Monthly Archives: April 2011

Four Generations of Wedding Headgear

I thought it was a beautiful wedding. The dress was lovely, the reading from Romans unfamiliar to me, the trees along the nave of the Abbey brilliant, the Bishop of London’s sermon first class, if you’re fond of sermons. The hymns were faves of mine, and I was thrilled to discover that the great liturgy of the Church of England hasn’t jettisoned my old buddy the Holy Ghost for that feel-good Holy Spirit.

And, oh the hats! For me, it was bittersweet, all that marvelous millinery, because, as I’ve mentioned, my head size approximates that of a teenaged hippo. I can’t buy a hat off the rack, and I won’t soon forget the mix of horror and hilarity when I proved it to my daughter last December. That simple knit cap worked itself north in four seconds then tumbled to the floor. Now, I’m sure many of the ladies in the Abbey had their toppers custom made, but we ladies in the ‘Ville are spending our cash at the gas station.

I thought the Duchess of Cambridge’s veil,( to say nothing of the Cartier tiara) was perfection. I know Kate doesn’t own an advanced degree, but she can sure pick out wedding headgear. A+ to you, Ma’am.

I haven’t pulled out the family albums recently, but I did yesterday. I present four generations of family brides, blushing and unveiled. But check out the trends, from 1918 to the present. (My apologies in advance: something funky’s going on with picture posting and spacing.)

The not-so beaming Annunziata Rovai — no one’s saying cheese in this pic! But I think the long sheer veil and the flower wreath tiara are classics.

Here is Patricia Sweeney Rovai, my beloved mother-in-law in 1940 or so. Her father-in-law, the glowering groom in the first picture, was by profession a ladies’ tailor, and once ran the bridal department at Bergdorf Goodman. He watched “They Died With their Boots On” five times because Pat wanted Olivia de Haviland’s  dress  and veil. He did a masterly job.

Toronto, 1950. My mother’s dress was almost medieval in its elegant simplicity, and I loved it.All those buttons! (I’d peek into the trunk where it was stored — I wasn’t at the wedding!)  But the veil’s kinda meh — sorry, Mummy. They were getting shorter.

St. Matthias Church, Westmount, Quebec. Here we are signing the registry, just like Kate and Wills  — we hired the Boy’s Choir too, just as they did. We’re talking a four inch veil here, added by the millinery ladies at Holt Renfrew, where I worked. The turban — allow me to brag — was one-of-a kind Yves St. Laurent couture, a gift from my boss, the couture buyer at Holts. Yep, the millinery ladies stretched it gently for two weeks, until it fit.

Los Angeles, 2005. No veil! No hat! Nothing but some beautiful baroque ringlets and random rosebuds. (She’s pictured here with the 1950 couple.)

So there you go friends: from long drifting and gossamer to virgin locks in four generations. Should we ever renew our vows, I’m wearing a fascinator.


Filed under Cool Japanese Stuff, Free, History

Apron of the Day: “Sweets and Sushi”

It’s been awhile since I posted my last apron, and I apologize. I just know all of you have been panting for the latest springtime modele.

It’s been so long that Loulander has forgotten that he’s supposed to smile when the shutter clicks. Here he’s rocking that smolder on the green carpet in “Sweets and Sushi.”

Sushi side:

The long view:

I want a slice of all of these for dessert tonight:

Aw, what a dish!

(Needless to say, should you want to buy this beauty, shoot me a message.)

I think I’m going to have to devote some time at the Kenmore whipping up a spring wardrobe. Actual clothes: what a concept!

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Filed under A yard of fabric, Apron of the Day, Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, Sewing

Springtime Greetings from the ‘Ville

Sometime last week I posted my status on Facebook indicating that if I wanted the precipitation and grey skies of the Pacific Northwest, I’d be living there. Nine solid days of cold,rain, and overcast skies was robbing me of energy, optimism and valuable early gardening time. My friend Lloyd, a Seattle resident, scoffed politely. “Only nine cloudy days in a row? Pfui!” or words to that effect. Geez, the weather gods even threw in a few frost warnings.

