These are the hands of my family.
These are the hands of my family.
To me there isn’t any sound more pleasurable than the tinkling of a bracelet covered in charms. When I see someone wearing one I have to resist the urge to snatch up their wrist and ask for an explanation on the origin of every charm. These people are easy to find. You can hear them coming a mile away.
Of all the charm bracelets I’ve seen, my favorite still belongs to my sister. It’s a silver bracelet laden with charms from the 60’s and 70’s. Sadly, it’s too heavy to really “wear”. As a kid I lived for the times when she’d let me hold it, turning the charms over in my hand, gazing at a tiny roller skate, a flute, and spinning the miniature dial on the lie detector. Did I wish that bracelet was mine?
My mother has put together two bracelets of her own, one with gold and one with silver charms, many of these mementos of her own childhood, but some added to commemorate motherhood, plus religious medallions, and even a corporate service award from my dad. My favorites are the football charm from her own father and the locket containing her picture and his.
As a young adult finally on my own and able to make my own purchases, my first jewelry “goal” was to start my own gold charm bracelet. My husband and I collected charms for it as we traveled and he has added a few more since we started our family. A gold die with tiny diamonds commemorates our wedding in Las Vegas. A peanut reminds me of a visit to a quirky shop in Vancouver’s Chinatown. The tiny lizard with a curly tail that has snagged every sweater I own came from the Virgin Islands to remind us of a hotel room teeming with the little creatures. Cute but also… kinda not.
When my oldest daughter was a baby I started an inexpensive bracelet for her, collecting charms from the children’s clothing store Gymboree, creating a one-of-a-kind bracelet reminding me of the fun I had dressing her up. The charms came two to a card, each set matching a specific outfit design. I had one for every outfit she owned. Silly but sweet.
My college roommate Elizabeth and I frequently visited antique malls and flea markets, looking for vintage charms that we could afford. We discussed many times how sad it was to see bracelets broken up and sold piece by piece. Someday I suppose that will happen to mine, and my sister’s and my mother’s bracelets.
A small ring with a curly letter “C” that once held a tiny finger. A majorette with a baton still leading the band. A ferry-boat sailing across remembered waters.
It’s not the charms, it’s the things they remind us of.
A post from Bridget. To me a Thanksgiving meal isn’t complete without a slice of pumpkin chiffon pie. Unlike traditional pumpkin pie, this chiffon pie is light and fluffy. Using a recipe from my Great Grandmother Martha, this pie is a permanent installment at family gatherings and is made by many members of our extended family.
We alternate years between families and this year we’re at my parent’s house. My husband’s family serves a non-traditional Asian feast containing many kinds of seafood, sticky rice and bamboo soup. My parents serve a very traditional American meal of turkey, mashed potatoes and all the trimmings.
Whatever your tradition, and whatever is on your table, have a wonderful day with many blessings.
PUMPKIN CHIFFON PIE
4 t. unflavored gelatin
1/4 c. brown sugar
30 oz. can pumpkin pie mix
1 t. vanilla
1 cup whipping cream
9 inch graham cracker crust
Combine 4 t. unflavored gelatin and 1/4 c. brown sugar in sauce pan. Add 30 oz. can pumpkin pie mix and 1 egg, slightly beaten. Heat slowly to boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Chill until mounds slightly. Add 1 t. vanilla. Beat 1 cup whipping cream until stiff; fold into pumpkin mixture. Turn into 9-inch graham cracker crust. Chill until firm. Garnish with whipped cream. Make a 9 inch pie.
The pear tree on the land where I grew up has stood for over 100 years. The large horse barn it stands next to was built in 1918 and the pear tree was there before its erection, the last remnant of what was once a fruit orchard. It has grown for all the time of my life and all the time of my father’s life and much of the time of his father before him.
