Saturday, February 28, 2015

Courreges in Blue

(Not my photo, but my bottle looks identical)

Midwestern winters are noteworthy for their length, and general severity. Though we feign surprise each year as the mercury drops, it isn't out of the ordinary to experience several months of misery. After the festivities of December have passed, it is a terribly long slog until the first pink rhubarb shoots start to show, often beneath a pile of April snow.

My mother didn't care for winter, like many others she'd make reservations and we'd fly off to Miami  Beach for a couple weeks at term break. At some point, my dad had the idea that it would be less hassle if we just bought a place in Florida. Phone calls were made, and soon my mother (and myself in tow) were off to Hollywood Beach looking at condominiums, with my dad planning to fly in and meet us at the weekend to see what we'd found. Ultimately, they found a place with a good view of the beach only to find just before signing that it had no access to the private beach, or something like that so we never did end up buying a place. Still, once we'd looked at all Hollywood Beach had to offer, my mother got bored with sunbathing and decided we should get some shopping in before returning to Chicago.

Shopping centres were still a relatively new-ish thing in the 70's, "Malls" as we know them today were still a few years off, but in Bal Harbor there was a collection of stores that were starting to be known as a" high-end shopping destination" (the Bolshie in me just shuddered to type that sentence).

I remember three things from that "High-end shopping destination." You could get cafe au lait before anyone that hadn't been to France knew what it was, there was some sort of mosaic fountain. and I was left alone in a boutique to pay for my mother's purchases and was instructed to, "Pick out something for your sister." I was eleven.

My mother would get bored easily, so she'd selected the items she wanted, and was content to wait for me in the cafe where she could smoke and drink. She signed a cheque, and I was to fill in the amount and give it to the saleslady when everything was wrapped and ready to go. I'd been left in the shop with a woman who as I recall,  looked like a resurrected Coco Chanel complete with French accent and hat (to be fair, everyone looked old to me then, so she may well have been in her twenties). I remember her trying to help by asking what sort of thing my sister liked, if she looked like me (she didn't), what was her favourite colour? With more than a decade between us I had no idea what her favourite colour was, much less what sort of clothes she liked to wear. I knew what perfume she wore because I couldn't escape it in the shared bathroom (Aliage) but beyond that, I hardly knew her tastes. In truth, she could have worn a bin bag and looked fashionable as she had good hair, a nice complexion and a figure no amount of dieting would ever give the likes of me. I don't recall her fretting much over what to wear-she'd get dressed and be out the door looking effortlessly chic-because it was effortless.

Some cotton, short sleeved sweaters caught my eye. Sporty, pretty colours, nicely knit. Wanting to just get away from Madame, I selected one in aqua blue to match my sister's eyes and handed it over to be wrapped. If there were price tags, I didn't notice. I think that was the sort of place where if you needed to ask, you couldn't afford to shop there. The name on the label sounded familiar, and suitably French so that it wouldn't look like some cheap gift from a trip to Florida.  As my mother hadn't offered any guidance or price limits, I didn't think about it-until it came time to fill out the cheque. It wasn't just the sweater of course, and I can't remember just how much it was in total, but I believe there were enough zeroes that I had to think about maths more than I was accustomed to in grade five. I can't remember if my hands were shaking, but they must have been. I do remember being concerned I would do it incorrectly, and have to chase down my mother in the cafe. All went well.
(Through the miracle that is the Internet, here it is-or at least a very close version. I remember clothes and perfumes the way some people remember weddings and births. I'll never be good at remembering birthdays, or weddings, but I'll remember what I was wearing.)

I met up with my mother, had a cafe au lait, and she never questioned the purchase, happily handing it over to my sister as though she had selected it herself. The sweater was worn once or twice before being banished to the bottom dresser drawer where she kept the horrible things relatives had knit/crocheted that would be unacceptable to discard. The Courreges sweater languished there among the pink and white angora granny square pullover vests, and uneven socks. Long after she had married and moved away, her dresser of clothes remained and I was often tempted in later years to liberate the sweater from the bottom drawer banishment but for some reason I never did. I had big boobs, it wouldn't have looked good on me anyway.

I was reminded of this recently by the purchase of a small vintage bottle of Courreges in Blue. The clothes might not have been my style (or my sister's apparently) but I can enthusiastically say I adore the fragrance. On paper, it doesn't sound like the sort of thing I would like (Basil? Coriander?  Patchouli?) but on my person-oh goodness, this is a gorgeous fragrance. Light, but the coriander keeps it from smelling clean and antiseptic-but not so much coriander that it starts smelling of B.O. It is a delicate balance with coriander, but it works so fantastically well here. For EDT it lasts, and lasts which is a nice surprise-almost nine hours later I can still smell traces of it.

Courreges in Blue is still around, though I can't vouch for the newer formulation. It isn't a terribly expensive fragrance to give a try, and there seems to be quite a bit of it around on ebay. I don't know how I managed to miss this one in the early 80's (It launched in '83) other than I was so deeply initiated into the cult of Guerlain that I likely wouldn't have considered wearing anything but Mitsouko or Chamade. Well, my loss-but I'm making up for that snobbery now by exploring all these overlooked gems.