Behold a view of the back yard, snapped yesterday:

Yes, we’re swamped. I suppose I should be glad that it’s been so freakin’ cold, otherwise we’d be Malaria Central. But see that white glow on the water’s surface? It’s sunshine!

To quote the poet:

Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling

It’s still too cold for any garment flinging — I mean, kids this Easter Sunday are shivering in their hoodies, not strutting in their Easter bonnets — but man, those few fleeting hours of sunshine! Our hearts lifted, we climbed out of the dumps and the grumps, energy and optimism returned…

But as I write this today, the world’s glum again. We received the gift of a few hours of Easter sunshine, but now it’s all shades of grey. I try to remind myself that rainy Sweden has been named World’s Happiest Country, (Canada was #3, the USA #13)and that England’s green and pleasant land’s that way because it’s cold and damp.

Cheerier news from the ‘Ville: my friend Richard from Grand Rapids sent me this link. Isn’t this WPA poster fab, ‘Villians and non ‘Villians alike?


Filed under Art, Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, Home, The 'Ville, Worth it anyway

Homemade Ricotta: So cheap, so cheerful,and how easy is that?

I might have to put aprons aside for awhile and whip myself up a Cheesemaker’s Smock, like this classic from Folkwear Patterns: (I’m a longtime Folkwear fan, but that’s another post. My brother got married in a Mississippi Boatsman’s Shirt.)

The Cheesemaker’s Smock would be a a fashion overstatement — I’m not storing fifty pound wheels in my nonexistent cellar. I made under a pound today, it won’t last much more than a week, and I didn’t have to lure beneficial bacteria into my kitchen. (I like to think, of course, that all the bacteria in my kitchen are friendly — I’m delusional that way.)

Nope, I made a couple of cups of fresh ricotta.  It required five minutes of active time and the following equipment and ingredients:

An instant read thermometer. A saucepan. A strainer doublelined with paper towel. A slotted spoon. Four cups of whole milk, a half teaspoon of salt and four tablespoons of cheapo white vinegar.

Now, a purist will say, correctly, that ricotta is made from whey. I don’t happen to have a reliable retailer for whey, although I’m pretty sure my magical cousin Mary Fran could source me some raw milk whey should we do the illegal handoff at the Wisconsin line. No, this Little Miss Muffet made her own curds and whey.

So: put on an apron and pour four cups of milk and the salt into a saucepan. Lay the thermometer handy, measure out a quarter cup of white vinegar, and set the paper towel-lined strainer over a bowl. When the milk reaches a temperature between 170 and 190, add the vinegar to the milk and remove from heat. You’ll see the ricotta curds curdle — leave them alone for a couple of minutes. Then scoop them — gently! — with the slotted spoon into the strainer. Let it drip, draining the whey from the bottom of the bowl now and then to prevent it from touching the curds.

My friends, you’ve made ricotta. Ricotta without added gums, as most of the commercial products do. Tender, soft, mild (the vinegar disappears) and a tiny kitchen miracle.

I might order that Cheesemaker’s Smock pattern after all. I’m seeing it in seersucker over a pair of capris.


Filed under A Couple of Bucks, Food, Incredible Edible Egg

Spring in the ‘Ville. Again.

Spring in northern Illinois is a warmer version of spring in Quebec — three weeks earlier but just as maddening. We hit 84 one day, and a terrifying nighttime prairie thunderstorm later be were back in the thirties. T.S.  knew what he was talking about when he wrote that :

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain


Well, April is also National Poetry Month.

But a couple of things on this April day made me breathe in the cool sunny air. As in every April, my daffodils are furling, along with some tulips and scilla. Heaven bless my bulbs.








My thyme and tarragon are back too, and I suspect the oregano will surge as it gets warmer. Tomorrow I’ll move the tax forms and the sewing machine from the dining room table and center a pitcher bulging with daffodils and tulips.

