Category Archives: History

Friends Bearing Food

I’m not naturally nostalgic, but I miss the tradition of sharing food with neighbours and buddies. “Tradition” is too strong a word — perhaps I mean “custom.” 

Growing up, Mummy pressed a few brownies on a plate to my friends as they emerged from the basement after one of our high school Hearts fests. (You know, I’d love to have a gaggle of girlfriends who’d join me for cards and Fresca at four in the afternoon and fight about what music would hit the turntable.) Because one never returned an empty plate, I knew it would wing back home with a dozen of Mrs. Horne’s peanut butter cookies tucked under wax paper.

Nonna was the all-time greatest food gifter. As I dragged myself up the back stairs at 1208 W. Lexington  after a long day in high-end retail, I never knew what would be sitting on the steps. Chicken Cacciatore over polenta? Canned fruit suspended in Jello? Spaghetti and meatballs.? I understand her generosity now: We cook for two and we eat a lot of leftovers. Annunziata Rovai, God love her, cooked her own meals until she was over a hundred years old. Of course she wanted to share.

I’m thinking about all this stuff because a friend and neighbour walked through my open front door this afternoon and presented me with his Polynesian Skewers — pineapple, bacon, shrimp, chicken, peppers and bacon, right off the grill. I smiled: I knew Dale Simpson when he had his original front teeth.




Bacon on a skewer is brilliant. Little Dale, you brought them on a paper plate, so I can’t return it covered with cheesecake. But thanks, Kid, for , well — sharing.



Filed under Food, Free, History, On the Street Where I Live, The 'Ville

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

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

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

Shine on Bright and Mysterious Object: French Sewing Table

I’m home and all’s well. I was accident prone in Ottawa — (I haven’t mentioned that a Valentine’s Day candy pulled out a tooth,completing the Ottawa Trifecta of pain and humiliation.)

But apart from a broken toe, crochet elbow and the hillbilly smile, I was healthy like horse in Ottawa. I took a mile walk, on average, every day, and several of those days were a windy minus 20.  I shivered at bus stops. I bought a scarf, and remembered the true purpose of a scarf. I made myself — the beginning of my elbow prob — a cap. I lived through a Canadian winter and felt great.

Then I got on an airplane and I got sick. Flying does that to me — the ears don’t drain, the sinuses fill, post nasal drip and within a day I’m coughing up green pea soup, deaf, feverish and languid. Too languid to write a proper blog post.

So I’m going to show you my mother’s French 1820s sewing table. My parents got smart fast about buying antiques: they went to the same auctions their dealers attended and profited from the etiquette that precludes dealers bidding against customers. This table was an exception: they payed retail, mucho retail, at a shop. My father provided the explanation for this pricey purchase: “Your mother said if I didn’t buy it she’d never talk to me again.” (Note: After a day of shoulder-turning, my mother would have had plenty to say!)

It was, and is, the only table in the house that’s banned from plates, coasters and ashtrays because the original finish is still superb. It’s about a meter tall.

The pale green moire silk work basket is in perfect condition.

I just know that no Amish work table would feature a mirror on the inside of the lid, but those genius needlewomen had no cause to fiddle with a ringlet or practice a moue.

The interior. That pale green kid leather pincushion flips out. Please note the little bundle of slats, which fit into the slots at the upper edge of the table. Would the little compartments have held thread? Beads? Earrings?

I love the French bourgeoise who bundled her sewing into that silk work basket, admired herself in the mirror (or checked it for the entrance of a jealous husband) and I love the family who saved it so my mother could buy it and I could use it.

If I had her maid I’d tinkle a bell and ask for a poached egg on toast and afterwards loosen my stays and recline somewhere. As it is, I’ll poach and toast and pass out in front of the news.

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Filed under Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, Collections, History, Home, How Cool is That?, Needlework, Worth it anyway

Valentine’s Day: Julia Knows her Cheap and Cheerful

It was a sweet, swell Valentine’s day, here in our sisterly site in the Great White North. Cards were served up at the breakfast table , with pretty little caskets of candy from Daddy and Megan. I didn’t give sweets, I gave meat in the form of a filet mignon/Duchesse Potatoes dinner for my peeps. (Note to anonymous suitors: to make me swoon hold the candy and FexEx me some animal protein from Niman Ranch.)

