Monthly Archives: June 2011

Royal Silver

For someone who grew up in the Dominion of Canada, with one set of grandparents who emigrated from England, I grew up in an antimonarchist family. My parents loathed  the idea of the constitutional monarchy,Britain’s pseudo-official presence in Canada, and the damn corgis. My grandmother, Margaret Banister Leyland, the pride of Burnley, Lancs.,  had particular scorn for the late Queen Mum – “Silly bitch.” Take that Helena Bonham Carter!

My school handed us tiny Union Jacks and trucked us to the track of the Semenaire St-Joseph to watch the newly crowned, young and lovely Elizabeth II drive around the playing field in an open car, the dashing Prince Phillip beside her. So strange: I can remember the experience clearly, but it replays in my mind in black and white. I have seen the Queen, and I didn’t need to go to Buckingham Palace with Alice.

I agree in principle with my parents: The British can keep their monarchy, but Canada should tell them to bug out.

So I’m embarrassed by my fondness for Royalty kitsch. I want William and Kate tea towels, tea cups, egg cups, aprons(!) placemats. Heck, shower caps. Because they seem like an unaffected young couple, and because they’re doing a smashing job at their first official visit, in Canada, I wished I was hitting all the tacky souvenir shops on Sparks Street in Ottawa, hoovering up every trinket.

Have I mentioned that I’m a collector? I have so many rag tag collections that I’ll write about them in other blog posts. But today, watching the charming Duchess of Cambridge aceing her first official walkabout in Ottawa, I remembered a tenth of my sterling silver tea and coffee spoon collection, not those from the Columbian Exposition (another standalone collection) or small towns all over the USA and Canada.

My royal sterling collection! These weren’t dead cheap when I bought them, but I was in a royalty souvenir trance and, besides, I’m crazy about them. Most of them were made by Birks,Canada’s great silversmith, who if it’s smart, will be churning out Will and Kate teaspoons.

Voila!  And be patient with my lousy photography.

I have two sets of George VI/ Queen Mum spoons


It must be swell to have a throne. These are prettier, and heavier than my crappy photography can imply. They’re ice cream spoons.

These are demitasse size, and bear dates. The one on the left:”Crowned May 12 1937.” The one on the right: “George VI and Queen Elizabeth Canada 1939.”

This sugar shell is my favourite because it’s flat out gorgeous from its fluted bowl to the chased handle that celebrates the rose, the thistle, the shamrock and the daffodil, the floral emblems of her dominion in the British Isles. Gee , I wish I could take a decent picture. The writing, down the handle of the spoon, reads: To commenerate the Coronation, June 2nd, 1951.”












But this funky old spoon, coin silver plated ,( which is rotten, because coin silver is pure, soft and likely to be stripped down to its base metal) is old.  As it is here, poor spoon. But, if you can make it out, this spoon honors Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, 1902. Brings out all my “Forsythe Saga” “Duchess of Duke Street” nostalgia.

Hey, I’ll make some of my fab frozen yog and lay in some cheap prosecco. Let’s dig in, with royal spoons. Just show up.


Filed under Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, Collections, Twenty bucks

Charlene’s Exterior Design

There’s nothing cheaper and more cheerful than having a neighbour who imagines charming seasonal decorations, executes them with originality and charm, and pulls all eyes from her neighbor’s house – the one with the overgrown garden and the peeling paint.

You’ve heard me write about the Simpsons. BigDale,Viet Nam marine, career cop and now the dude who cools the ring at Fermilab – Cerne needed him, bad. Little Dale, Warrenville’s own Indiana Jones, is now between Machu Picchu  and Easter Island. The gorgeous Christina, mother and florist. Then there’s Charlene, my confidante of what, Char? Thirty years in August?

Char, Big Dale’s “Bohunk Accountant,” a thrifty smart Bohemian girl. Char, the interior decorator, who’s done so much more with her house than we ever could. She keeps a freaking spotless house. She’s been my catsitter since before Lady Gaga was born. We can be holed up in wintry weather, then meet up at the mailbox and catch up. Big time.

She decorates the outside of her house for every holiday – Flag Day, Valentines Day, Christmas, She caught little girls cutting the plastic eggs off her shrubs this Easter, and they had no defense except “They so pretty.” Charlene tapped her invisible store of seasonal; stuff and handed the little girls a few eggs of their own, They returned the pilfered eggs.