Every year it manages to produce an enormous crop of heirloom pears, the exact variety of which is unknown to us – but appear similar to Bartlett pears. My parents’ house stands on a windy hill, and although the barn and house and other buildings are protected by lightning rods, the tree has been at nature’s mercy. Over the years wind and ice and snow and lightning have continually stripped off huge chunks of tree. But it still stands.
Last year an enormous section of the tree came down and we were convinced it was the end. This tortoise of a tree had the last laugh however, its misshapen form producing a bumper crop despite the second year of serious drought.
I tried to remember how many photographs I’ve taken of this tree — so many. I’ve stood under the branches and watched my father go in and out of the barn, or watched the cattle eating or standing in the lot and listened as the insects buzzed and sucked at the fruit. When the ripe fruit falls, the ground is so thick with pears you have to walk around or risk oozing fruit squishing up to your ankles.
Over the years the fruit has made its way home with a variety of family and friends. One year our school bus driver stopped the bus and hopped off, filling a sack before heading on his journey.
This year some ended up with Martha Scott in historic Fort Scott, Kansas. Martha is the author of both a blog and a column in the Fort Scott Herald-Tribune, Lines from Linderhof. Over the years many of her columns have been read aloud or passed around in the family, and more than a few recipes have graced our tables.
Linderhof is a historic 1920’s home in Fort Scott and Martha and her husband (with a little help from their corgi Dolly) enjoy gardening, decorating, cooking and entertaining individuals from far and wide. Their blog Lines from Linderhof documents their lovely home and hospitality. My brother and his partner were fortunate enough to attend a wonderful luncheon at Linderhof earlier this month, and Martha served a delicious pear and almond tart, using the pears from my family’s tree.
Martha is a woman after my own heart. I’m not much of a baker but she made a fast friend with her table setting featuring Wedgwood china dating to 1870, an heirloom lace tablecloth, damask napkins in silver napkin rings, and German silver cutlery monogrammed with her German grandmother’s initials. Sigh.
I find it appropriate that pears from a 100+ year old tree and Wedgwood china from 1870 were served together. Doesn’t it look delicious?
Sweet Tart Crust
1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1/4 t. salt
9 T. very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk
Put the flour, sugar, salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in. Stir the yolk to break it up and add a little at a time, pulsing after each addition until combined.
Knead the dough, wrap in plastic, and chill at least 2 hours before rolling it out. After rolling, press into a tart pan.
If you’re in a hurry you may press the dough without chilling into the bottom and up the sides of the tart pan. Don’t be too heavy-handed; press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but don’t press so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture.
4 cups water
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 T. fresh lemon juice
3 medium size firm but ripe Bosc pears, peeled
2/3 c. blanched slivered almonds
1 T. flour
7 T. sugar
6 T. butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
1/2 t. almond extract or 2 t. brandy or 2 t. Poire William
1 baked sweet tart shell
For pears: bring 4 cups water, sugar and lemon juice to boil in large saucepan over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool pears in syrup.
For almond filling: finely grind almonds and flour in food processor. Mix in sugar, then butter and flavorings (if using). Blend until smooth. Mix in egg. Transfer filling to bowl. Cover and chill at least 3 hours.
Position rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350 F. Spread almond filling evenly in baked tart crust. Spread each pear half to fan slices but keep slices tightly overlapped. Slide spatula under pears and arrange atop filling.
Bake tart until golden and tester inserted in center of filling comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool tart in pan on rack. Push pan bottom up, releasing tart from pan. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.
I don’t know what makes me salivate more in this picture… that china, that fork or that tart! Thanks Martha for allowing me to reprint your recipe here.
If you get a chance to visit Fort Scott, Kansas be sure to take a drive past Linderhof. Martha frequently entertains and offers private cooking classes. Fort Scott has many historic homes as well as the famous Fort Scott National Historic Site, dating to 1842.
