Keeping my books, an anniversary, and FaceBook

I have recently come to a de-cluttering decision: I am keeping all of my books.

We have a lot of books at our house — on shelves, in cabinets, piled on side tables and chairs. Sometimes they even migrate to the floor. In the past I have agreed with my husband (who has actually bought a number of these books) that some books must go. However, I am an English major, a one-time English teacher, a writer and editor, and a devoted reader. My book collection is what it is. And it is part of me.

I have been known to cull popular beach reading from the shelves along with outdated textbooks, as well as some musty, frankly moldy books from the basement. (Mold, after all, is contagious — it just spreads from book to book!) But, absent certain specific conditions, I am keeping my books.

I never fail to find a “forgotten treasure” when I take the time to empty a shelf and dust it and the books.

And my books include some of my mother’s and father’s books. I’ve moved them around with me for decades, and I’m not giving them up now either. I recently opened one that included an inscription to my mother from a co-worker. The book must have been a gift; finding the inscription was a gift to me, like having Mom back however briefly to talk about what we were reading. (And the best reason ever to start inscribing gift books to the recipient, at least with a date and the occasion.)

Although I have an e-reader and also read on my iPad, for the most part I continue to read traditional books, words printed on paper. That’s a bit old-school and contributes to my clutter issues, but I can’t stop. I dog-ear the pages, the spines get funky from leaving them face down, opened to the current page. Most of them bear coffee stains and the occasional smudge from snacking while reading. (Although, I am very careful with borrowed books!) I am never offended by these violations. I make my books my own.

A love of books and reading is a gift. One of my fondest childhood memories is of spending summer afternoons, sprawled on the floor, reading a book. Or reading late into the night, because the book was just too good to put down. Or going to the library to find something new. When my son and daughter were in elementary school, the PTA had a program that allowed each child to choose a book on their birthday to add to their home library. Despite the fact that Doug & Mags had lots of books at home, they were glowing on the days they came home with a new birthday book.

Remember how Marie-Laure LeBlanc treasured her Braille copy of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in All the Light We Cannot See? She read it again and again.

Don’t you just love how good you feel about making the right decision?

My love/hate thing with FaceBook

I have been thinking about “when FaceBook was fun.” I don’t spend a lot of time on FB; lately even less. Remember when it was just vacation pics, new babies and funny things you saw on the way to the office?

FaceBook is more work today. That’s not all bad. After all, one post launched the Women’s March in January. Pretty powerful stuff. It set so much in motion.

This — social media — is now a primary way to acquire and manage information. But for me it treads a very fine line. I’m a little tired of getting yelled at in all caps, “READ THIS” and “DO THIS NOW” although surely those posters find it important. And the language and name calling…yikes! What would your mother say about the language you used in that comment?

Most of all I wonder if we can really sum up the complexity of various issues in one post? Should we even try? There are so many conversations we need to be having, so much news to sort out, so many sources to evaluate. Can we just leave it to FaceBook (or another social media site) where we can say what we want, hit post and walk away? What merits a greater effort? Social media has its role, but I don’t think it ever replaces traditional communications (though many might disagree).

Finally, it’s been a year…

It’s been a year since I wrote “Ivy and Ironstone is the name of this blog because neither ‘Antique Silver & Zinnias’ nor ‘Hostas & Transferware’ had the alliterative cachet of ‘Ivy & Ironstone,’ and I am a writer at heart.” That was the introduction to my first post, and like so many bloggers, I am loving every minute of this occasional conversation with my readers and friends. I have even made new friends via the blog, certainly one of the best reasons ever to celebrate a year of blogging.

Thank you so much for joining me, for your thoughtful comments, for sharing my posts with your friends. I can’t wait to see what’s ahead.

See you next time!

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Recipe gold, whipping cream and other kitchen thoughts

My kitchen is one of my happy places. I like to cook. I like to eat. I like to read cookbooks and food blogs and try new recipes. And once in awhile I strike what I think of as recipe gold, a dish worthy of adding to our regular repertoire, serving to guests and sharing with friends.

You may or may not follow Jenny Steffens Hobick at Everyday Occasions. She writes a fun, informative blog, often but not always about food, and has a wonderful online shop that stocks simple, quality homemaking goods like classic white serving pieces and cooking gear. I am especially smitten with her recipes. As a former caterer, Jenny is very good at easy and elegant, as well as assembling recipes for a complete menu.

Earlier this winter she shared her recipe for Slow Simmered Beef Ragu. I have now made this three times! The first time was just for us, testing it for an upcoming dinner party. It was a success the first time and at that dinner party, so I served it to company again last weekend. It’s delicious, hearty, comfort food (especially appropriate for this fickle winter!) and everyone loved it. This includes my friend’s Italian-born mother-in-law, a real honor.

This beef ragu is very much like a delicious dish we enjoyed at a winery in Tuscany last year. Even better, it’s easily made early in the day or a day ahead. In my book this makes it perfect for dinner guests.

I made it with short ribs, though the recipe gives an option for stew meat. And I have served it with fresh pasta from the grocery store, rather than making my own as Jenny does. It starts with a fair amount of chopping:

But look what you get for your efforts! Yum! Grab her recipe and try it.

My favorite new gadget

I try to limit the number of gadgets I add to my cooking gear. They take up space and I find they are often just plain unnecessary. However, a recent acquisition is too fun not to share.

My daughter-in-law works for a small chain of charming, upscale restaurants. Jen does a bit of everything: payroll, wine taster, employee trainer, and much more. And, thanks to her familiarity with the food industry and her appreciation of my love of cooking and entertaining, she buys the best kitchen gifts ever.

