the mini-tree of it all!

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I make no secret of my love of Christmas and vintage ornaments. Today I completed my six mini-trees and have them scattered about the house. I thought I would share two of the trees with you.

Why have a plebeian elf on a shelf when you can decorate mini-trees?

Please note the largest mini-tree is like 2 feet tall. They all feature ornaments I had either previously collected, found at the Smithfield Barn and other places this year, and a few from my father.

Surprisingly it took hours to get these little trees decked out appropriately…but I had so much fun!

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decorate your home with what makes you happy

lampOnce upon a time in a land now far, far away my father’s friend Bill showed up for a visit with a giant bottle of wine – a Jeroboam of some very fine Chianti Classico.

My father made the bottle into a lamp after the bottle was emptied at a dinner party. The lamp came to me, and the lampshade on it currently kind of went kaput. (Silk lampshades do that after a while.)  So we just ordered the bottle a new shade! I love this lamp because it is very cool and also because it has some very happy childhood memories attached to it. Not that I was drinking the wine at that time  but it was just because of all the times when we were growing up that we got together with my father’s friend and his family.

And when people ask how I come to put things in my house or say I have such tremendous decorating skills, honestly it isn’t the skill part as much as filling my home with things I love, that bring me pleasure, evoke happy memories. Stuff that I just like, want to look at, want to use.

To me that is where so many people go wrong when decorating their homes.  They see a photo in a magazine, or see a trend. But they don’t interpret what they like on their own, more often that not they bring in some sort of decorator. Mind you I have no problems with a decorator providing you with the bones of a room if you are stuck, but face it you know yourself, so play an active role. Unless you like living in a Trendy Wendy or beige, beige world?

What I bring into my home for the most part most of the time did not cost me a lot.  Long before Martha Stewart rolled up or Rachel Ashwell and her shabby chic self was popular, I was combing flea markets, thrift stores, consignment stores, garage sales and the like for things to define my living spaces.  I needed to develop my own style, and I needed to be able to afford to do it.  To this day I would rather pick something up second-hand and not necessarily officially antique than to buy new.

My style is eclectic and a mix of traditional, haute country and sometimes a little funky.  But I buy things that please me.  You won’t see country kitsch and Grand Ol’ Opry plaids, checks, and frills but some of what I like can be categorized as more country/rustic than mid-century modern (although I do like some of that here and there as an accent.)

My thrown together escaping one category of style is not so unusual, I see it with my friends.  For example, my friend Stevie and her husband not too many years after they were married needed some storage pieces.  Stevie thought outside the box and she bought of all things an old chicken coop.  She restored it and adapted it to modern use and it is hands down to this day still one of my favorite pieces. Another favorite piece belonging to someone else is this dry sink that a friend of a friend has.  Obviously rescued from a barn or a similar structure, it was cleaned up and put into this one woman’s living room.  It is so awesome.

bent bro chairsWith the exception of four bent wood chairs from Bent Brothers in Gardner Massachusetts, which are now my kitchen chairs thanks to that Resellers consignment Gallery in Frazer, I don’t do much painted furniture.  I like looking at wood and I am sick to death of going to flea markets and antiques and collectible markets and seeing everything coated in some shade of white or pastel.

Now my Bent Brothers chairs which have the brand logo burnt in the bottom of the chairs along with the paper tags still on the bottom won’t ever light the antique world on fire.  They date back probably to the late 1940s maybe the 1950s, but they are crazy sturdy and well made…and appealing to the eye in their original paint and stenciling. I love them.  And they cost next to nothing – which they should because Bent Brothers (which operated between 1867 and 2000 in Gardner MA) although they produced durable pieces of furniture, if you do the research they do not retain their value.

Another trend I am sick of is coating everything with blackboard or chalkboard paint.  Lordy people, WHY??? Got a school marm disease or something???

