not sprinting here folks, we are climbing the path to our very best life!

Monday, 5 January 2015

My Downton Abbey Is Back!

Sunday night was the long awaited Season 5 premier of Downton Abbey in North America and my friend Wendy and I were glued to the TV.  

I admit it!  I'm addicted to that series and it was agony not to be able to catch up with all the doings, upstairs and downstairs, in the Abbey.

While I was waiting for the new season, there were some minor dramas I could follow.

In a shocking lack of correctness, that would have appalled Carson, a publicity shot was published that showed a plastic water bottle sitting on a mantel.  Now, I'm against plastic water bottles at any time, but I'm even more against one showing up in a 1924 setting!

But, the cast good naturedly turned the fiasco into a positive by posing with water bottles to support the international charity, WaterAid, ~

There's lots of merchandise available to keep us in the Downton spirit, too.

PBS has a Downton line that ranges from jewellery 

to baby onesies, aprons, snow globes of Highclere Castle, and Lady Cora's favourite night time tea. 

I have two Downton cookbooks on my Kindle.  Check out the site for the author of Downton Abbey Cooks, Pamela Foster. You can check out her recipe blog here.

The biggest drama of the preseason has been the rumours that this would be the last and I'm sure they could hear me cheering all the way to England when they signed the deal for a 6th season.

So don't  bother phoning me on Sunday nights for awhile.  I'll be too busy to answer it.

Someone has to keep an eye on that cheeky, radical, teacher Sarah Bunting.  I dislike her intensely, can't figure out what the heck it is she's being radical about and just want her to leave that poor Irish chauffeur, turned husband of a lady, rebel barred from his home country,widower with a baby and manager of the estate, alone.  Hasn't the poor lad dealt with enough in the last few years? No wonder he wants to run away to America!

I'm also a little curious about how young that dog is looking, when he's supposed to have been there for more than the 12 yrs. the show covers. Those daily walks he takes with Lord Crawley must sure be great for his health!

Think I'm getting over involved with this show? Nah.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Invite Yourself Into Your Home

There is a let down that happens once the Christmas decorations are down and packed away. Gone are the sparkles, the reds and greens, the mice in stocking caps and manger scenes.  The company has all gone home and winter is ready to settle on my house.

Only the wreath on my bedroom closet door remains. ~

I love those old, board doors and their original hardware.

The wreath really stayed up because I have such a crush on the white birch and glitter stars I tucked in among the pinecones.  I simply could not bear to pack them away yet. ~

When a Canadian winter day sends you something like this ~

You have to develop strategies to keep your spirits up.  One year, I decided to treat myself as well as I would treat a guest in my home.

I decided to make everything as clean, pretty and welcoming as I could.

Now, on these icy, grey days, I light the candles.  All of them! ~

In the evening I take long, hot baths and use every nice potion I have on hand. ~

There's no danger of me running out of bath products. Ever since my divorce people have been giving me bath potions by the basketful.  I'm not sure if they think my husband left because I didn't bath often enough or if they think I need to smell like an English cottage garden in full bloom to attract a new mate.  I ponder these things while I soak in the tub.

I use all my prettiest things to make the day special.  

Tea is served in my grandma's special teacup; the one that fascinated me as a child because of the beautiful rose inside. It has to be a strong tea to fight off the gloom.  An Oolong or Earl Grey is called for and not some insipid herbal concoction. 

Tiny, fairy lights in plants give a bit of sparkle. ~

You can buy strings of battery operated fairy lights at Ikea for $2 and they make me feel like I'm in Disney World.  Sometimes I'll ask the florist for damaged roses or a single carnation to float in a bowl of water.  It only costs a dollar or two and does wonders to lift the spirit.

Stacks of books wait for me to curl up in front of the fire and travel through time and space to live all the lives I can cram into a few hours. ~

Magazines, seed catalogues and cookbooks are beckoning me to flip through pages of promise for things to come. ~

It's odd that I'm such an avid reader of cookbooks when I rarely ever use one to cook. I'm more of a make it up kind of girl in the kitchen. I guess they are like Pinterest and I use them for inspiration.

Yes, I think I have been a good hostess to myself today.  It didn't take much more than looking at it all with the same eye I would use for an honoured guest.

Though the winter has given me this outdoors, ~

I'll quote Beverley Nicholson, commenting on the home of Syrie Maugham ~

"Her house was as pretty as a narcissus in the snow,
As pretty as a silver feather on a pane of winter glass."

In fact, that quote has inspired me to take some of the chicken feathers I am forever gathering and saving from the coop and see if I can make them silver.

Invite yourself in to your home.  Be good to yourself.  It won't cost a thing and you'll feel ready, maybe even anxious to go into the season of stillness, while the earth takes well deserved rest under a snowy blanket.

photo courtesy of Wallpapers On Web

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Everything Changes And Yet ...

As much as change is inevitable, this year I'm struck by how many things stay the same.