I received a huge bunch of flowers  from my faraway guy, so sunny on a grey February day:

And the mantle was all family hugs and kisses — the origami hearts had been our dinner place cards.


















But wouldn’t you know it: My sister Julia, , the Sultana of Sweet, the Contessa of Cheerful, the Keeper of All Holidays (she was asking about Easter on February 15th,)  put the VaVoom into Valentine’s Day. With some pilfered printer paper, paint, crayons and scissors, she’s been beavering away in her bedroom since Jan. 2.

I got three cards from her: (double click to enlarge.)






And here’s an example of  but one flat surface  she hearted:







Every table — at last count seventeen on the first floor — was tiled with hundreds of hearts, some painted, some in crayon, she’d cut and colored over the last month. Abondanzza is a wonderful thing.

I don’t want to hear any twaddle about St. Valentine’s being a greeting card holiday: it was around long before Hallmark, unlike, say, Sweetest Day. (That is a Hallmark holiday.)And Julia proved yet again that  holiday fun is mandatory, cheap and cheerful — all you need is love.


Filed under History, Holidays, Less than 50 cents, Paper

Shine on, Bright and Mysterious Objects

Laurie Colwin, wherever you’re lounging in Literary Valhalla — forgive me for bastardizing one of your best titles.

I’d planned to rent some skates today and ask Daddy to take some pix of me falling on my can as I attempted to glide along the beautiful Rideau Canal. Again God said “Hah! Not so fast, sister! ” and encouraged me to run a shopping cart over my left pinky toe. It resembles a baby eggplant and I can barely get my shoes on, let alone a skate. Perhaps it was Her way to remind me that I haven’t done the Hans Brinker thing for thirty years, and that a swollen toe heals faster than a broken leg.

So much for today’s plans, skate-wise and blog-wise — time to move the photography inside.I thought I’d share some of the objects from my parents’ silver collection and run a small contest. Some of them you’ll recognize and some may be mysterious. I’ll send a prize, made by moi, to anyone who achieves 100% identification of the mystery objects. None of today’s shiny things are the oldest or most valuable in the collection — they’re mostly Edwardian — but I love them. They’re mad cheerful, and for me they’re free;I get to use them and I didn’t pay a single pound sterling.

Here’s a snap of most of them to give you an idea of the scale:






I love engraving. Here I’m an Anglo Indian military bride:








I want to run out and buy Jordan almonds, licorice allsorts and wine gums to fill the little pans! The hallmarks indicate that it was made in Chester in 1908. The inscription reads:

Presented To

Capt. and Mrs. Farley


The NCOs & Men Of

“E” Company

2nd North Stafford Rgmt.

Peshawar India 1910

On the Occasion of Their Wedding

I can’t provide the date and provenance of this basket of beauty because I’d have to root around to find Daddy’s copy of Tardy’s. It continental and clever– each cup sits on a little peg so that the maid can’t jiggle the soft-boiled eggs about on the way to your breakfast table.










I’ve never seen such a pretty piece of tea strainer engineering as this: The baskets turn to the horizontal when it’s time to strain a new cup, so that you can dump the leaves efficiently. Again, I’d have to find Tardy to check out the German marks. (I’ve hooked it over an epergne handle to give the general effect.)









Now I’ll move into the Mystery Item round. Number One, from Birks, a Canadian silversmith. It’s about seven inches long.




Number Two (Chester 1904)may be my favorite of the group because it’s just so plain weird. I’m sorry about the crappy picture ; when I decided to reshoot I found my battery was dead. You might want to consult the group shot above.











Number Three, Birmingham, 1902.










So, as they say, enter to win a Valuable Prize! And pray for me — I’ve been so accident prone I’m afraid I’ll fracture a finger flossing my teeth!


Filed under Art, Body, Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, Collections, Giveaway, History, Home, Incredible Edible Egg, Worth it anyway

Real Estate, Relations, and a Few Favorite Things

The Domestic Goddess said “Hah!”

The crochet injury I was so cavalier about in my last post brought down Her wrath. My elbow’s no better, and at I have a sprained left thumb from buttoning my jeans left-handed. Not that I’m going to put the elbow on you for donations to my newly organized Foundation for Victims of Double Crochet — I’m asking in advance for permission for a post heavy on the pix and light on the captions. Typing hurts like an SOB.

I love the street where I’m living temporarily. Every house is different, every house is freaking huge (except ours) and I never tire of acting the rube rubbernecker, trying to imagine living in a late 19th century/three full storeys/serious square footage pile.








