time to start decking the halls!

This year I was going for a simpler, almost nostalgic look. Above is my dining room chandelier. Originally, it was given to me by my late father many years ago and it lived in storage units and attics until we bought the house we now live in. Here it was the perfect chandelier for our dining room. (The chandelier originally in the dining room was repurposed and now hangs in our front hall. It’s a small chandelier and it is the perfect scale for the front hall.)

This year my chandeliers were completely inspired by a childhood memory. When we were little and lived in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia one of the things we did at Christmas time was attend the St. Lucia Festival at Old Swedes in Philadelphia.

This is such a beautiful tradition and it is still hands-down one of my favorite things about Christmas in Philadelphia.

Lucia Fest is actually this coming weekend in Philadelphia at Old Swedes:

Friday, December 6th – 6:00 & 8:00

Saturday, December 7th – 2:00, 3:30 & 5:00

Sunday, December 8th – 2:00, 3:30 & 5:00

The Lucia Fest weaves together a number of Swedish holiday traditions into a colorful musical pageant. The heart of the celebration is the Lucia procession, in which a young woman is joined by other female members of the household in taking hot coffee and a warm Lucia bun to all the residents of the home. She comes crowned with candles, dressed in white, singing her traditional song, “Sankta Lucia.” In Sweden, her day is celebrated in homes before dawn on the 13th of December, which, at one stage of life with the Julian calendar, marked the winter solstice – the point at which the hours of darkness begin to diminish and the daylight hours begin to lengthen.

At Gloria Dei Church the celebration is held within the walls constructed by Swedish settlers in 1699-1700, in the beauty of candlelight, with a large entourage of young girls joining her in song and procession. For many people, participation in the Lucia Fest is a unique way of marking the beginning of the holiday season.

If you have never been, I actually encourage you to go. There are many Lucia festivals across the country. PLEASE NOTE that to attend at Old Swedes in Philadelphia you need tickets!  that is not the way it was when I was growing up, but even then it was a mad crush of people so I think it is smart of the church to do that, plus the tickets are moderately priced and proceeds go to the church. This church is one of the most historicly important in Philadelphia.

In the Lucia procession, young girls wear crowns of seasonal greens with candles. I doubt very much anymore in most places that the candles are live, but they were when I was a little girl. 

Anyway the Scandinavian simplicity and beauty of this festival was my inspiration for my chandeliers as silly as it sounds. And I’m very pleased with the results.

I did not use real garlands, because they would not last the Christmas season inside. On Wayfair and Etsy I found felt garland and that’s what I purchased to create my Lucia inspired chandeliers. The Company Store and places like Pottery Barn also sell the felt garland, but their prices are much higher than what I found between Wayfair (and the felt pine garland I found on Wayfair is already sold out) and Etsy. There are also some options on Amazon and elsewhere, but you have to hunt through the garlands.

The garland I purchased was both wired and not wired. You can also use other artificial garland for this purpose I just liked the almost childlike simplicity of the felt garland. It has whimsy.

The garland is placed simply enough on the chandelier and I had a half dozen white felt birds that I tucked in here and there. But the best part of the garland is it is the perfect foil for my great grandparents’ German kugel which my mother gave me a few years ago. It is my favorite Christmas ornament. It is not a giant kugel as I have seen displayed, but it is super lovely.

There are also three beaded tassels in a lovely cranberry color. I have absolutely no idea what store they were from originally, but I bought them on a whim from the Smithfield Barn and put them away until I had a use.

The table is dressed with a festive tartan cloth (also from the Smithfield Barn!) In the center of the table, keeping with the simplicity of the chandelier above, are my glass candlesticks with cheerfully festive candy cane striped candles. They are all sitting in a copper tray.

I am not anywhere near finished decorating and there will be a lot less of it this year and it will be slow going because of my knee. But I think it’s actually a good thing that I had to change my routine up this year because I am liking the results so far!

Fa la la la la!

dear philadelphia err filthadelphia

Dear Philadelphia,

Appalachia or Albania or Calcutta ? Can’t decide what the look is you are going for this fall.