I'm sorry I can't say what became of the pretty sweater. I hope she kept it and gave it to one of my nieces, but realistically she probably binned it. My sister wasn't terribly sentimental about clothes in the way that I am. I never did return to the "High-end shopping destination" that was Bal Harbor, so I can't say what it is like today, though it still seems to be a thriving place if you trust the Internet.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Home Baking Everyone (even Blondin) Will Love

 What point is there having a squirrel shaped cutter if you don't bake something for squirrels?! We call these, "Blondin Biscuits" as they are rich in molasses and fat, but low in sodium. Everything a growing squirrel needs. Bake them hard so the little rodents can sharpen their teeth.
Fine, I can understand not wanting to bake for a squirrel-they also enjoy seed-rich ka'ak, a Syrian bread made with anise, cumin seed, caraway, and sesame. Like a crunchy little bagel.

For the humans in your life, how about puff-paste croissants filled with roasted beets and feta cheese?
I've been making puff paste for years, but this was a new recipe from an old book (I knew I;d get around to using some of these cookbooks) The Complete Book of Pastry, Sweet and Savoury  by, Bernard Clayton, Jr. While the technique of turns is the same as any other puff paste, the recipe is different in that it makes use of three different types of flour and lemon juice. It handled like silk, and the flaky layers baked up puffy and golden. The recipe makes quite a bit, but with puff paste you may as well make a large batch as it freezes nicely. I used about half of mine, but I'll be glad to have it in the freezer. This recipe will make 3 lbs-enough for 3 dozen croissant or 2 large vol-au-vent.

You Will Need:
2 cups strong (bread) flour
1 cup plain (all purpose) flour
1 cup pastry (cake) flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons lemon juice (fresh or bottled)
1 1/2 cups cold water
2 tablespoons butter taken from

1 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 cup bread flour

Blend the flours in first part of recipe together with the salt. Form a well in the bottom and pour in the lemon juice and 1 cup of the water. Pull in about half the flour and then drop in the two tablespoons of softened butter. Blend with your hands and then pull in the remaining flour. You should have a shaggy dough. You may need more liquid, but add it a small bit at a time as it should be moist, but not wet.

Turn the dough onto a work surface and knead until elastic adding a small bit of flour if it remains too sticky. Knead it well and then lightly dust the ball with flour and wrap in cling film. Chill at least 2 hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the butter.

Break down and knead the butter until malleable. It shouldn't be so hard that you can't work it, or so soft that it melts in your hands. Work in the 1/4 cup of flour and shape into a 6 inch square. Dust lightly with flour, wrap in wax paper and chill until it is about 60 degrees. I didn't have any trouble getting my dough and butter roughly the right temperature to work, but if your fridge is particularly cold, take the butter out a bit before the dough when ready to start.

Roll the dough into a 12 inch square. Arrange the butter sideways on the dough so that it is diamond shaped. Fold up the sides of the dough over it and seal. Turn it over on a lightly floured board and do the first turn by rolling it into a strip 24 inches long by 8 inches wide. Don't roll over the ends or the butter will press out. Fold in three like a letter. Place the folds of the dough at 6 and 12 o'clock and roll into a long rectangular piece. Fold into three again. Wrap in cling film and chill 20 minutes. You have completed a turn. Do this 5 more times over the course of several hours. If your dough feels too hard like the butter will tear through, let it rest. If it feels too soft like it will squish out, chill it longer.

Before using the dough it is best to let it rest at least three hours, but overnight is also good.

To bake croissants:

You want to roll the dough thinly-about 1/4 inch and then cut the triangles (easiest if you cut from a rectangle shaped strip). Each triangle can then be rolled thinner to 1/8 inch thickness. If filling them, place a tablespoon of filling on the bottom wide part and gently roll up to the top tucking the point beneath. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet with a rim (it will run). When they are completed, brush lightly with a wash of 1 large egg beaten with 2 tablespoons milk. Save the mixture as you will need to brush them again later. Chill the croissants 1 hour before baking. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

brush the chilled croissants again with the glaze and bake 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees F. and rotate the pan. Bake another 30-40 minutes or until done. Cool on a rack.

Save your scraps! They can be made into palmiers, papillons, or straws.

Do not feed to squirrels, no matter how cute they are when they beg.
"Pleeeeeeeeease! I'm starving!"

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Camera is Repaired-Let's Celebrate With Some Photos

Obligatory overhead perfume tray photo

The camera is working again!
Much to my relief, because it turns out I got a much better deal on this camera than I realised at the time, and replacing it wouldn't be easy. I don't know what I'd do without our local camera shop (one of only a few left in the state) but I'm really pleased to have their expertise available. 

 I'm a little ashamed to admit this isn't all of them. Quite an odd collection, the drugstore fragrances (Jovan Woman is a terrific fragrance, but you'd never know it by the uninspired bottle. Trust me on this one-best $12.00 you'll ever spend at Walgreens) sitting beside the rare exotics. When you examine them closer, the perfumes tend towards chypres, with a few florals thrown in for layering. The strong herbals like Innisfree, and Cabotine get used to freshen shoes and that sort of thing (OK, do I judge your sweaty feet? No, I do not. Don't judge!). That purple spherical bottle in the centre? A new "lightened" version of Arpege that smells like Glade solid room deodouriser. I haven't decided if I hate it yet, as I have kind of a soft spot for Glade because that's what we had in our finished basement to soak up the odour of mildew and cigarette smoke. Little white cone shaped thing that you could unscrew as much as you needed and it would dry up like a piece of seaweed-you remember those, don't you? Well that's the new "Stink du Arpege", but yes if I'm being honest it will end up as shoe deodouriser like the Cabotine. There's nothing wrong with fresh, I just prefer it on my feet. Do. Not. Judge. 