Something else I love?  Patchwork Quilts.  I love old quilts.  But I use them.  So I buy them inexpensively – church sales, flea markets, barn picking, Ebay.  They are a great way to add color to the room and there is nothing more homey than curling up under a ptachwork with a good book or a movie on a cold winter’s night.art

My final word is I approach my art the same way as my furniture and accessories: I buy what I like and what makes me happy.  I am not some deep pocketed collector with rotating gallery walls, I am just a regular gal. (Incidentally one of my favorite pieces of art was found put out for the trash when the Clothier House on Buck Lane in Haverford was being readied for demolition by a soulless developer.  I had the piece preserved and reframed.)

The take away here is simple: enjoy where you live and remember your spaces are meant to be lived in.  Buy what gives you pleasure, don’t necessarily buy in the category of “dress to impress.” Also remember cutsie doesn’t age well in decorating, either.

And remember, don’t be afraid to bargain shop and barn pick.  You never know what you might find!

let’s talk turkey about thanksgiving

Today Rachael Ray announced it was (as per Butterball which may or may not have a trademark on the day) National Thaw Day.  She said:

“No matter what size bird you are dealing with, if you are cooking a frozen turkey it needs to get out of the freezer and get into the fridge today,” Rachael suggests. “Store it in the lowest part of the refrigerator, and take it out [of the freezer] today and it will be perfect by Thanksgiving day!”

Ok so it is funny, as I was staring at my frozen turkey this morning, I was wondering the same thing.  Some years I have gotten a fresh turkey, but this year economizing is the name of the game so I took advantage of my free turkey from the grocery store. I actually have the points for two free turkeys, but have only picked up one at this point.  Maybe I will donate the second one.

Anyway, apparently every four pounds of turkey is equal to one day of refrigerator thaw.  And once defrosted a turkey can hang out in the fridge another four days. My turkey is in a plastic shopping bag and resting in a shallow pan.  I don’t want anything to leak if possible.  After all, who wants to scrub the refrigerator on Thanksgiving Day?

A week ahead of time is also when I start to think about how the table will look.  I collect vintage linens so I can change my table out from year to year.  And no, I never pay a lot for old and vintage linens.  Garage sales, church sales, flea markets, thrift shops.  I look for lots of things in numbers I can deal with, tablecloths that can be tea stained or dyed if need be.  I only look for natural fibers, so polyester will not be found on my table – I don’t like the sheen, feel, and texture.  I generally hand wash my linens, so a week ahead gives me time to do that and get them ironed up if need be.

I also love vintage dishes, so you might find those on my table as well. I have some cool goblets also gathered courtesy of garage and church tag sales.  I don’t do paper plates, plastic cups, and aluminum foil containers as serving dishes.

In my former life with my former in-laws (for lack of a better description of what to call these people), one of the ex factor’s sisters not only had the darkest living room I had ever been in (dark green walls and all her own art work – some was decent, some of it looked like paint-by-numbers), but she wouldn’t know how to set a buffet without aluminum foil containers and cheap paper napkins.

I wouldn’t comment except she made such fuss about how fabulous a table she set, and all I ever saw every Thanksgiving were those aluminum foil containers on the sideboard and table (and the bottles of salad dressing on the table, paper napkins and really bad  as well as warm white wine choices.)  She was also one of those people who would ask you to bring something and then make something in the category of what she requested like it was a competition instead of a holiday meal. And if you arrived five minutes past her decreed holiday start time, chances were she was eating without you which I always found rude to guests who traveled a distance to be with her.  I think one of my favorite Thanksgivings with this woman was when her dog stole the leftover turkey right off the counter.

Anyway, when you have had a few painful Thanksgivings like that, you learn how to craft one you can be proud of, but a holiday that won’t drive you bonkers either.  The key is simplicity.  The KISS theory, or keep it simple stupid. I believe even if you aren’t doing a more formal dinner, you should take the time to set the table well to complement your meal preparation.  It is a holiday, not pizza night.

