Tuesday, December 31, 2019

On New Year's Eve

Oh, to have said it in Abbie Graham's words in her little Ceremonial of Common Days:

On New Year's Eve I am at home to the Future. I want to hear her ring the doorbell of the world...There is no hurry on this evening. With much leisure I make preparation for the guest who is to come and for the gifts that she will bring. I set my house in order. There is always a keen sense of failure when I find that its appointments are so meager, its proportions so inadequate. I would have my house more in keeping with the royal character of my guest.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Christmas Gift by Frances Parkinson Keyes

This small book by Frances Parkinson Keyes, one of my favorite authors when I was young, is actually a 1959 compilation of years of her Christmas cards that were messages to her friends and family. 

I have a whole shelf of her novels and nonfiction, almost every book she ever wrote. Her husband was United States Senator from New Hampshire and Keyes proved through years of traveling the world to write her books that you could lead a productive life even though in poor health. 

I love her novels but her own life makes her one of my heroines. Here is a small excerpt from one of her Christmas letters in this book. 

I have the gift of work. I am doing work that I love, in surroundings that I have chosen, and I have the assurance that it is going well. For a long time, my tasks were hard and thankless. Nothing about them suggested a benefit received. All that is different now.

I have the gift of health. For many years I was an invalid, for many others a cripple. Now, though still very lame, I am otherwise well.

I have the gift of companionship...When we [family and friends] can get together, it is a time of great rejoicing; but, when we cannot, we do not repine...

I have the gift of faith: faith in myself, long lost; faith in humanity, long shattered; faith in the future, long dark; faith in God, omnipresent. I think faith is the greatest gift of all.

And I do too. 


Thursday, December 5, 2019

Of Nativity Scenes and Other Things

This was my favorite Nativity scene, one of the last ones at Valley View, that I ever built over many years. It was such a pleasure to arrange, almost like my own little spiritual journey. 

The Baby Jesus, with Mary and Joseph, were figures I bought one day after Christmas many years ago for half price, standing in line to pay for them for an hour, I kid you not. All the other figures were from thrift stores, collected over the years.

There was even an elephant because I loved it so.

The orange, blue and cream silk fabric had a sentimental attachment too. It had served many years before as RH's "Pharaoh" costume when he went to a Bible costume party as Yule Brynner as the Ten Commandments pharaoh Ramses, a sarong-type skirt wrapped around him.

Our daughter Christy went as Miriam, carrying baby Moses in a basket, our own baby playing Moses. 

Last Christmas was my last time to arrange my own little crѐche, this time here at Home Hill in a niche in the wall that once must have held a large television. I keep my Aunt Teenie's ship painting over the hole in the wall now but it was a perfect place for these beloved figures. 

In a desire to simplify, I've shared and donated many of our Christmas things these last few years and this was the year to pass on our Nativity figures to our granddaughters. I hope they have lots of fun arranging all our funny little thrift store figures.

Do any of you display your own Nativity scene? Do you put them all out at once or hide the Babe until Christmas morning? Do your Wise Men stand afar off as they travel towards Bethlehem? Do you have special traditions for putting up your own Nativity scene?

In an old Good Housekeeping magazine in my collection, December of 1951, they wrote of beautiful Italian actress Pier Angeli saying she would miss many things about her home in Italy that Christmas in Hollywood, including "the Capanna, or Bethlehem scene, her architect father designed. Each year he added to it, until the Angeli Capanna was the most beautiful in the neighborhood."

I wish there had been a picture of her family's Bethlehem scene. I meant to include a picture of Pier here because she was so lovely but instead will include a link to her life here for anyone interested. I can't resist telling you about one fascinating bit I read...did you know that she was the love of James Dean's life? 

Oops, there I go, getting off subject, the subject being Nativity scenes, crѐches, or Bethlehem scenes.

What do you call them?


Friday, November 8, 2019

Spring Bulb Planting? Check!

RH just planted over 300 spring bulbs!

We were so surprised in our first Spring here at Home Hill that very few bulbs showed their faces. Wouldn't you think that this 1935 farm cottage would have had some owners in all these years who would have planted bulbs in Autumn? 