Char is in 4th of July mode. You can’t see the other spread of bunting from this pic, on the north side of the fence, but I adore it. I notice a brand  new flag. And I love the details on the front porch. That’s what I love about her seasonal decorating: even at Christmastime, the real goodies are on the front porch to delight me, other friends and the UPS man.

When I ask where she picks up her props she says something like “Flea Market.” Or “Five for a dollar at TJMaxx.”  It’s weird – I never see her tying all those Easter eggs to her shrubs, or hanging the fresh bunting or running up a new flag – it always happens like magic.


Now for a few pix:











This tin basket is reimagined every other week, it seems.











This stands to the right of the front door. I mean, where does she find this stuff?








Patriotic cushions, patriotic kitty.

Thanks, Charlene for treating your neighbors with your charming, original decorations. I think you should go into business.

Um, here’s our pitiful, overgrown weedy take on the red white and blue:











So thank you, Char: you’re the ‘Ville’s Martha Simpson.


Filed under Free, History, Holidays, Home, How Cool is That?, On the Street Where I Live, The 'Ville

Things I Learned This Week

It was a weather week and an insomnia week. Weather: grey skies, nearby tornadoes, humidity and temps in the sixties. The low sixties. Insomnia: Asleep by four am, though I’d been twitching in bed since midnight, then bolt upright at nine. Five hours sleep  = Margaret, Zombie Empress from Hell.

It was an unproductive week. It was too wet to garden, my mind was too fuzzy to write, yadda yadda yadda. So, I’ll try to scrape my errant brain cells together and try to sum up the things that I learned this week. Or relearned this week.

I won’t spring for cable, but these two weeks tempts me, every darned year. Why? Wimbledon. I want to see every match on the outside courts, the white tennis costumes against the green grass, the passion and brilliance. I’ll get over it in a couple of weeks. But then the US Open will commence and I’ll have to hold serve and stay tough not to call some Godawful cable company.

I admire the writing of Elizabeth Berg, and I’ll write a full Library Card post about her. She can string together a plot with poetry.











I learned that stabbing a half onion on a fork then dipping it in olive oil is a swell way to oil a grill.

I’ll never stop missing my daughter and son-in-law. Ever.

I just don’t understand people who want to retire to a rustic farmette. I love the ‘Ville and all, but I want to walk out my front door and stroll to a street scattered with shops, restaurants and businesses run by folks I’ll get to know.

My archaeologist next-door-neighbor, “Little” Dale Simpson, (honorary nephew) was climbing Machu Picchu two days ago. I reel with jealousy, and salute Dale for his passion, and, as we say, following his dream.

I might not ever be a Jeopardy champ, but I could come home with a few thousand bucks.

Basil is always, always, reliable grown from seed.

No news here, but let me tell you, editing another writer’s work isn’t a clinical affair.

Friday night cheeseburgers with grilled onions and a beer is Friday night comfort.

I need insomnia advice.

And NBC is broadcasting Wimbledon tomorrow!


Filed under Body, Books, Free, History, Into the Mystic, Library Card, On the Street Where I Live, The 'Ville

Frozen Greek Yog Redux

I feel guilty cutting and pasting my latest article from the Ville’s semi-monthly paper, The Village Chronicles because that’s shameless lazy blogging.. But I’m going to anyway, because we made a new flavor last night and it’s so good that I’ll risk my literary reputation and give you the long form, previously published version so I don’t have to retype the procedure.

Oh, mes amis, we used half and half orange marmalade and apricot jam last night as the fruity/sweetening additions. It was just crazy delicious — the apricot provided the sweet back note, and the orange flavor was bright and mysterious. What’s next? Hmmmm — Nutella maybe?

A Taste of Milk and Honey – From Greece 

 I don’t buy much yoghurt in the little containers with the pretty pictures and the cute flavors.  Before you start dumping your empty Yoplait containers on my lawn and sneer at my elitism: I like them! They taste good, provide a good hit of dairy to the diet, and may be the only healthful item your fourteen year old will eat on the bus to school, as she texts her BFF two rows back.

I mean, I’ve made my own yoghurt – that’s geeky – since I was a young bride, blooming it on a steam radiator in a  Chicago six flat. I’ve drained that yog in cheesecloth and made a soft, herbed cheese .But I’ve mostly used yoghurt in savory applications like Greek tzaziki, Indian mint chutney, or as a tangy lo-cal substitute for sour cream in mashed potatoes.