A post from Bridget. I think my interest in the magical and mystical stems from Halloween nights. It was the one night we were allowed to roam unattended, as I walked the streets of my small home town in the dark with only a friend in tow. We felt perfectly safe, yet at the same time, the air seemed charged with electricity and danger.
Raised on a farm, we had to drive five miles “to town” where my mother would chat with a friend while we were released to a night of utter freedom; just as long as we were back by 9 o’clock.
We knew which houses had the best candy (the Holy Grail being the family that gave out full-sized candy bars) and which served the homemade popcorn balls which looked better than they tasted. The popcorn ball lady was our church organist, and she always made you de-mask and announce who you were and who your parents were before handing out her homemade treats. She acted grumpy but we knew it was a ruse. Later we ran past the ramshackle house of the town “crazy guy” who might have been crazy but was probably just lonely.
On the nights there was a moon, I swear it felt just like a scene out of “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown”, still my favorite holiday show. Some years we sweltered, some we froze, some we were drenched in rain. We wore cheap costumes or those cobbled together from hand-me-downs or made by our mothers. None of them were from the Chasing Fireflies catalog, that’s for sure.
We chattered about the notorious threat of razor blade laden apples, but the worst thing we ever received were the dreaded rock hard black and orange taffies, the cheapest candy that was for sale. Still hate those.
To this day, Halloween is my favorite holiday, positioned at the end of my favorite month. I think my friend Angela feels the same.
I took a quick pit stop by her house to snap a few photos of her gorgeous annual Halloween spread. She shares my love of vintage and quirky items, and combines it with impressive layering skills. She also applies just the right touch of spooky. Unlike me, she really mixes it up from year to year and I always look forward to seeing what she has put together.
Enjoy today’s dose of pretty. My pretties.
Angela creates vignettes throughout her home combining modern items such as silver mercury glass and crow and spider motifs with vintage items such as amazing Halloween blow molds. Flickering orange “gaslights” throughout her displays add to the overall effect.
“Spooky cloth” is used not only as a mantel drape but interwoven with natural elements and lights for a spiderweb effect.
Her mantel is a delicious combination of textures and layers – and I love how she’s not afraid to just toss things in at crazy angles like the zombie grandma pic peeking out from behind. All of the books on display also tie into the Halloween theme.
An amazing display of mercury glass balls filled with orange lights creates a gorgeous lava-like effect.
An avid scrapbooker and crafter, Angela repurposed the RIP letters from different letters of the alphabet cutting them and stapling together with an industrial stapler before painting them black for a wonderful Frankenstein look.
Among the many displays is one of my favorite touches – a black feather wreath enhanced with sprigs of dangling black foliage, hung from a thick black satin ribbon. Just another example of her talent for embellishing ordinary objects to make them something special.
Thanks again Angela for letting me invade your space. And here’s hoping you all have a magical Halloween filled with full-sized candy bars.
A post from Bridget. Having recently given birth to my third child, a lovely little girl with a shock of dark hair, I’ve reentered the twilight that is infant care. Dust collects in the corners and grows daily, threatening to roll over the me, like the big rock in the cave at the beginning of the first Indiana Jones. I try to channel my inner Zen and overlook the dishes, the laundry, and the dirt, and instead focus on the face of my littlest daughter, because this time around I really get how fleeting it all will be.
This morning on the way to school my two older children asked why everyone makes such a fuss over the baby – women, men, children, toddlers, young and old – everyone wants a peek at the miracle of a little one. To my children the answer was simple – a baby is both joy and hope.
Here’s our chance to finally get things right. Here’s our chance to enjoy gazing forever at someone who won’t tell you to stop, and in fact, never wants you to stop holding on tight. Here’s our chance to make silly faces and talk in goofy voices and no one makes fun. Here’s our chance to remember when our sister or brother was small; our daughter, our son.
I attended a funeral yesterday for a friend’s elderly mother, and as we left the burial services I heard an older couple behind me discussing the baby I carried over my shoulder. “Doesn’t that bring back memories?” he said. “Yes it does.” she replied with her voice trailing off. Yes it does.