Here’s another eternal sign of spring, from out my back door. This kid was kicking around a soccer ball with his big brother, his uncle, his Dad four years ago when he was two. He’s bigger now, but the grass verge futbol, which will continue until the snow falls, is a sign of spring as indelible as my crabapple tree leafing out, the cats twitching at the fresh birdsong, and the soft thunder of an EJ&E train rumbling through my open window.


Filed under Free, Growing things, History, Home, Into the Mystic, On the Street Where I Live, The 'Ville, The Great Outdoors

Golf: Good Grief, I’m Turning Into an Old Guy

I have made fun of golf since I was twelve — the summer Linda Gautier and I hacked our way through the nine holes of the Metaberoutin, which was then a nine hole course closed to all but management of the Canadian International Paper mill in Trois-Rivieres. I guess things have changed at the Met:

What we loved was nineteenth (tenth?) hole, where we’d chug Grape Crush and eat Vachon Bakeries’  — the Little Debbie of Canada — Joe Louis cakes — black on the outside, white on the inside. Horrifying, but then was then, and they were, to our sugar-craving, just menstruating selves, worth walking nine holes for.

Like every other middle class couple in the sixties, my parents played golf; it was my mother’s bag of clubs I dragged to the destination of sugar and artificial flavors. Neither of them were truly dedicated golfers because they had bigger things to do, and I suspect my mother preferred the country club dances to teeing off.

I’ve made ruthless fun of golf and hushed golf broadcasting since I was thirteen. No matter my Scots heritage, golf was the Country of Old Men, or dorky young men. BOring.

John McEnroe once said that golf wasn’t a sport because in a sport “Don’t you have to run around a little?” I agree. Golf’s a game, like snooker, of skill and strategy. Or curling, which I’m mad for after a couple of months of a Canadian winter .

I’m a New York Times “Weekender” — don’t snicker, and in the Sports section last Friday I read about a Northern Ireland kid named Rory McIlroy and how he was tearing up the turf at Augusta.






There wasn’t much going on yesterday afternoon so I flicked the remote to the Masters. Holy crap, it was riveting. The course looks like a Thomas Kinkead “painting.” We were on the edge of the tatty old couch in front of the Jumbotron, cheering Tiger’s charge, watching Rory disintegrate, loving the late Aussie brilliance and admiring the two old vets, Angel and PK doing what they do with their impenetrable game faces on.

I’ve said it here a few times. I love being proved wrong about anything I’ve sneered at, because admitting I’m wrong gives me something cheap and cheerful to look forward to. Give me an EZ Boy and a cigar and I’m my father-in-law.







Filed under Free, Home, Sports

Good Advice

This post isn’t about big life-changing good advice — I am zero qualified, as messy as my house, brain and life is. This is about non earthshaking advice that’s made my life better, from magazines sometimes, but mostly from people I know that are way smarter and together than I am. I love you and I thank you.

  1. The only color of mascara to buy is black.
  2. Keep your ginger in the freezer — it keeps perfectly, which doesn’t in the depths of a vegetable drawer.
  3. Argentinian Malbec is huge tasting and underpriced.
  4. Thank you, Delia Smith: To make insanely rich, flaky pastry, grate frozen butter into the flour. Trust me.
  5. Learn to pick up your pie dough on a rolling pin.
  6. Thank you, Jacques Pepin: Keep your whole chicken from bopping up above the poaching water by enclosing it in an upside down colander.
  7. From Mummy: Never ever buy an article of clothing unless you’re seriously mad for it. Then buy it, right away.
  8. From Nonna: You need to use a black pan to make pizza.
  9. From Dave: Drop the adverbs, push the narrative.
  10. Gulp water when you’re ascending or descending on a flight –it will keep your ears open.
  11. Pennies make awesome pie weights.
  12. Mummy: always make dessert. Every night
  13. You learn more from your children than they learn from you.
  14. Honor: Always wear sunscreen — at least in SoCal.
  15. Daddy: Cling to your intellectual life, your family life, your impeccable wardrobe, no matter how  grim life is.
  16. Keep up with your friends. Not only are they life connections, they offer love and advice.
  17. Studs Terkel: Take it easy, but take it.