In the last five years Greek Yoghurt has appeared in our dairy cases, and it’s the Hellenic apotheosis of yoghurt. It blows all other yogs outta the park. It’s deeply, hedonistically creamy, tart yet rich, and way better than any yoghurt I’ve ever made. Fage is the universal brand here, but Trader Joe’s is better, cheaper and worth the drive. Please don’t fail me here and buy the 2% fat version. Live a little: it makes a difference, and buy the full fat version.

I’ll welcome you into my two a.m. cravings. I love to bake, love desserts, but sweets aren’t a regular part of our diet. A few early mornings ago I would have sold my Granny into slavery for a scoop of ice cream, a Peanut Buster Parfait, a brownie. Leftover couscous with eggplant in the fridge just wasn’t making it for me. I didn’t have so much as a carton of crappy cheap Neapolitan in the freezer.  I forced myself to drift into a creamy fantasy.

I, like you, have an ice cream maker lurking around, a wedding present, a garage sale find, or like us, paid in full at Crate and Barrel. It’s time to drag it out and dry it out. This is an original by Maggie, dreamed up at three in the morning. I was longing for the Adriatic, I craved sweet, rich and creamy, and I wanted to put off the egg-rich custardy base for another week.

Oh geez, so easy, so adaptable. Scrape a 16 ounce carton of Greek yoghurt into a bowl, with a teaspoon of vanilla and a cup of honey. Mix, tasting: the mixture should taste a tad sweeter than you want the finished frozen yoghurt to be, because the chill takes the edge off the sweet.

When we dished up the soft frozen stuff and tasted it: what can I say? The dairy and the honey tasted like Corfu or any other Greek Island, sweet, tart, tangy with that indescribable lingering aftertaste that tastes like summer. Fresh, sweet and a tad acid. That evocative flavor lingered on my palate for an hour.

Then we got to thinking: Greek Yoghurt can be the base of many frozen treats. I love the idea of maple syrup replacing the honey, or a cup of strawberry jam.  Try any fruit in preserved form or cooked gently on the stovetop; raw fruit can turn into frozen nubbins in the ice cream machine. Keep it sweet, keep it tangy, keep it simple. It’s so easy, so good, and it’s lovely to drift to sleep fantasizing about white houses, blue sea, and the Greek Islands.



Filed under Five bucks or fewer, Food, How Cool is That?

From My Sole

I hate my feet. Anyone who’s seen my bare feet hate my feet. Pedicurists hate me, because , much as as John Singer Sargent or Ingres might have felt when they had to make a sitter look better-looking, they know it’s demeaning to their abilities.

Can I mention my ginormous bunions?  Pythagoras could have used them to demonstrate the right angle triangle. I had budding bunions when I was thirteen, thanks to a sublime pair of red Brevett loafers. Do you have any idea how hard and expensive it is to buy  a comfortable and chic pair of shoes when your feet are double-wide? I’ve given mucho money to Munro, and I’m still wearing their footwear, pretty well in tatters, fifteen years after I spent four weeks grocery money at Bloomingdales.

(Speaking of Bloomies, I got the one unsolicited compliment I cherish most there. A saleslady ran up behind me and yelled “Ma’am! Ma’am! You have the most perfect nose I’ve ever seen!” If you’ve heard me tell this story, forgive me. I cherish that memory on a bad feet day . That would be every day.)

My daughter gave me the best Mother’s Day ever this year — a flight to LA, a trip up the coast to Cambria and Hearst Castle. She had to work a few days while we were there, so we spent some time afoot. Anyone who thinks that Los Angeles is all about the car is misinformed. We walked her hood in Los Feliz Village, tramped through a few museums, and her tour of deep downtown LA. She took us up the coast to Solvang (hello, “Sideways” fans) and Cambria.  And then Hearst Castle — a walking tour.

My friend Dave had warned me: “Beware all enterprises that require new shoes.” I should have listened. I dropped a bundle on two pairs of cute shoes that felt good in the store. You know what happened: blood and blisters. My daughter lent me her better-traveled-than-I Birkie  sandals. They’d stomped through rice paddies in  Vietnam, and strolled Thailand, Cambodia and Hong Kong. The support was great, but they raised new blisters in different places.

I was wincing and considering going barefoot on Sunset, when I said: “Sorry. I don’t care that you hate resale stores . I’m buying a pair of shoes. ”

$1.99, Baby! Silver leather. A sole as thin as a sheet of vellum –useless for walking on anything larger than a poolside patio in 90210, but they got me home, and my neighbor Char said nice things about them yesterday.


You can see that I never removed the sticky price tag stuff, but, c’mon, 1.99!  These are not Jimmy Chos. These are not Birkenstocks. These are for sure not Munros. But, they don’t actively hurt my feet and I feel a tad glam on my kitchen floor and my garden. I love silver leather.