I have never seen the streets look so bad or full of hazards. You can be on foot or in a vehicle, it doesn’t matter.

And the city is dirty. Filthy dirty. So it doesn’t matter if you are building shiny new buildings, everywhere you look is a hot mess. Oh sure there are trash cans… but the ones I passed yesterday were full and garbage spewing over. Then there is whatever is on the ground.

And your homeless population seems to have increased. Increased enough that they are blocking the streets begging. Even a homeless man on 16th Street lying down completely on the sidewalk reading a book with people stepping over him.

I am a native Philadelphian and yesterday we had family and friends in from out of town and it was embarrassing.

The buck stops at the Mayor’s Office in City Hall on this one. Hey Jim Kenney are you blind to all of this? Do you think you could stop running for re-election long enough to take a good look at what everyone sees and experiences? It’s a little hard to experience the best Philadelphia has to offer when all she seems to offer is filth, fractured roads and sidewalks, and people in dire need of help.

#tbt my history with history

The photo above has me in the center. Circa 1976- 1977. It has just been too long that sadly, I don’t remember the exact date.

Where am I? At one of my favorite historic sites on earth. Historic Harriton House in Bryn Mawr. I think technically, my friends and I at the time, beat Chef Walter Staib into the kitchen there by a few decades.

When we first moved to the Main Line from Society Hill, I missed the history and old houses of Society Hill. Yes, I was kind of obsessed by old houses even then. So neighbors introduced our family to historic Harriton House. And as a related sidenote, Historic Harriton House is a remarkable story of preservation. I urge everyone to take the time to go visit. The site is a little slice of heaven.

Before we moved from the city to suburbia, I also did something kind of historically minded for a kid.

At 11, I was probably the youngest volunteer tour guide the Park Service ever had in Society Hill. I gave tours of the Todd House and Bishop White House. In Colonial garb with a little mob cap.

How? Well my parents knew Hobie Cawood. Mr. Cawood was the Superintendent of Independence National Historical Park from 1971-1991. I wrote about this before.

But this is just something I have always loved since I was a kid. Our history, our architecture, our old houses.

I am not a new house person. I am a preserve the old house person. It’s just the way I am made. I am a realist and I don’t think every old house can be saved, but I think a lot more can be saved then are actually being saved.

Whenever I have these conversations with anyone about historic preservation, I go back to my childhood in Society Hill. And the reason is simple: that area was a total slum when people like my parents as newlyweds bought wrecks of old houses in Society Hill for peanuts from the redevelopment authority in Philadelphia.

My parents and their friends restored these houses with architectural details and hardware and windows and woodwork from houses that were too far gone to save. And as kids, a lot of the time we went with our parents when they were visiting these wrecks of houses to see what they could salvage out of them. And salvaging then wasn’t so much a big business as it was sort of a neighbor helping neighbor collaborative. People would give you the stuff out of the houses being torn down. It was a very different time.

It was through these expeditions that I learned about things like shutter dogs. Busybody mirrors. Box locks and more. The details of historical architecture which have traveled with me throughout my life.

This is where my love of old houses began. And it has been a lifelong affair.

A lot of people don’t like my opinions. And I’m sorry they don’t share my love of old houses and history. But as Americans we have a magnificent history. And we can’t just keep bulldozing it away.

Thanks for stopping by.

pronouncing italian food should not sound like butchered pig latin

That is, or was, my grandmother Beatrice. I called her grandmom. One of the only photos I have of her. She was not considered the beauty of her sisters . That probably was my Aunt Millie or even my Aunt Rose. A very strong willed woman with a spine of steel. I look at her and see so much of my late father, and as I age, even myself. Especially as my hair grays.

I have written about my Italians before. They are very definite parts of my DNA. And the time I spent with my Italians as a child is burned in my brain. I loved my familial old people on both sides.

Even grandmom, except she was an acquired taste. I think she wasn’t so good with kids. But as an adult I enjoyed visits with her by myself. Without the stress of the fractured relationship my father had with his sister and brother. But that is a story for another day.