The tiny blue bottle at the bottom right of the tray is my most recent purchase and I'm afraid I have once again fallen in love with an obsolete fragrance. Dans le Nuit by Worth. Gorgeous violets, civet, oak moss-everything I adore in a fragrance. Gone. It was brought back briefly in 2000 but the formulation was different from the earlier version. If you can get your hands on this stuff, it is worth whatever you have to shell out for it. Beautiful perfume-they really don't make them like that anymore. That large pink bottle on the right? Boucheron's latest offering that smells like cotton candy. I like cotton candy, and I like French Perfume, but not together. It will likely get traded as I keep hearing circus music in my head when I wear it, but being French it comes out like a New Wave film. Bad associations, bad perfume. Oh la fucking la. Who wants to go for a bike ride?

Want to scent a room with something you can eat? Honey Sunset plums from Chile have a very short season, and are at their peak right now. They start yellow, but after a few days ripen into the most breathtaking crimson, and the fragrance...if I could bottle it I'd never wear another perfume. The freshness of an apricot, the sweetness of sugar, and a citrus that reminds me of bergamot-just these few small plums make the dining room smell heavenly. Juicy and sweet with just the right amount of acid, these plums are perfect for eating out of hand. But grab them soon, because they will be gone in a couple weeks. No, I do not have money invested in a Chilean plum farm.

Something that ambrosial deserves a Greek bowl to display it. I think this plate/dish was intended as a large ashtray back in the middle of the 20th century when everyone was puffing away. I rescued it from a Goodwill last week...

...along with this skirt for .99 cents. It has that raw cotton fabric that always looks like it is stained, but isn't. It would be perfect for a festival, if I were the festival going sort (I'm not) but I have some old PG&E records I can put on, plug in a lava lamp, and freak the living shit out of the wee one.
So yeah, I'm sure I'll find an occasion to embarrass my kid wear the skirt.

What do you think of that, Sophisticat?
Cat says, "Meow." Dig?
Unfortunately, Sophisticat was little help when it came to this dress. I bought it knowing the sheer material (silk?) was in bad shape. The beading is intact, but there are small holes, and slight discolouration to the fabric. My first thought was to cut off the sleeves, which would be a simple enough repair, but then the rest of the chiffon would look odd. It can be removed, but would it still be as interesting as a plain dress?
 The bodice details would still be there, but I wonder if it would be better to have a slightly imperfect, yet dramatic gown rather than a plainer, but better condition one?
Decisions! What would you do?

We have *another* snowstorm on the way tomorrow, and then the plunge back into the sub-zero temperatures. I'm running low on documentaries to show on snowdays (I let Danny have a snow day when the public schools cancel classes, but we usually watch a film). We recently watched Finding Vivian Maier. Ugh, I wasn't prepared for seeing the small suburb I lived in from the age of ten through my teen years displayed through the photos and home movies of a woman who worked as a nanny there. I've done a rather good job of wiping the Highland Park years out of my life, and seeing it again, complete with interviews of people that speak exactly like me,  caught me completely off guard. I was expecting Chicago, not the tiny suburb I've done my best to forget. Horrible place. Horrible. If I had the talent, I could write Morrissey-esque songs about it, but I don't so all I can do is shudder at the memory, and try to select my documentaries more carefully. I do have one out from the library about Paul Bowles. That ought to be safe-I never lived in Morocco. We worked our way through,  Days That Shook the World which was generally well done, even if they did describe Chuck Yeager as an, "Uneducated backwoods hillbilly." That's a bit harsh, but it wasn't made for an American audience.
 Finally, there's this:

Yep. Almost two years and I *still* haven't put up curtains in the bedroom. I've done Danny's room, and the rest of the house but I still haven't been able to settle on anything I like. The creepy HOMCO wall lions want curtains. Tomorrow I am going through the fabric stash, and making curtains out of the first thing I can find that doesn't look stupid. Fine, "doesn't look too stupid." Enough is enough already.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Thrift Store Pre Raphaelite

Some days (particularly the cold ones we've been experiencing) demand luxe fabrics. Let's face it, if you're going to the bother of flowing silks, you might as well abandon restraint and go crazy with the necklaces and bangles. By the time I was dressed, I must have added fifteen pounds (or more) in accessories.

Excuse the squinting. You'd think will all that sun it would warm things up a bit-but no such luck I'm afraid. Oh well, no reason to let it ruin an exciting afternoon in...

...the supermarket. I bought some gorgeous artichokes, so it was worth the bother. I'll take any reference to spring I can get. I should have bought some of those fennel bulbs, they looked beautiful. Pro-tip: trim the tops of the fennel bulb, and save them to lay beneath fish fillets when you bake them.

So off topic-they just ran an ad on television for some sort of hormonal injection that's supposed to make middle aged women fancy their partners again recover their desire for sex. A woman in a lab coat makes an announcement at the end, "Call us to get back the old Jew."
My hearing isn't what it used to be, but even after I realised she said, "Old you" I couldn't get the image of Dr. Ruth out of my head. "I vant you to have good sex!"

I'm going blind, I thought my hearing was supposed to compensate or something.