The pillars are too tall and skinny but I love it anyway.








The windows from the copper dome down are curved glass — replacements must be pricey. Yikes.








That evergreen on the left is six storeys tall.

Last week was one of those amazing Facebook family reunions . My cousin  Charlotte and I haven’t seen each other since we wore bellbottoms and walked the sands at Sauble Beach, Ontario. (Respect was number one that summer.) She, a daughter of Wooster Ohio, married a Canadian. I, a Canadian, married an American — we switched countries. In a fab act of familial generosity she offered to drive five hours with her husband Gordon to , well, catch up. Man, did we catch up!  A couple of glasses of bubbly and we were pouring over old family pictures  and climbing the branches of the Moss/Simpson family tree. We sat over the dinner table (Ina Garten’s Company Pot Roast)then met for lunch the next day.










Although Charlotte’s a year or two younger than I, she’s more closely related to Daddy — he’s her first cousin once  removed, I’m her second cousin.

I nominate this for coolest hostess gift ever: Charlotte and Gordon make their own maple syrup! That’s hard core, my friends. Pictured on the mantle next to an antique cranberry glass pickle jar:










We did a needlework swap — one of my tea towels for four of these adorable knit Easter chicks:








I have really cool cuz. My cousin Kent’s mastery of origami exposes me as the lowly Paper Bum I am:








One last fave thing before I ice my elbow: a Victorian sterling silver Sardine Casket:








Sorry this post’s so scattered, but I wanted to play a bit of catchup. By the way, you don’t need to write your check to the Foundation for the Victims of Double Crochet. Just make it out to me, and I’ll take care of everything.














Filed under Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, Free, History, Home, On the Street Where I Live, Origami

Freaky Father, Fitted Sheets

I told my father that he’s a freak. I suspect the words stung a bit, but I ask you…  and I will ask you . I’ll add a poll and the people can decide.

My father’s recovering from recent hip replacement surgery– left hip. He’s been doing an hour and a half of rehab exercise at home every day, and is a star , according to his physiotherapist. Medicine struck again this Monday — he spent a day in the hospital  for an angiogram, that wire threaded through a blood vessel in the same left leg. The cardiologists’s order’s? “Do nothing for two days.” No driving, no exercising, rest that leg.

Har. I would have taken the cardiologist’s advice to indicate that I should sprawl on the long, accommodating living room sofa and catch up on Daddy’s stack of Vanity Fairs, assuming the upright position only when concerned family members  tottered in bearing trays. My father is genetically or spiritually incapable of such sybaritic behavior, and after noticing an absence of a half hour I tracked him down and busted him. He’d been standing on the tile floor of the laundry room, ironing sheets!

That’s when I lost my daughterly cool and yelled: “Daddy, you’re a freak!”

Am I wrong? Sure, I iron the occasional pillowcase when the planets are aligned just so. But Queen sheets, both flat and fitted? A couple of pairs? I aim low: I grab the bed linens out of the dryer and get them onto the bed still warm, so they don’t acquire the peaks and crevasses that result from a week piled in the laundry basket as they wait to be toted upstairs.

We had a Sheet Summit, right there in the basement. Daddy can barely slide onto an unpressed sheet — icks! Nor does he favor the thread counts preferred by Mideastern royalty: ‘The really high thread counts make it hard to make the bed, because they don’t slide across each other. I find them itchy, too.” He took up percale after his retirement. “As your mother said, ‘Ian, you haven’t retired, I’ve retired. You’re just taking on new responsibilities.’ Fine by me: I didn’t marry your mother to bury her in the basement ironing sheets!” (NOTE: I doubt my mother ironed sheet one, ever.)

As he unplugged the iron he said: “I think I’ve bought my last fitted sheet. They’re such a pain to fold.” (Hmm, is he really a freak, or only an engineer? Engineers care about such things.) But this was my opening for daughterly redemption — I booted up his laptop and showed him Martha’s method for dealing with those pesky elasticized corners.

It’s cool: check out the laundry origami : I printed out the instructions and stuck them in the basket where he keeps his car keys, reading glasses and financial statements. Maybe we’ll have a folding fest before I leave Ottawa!

So, Dear Readers, please take this poll: perhaps I’m the one who needs a reality check!


Filed under Body, Free, History, Home, How Cool is That?, Polls