Other than a clump of yellow daffodils around a stump and a few more clumps behind the barn, not a single Spring flower appeared. Our first fall here RH and I were mourning the loss of our beloved dachshunds Otis and Milo and last fall I was sick for six weeks so not a bulb got planted.

This Summer I was determined that next Spring will be different so I placed an early order with John Scheepers. (Good thing I did it early because most of these bulbs have been sold out for this year.) Next Spring I want to look out my kitchen window and see tiny little bulbs blooming around our cupola perennial beds.

I have a thing for the tiny bulbs. RH planted 25 Galanthus Nivalis Flore Pleno...

 And 25 Scilla Bifolia Rosea in these beds, tucked around the larger perennials. Aren't they sweet?

 Even though it's a long time until Spring and I am completely in love with Autumn, and even Winter, I can't help getting excited about the possibility of looking out this window next Spring and seeing beautiful flowers around the crab apple trees.

And to open our front door and see clumps of flowers surrounding the pretty Japanese maple and in a bed surrounding the old park bench.

In the nearer beds will be what I hope will eventually be many little Muscari Armeniacum. Maybe not as many as in the catalogue, not in my lifetime...

But at least as many as we had around our big Kousa dogwood at Valley View...

Also in the nearer beds are "RH's bulbs." These are sacks of bulbs he bought at Costco. "My bulbs," more special bulbs from John Scheepers, are planted in the park bench bed, which stretches much further than shown in the picture.

Here will be some of my favorite Narcissus like we planted at Valley View, Cassata...

and Mount Hood...

and Starlight Sensation, a new one to me...

 And behind them will be purple Allium Ambassador, only six of these pricey babies at first, but Poppy, it's a start anyway, even if not in the great swaths surrounding your house in Crete, of which you know I love...

 RH got these in the ground before our big cold front comes in this weekend so I pray they'll sleep well over the Winter and reward his hard work next Spring with beautiful blooms.

Maybe eventually we'll have a Spring garden like our sweet one at Valley View.

 A garden that will be handed down and many years from now a woman will look out her windows here and be grateful to the owners who cared enough to plant Spring bulbs in Autumn.

Someday our Kousa dogwood will be as large as the one at Valley View, it really will.

A Spring bouquet dedicated to you in November, my dear friends and family!


Thursday, November 7, 2019

Looking Back at an Autumn at Valley View

In the words of a beloved author, Agnes Sligh Turnbull:

The woods still have color left and there were rows of cornstalks with the piled-up ears and pumpkins between.

The fields in autumn always look content to me.
They remind me of mothers past middle age whose appearance seems to say, "I've lost my first beauty, but just look what I've produced!"

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A Hot October Morning

It was one of those dark steamy October mornings when the dawn mist crept up from the Housatonic and inundated Shreve's Crossing.
Frances Sill Wickware
from "The American Thing"
in Woman's Home Companion
January 1934


We don't live in Shreve's Crossing and are nowhere near the Housatonic River, but when RH took this picture of a turkey family visiting the pond I thought of this quote I had scribbled down when reading one of my old magazines. I can't put it into pretty words, and I tried, but the picture and the words affected me. They sort of belong together, don't you think?

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Too Tired for the Harvest Moon

I've always loved everything about the full moons. Each month watching for them, calling them by the Native American names I first read in Gladys Taber's books. 

At our old house we watched it rise over the hill looking out our front windows. And yes, the Harvest Moon was always orange. 

 At our home here, it rises above trees outside the kitchen window and is just a pretty creamy white. 

Why is that, I wonder? 

And we go to bed far earlier than we did in years past, too early to see a full moon soar high overhead, too tired to stay up for it.  But I still love the Harvest Moon and these words in a favorite book by Ronald Blythe call to something deep and dim in my memory, something a little mysterious.

Does it call to you, too? At all?

A harvest moon stares frankly into the house with a 'Here I am once more...

but where are the sights I used to see, the tired field-men...

the thankful supper, the tithes and quarter-rent on the scrubbed table?
Ronald Blythe
Word from Wormingford

Was your Harvest Moon orange this year? Did it magically shine into your windows, calling to something old and disappearing? Maybe to grandparents and great-grandparents who farmed the land, as mine did? 