Back to the clothes.
I couldn't make a trip to Council Bluffs and not stop at the Goodwill, could I? I wasn't disappointed. Goodness, I love early 70's prom dresses! The crystal pleats, the angel-flutter sleeves, the polyester! I came home with three-one pink, one blue, and one green. .99 cents each. Then, I found not one, but a pair of pure silk vintage jumpsuits (one purple, one teal) original belts intact. Oh, I adore Iowa. Iowa, Iowa, your thrift stores are divine, like a treasure chest of long forgotten time.

I always wish this coat could have been a wee bit longer, but I know I'd never wear a full length coat. How do people drive in full length coats anyway?

I know you're wondering..."What is she going to do with all those artichokes?" Artichoke pesto (probably) stay tuned.

Outfit Particulars:

Late 80's Guess dress-Thrift World
Saree Silk-Goodwill
Coat-Evans, early 90's
Museum Company purse (80's, I think) Thrift World
Necklaces (and the one in my hair) all over, mostly Goodwill
Rings-Assorted places
Earrings-K Mart
Fragrance-(Very) vintage Coty Chypre (which is lovely, but fades oh so quick due to age. I would have loved to smell this fifty years ago, before the top notes all faded. Still, it is easy to see why it defined the genre. I'm going to try and locate a better preserved sample before doing a review).

 Standing before a wall of vitamins makes me look healthier, no?
Off camera-people watching and laughing because they don't want to step in front of us taking photos, but I'm holding semolina flour and posing in a supermarket, so the whole thing borders on absurdity anyway. Yay, organic semolina flour!

So are you watching the Oscars tonight?

I hope you have a great week.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Lentheric Shanghai

Shanghai is a little like starring at the pattern on my suit too long...
...well if you're gonna stare, might as well check out the rear view.

I recently purchased a set of Lentheric perfumes still sealed in their packages. The inner cardboard of the Shanghai cap had sealed so tightly I required a pin to pry it off. It was not unlike breaking into a factory sealed nip. Shanghai dates from 1936, though I believe my bottle to be from the early 50's.

I love perfume. Even fragrances I wouldn't want to wear on my person interest me as cultural/historical artefacts. I would never dismiss something as vile without giving it my best effort to if not enjoy it, at least understand it. I've come to a place like that with Jicky. I wouldn't enjoy wearing it, but I could if I had to (you know, like if I wanted to attract a cat or something). Shanghai, I'm sorry to say is a fragrance I will not be bothering to understand better. It started with allergies, and ended with a headache-something that very rarely happens to me. Yes, it is a perfectly preserved bottle-but I hate it. Hate it. The silage is about halfway across the Atlantic. You'll want to use it sparingly, and put it on in a room alone. You should stay in that room for a while until the aldehydes die down-five or six hours, at least. If you like a long lasting perfume, Shaghai delivers! If you make the mistake of putting some on a hankie be prepared to wash it several times before it is gone.

Top note- (there's really only one detectable) Aldehydes. Like a biology lab. A biology lab filled with open bottles of aspirin that have started to get old, and smell like vinegar and gym socks. I'm being generous-Shanghai wishes it smelled of vinegar and gym socks.

Middle notes-a citronella candle that isn't doing shit to ward off mosquitoes, so you light several more hoping for the best before giving up and going inside. Whilst outside you had a g&t, so it smells of tonic water as well. Once inside, you grab a bottle of Chartreuse, and have a good slug of it before bed. That's Shanghai's middle.

Base notes- God only knows. Something like ambergris mixed with sandalwood, or maybe frankincense. And soap, but not a nice soap but something really medicinal like Physohex. I think I smell Sea Breeze astringent too.

So to summarise-300 level biology class meets right after gym and you haven't had a chance to shower. You had a quick gin and tonic on the way to the science building, and then washed your hands with antiseptic in a room where someone had just come from mass and smells of incense. That's Lentheric's "Masterpiece" Shanghai. I can't believe that the company responsible for such beautiful, original fragrances like Lentheric 12, and Tweed could bring something like this to market. It is not even remotely, nice.

Interestingly, Mr. ETB (who doesn't have much sense of smell) could smell it strongly in the car, and thought it was heavily herbal. Once in the house, he took a better sniff and declared it, "Soapy" but not something like Cashmere Bouquet, or Pears but perhaps something that aspires to be like Cashmere Bouquet or Pears. If there are florals in this perfume, I'll be damned if any of us could detect them. Typically, I like herbal perfumes( I can even take Aliage in small doses) but they still need something to counteract all that pungent green-Shanghai does not readily present anything floral to my nose, and if it is there (which it surely must be) I can't find it.

I still have, Dark Brilliance, Confetti, and Miracle to get through.

Outfit Particulars:

1960's  (70's?) suit by, Scakowitz
1950's velvet hat-Hand-Me-Ups
Shoes-K mart
Blouse-Jennifer Lopez for Kohls
Tights-Donna Karan
1940's velvet handbag-Thrift World
Faux fur-thrifted
Lucite and silver Lisner brooch-Hand-Me-Ups
Milk glass 60's earrings-Thrift World
1960's Marvella stranded necklace-Goodwill (I think)
Gloves-Can't remember
Milk glass 50's wrap bracelet-Hand-Me-Ups
Fragrance-Lentheric Shanghai

Thursday, February 19, 2015

L'Air du Temps-Nina Ricci's Carnation Classic

(Not my photo)

If you've been in a public space in the past fifty years or so, you know this fragrance. Your mother (and your grandmother) probably had the beautiful Lalique bottle displayed on their perfume tray. I never felt the need to sneak a whiff of the perfume directly from the bottle as it was worn (lavishly) on every form of public transport, in every dining establishment from cafeterias to upscale restaurants, in classrooms, hospitals, newsstands, and anywhere else people might gather. It would have been a bit much except that it always smelled so good on your mother and grandmother.