Thing is, they’re the best pair of knock around the house shoes ever. I’d never take them farther than a walk to the mailbox, but on doubtful kitchen floors or on grass, they are sooooo perfect. When I slip them on I feel glammer than flip flop aficionados. They are, in these restricted circumstances, the best 1.99 I’ve ever spent. I’ve almost broken in those two pairs of cute Spanish expensive shoes I bought for the trip, but as God is my witness, I’ll never pack new shoes again.


Filed under A Couple of Bucks, Body, Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day

It’s Bloomin’ Wet

I think I’ve mentioned that our back yard is the low water place in the neighborhood. Here’s a pic after yesterday’s storm:

But all that rain after all that heat made my roses bloom like crazy! The tall red boy is Othello, from the great English rosarian David Austin. Austin believes in the form and fragrance of old roses, and when you’re at the nursery and see any of his roses for sale — buy them. The modern tea rose is almost fragrance free, and the new breed of tuff shrub roses traded perfume for hardiness. I sniff at them. Bah.

A different view, showing off  the white Sir Henry Hudson, one of the Canadian Explorer series. Mr. Russian Comfrey, the bane of my gardening existence, takes up most of the left hand side of the picture.

If you’re a writer, writing about roses, there are so many ways you can cliche your title! “Everything’s Coming Up Roses!” “Rose is a rose is a rose.” “They are not long, the days of wine and roses.” (The days of wine extend longer than the days of roses, for sure.) Even, in a bad year, “Oh rose thou art sick.” For Alcott fans, “Rose in Bloom.” Please tell me all the ones I’ve forgotten in the comments section.

There’s a reason writers have written about roses since people pressed characters into a clay tablet with a stick — they are dazzling, sensual, mystical. The rose is the floral emblem of the Virgin Mary, the crests of the families of Lancaster and York during the bitter Wars of the Roses, and the centerpiece of a prom night wrist corsage. I’ll never forget the rose petals strewn on the hall between the bar and the dining room at Christina Simpson’s wedding; it felt luxurious, almost medieval. Christina is a florist and knows about these things.

Back to my garden in the ‘Ville. I’ve forgotten the name of this voracious red climber, so vigorous that its stalks need to be whacked off by a machete because the thorns have been known to stab the thighs of the UPS guy. I cut it back hard last fall, and it blew it off. Lou walked through the front door yesterday and said “Say, do you think you have enough roses?”












Here’s a close up of David Austin’s “Memorial.” I wish you could smell the deep musky old rose scent.

The heat and the rain have made Hosta Corner very, very happy. They’re at least a yard tall.

All this hot liquid display is, after the initial  fifteen-years-ago financial outlay, free. That’s cheap, friends, and it makes me cheerful.


Filed under Growing things, On the Street Where I Live, The 'Ville, The Great Outdoors

Keeping Cool

Chicagoans complain about the cold seven months a year, then they complain about the heat and humidity for three. And yes, you dwellers of the Pacific Northwest, Southern California, Arizona can just please hold your tongues, please. You may have your weather challenges, but residents of the Midwest get it all: giant hail, tornadoes, blizzards, days colder than a witches teat and days which remind me what agricultural workers in Florida live through. Our foundations shift, our basements flood, our engines freeze in winter and our car bodies rust. I suppose it builds character. At this point in my life I guess I’m a character.

It was 97 yesterday,  it was 97 today, and it will be 97 tomorrow. I have expensive plants I bought yesterday that need to be planted, and weeds are ecstatic. At about four I girded my loins and dug a nice big hole to plant one of three nicotiana sylvestris. (An expensive, divine smelling annual.) Willow the Wonder Cat is interested in everything we do — pounce on the pencil when we’re doing the crossword, dare the up and down of the sewing machine needle with her paw, and leap from nowhere to tackle the weed in my hand. She loves gardening.

So, sweaty and lightheaded, I walked across the patio to pick out my  plant. I turned, and saw my Under Gardener pee carefully in my hole, then carefully fill the hole up with the dug up dirt circling it. I gave up.

Glory be to God for air conditioning. I just kinda fooled around on the internet, and Facebook Friends posted some clever links. Want to publish your monograph in Llama font? Ici:

Or perhaps you’d like saucy sculptures of ladies made entirely from Chinese  cabbage?