Here’s my chance to remember that my memories with this little one are happening now.
My mother has spent many years collecting a fairly large display of vintage framed prints of babies. Fat cheeked little boys and girls, many asleep or smiling up with bright eyes. Some were cobbled together from old scrap paper, calendars, or thermometers. Most were purchased for little or nothing but grouped together make a lovely collection; a tribute to the time when we all were those babies.
My new little daughter is sleeping now and soon it will be time to snap off some photos celebrating her two month birthday. Two months! She’s gained a few pounds, outgrown a couple of impossibly tiny onesies, holds up her head and is threatening to roll over soon. She hasn’t left much time for cleaning or blogging or clicking “like” buttons on Facebook, but no matter.
For me and many people of earlier generations there aren’t a lot of baby photos to document the process. By comparison, my older children’s lives are virtual flip books of the thousands of images I’ve photographed. Of course the sweetest moments aren’t often captured by a camera, but I can’t help myself.
Following the births of my first two children I spent much of my maternity leave out shopping for perfect little outfits, strolling around the mall, meeting people for lunch, searching the internet for fancy European wooden toys and reading “how to” books on parenting. This time I feel a bit more mellow. She doesn’t need much, and neither do I. I’m trying to savor the days we have alone before I head back to work. I don’t need to go out; what I’m looking for is right here.
“A woman’s life is her own
until it is taken away
by a first, particular cry.
Then she is not alone
but a part of the premises
of everything there is:
a time, a tribe, a war.
When we belong to the world
we become what we are.”
from Poem for a Daughter by Anne Stevenson
My friend’s mother was close to a century old at her passing, raising four children along the way. Each was as special to her as my daughter is to me and as she was, no doubt, to her own mother, way back in 1914, gazing up with bright eyes, bringing joy and hope. Doesn’t that bring back memories? Yes it does.
A post from Bridget.
A recent move to a smaller home has me reflecting on the things I own that have a hard time finding a place in smaller digs. Ever since I was a girl I’ve collected lots of different things. As a girl it was my older siblings’ cast off toys. Most are long gone of course but I still have a box of misshapen hand-crocheted dolls made by my great-grandmother Martha. No one else wanted them but even as a girl I knew someone had to remember them and so I do. And these come with me.
As a teen I scavenged flea markets and antique stalls with my fellow teenage nerds-in-crime John and Victoria. We were limited to items that could be purchased for a few dollars and that is when I began collecting vintage jewelry – granny brooches and paste rhinestones considered junk. More than once our selections earned us THE LOOK by the person taking our money. It said quite clearly, you are nuts for buying this garbage. But some granny once loved that pin shaped like a cherry. And now I do. And I remember the day the pin was bought and that Victoria smelled like Crabtree and Evelyn lilac toilet water as she always did. And these things also come with me.
In college, distressed for cash as one might expect, my friend Stephanie and I limited the amount we spent on gift giving at Christmas and birthdays to no more than five dollars. One of those gifts was this book. It’s a worn out horrid looking thing she found in a box for free, sitting waiting for the garbage. Inside a treasure – a lifetime of four-leaf clovers lovingly pressed in the pages of a book published in 1887, their impressions leaving permanent shadows on the pages. The story is terrible but it contains some beautiful illustrations and many years of good luck, all passed on to me. The book, pages crumbling from the spine, comes with me.
Some people live a life free of dust and clutter and I admire this trait but I can never be that person. Even if it were all lost to me I would begin again.
During a recent cloud of self-doubt I questioned my need to retain many of these things that rarely see the light of day. A box of my own Chinese lanterns have waited silently in their own box, having never been hung, purchased almost 20 years ago in San Francisco’s Chinatown, still waiting for the moment they will be illuminated. What is a book of lucky clovers if we never use the magic they contain? What is a life if we are trying so hard to preserve the memories that we never get around to hanging the lanterns and starting the party?