The new formula has been toned down a bit. Unlike many reviewers I don't think this is a bad thing. The carnation note is still dominant, and seems to live in the top, middle, and base, but the other florals have receded-a good thing if jasmine, iris, and rose aren't your thing. By muting the competing florals, the spiciness of the amber, vetiver, and cedar combine with the carnation into something I can enjoy without feeling like I'm wearing a cross between a funeral parlour and the corner florist shop. I suppose that's why I've always loved carnation fragrances-they're floral, but in that peppery way that saves you from too many associations. For years I used Roger and Gallet carnation soap, until it was discontinued in the US. There's carnation fragrances, and then there's carnation fragrances with everything else in the perfumer's arsenal tossed in. If you've ever smelled the long-gone vintage Guerlain Ouilette, you know what a serious carnation scent can be. L'Air du Temps was never going to be Guerlain Ouilette, but once they subdued those screaming jasmine and white floral notes, it became for me, a much more wearable scent. I know people love the vintage L'Air du Temps formulation, but unless it was on mother, it was never going to be anything more than a pedestrian perfume to me. Like a top 40 song that gets played in endless rotation, L'Air du Temps is the Bee Gees of the perfume world. You know all the words, and haven't forgotten them long after the fad was gone, but you wouldn't listen to it by choice.

I figured the best test of something like L'Air du Temps would be a long ride by motorcar. Before leaving the house, I applied it 1960's style (generously) and then applied some to a handkerchief for my handbag. Thing is, twenty minutes into any trip, I get a little hungry. I'd guess this is a holdover from childhood motion sickness when my mother would hand me a bag of salty pretzels to suck on as a sort of folk remedy for nausea (because it couldn't have been anything to do with being trapped in a car with three smokers and closed windows). I'm a terrible passenger. Oh, I'm fine if I'm driving, but put me in the passenger seat and the waves of nausea start rolling before I'm half a mile from home. So yeah, I wasn't driving, but I'd brought along several pieces of cubed cheese, iced coffee, and a gigantic packet of sour cream and onion Lay's. Try as I might, for the remainder of the ride all I could smell was coffee and fake scallion/chive scent. Poor L'Air du Temps just couldn't compete. I tried some the next day without the fake onion scent and it was a different world. Some scents are nice together-Chanel #5 with bourbon and ginger ale, Tabu with a slice of Christmas Cake, Tigress and Alba dietetic "milkshakes".Sadly, the onion scent on potato crisps will never mingle with a fragrance. Not nicely, anyway.

My only complaint is that it fades too quickly. I don't re-apply cosmetics, so I surely won't be carrying a perfume bottle along for touch ups, even a pretty one. After an hour it was 50% gone. By three hours I couldn't detect it on my skin, though it lingered a bit longer on the hankie. That's a shame as I feel the notes never get a chance to fully develop. I wonder if what people dislike about the newer formulation is that it lacks the slow opening of the old formula. What I find irritating is how everything is there right at the start-you get the whole show at once. The top, middle and base smell identical to me. It has everything I enjoy, but like sour cream and onion Lays on a long road trip-it is nice to save something for later. L'Air du Temps consumes the whole packet in the first hour.

Some fragrances would be better lost than reformulated (Mitsouko comes to mind, as does Fidji) but others like Opium and L'Air du Temps have (to my nose anyway) become more wearable. Sadly, it isn't 1977, and you can't go out in public places wearing a noticeable scent that smells of anything stronger than laundry detergent or a fairy cake. Personally, I don't give a rat's ass about what's fashionable, but I do try to avoid wearing things that would be challenging to a modern American's senses if I plan to be in a public space. If I need to be in a Dr's office or hospital setting I just skip it altogether though I think Castille soap, or camphor are a whole hell of a lot more headache inducing than anything on my perfume tray. I don't think any reasonable person would find L'Air du Temps offensive either in the old or new formulation. It is like a hug from your mother-well, your mother anyway as mine wasn't terribly demonstrative that way. It is familiar, comforting, and easy to wear-but buy the purse spray because you will be reapplying every half an hour.

Next up-Lentheric's Shanghai.

Wiggs (Whygges)

I was stuck at home today waiting for an exterminator to do a termite inspection (no termites, or evidence of-hooray! They eat books, so it is no small worry.) so I passed the time between lessons with a bit of baking. At a recent book sale I bought a copy of Celebration Breads by, Betsy Oppenneer. Wiggs are said to be associated with Lent in Britain, though rich with eggs, butter, and sugar I don't see how they could be viewed as any sort of deprivation. According to Oppenneer, Wiggs were often lightly toasted with cheese and served in a bowl of red wine or ale. I served them slightly warmed without any adornment and they were well received, though in the future I would skip the caraway seed topping as it is a mess. Caraway with sweet spices is an odd combination to modern palates. I have recipes for candied caraway seeds, cakes of caraway and rosewater, and all sorts of things that might set your teeth on edge today. So be warned, if you associate caraway seeds with a rye bread or cooked sauerkraut, you may wish to sit this one out.