If you are doing all the cooking, realize it doesn’t have to be the proverbial last supper.  The world will not end if you don’t have multiple kinds of potatoes, every Thanksgiving veggie known to man including that disgusting green bean casserole made with those deep-fried dried onion things. If you are doing a communal Thanksgiving and you are the host or hostess, lay out your menu and be clear about your assignments to other people.

Don’t forget the salad.  It can be simple or seasonal, but take the time to make your own vinaigrette.  So much better than the bottle.

Let’s talk stuffing.  Know what I discovered yesterday when I was thinking of buying a Thanksgiving stuffing mix to cut out a step?  High fructose corn syrup is an ingredient. I saw it on the ingredients list in Peppridge Farm and Arnold’s pre-bagged dried stuffing cubes. Bleck.

I won’t be taking that stuffing short cut.  I am going traditional and have plenty of fabulous herbs left alive, so my turkey and stuffing will definitely include fresh sage and rosemary. And a combination of garlic,  shallots and onion. Baby Bella mushrooms are a must.  Maybe minced apples and raisins, not sure.  I won’t know until Thanksgiving morning.  (Nothing better than the smell of stuffing ingredients sautéing away in the pan!)

And yes, I make my own cranberry sauce.  It is so easy a caveman can do it.  My base recipe is 2 bags fresh cranberries, 2 cups sugar, 1 cup orange juice, 1 cup water, cinnamon, a little fresh ginger. Sometimes I add diced apricots or a persimmon or two.  Sometimes I turn it chutney and add funky ingredients like diced green tomatoes.

As for other sides? Well this year it will be yams done somehow (I like them better than sweet potatoes) – I am thinking of roasting them with a couple of carrots and then mashing them somehow – a puree then warmed up in the oven with maybe little marshmallows on top to appeal to the kid factor. Maybe a yam-pumpkin puree. And a simple salad.  Gravy.

Dessert?  Undecided.  Looking like an apple pie.  Haven’t decided.  Saw a double crust apple apricot pie on page 126 of the November 2012 Food & Wine that looks promising.  Or I might do my own apple with streusal topping. I haven’t finished checking out my favorite magazines yet.

As for the big bird itself, it is helpful to remember a couple of simple tricks to keep turkey-lurky from drying out. I pre-heat my oven to 450 degrees for twenty minutes before putting turkey in the oven.  When I put the bird in the oven, I leave it at 450 degrees for the first half hour, and then I reduce the temperature to 350 degrees for the duration.

Most people say 15 minutes per pound is a good rule of thumb. So my turkey is 15 pounds.  So that is 15 x 15 = 225 minutes or 3.75 hours. Sometimes my gass oven is a little pokey on the roasting, so it could be longer.  But I have a thermometer :<}

I cook my turkey covered for almost half of its cooking time. I do put a couple of cups of water or broth in the bottom of my pan along with bay leaves and onion.  I baste around every 45 minutes.  When you baste, haul big bird out of the oven and shut the oven door so you don’t lose the heat.

And yes, I do indeed rub my turkey down with butter before I herb and salt and garlic the skin and put it in the oven.  I do not brine my turkey.  I have thought about it, but never done it.  I have no desire to deep fry my turkey so I can’t comment on that.

Check out this blog link for a KISS method of turkey cooking. Whole Foods also covers the basics, Southern Food does too, and when all else fails there is Butterball and they have a turkey hotline too. While Martha Stewart has a LOT of recipes, I find her recipes may be confusing and overly complicated for the beginner home chef. There are a LOT of turkey recipes out there.  I like to consult web sites that I know test the recipes Food TV and Epicurious are the websites I haunt the most.