Alice and I started this blog together, but she has been busy crafting a new life for herself as an environmental and fashion stylist working in large part with a very talented and uber-creative photographer, Jenny Wheat of Wheat Photo. Not so much a hoarder like me, Alice is still a serious collector and turns out this a very handy trait for a stylist who needs to find creative props and accessories often on an extremely limited budget. In the future I’ll be showing off a bit more of Alice’s many talents and the projects that have been keeping her busy. Prepare to be impressed.
As for me, dusty boxes and all, I keep the mutant crocheted toys and the cherry pins and the clovers because they are a part of my past and nostalgia is my personal magic.
But I want more than dreams of the party where the lanterns will hang. I want the actual party and I’ve decided to have it. If I get stuck I’ll just call Alice because she always knows just the right thing to do. Note to self: prepare to be impressed.
Things have been a little hectic at casa de Bridget recently, including a move to a new house and learning of a surprise addition to our family later this year (!!!!). As a result, I’ve been lacking a bit in time and energy to put up all the ideas I have in my head.
Since we just launched in early 2010, I thought I’d repost last year’s Valentine’s breakfast with my kiddos. We used the same plates and “stuff” this year, just not so nicely presented!! Tonight we are taking the Pink Devil and Super C for a special Valentine’s Day dinner and I’ll give them each a small gift, plus a handwritten card including just a few of the things I love about each of them. Sounds just right for this tired mom.
Enjoy and if you’ve seen it before we hope you enjoy it again… Happy Valentine’s Day from Alice and Bridget.
A post from Bridget. Valentine’s Day is pretty low-key for us, but I wanted to give my children a special breakfast by decorating a table just for them. I wish it could have been a surprise, but they were up early and wanted to pitch in. I appreciated the help even more than the surprise and they enjoyed making decisions on where everything would go.
I’m lucky that (so far) my two young children share my love of holidays and holiday decorating. Since they get as excited as I do, over the past years I’ve added children’s dishes to my stash, incorporating them into our regular dining. As my mother would say, “what’s the point in having it if you never use it?”. And simply put, it’s more fun to eat off a plate covered in hearts, even if the plate is made from melamine and not fine china.
We covered the kid-sized art table in white Kraft paper (we keep it on a roll à la the butcher shop) and then used fabric from Hobby Lobby as a simple runner. The paper and a few crayons kept them busy while breakfast was being prepared.
The plates are a combination of Target melamine heart plates and Pottery Barn Valentine’s plates from past years, plus mismatched antique Early American Pattern Glass. The teapot and creamer were purchased this year at my favorite store, HomeGoods. The teapot was a little heavy for small hands, so we fashioned the creamer into a milk pitcher. I couldn’t help also adding a Dept. 56 Valentine House that my mother gave me for Christmas. (The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Mom.)
My original intention was to make an Asian style breakfast, hence the matching chopsticks. (And yes they really do use those!) But being the type of gal who believes that she can cram 48 hours worth of projects into every 24 hour day, I was disappointed when time ran out and a new menu of eggs and hash browns was produced. Honestly the kids could have cared less. We moved the chopsticks and made way for forks. The homemade hash browns are my husbands specialty and a few squirts of decidedly non-gourmet ketchup completed the look. My son lives for ketchup, but my daughter lives for soy sauce, so I added a red soy sauce decanter from The Bridget Arsenal of Cool Stuff which my youngest has decided is now her new “favoritest thing ever”.
The small gifts contained nothing more than a small glass heart – a token of love from me. I wrapped the boxes using wired ribbon and “gift wrap” I cut from gift bags found at Hobby Lobby that match the fabric exactly. A couple of matching cupcake picks from the same line added a simple extra touch.
The napkins were paper, the eggs got on the floor, and I was more than a little rushed to take pictures, but in the end what matters this Valentine’s Day is the love we all felt enjoying a sunny side up Sunday morning together.