I can't offer photographs as a certain someone broke my new camera. I'll get another at the weekend, but for now I'll have to do my best to describe them. Interestingly, the cookbook does not have a photo or illustration. It would be hard selling a cookery book to a publisher today without glossy photographs.

I made a few changes in technique you may find helpful such as rotating the pan halfway through baking, that vary from the original recipe.

You Will Need:

For the Sponge:
1 scant tablespoon granulated yeast
2 tablespoons warm water
1 cup light cream (single) or half and half (double and milk in equal amounts) lukewarm
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup plain flour

For the Dough
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg, beaten
3 tablespoons finely chopped candied ginger
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3=4 cups plain flour

For the top:
3 tablespoons caraway seeds (pretty, but far, far too many)

In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast in  water to soften it. Stir in cream, sugar, and 1 cup flour. Stir until mostly smooth. Cover with cling film and let rest 30 minutes.

Combine sponge, sugar, butter, egg, ginger, caraway, salt, nutmeg, mace, cloves, and 1 cup of the flour. Beat well 2 minutes (I used a wooden spoon). Slowly add the remaining flour a cup at a time until you have a dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. I only needed 3 cups. Knead, adding flour if it is too sticky until dough is smooth and elastic (about ten minutes).

Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover with cling film and let rise until doubled-about an hour. Punch down and divide into three even sections. Roll each into a ball, and then flatten the balls to 1/2 inch thickness. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet (or lightly grease) and sprinkle 1 tablespoon caraway seeds atop each loaf. Press into surface flattening as you go. Cover lightly with a towel and let rest 30 minutes.

Cut each round into eighths-you must cut all the way through. I used a pizza cutter. Do NOT pull them apart as for scones as they will rise together. Cover again and let rise another 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Bake 10 minutes, then rotate pan and bake another ten or until lightly browned and internal temperature of buns reads 190 degrees F.

Place on a rack to cool, and break into wedges to serve. The recipe suggests the wiggs will keep frozen for 6 months and can be reheated in a 375 degree oven for 10-12 minutes. I have the other two loaves in the freezer, so I will report back when I use them as to how well they hold up.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

They're Jumping Out Windows in Boston

I loved the ten years I spent living in Boston-but I hated the snow. I hated navigating the streets of Eastie, shoveling out after a snowfall only to have a city plough come along and dump it all back on my car, and I especially hated the thaw when I'd forget, and step into a pile of cold slush at the corner. That said, seven and a half feet of snow (and more on the way) would have been the end of me. Seems some stir-crazy locals have come up with a way to entertain themselves:

For the non-locals, "Loon Mountain" is a ski resort.

The frightening thing is that I know people that would do this-for all I know they might have already.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Pancake Day

They're more crepes than pancakes, at least as we know pancakes in America. I used to give Danny the first one that would be slightly imperfect to nibble as we cooked, but now I rarely make imperfect crepes (practise makes perfect!) so I just let him have a few for lunch. The remainders will be baked with cooked apples and brown sugar in a sort of mountain for dessert tonight.

In other news...I took some outfit photos.
 Ignore the overexposed photo and look at the suede skirt I bought for a dollar at Goodwill. I know, right?
 What you can't see is that my oxblood boots match it exactly. If I were the sort of person that cared about matching my shoe colour to the hem of my skirt, I'd be pretty damn impressed. Instead, I match my shoes to my handbag, because in my mind it is still 1974.

 So let's see...poloneck, suede skirt, over the knee boots...oh gawd...I'm finally fashionable! How horrible! Quick, someone get me a polyester pantsuit before someone thinks I did it deliberately. Hurry!
I had to laugh at the fashion writers going nuts over the polonecks in the audience at New York fashion week. There's nothing like a record breaking cold-snap to bring out the layers, is there? Now put on some socks and stop being fools. Last week I saw someone that should have known better going sock-less on a single digit temperature day. I wanted to go next door to Walgreens and buy her a pair of socks. No fashion is worth frostbite. Anyway, glad to see some people have come to their senses and decided a warm neck is a nice thing. In the wind, you can use it as an improvised face mask too-and it won't mess up your makeup the way a balaclava would. Speaking of makeup, I'm wearing a primer that promises to minimise the red tones in my skin. I have to admit, so far it seems to be working well. I'm not sure how I feel about calling the product, "Airbrushed", but it does a good job on the red.

Outfit Particulars:

Brocade waistcoat-Liz Claiborne, early 90's
1970's tweed jacket by Country Miss-Salvation Army, Lincoln
1970's suede skirt-Goodwill
Glass beads-Thrift World
Bangles-assorted places (the glass one broke today-grr)
Earrings-Von Maur, ages ago
Fossil Handbag-Thrift World
Fragrance-L'Air du Temps (I have a review about 90% completed, so look for that soon)

Hope you enjoyed your pancake day (if you do that tradition).

Monday, February 16, 2015

Scenes From The Great Backyard Bird Count

It was a good bird count this year. On a trip to Branched Oak Lake in Raymond, NE we counted 17 Bald Eagles, and a day earlier someone saw 106! They're migrating now, and the numbers are quite mind boggling for a species that was down to a couple hundred breeding pairs in the 70's. 

All photographs taken by Danny.
 Harris' Sparrow at Ak Sar Ben aquarium.
 Myrtle variety Golden Rumped Warbler. I don't like how it is looking at me!
 Bald Eagle at Branched Oak Lake
 Downy Woodpecker (backyard) Omaha
 Red Head ducks (male and female) Branched Oak lake
 Canada Geese
Immature Bald Eagle. 