Tonight 2014 is on the wain and a shiny new year will be ushered in with party horns and and glasses of champagne.  For some, it is a starting line to set off on new personal adventures and the race toward goals. Others will welcome the new year with a fervent prayer that the hardships or mistakes of the old year will be swept away and better things will come their way.  

It's a time to pack away the Christmas finery in plastic totes.  The memories, we will store in our hearts. ~


I always take time to assess my blog for the past year, look at the stats and consider the hits and misses. The same, old post on how to make a shiny bucket rusty remains the champion for four years straight. 

Rack up another 22,000 views for that one! ~

If you missed that post you can click on it here.

The second runners up are always cooking posts. ~

Gourmet herb butter for steak was the hit this year.  You can find that post here.

I'll tell myself that I'll do more projects and cooking posts and stop rambling about the state of the world or, worse yet, the forever jumbled state of my life. I know I won't stick to that. It would take a much more orderly person than I to follow a plan for writing.

Instead, I'll veer off into whatever direction is uppermost in my mind that day.

Today it may be my backyard feathered friends. ~

Tomorrow, it could be house destroying cats. ~

It may be a tragedy that pulls on my heartstrings or advocating for a healthy food supply.  For sure I will speak out against oppression or cruelty whenever I hear of it.  Those posts mean more to me than any opportunity to up my reader stats.

Over the holiday, I have been reading L.M. Montgomery's journals. ~

She is fourteen when she begins them and they carry through to after WWI and on to the end of her life. She writes of all the things that any of us would; childhood beaus, money worries, feeling unappreciated or unloved, dreams of success, broken hearts, boredom, physical ailments and the pain of giving up dreams for family responsibilities.  Her times were not so different from ours.

She felt all the frustration of the limitations imposed on women.  She wrote her novels in the the two hours a day she could eke out from caring for others and fulfilling the obligations of a minister's wife. The daily news during WWI was agony for her and the uncertainty was much like we feel in today's world of global unrest.  For all of that, she still cared about a pretty dress and how many chickens she had canned for the winter.  It is a fascinating account of the life and times of a woman who became one of Canada's best loved writers. You can find the journals on this Amazon affiliate by clicking here.

Yes, everything changes and yet a great many things stay the same.  I'm going into 2015 with hopes of change for the better and a comfortable sense that not everything will be unfamiliar.  I like that mix!

I choose a new word for each year.  It helps me focus and stay true to my intent. 

 My word for 2015 is Write. 

Happy New Year! My life has been so much richer with all of you in it.  It is wonderful knowing that we are all opening the book together and sharing the first chapter. May 2015 be all you wish it to be! 

Thursday, 11 December 2014

My Version Of Frozen

This is my way of doing Christmas decorating that works for adult entertaining and still gives the grandkids some fun.  Like every other kid on the planet, my grandkids are obsessed with the movie Frozen.  While I'm not going to use Disney characters in my library, I can bring enough snow and ice into the theme to please all the Elsas and Olafs out there.

If it's white, crystal or silver it goes on the black Christmas tree. ~

The angels my daughters made for me so many years ago keep their place of honour over the mantel. A snowy owl and a couple of snowflakes hanging from the urns will work.  On the fireplace a grey and white winter angel presides over a bowl of "ice chips". ~

I'm still in declutter mode and determined to work with only things that I have on hand.  I WILL NOT BUY A SINGLE ORNAMENT!  Remind me of that when I go shopping at Michael's tomorrow.

A wind storm kindly left me lots of fallen branches in the yard and I popped a few in a vase with some 'passed their prime' silk poinsettias.  It doesn't really show in the pic but the poinsettias perked up nicely with some glue and glitter.  The branches are perfect for hanging some dollar store snowflakes.

The library is the first room you enter from the front door.  It's a very dark room and difficult to photograph so you'll have to trust me that there is plenty of glitter and sparkle in here. ~

The larger set of bookcases gets the frozen treatment as well with silver branches, ice chips and Christmas photos. ~

The great thing about using old decorations is I don't feel bad about cutting them apart to tuck into places. ~

If it says snow or ice to me it finds it's way into the library.  Lots of little things are down for the kids to explore and play with. ~

This is the kind of grandma house where kids get to touch things, even the antiques.  One of my grandmas had a house where nothing could be touched and the other one had a house where kids could actually have fun.  I know which kind of grandma is the kind you actually want to visit!

I haven't done much with the other end of the room yet but I'm sure more winter things will make their way there as I root through the Christmas bins.  If I'm lucky, the kids will want to take something home with them and the clutter will become my daughter's problem.

This is the end of the room near the front door. ~

Well, that's the first day of my very late start to Christmas decorating.

But, what would a post from me be without a cat picture.  Clara Jane just had to get up on the chair with the polar bear that the kids tormented last year.  He looks like he has a bad case of mange now. That's the polar bear I'm referring to, not the cat. The cat is as fine a specimen of pampered, rescued feral cat as you will ever see!

Next post I'll show you some close ups of how I do the bookcases up without spending a penny!