A post from Bridget. My husband’s family hails from Taiwan, so every year we celebrate Chinese New Year. This is the year of the Dragon, considered the luckiest sign of the Chinese zodiac. I am hoping this proves true for 2012!
Our tradition is rather simple; the kids receive lucky red envelopes containing money (also known as Hung Bao) from the family and we all gather for a New Year’s feast. Lucky red envelopes are traditionally given to young and unmarried people by married elders, although like anything the tradition varies!
As with any holiday, I just have to decorate. We hang Chinese paper lanterns, honeycomb garlands with good luck symbols, lucky banners containing bright colors and symbols such as fish and dragons. It’s hard to be unhappy when surrounded by such cheerful decorations.
The New Year’s feast is one of my favorite meals of the year as we usually have Chinese Hot Pot, which is known by many names including Shabu Shabu (shah-boo shah-boo). In fact, we refer to it by one of its Japanese names, Sukiyaki (soo-kee-yah-kee). All mean the same thing – a pot of steaming broth heated on the table surrounded by trays of fresh seafood, veggies and other items cooked “as you like” in the communal pot. Hot Pot is served in many asian countries for one reason – it is delicious!
Hot Pot starts with a very simple broth – we make our broth of either boiled chicken or beef, plus garlic and a bit of salt and pepper. When done, meat and garlic is strained from the pot, leaving only the broth behind.
The broth is then kept heated in a pot at the table, on a single butane burner such as this one from Cooking.com.
The thing that makes Hot Pot so tasty and special is the enormous variety of foods we have on hand for the soup. Fish balls are made of compressed fish – we usually have balls made of shrimp, cod, haddock, pollock and other whitefish. Asian style meatballs are also included. Other type of fish “cakes” are also included, some of them with decorative pink coloring to enhance the look.
Although not all are shown here, we also have a dizzying array of types of mushrooms including shiitake, wood ear, enokie, beech, and straw. Vegetables include baby bok choy, napa cabbage, cilantro, cucumbers (cooked quickly so they don’t get too soft, these are my favorite soup vegetable), spinach, snow pea pods and green onions. Large raw shrimp and VERY thinly sliced raw beef are also served. These items cook insanely fast in the boiling broth and must be removed quickly before they become tough.
For side dishes we often serve sliced fried turnip cakes (homemade at Christmas and store-bought other times of the year) made from daikon radish as well as sweet Chinese sausages, sliced, fried and garnished with the shoots of the young garlic plant. Chinese people waste little and find delicious ways to make use of parts of plants and meats Americans might normally toss. You will definitely fear no vampires for a week to ten days after eating this dish.
As a dipping sauce, we heat and combine soy sauce with Chinese Bullhead Barbecue sauce, which is a fish based paste more like a satay sauce. The sauce makes the dish. Oh so yummy!
Bullhead sauce comes in a cool metal can like this and is available at any Asian grocery store and many mainstream groceries these days. The nice thing about Hot Pot is that it may be made with common OR exotic materials, so if you aren’t a fan of funky stuff, make it with whatever you like.
With a variety of items in the soup, the dish becomes a medley of colors, flavors and texture. Often we’ll poach an egg right in the broth which is also amazingly delicious. Even Super C who can be a picky eater, finds plenty of things to enjoy. He’ll even eat some of the mushrooms, which normally send him screaming into a closet.
After cleaning up and spending an hour or so allowing our digestive tracts to recuperate, we often steam sweet buns in our rice cooker. Our favorites are these Malai Sweet Buns which I call honey cakes, although they don’t really contain honey. Like many Asian-style desserts they are very lightly sweet and go perfectly with a steaming mug of hot tea. These are typically served along with quartered oranges, considered to aid in digestion and considered a very lucky fruit, particularly at Chinese New Year.
From our family to yours, have a wonderful Year of the Dragon!