Species total for the four days was 25! 
Hundreds, and hundreds of birds. 

*But wait* There's MORE!
If you like keeping track of birds, you don't need to wait for next year. goes year-round. 
I knew you'd be excited.

I also learned that Branched Oak Lake has "Excellent opportunities for taking crappie and wipers." I guess "excellent" is subjective because all I saw by way of facilities was a hole in the ground.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Potato Bread and Cheese Cake-and a Bonus Strawberry Sandwich Recipe

Quick, before some government advisory board decides to change the guidelines again make certain you get your fill of cholesterol laden foods!
 Fine, I know there's a difference between a couple eggs a day, and a cheese cake...but they've been wrong before-what's to say the fountain of youth doesn't  lie in a cake rich with eggs and sour cream?

Or perhaps the secret to achieving a good long life is buttery potato bread, hot from the pan.
Yeah, that's a life worth living...right there in that pan.

Both cheese cake, and potato bread are foods people take seriously (far too seriously to the point of being silly) and have strong opinions about the preparation of. As I don't give a toss about, "Authenticity" I'm offering a couple recipes that worked well for me, and I enjoyed. I have better things to do with my time than wonder if my cheese cake is authentic enough. It probably isn't, if your idea of cheese cake is the heavy New York style that's not unlike eating straight cream cheese. This is closer to the cheesecakes I grew up with, though typically it would be topped with sour cream, not fruit. I know, sour cream atop a cheese cake sounds like overkill but I come from a culture that adds a dollop of sour cream to a serving of cottage cheese. Probably a holdover from the days of dry cottage cheese, and totally unnecessary today...but so delicious. If you really want to indulge in your new found freedom to consume cholesterol, try the cottage cheese/sour cream combo with a plate of macaroni cheese. With tons of black pepper.

Should we start with the cheese cake, and have dessert first? If you make a cheese cake is that the dessert or cheese course? Hmm.

The recipe for the cheese cake comes from a wonderful cookbook I picked up at the Friends of the Library Book Sale for .25 cents. Traditional Jewish Cooking by, Betty S. Goldberg. I can't vouch for the tradition part of it as most of the recipes are new to me, but I can tell you this was the least complicated cheese cake I've ever baked, and it was delicious. I like that it didn't call for four pounds of cream cheese and a dozen eggs or something obscene like so many cheese cake recipes do. Sure, it isn't health food (new guidelines or not) and it is a dessert, but it isn't so heavy that you can't move after a small slice. There's indulgent and then there's competitive indulgence.

The recipe does not call for the use of a water bath to bake the cake. It does crack on top as it cools, which is just the nature of cheese cake, but if you can't bear it, or don't plan a topping to hide it, wrap the pan tightly in foil (I mean several layers) and bake it in a water bath to help reduce the crack. Again, I don't bother because I don't care, and it is extra work, but the water bath will help if you're the sort of person that obsesses about such things.

I used strawberries for my topping as we're starting to get beautiful berries from the South arriving in our shops. At the end of the post, I'll give my recipe for a strawberry sandwich which would make a lovely Valentine's Day breakfast.

For The Cheese Cake:

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (I used a combo of wholemeal and some chocolate wafers I baked recently)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted (I'd go for the salted here if you have it, but that's me)
16 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
4 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar (I used 3/4 and it was more than enough with the sweet topping)
2 cups (1 pint) sour cream (I'm not a food snob, but I'd use a good sour cream without a bunch of gelatin and stabilisers)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Crust: Mix crumbs and butter together. Pour into a 9 inch springform pan. Press into bottom and up sides partway. Set aside. Heat oven to 325 degrees F.

Use a mixer to beat the cream cheese until light. Scrape the cheese from the beaters and add the eggs, one at a time. Beat well. Beat in the sugar gradually, then the sour cream.  Beat in the vanilla. The mixture should be smooth, and I found it helpful to scrape the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula just to be certain it is all getting mix together.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and place the pan on a baking sheet (trust me on this one-never trust a springform pan. Ever.). Place in the oven and bake 45 minutes. Turn of the oven, and let sit an additional 30 minutes. Then, open the oven door, and let cake cool to room temperature. At that point you can cover and place it in the fridge. Meanwhile, make your topping.

2 cups (1 pint) fresh strawberries or blueberries. In a 1 quart pot, mix 1 cup hulled, mashed berries with 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 teaspoons cornstarch (cornflour). Add 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Bring to the boil over moderate heat, stirring frequently. Reduce to a gentle boil and cook 2 minutes longer. Cool to room temperature. Arrange 1 cup fresh berries on top of cheese cake. Spoon topping over them.
* I did not bother, and cooked the 2 cups of berries all at once. It made for a beautiful topping without fiddling with arranging fresh berries. Your call, either way it is great.

Chill well before serving. To unmould, run a knife along the edge and gently remove the ring whilst uttering softly, "Don't break, don't break". Don't attempt removing the cake from the bottom of the pan (it won't work) just cut and serve from it.

I'd serve it with coffee, but I know that's out of vogue these days (coffee in the evening). I'd avoid any terribly sweet booze with this.