So, I wasted some time on the internet, averted heatstroke and then did something conterintuitive: I got down with flour. Thanks to the divine A/C  I baked bread and made handmade fettucine. Come to think of it, that’s what I do when it’s twenty below outside — if the weather’s keeping me inside it’s time to do some real cooking. I bought the ice cream machine out  and did a strawberry frozen yoghurt.

It was a frustrating day, but just as our ancestors threw a log on the fire in wintertime and played euchre, I survived the heat by taking advantage of being held hostage by it.

It’ll be in the 60s by Thursday, say the local network weather guys. I’ll pull on a cardigan and weed.


Filed under A Couple of Bucks, Food, Growing things, Machines, Needlework

Popping Up, Re-engineered

I mentioned that when I was in LA I visited the Japanese bookstore of my dreams, Kinokuniya in Little Tokyo. Boy, was I a good girl: I got out of that crack house with change from a Benjamin. Most of my moolah went towards one item: The Art of Paper Folding for Pop-up , by Miyuki Yoshida.

It contains thirty stunning examples of paper cutting/origami pop-up inserts for cards, from so simple I could get it, to those so elegant and complicated that they require the skills of a sushi chef and a mechanical engineer. In fact Yoshida gives her profession as “paper engineer.”  I’m more like a paper hod carrier, an I proved it again today.

You see this is one of those too cool for school “art” not “craft” books. There’s a short author bio and thassit — not one line of type. No dedication, no acknowledgements, and certainly no directions! You’re given the elegant finished product, then you’re on your own.

I chose the first example which calls for but one cut and five folds. I spent some time with a T square and a pencil, a watercolor pencil and a pair of scissors, and loved the result. Here’s a kiss to my favorite card maker:

Cute, huh? A talking mouth or a cheeping beak? But the experience was enlightening: I was making it too complicated and I was doing it backwards! Hey, maybe I inherited one tiny engineering gene from my father, a chemical engineer who spent his professional life in the newsprint business. That makes him a paper engineer, right?

OK, I cheated. Drawing that perfect square on the spine of the card was a pain. Of anyone I know, who owns more square colored stuff? Why moi: origami paper, and thanks to my friend Priscilla, small squares. So I decided to make a trio of cheeping beaks, suitable for Easter or National Poultry Week.

Step one: Paste the squares, diamond style, on the spine of the card:












Draw a faint line in pencil across the center of the diamond. Fold the card, and cut across the line:





















nd here’s the genius part: turn the card inside out so that the colored squares are on the inside. Fold the sides downward , in what in origami-speak is a valley fold. The center lines should be pinched upwards , in a mountain fold, which the refolding of the spine encourages. This is helpful: what the pop-up looks from the wrong side:













Ta Dah!

Yacketty yack!











So, bored during a thunderstorm. I trotted out my essential, in too many ways to mention, paper. I had to figure something out, and realized I was making it hard for myself. Then I conjured my paper engineer and made myself laugh. Funnnnn.





Filed under Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, Cool Japanese Stuff, Less than 50 cents, Origami, Paper

In the Weeds

For the first time today I recognized, deep down,  what restaurant cooks mean when they say they’re “in the weeds” or “weeded.” I mean, I’ve known for years that it means being so behind on your orders that it feels as if you’ll never get through service alive, let alone getting the right orders to the right customers.

But today, as my back ached and sweat bedewed my bosom, I realized that I’m in the weeds for the rest of my life, or as long as I live in this house. The garden’s too big, laid out in my optimistic thirties, and my tolerance for slaving in the heat has become too small. My weeds are thugs, maybe because of all those years of solemn soil amendment — Man, are they happy!

Many gardeners go on about the meditative aspects of weeding and it’s health-giving properties — all that “light” exercise. Har. I should be as enlightened as St. Teresa of Avila and as supple as Selma Hyack. I’m not.

But today I admitted: I’m going to be in the weeds forever, even if I spend two solid hours a day pulling and whacking from March until November.  The weeds will always win.

But…. the garden’s looking better. Here are a few photos (heavily cropped to hide some of the weeds.)

The lovely spicy- scented rosa Therese Bugnet:












The Henry Hudson rose from the Canadian Explorer series:









Blooming chives:








And my spanking new leather-palmed and fingered gardening gloves, on a bed of geranium sanguineum:











It’s allowed me to forgive myself, this realization that I’m never going to win, no matter how hard I work. I mean, I’m not going to slough off; I’ll be sweating and groaning tomorrow on a muggy Midwestern day in the 90s. But now I’ll forgive myself for knowing my weeds and flowers will never get a six page spread in Martha Stewart Living.



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