These Italian women were pretty amazing cooks. As a little girl I’d go to market with them and spend time in the kitchen. Especially at Millie and Josie’s house. They lived on Ritner Street in South Philadelphia. My grandfather Pop Pop who died when I was pretty little was also a good cook. He made a mean chicken salad. And grandmom made pizzelles among other things.

Aunt Millie and Josie had a little corner grocery store they preferred that I think they called “Anthony’s”….I have no idea of the actual name but I remember the old fashioned store with tall shelves of goods behind equally tall counters with glass front cases. And bins of whatever fresh or seasonal produce was available.

Then there were the trips to the Italian Market, only when I was growing up we called it 9th Street. I went to 9th Street with my parents and great aunts.

I loved that market growing up. Hawking fish and fruit and vegetables on the street. The original DiBruno Brothers, with it’s long and narrow store with sawdust on the floor and giant barrels of pickled things and meats and cheeses hanging from the ceiling and in the glass front cases. Buying meat and fresh made sausage at Cappuccio’s where family lore has it, my grandfather fabricated the abattoirs.

And at different times of year there was livestock in pens. Not to be forgotten were the old spice ladies in the spice store sort of across the street from DiBruno’s. I don’t remember the name of the store. What I remember is having to add up the totals of what you were buying because those little old ladies didn’t bat an eye when they would add on and additional dollar or two to the totals!

So I have these memories. Things were bought fresh, cooked fresh. Way before Whole Foods, Wegmans, and other than the Reading Terminal Market or Lancaster Central Market. Having your recipes in your head as you went to market, and you also cooked seasonally. DiBruno’s only had the little salted anchovies at certain times of the year and ditto with the fish mongers and smelts.

Intermingling Italian and English when shopping on 9th Street and Intermingling Italian and English in my great aunt’s kitchen.

Now that I have set the table of my past and sort of growing up pfoodie memories, I bring you back to today. I still like shopping fresh when possible and cooking seasonally in my own kitchen. The voices of my childhood kitchen experiences still live in my memories and sometimes I hear the long quiet voices if I am making gnocchi or Sunday pasta sauce. (Go ahead, click on the epicurious link as it’s one of my recipes and won me an Italian basket from them in a contest in 2005!)

So why this post?

I was enjoying having the time today to catch up on my growing pile of magazines. A friend of mine had gifted me the Fall 2018 Number 20 of edible PHILLY and I was giving it a try.

I will admit as a native born Philadelphian I have always rankled at the Philly of it all. To me it’s an unattractive diminutive. Our city, America’s birthplace of freedom has a lovely name. Phil-a-del-phia. It glides off the tongue. Why shorten it? There is no Baltimore-ie or New-y York-y so why Philly?

Sorry, not sorry, just a pet peeve.

Then there is the whole mispronunciation of Italian foods by non-Italians. I will stick to that and not even get into the gravy vs. sauce of it all. I call it tomato sauce. My great aunts and grandmother alternated between “gravy” and “sauce” but they were Italian, so papal dispensation.

Not so much leeway for pretend Italians who also make lovely food names sound like fractured and murdered Pig Latin. It’s like nails on a foodie chalkboard to me.

“Mozerel.” No, it is mozzarella. It’s a lovely cheese and a lovely name. Say the name.

“Proshoot” it is, for the love of God, prosciutto. Another lovely Italian food with a lovely Italian name, not a twisted basketball term.

But then there is the third one so often butchered. “Gabagole” or “Gabagool“. Don’t you mean, capicola? See how easy that was to say? Don’t gobble, pronounce it correctly.

If you go to Italy, they are NOT going to butcher the words. I have mainly heard this slang in the Philadelphia area, which almost makes sense, like it’s a perverse dialect or a bad accent that led to mispronunciation.

What does this have to to with edible PHILLY? Page 22 of the Fall 2018 print edition (I do not see it online yet.) The article is The Butcher & The Chef by Alexandra Jones. Totally interesting article until she lost me at page 28 at the end of the article. And there it was. GABA freaking GOOL.

So here I am, venting my Italian spleen. If you want to dish on Italian foods, cook Italian recipes…please pronounce things the right way. Write them the right way. Not like Pig Latin was murdered.

Capice?

Thanks for stopping by.