Do Blythe's words thankful table hint to you of something almost sacred, something we unconsciously seek to provide our loved ones with even if what we put on our dinner table was grown by others? 

Here's a simple salad recipe that I could have for supper over and over. It's from my wonderful new copy of America's Test Kitchen The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook and I would link to it except for the fact that printing it off there is impossible if you're not subscribed (by money) to their online site. I wish I had the ability to have you click on a print icon and just print the recipe but haven't tried to set that up.

It's really simple anyway, I just added leftover roasted chicken breast slivers to make it a one-dish meal and sauteed slices of leftover baked potato.

America's Test Kitchen's Asparagus and Arugula Salad with Cannellini Beans:

5 T. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 red onion, sliced thin
l lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut on bias in 1-inch lengths
Salt and Pepper
1 can Cannellini beans, rinsed 
2 T. plus 2 t. balsamic vinegar
6 cups baby arugula

1. Heat 2 T. olive oil in nonstick skillet over high heat and add onion and cook until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Add asparagus, 1/4 t. salt and 1/4 t. pepper and cook, stirring, until asparagus is browned and crispy, about 4 minutes. Transfer to bowl, stir in beans, and let cool slightly.

2. Whisk vinegar, 1/4 t. salt and 1/8 t. pepper together in small bowl. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in remaining 3 T. oil. Gently toss arugula with 2 T. dressing until coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide arugula among plates. Toss asparagus mixture with remaining dressing, arrange over arugula and serve. 

Monday, September 2, 2019

It's September and Anything Is Possible

Anything is possible...as long as I'm wearing my red lipstick by Prince Matchabelli.

Oatmeal Beige hand-knit wool by Iraina-Norelle...
Tortoise-shell belt...
Cat's-eye buttons...
Silver-muskrat lining in raglan straightcoat...
Muskrat-belly beret...
Jewels by Black, Starr and Gorham...
Prince Matchabelli Red Flower lipstick...
Kislav gloves... 

Photographed in Kodachrome by Louise-Dahl Wolfe... 

Harper's Bazaar September 1942 

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Don't forget the forks.

Could you stand it if I just rambled along in this post without much focus? 

Did I hear someone say, "Isn't that what Dewena does in every post?"

Well, it's going to be worse than usual because I'm in that marvelous exhausted  state of loopy euphoria that means we've just had a whirlwind but wonderful visit from our granddaughters--oh yes, their parents came too.

It was only for one night this time but we crammed as much talk and laughter in it as possible. However, I didn't get one single picture of our darlings. Hence the picture of the vinegar bottle above, another Sparrow Lane Vinegar, this time their Gravenstein Apple Cider. I could drink this stuff!

I had meant to think of a clever way to talk about the simplest salad recipe possible. Took the pictures, coming up zero on the clever. So here it is anyway...

When you have a handful of ripe little sweet tomatoes a day, go pick some.

 Don't forget to check the volunteer vines from last year's plant, growing in the gravel. They're the sweetest, for some reason.

How they've survived with BreeBree and James Mason trampling on them, I'll never know.

"Who, me?"

Cut a jalapeño, snip some chives, cut a few cukes--or confess that you bought them at a local farm stand. 

 Slice and snip and toss them in a pretty bowl that you've first poured some of that marvelous apple cider vinegar in, with a little special sea salt stirred in. Do you know this one from Trader Joe's that they carry during the holidays? 

 I ration it all year long.

This salad is so easy and it looks like I'm about easy at this stage in my life. Even my simple Ismail Merchant recipe for the salad below, link here, I've only made once this summer.

Oops, recipe Here!

What was my menu going to be the one night we were expecting our family in Friday night? It had to be easy and nothing's easier than a pot of spaghetti sauce you can let simmer all afternoon.

Ever tried this tomato basil sauce?

 We love it and watch for it to go BOGO at Publix.

Here's something you can't find at Publix, it came all the way from Crete to me on my birthday and it's the most heavenly aromatic herbs I've ever used (sparingly of course, want it to last).

And then you naturally set a pretty table to welcome your guests, don't you?

Sorry, that picture above is several years old. The truth is we served ourselves right out of the pots, from the stove on everyday Fiesta plates.