I’d love to hear your advice, on any and every subject from lingerie to Life.


Filed under Free, History, Into the Mystic, Uncategorized

I Guess I’m Famous for my Deviled Eggs. Who Knew?

I had lunch with three dear friends from my Paychex days on Saturday, right here in the ‘Ville at the pub of the respected craft brewery Two Brothers. (David Chang has eight beers on his list at Momofuko — according to my astonished daughter, two are from Two Brothers.)

Gretchen and Jason both went through the excruciation of being my boss, and Jayne, an ex-teammate, is now a supervisor in her own right. It’s to their credit that they’re still friends with a payroll misfit like me.

When Gretchen slipped into the booth she gave me some awesome career news, and excited discussion ensued. After the fist-bumping died away her next words were: “James/Chad asked me to ask you for your recipe for deviled eggs.”

Why does this young man have a slashed first name? Paychex had an intelligent policy about the names of their Payroll Counselors: no two people at any branch could have the same first name. It sounds heavy-handed but it works: if, say, I’d screwed something up with a client, I could never say “Oh! You talked to the other Margaret — she’s new to the company.” ( I’d have loved to choose an alias like Esme or Jemima, but I digress.)

Chad’s real name was James and I remember him running alternate choices around the department as if it were as important as naming the new Space Shuttle. He plumped for Chad, and even though the other James left and he’s reclaimed his name, he’ll always be Chad to me. I haven’t seen or talked to him for four years.

The four of us had lots to talk about, and I forgot about Chad’s request until Gretchen forwarded me an email from him saying something like “So Gretchen, did you get Margaret’s Deviled Eggs recipe?” Gretchen’s a busy woman, and doesn’t need to field recipe requests. I promised her I’d get back to her today, and here it is. Chad, this is for you.

Margaret McArthur’s Deviled Eggs

  1. 6 hard boiled eggs (Chad: if you don’t know how to hard boil an egg, do some Googling.)
  2. 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  3. 1/2 t. salt
  4. lots of  fresh ground pepper
  5. 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  6. Hot sauce, as you like it.
  7. a pinch of curry powder

Split the eggs lengthwise, and remove the yolks to a dish. Mash the yolks with a fork until smooth, then add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Spoon the yolk mixture into the hollows of the whites, and you’re done. It’s pretty to sprinkle the finished deviled eggs with paprika, or with a sprig of parsley. Like this:


Filed under A Couple of Bucks, Food, History, Incredible Edible Egg

French Frogs Fast

I’m not talking cuisses de grenouille a l’ail here, nor am I using a francophobic slur. I present to you my five minute menagerie of frogs, the invention of my fave French folder, Didier Boursin. I have no idea why they’re included in his Advanced Origami, because a five year old could master the model in a few minutes.








The blue, yellow and pink frogs are rare South American specimens. They are cheap and man, are they cheerful, especially if you press two spots on either side of their necks and make them “talk.” The model calls for a long, not too wide strip of paper; the two green garcons were made from the leftovers when I squared up an 8 1/2 X 11 sheet.

Step One: Fold the strip in half vertically, then unfold:








Step Two: Fold two adjacent corners to the center line:






Step Three: Fold the triangular flaps backwards so they project past the diagonal folds:








Step Four: Fold the frog in half behind, horizontally, just under the lower corners of the folds you just made. Turn it over and pinch fold upwards the lower “jaw” to form the mouth, then fold the little triangles backward to form the eyes, Comme ca:









Step 5: Grab a pen and draw two circles for the eyes.  Voila!











Have fun.


Filed under Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, How Cool is That?, Less than 50 cents, Origami, Paper