I like to entertain for friends and family.  I like to cook, so you may find cheeses and whatnots mixed in from DiBruno Brothers and Carlinos, but for the most part you find what I serve I actually prepared.  Maybe I am old-fashioned, but it is something I just like to do.  I also believe in adopting Thanksgiving orphans.  I have been one a couple of times over the years when family and friends were scattered to the four winds for the holiday. I actually have an article on easy entertaining featuring Chef Angela Carlino in the fall issue of Main Line Parent Magazine (which I haven’t seen yet in print because I keep spacing on picking up a copy).

Do you have a Thanksgiving tip or recipe or tradition you would like to share? Feel free to post a comment!

Now for the last word: if you don’t feel like cooking, might I suggest Thanksgiving at The Yellow Springs Inn?  Check this out  from Exton Dish! (Yes, click HERE)

A place to SKIP is Farmhouse Bistro at People’s Light. We did that last year because family and friends were all scattered and it is something we would not do again, or recommend.  We’ll leave it at that.

This post must now come to an end.  I have recipes to read.

treasures found in my travels on memorial day weekend at smithfield barn

So, I told you all about the Smithfield Barn on 425 Little Conestoga, right? How many of you took my advice and checked them out this past Friday, Saturday, and Sunday?  If you didn’t, you’ll have to wait until the end of June to do so.

We went yesterday.  I love the Smithfield Barn because the folks who run it are real pickers.  There is a little bit of everything, but you have to be willing to dig.  I circled through the barn a couple of times yesterday before I saw my treasures:

  • a leather box of unknown origin, just pretty;
  • some terrific vintage wooden spoons;
  • and a fabulous hand-made quilt

I got great deals, and no, I am not telling you what I paid – if you go to the barn, you can negotiate on your own.  I will tell you what, with places like this, if you don’t go in guns a blazing with attitude there is often some wiggle room on select items.  But if you insultingly low ball them, you deserve what you get.

I love the quilt.  I am a vintage textile queen as you can see from the 1950’s table topper that provided the background to the spoons and the box.  That was probably all of $5 at St. David’s Church Fair a couple of years ago.

Some people can only handle new, I know people who have to re-do the furniture every few years like Barbie’s Dream House.  That is their style, certainly not mine.  I like objects that tell a story, or might tell a story.

And as much as I love to photograph barns, I love even more to root around in them.  My friend Barb can tell you about a trip to Vermont where we made a side pilgrimage to New Hampshire and I had a swell time rooting around in a giant barm owned by a New England farmer who picked antiques and collectibles on the side.  I negotiated some fabulous pink tea cups for her that day that she still has.  But heck, I used to go to Adamstown, PA with my parents before it was Trendy Wendy to do so.

The barn had some cool stuff yesterday including a Hoosier cabinet and a pair of dressers  that were first half of the 20th century – rounded and kind of cool.  Not sure how old the cabinet was and you have to be careful when looking at them, because there are kits out there to make them again.  The cabinet looked newly painted and it was bright white, so not for me.  But it was fun to look at.  There were some terrific chairs there yesterday and some fun lamps worth re-wiring, and if you like slot cars and matchbox cars?  This would have been your barn!

Anyway, I am glad I decided to ditch the garage sale tour and go to the barn instead.

And remember, if you like this blog, you can nominate it for a Blue Ribbon Blogger Award with Country Living Magazine.

Winners will be featured in their December/January 2013 issue and will also  attend a luncheon in their honor in New York City on November 13, 2012. Nominations are open from May 15, 2012 until July 29, 2012. Please only nominate  once.

Read more: Blue Ribbon Blogger Awards – 2012 Blog Awards – Country Living.

The Gladwyne PA Memorial Day Parade – if you like traditional, old-fashioned Memorial Day Parades complete with antique fire trucks and horses, this is your parade!

Anyway, enjoy the rest of your long weekend.  I got up and got my watering done early, it’s going to be a hot one today.  In part I feel like Farmer MacGregor because some Peter Rabbit ate my baby lettuce this weekend. And I don’t know about you, but this crazy weather and no winter has many plants of mine ahead of schedule.

See ya!  And Happy Memorial Day!