And our salad for the meal? I triple washed a beautiful head of organic ruffly lettuce, spun it dry and then laid it all out on tea towels, washed a bell pepper, cucumbers, scallions and tomatoes and plopped them out of a towel too.

And our beautiful daughter-in-law had barely stepped out of the car before helping me assemble last-minute individual salads for everyone. Some French bread toasted in the oven and we were ready to sit down at my plain old everyday table and eat.

I didn't take a picture of my fabulous dessert--a recipe I think I saw last week on Facebook, or somewhere. A box of Angel Food cake mix and a 20 oz. can of crushed pineapple stirred into it in a bowl and let it froth, all the way to the top of the bowl. Pour in a greased 9 x 13 pan and bake for 30 minutes. 2 ingredients. Now that's easy and you know what, that cake was not bad at all. If I ever make it again though I think I'll pour melted butter all over the top of it when it comes out of the oven. I mean...butter, right?

I have got to get my pretty table setting groove back though. What's the use of having all these pretty dishes if I don't use them? And I kind of feel like I'm letting the house morale down by not going to much trouble. 

I think about all the old movies where the British dressed for dinner even while on safari, whatever happened to that way of thinking? 

Do you find yourself making things easier and easier on yourself as time goes by? Or am I the only one?

At least I had a fork for everyone.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Tarragon and Other Herbs, and A Kitchen Essential

Tarragon is one of my favorite herbs. Even though I've never been able to find French Tarragon locally, the Mexican tarragon works fine for me and has the prettiest flowers and comes back every spring. 

Beside it in the pictures is a kitchen essential that no one could call pretty but I've treasured it for five decades. It's a wide-mouth funnel that I used every summer for canning.

I haven't done any canning in ages but I still use that old funnel to fill jars easily, like with the Ranch dressing I made in the picture above. And I save glass jars all the time now since we threw away all our plastic food storage containers.

All of those Tupperware parties I went to as a young married and didn't realize how bad it was to store food in them!

If you don't have one of these handy funnels, here's a link to a pretty one. I thought about buying one but it seemed like being unfaithful to my old friend. When I use it I remember all the jars of chili sauce I put up each August, and corn relish and pepper relish and pickled okra and every kind of jelly and jam imaginable. 

Do you still can and preserve garden goodies? I miss those days.  I wonder if RH would agree to give me a few days to put up chili sauce one more time?

 [Woman's Home Companion ad, July 1943]

Besides fresh tarragon, I use a lot of tarragon vinegar too. And my favorite brand is Sparrow Lane.

Their Tarragon Champagne Vinegar is amazing, as is their Pear and their Gravenstein Apple Cider and everything else they make. Here's a link to their vinegars!

I've been on a seafood and fish kick this summer and fresh tarragon and tarragon vinegar seems to go so well with it.

I've cooked rainbow trout anytime I could find fresh North Carolina ones at the store. Here's a pic of it with tarragon butter sauce...just google any recipe for the sauce, some of them call for shallots too but for delicate trout that would be overpowering.

With salmon I tend to use fresh dill...

Don't you just love that you never have to replant dill? Ours sprout up all over the garden each spring.

And of course, pasta shrimp dishes just seem to call for basil and parsley, don't they?

I do wish I could figure out one other kitchen essential. Why is it that some bloggers' kitchens look gorgeous even in the midst of cooking a big meal, with dirty pots and pans overflowing the sink and dirty bowls and dishes on the counters, while mine just looks a mess?

 But then if I had a gorgeous huge vintage copper sink, maybe I would post more pictures of dirty pots in mine too. And it wouldn't hurt a bit if I was as beautiful as she is while cooking. Please, please don't think I'm putting her down because she is my number one online inspiration and I adore her! I really must share her YouTube channel with you because...well, just because it's my favorite and we should always share our favorites, don't you think?

By the way, is there any more tedious task than peeling and deveining shrimp? These Gulf shrimp were worth it but I was so thankful I wasn't cooking for a crowd.

What is your most tedious cooking chore? Besides washing the pots and pans, that is? 

And what is your favorite herb? I have a dear friend who cannot abide cilantro, which amazed me until I read that many people have a gene that makes cilantro taste like soap to them. Okay now, am I gullible to believe that or is it just another urban legend? Anyone know?