On to the Potatoes!
I didn't call them, "Farls" because they're in eighths, but you get the idea. A pizza cutter makes the cutting go smoothly. Avoid the temptation to add too much flour as that makes them heavy. You'll need to work with the potatoes still hot, so if you have delicate hands, heat-proof rubber gloves may help. I just shoved my old arthritic hands in there and got to work-it was therapeutic.

You Will Need:

4 large-ish floury potatoes (I used Russets)
1 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter

Boil and mash your potatoes and mix with the butter. I used a food mill for my potatoes, but if you prefer a coarser texture, a hand masher is fine. Stir in the salt and flour, and knead with your hands. You may need more flour-it should hold together, but not be at all sticky. It will be soft. Pat the dough out on a cutting surface to a round (about 10 inches) and 1/4 inch thick (or as close as you can get it). Cut into wedges (4, 6, 8-whatever you like) and cook on a hot, lightly buttered grill until browned on both sides. It helps to re-butter between batches, and you may need to keep adjusting the heat down if you use a cast iron pan as it holds heat. Serve hot, with more butter.

Strawberry Sandwich:

This is essentially eggy bread/French toast with a filling.

Two slices bread (I used a buttermilk white, but challah or brioche would be great)
Cream cheese
Sliced strawberries macerated in a 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon heavy (double) cream
Dash of salt
Butter for the pan

Lightly spread cream cheese on bread slices. On one slice, arrange the strawberry slices. Spoon over any juices. Affix top slice, pressing together gently. In a shallow bowl, beat together the egg, cream, and salt. Place sandwich in mixture and let soak a couple minutes, then gently turn and repeat on other side. Meanwhile, melt a knob of butter in a pan over medium heat. When sizzling, add the egg soaked sandwich. Fry until golden, then carefully turn and repeat on other side. Serve cut in half, lightly dusted with icing sugar,  with a bit of maple syrup on the side for dunking.

I don't know about you, but that made me hungry. Screw Valentine's Day, just make it for yourself.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Great Backyard Bird Count 2015

Get those binoculars polished-up, the Great Backyard Bird Count beings Friday.
The GBBC is a worldwide event with activities for very young children, as well as experienced birders. For younger children, it helps to print off the checklists and work in short intervals. Fifteen minutes is about all a five year old will put up with, but they learn the discipline of sitting and observing something quietly. As February in Nebraska is often quite cold, Danny spent many GBBC's observing the birds from a window overlooking the windbreak. It didn't diminish his enjoyment watching from inside, so don't feel obligated to find an outdoor spot.

With beginning birders you may wish to print off the checklists rather than have them enter the sightings in real time-just to avoid any emails questioning whether you did indeed have fifty magpies in your yard (to a small child let loose with a bird guide it can be hard to tell a grackle from a magpie)! If you DO have fifty magpies in your yard, you should post it immediately-but be prepared for a number of curious birders coming to have a look.

If you find the GBBC is your sort of thing, there's a link to on the site, which is a year-round citisen science project.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Updating My Wardrobe-1938 Style

Recently, I was reading a post over at the wonderful, Witness 2 Fashion, and my eye was caught by the suggestion that adding a halter to a plain dress could help stretch a limited wardrobe. It has been years since I've worn a halter top as I need to stay fairly covered-up in the sun these days, but I have kept a few in my collection as they were too pretty to discard. I wondered, could I make it work?
 I think I nailed it. Of course, you're never fully dressed without a fart-blaster.
 This was taken outside the health food store, next door to the art store. A woman posing for photographs with a fart blaster wouldn't even raise an eyebrow over there. I was the normal one for a change.
 A bit squinty with the sun in my eyes, but the dress looks good.

I'll be examining my wardrobe through new eyes now. So many times I've nearly given away this black dress only to think, "But it is a simple black dress, you may need it someday." It isn't that I lack imagination, but layering has never been my strong point beyond perhaps a poloneck and a cardigan.
 Adding a jacket gives the whole thing a bit more sophistication, which is good because you don't want to look like just any old slob with a fart blaster.

Outfit Particulars:

Rayon Chadwick's of Boston dress-Thrift World
Halter top-ancient, can't remember
Satin jacket-Filene's, early 90's
Bangles-thrifted assorted locations
Black and white glass beads-Sarpy County Historical Society Yard Sale
Blue and brown beads-Thrift World, 90th and Maple (Omaha)
1940's suede handbag-Thrift World
Earrings-K Mart
Fragrance-Feral Cat Guerlain Jicky (still don't like it, but I'm trying to understand it)

 New car selfie. Look, real headrests, not some thing we kinda-sorts glued back on after it fell off for the millionth time. Nice, dude. 
 People will stop what they are doing if you make a big production taking photos in an Office Max. I want Danny to run up to us pointing and screaming, "Look! It IS her! Oh my god, what is she doing in Omaha?!?!"

I wonder, could I get people to ask for my autograph? If I saw someone with a fart blaster in Office Max getting a photo taken, I'd wonder what was up.
 Until they got close enough to smell the Eau du Cat Glands Jicky. That might be enough to keep the fans away. Meow.
Alas, no one asked for an autograph, and I headed home with my cheap office supplies, though they no longer sell ledger books. I know, paperless society, but I'm a last-century sort of woman and I need a ledger book where I can note things in ink. Our accountant thinks I'm hopeless too. *Shrug*. 

What about you? Have you found any wardrobe stretching tips from the past that you put into practise today? I'm so inspired I may sew up a few halters from the vintage rayon prints I've been hoarding in my fabric stash.