My gift this Christmas was this mini dessert whip. So much fresher than cream in a can and easier than using the Kitchen Aid to whip cream. With this you add a cup of cream, a little powdered sugar and vanilla, screw down the mini gas canister and presto, change-o you have cream! Okay, there are a few tricks, the first being careful where you aim. (Yes, I sprayed myself with cream in setting up this photo.)

But, if you come to my house for dinner this spring, expect dessert to include whipped cream!

 

And while we’re talking about kitchens…

I think kitchens deserve the same design respect as the rest of the house. Artwork. Rugs. Accessories.  These recent pins illustrate my point (along with my willingness to dive deep into Pinterest for eye candy!). I love how these traditional pieces — gold frames and all — glam up these tidy, bright white spaces:

And has anyone else seen this gorgeous blue and white kitchen with the traditional red runner:

From homebunch.com

And then there is this hood mantle with the silver and transferware:

From Nell Hills

And this kitchen fireplace mantel from Patina Farm:

I’m not sure how or if any of this fuels my creativity, but it does make me think it may be time to freshen things up for spring.  In the meantime, what’s cooking in your kitchen these days?

See you next time!

Blue & white is just the beginning

Blue & white is just the beginning
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Nell Hills photo.

My blue & white transferware collection started accidentally.

Back in the decorating dark ages, before Pinterest, Houzz, Instagram, etc., I studied design magazines in search of inspiration and ideas. When stacks of magazines threatened to overwhelm the various baskets, shelves and cabinets where I stuffed them, I would page thru each issue, tearing out favorite and/or appealing photos and drop them into a file. (Sometimes I wasn’t even sure why I liked them, but I saved a lot of pictures.)

Many photos were like the ones at left and below. Eventually, I realized that often the rooms I admired featured blue and white transferware and I decided then that acquiring some of these accent pieces could go a long way to getting the “look” I was after. So, when I saw affordable pieces at antique markets and second hand shops, I snapped up what I could.

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Charles Faudree design published in Traditional Home.

What are we talking about here?

Transferware describes a type of pottery, most often plates, cups, vases, serving pieces and the like, decorated by transferring a detailed engraving from an inked copper plate to the blank pottery before firing. Although initially I was attracted to these pieces because of the blue and white color, I have come to appreciate the technique behind transferware. (Can you imagine the skill required to create the detailed engraving and then transfer it?) Lidy at The French Garden House offered a more expert explanation of this here. (The photos she includes of her collection are wonderful, and you can check out the pieces she has for sale on her website if ayou click on the “Shop” tab.)

The pieces of red and white transferware below illustrate the detail that went into many of the designs (I especially like when designs are repeated inside a piece as on the left). If you look closely at the piece on the right you can see that the design was not perfectly applied; it’s crooked on the bottom. I suppose it makes it a little less valuable, but I think it also reveals the hand-work that went into this piece.

redbowlinsideout redbowlsm

Most of the pieces I have collected are from England, but others are French and some are American. I think there are just greater quantities of English transferware in the marketplace. Many of these pieces were manufactured for the 19th Century’s growing middle class. Bigger, more elaborate pieces and designs were created for the higher-end market. (There’s always a higher-end market!)

transferwaregrapes

It did not take long for my transferware collection to reach beyond blue and white to encompass a number of red and white and brown and white pieces as well. I’m not sure why a particular piece “calls my name.” I’m often attracted to a plate or platter by the detailed border of the design or if a piece is shaped by scallops or fluting. These days I am searching out shapes beyond plates and platters. The compote in the image above is a new find. Some pieces are antique and others are reproductions. I guess I’m an equal opportunity collector!

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These sugar bowls are a great example of my haphazard collecting. They share a common shape. Although the red one is round it also has a fluted base and the red and blue versions both have interesting lids. Sadly, the brown piece is missing its lid, but I really admire the crisp detail in its design.  It’s much sharper than the other pieces. And look at the upswept handles on each piece! I’m crazy abut these details!

Sometimes transferware designs use more than one color. I found this fairly large bowl on a cold, sometimes rainy day at an end-of-season antique market. It’s less than perfect (you can see where it’s chipped). However, I loved the rich colors and the floral pattern which continues inside the bowl. I snapped it up for less than $50 (it pays to shop in the rain!) and it has been the star of the china cabinet for several years since. Or at least that’s the role it assumes when it’s not holding fruit or a holiday centerpiece.

multibowl multibowlinside

 

bluerustThis blue and orange plate is a more recent find. It’s proof that blue and white transferware rocks the orange/rust shades of autumn.  Unfortunately, it has no identifying mark on the back, but it shows significant age.

My attachment to transferware drove some of the design decisions I made during our kitchen renovation a few years ago. I insisted on the “mantle” over the stove so I could show off a few special antique pieces. And I chose the green tile backsplash because it looked so good with the transferware. (Yes, I shopped for tile with a small plate in my pocket!)

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I’ve been thinking about what drives this particular collection for me. It started with color and certainly that continues to play a role, but I also love the process behind these pieces and the fact that some of these designs are so well-loved, they are often revived in contemporary versions of their antique forebears. It’s also clear that some of my pieces are well-used, and I like to think that someone long ago set their table with the same plate or platter.

redplate

This is another favorite plate. It has the kind of details I really like: a fluted edge and that remarkable light and dark pattern that repeats on the lip of the plate. Lately I’ve been trying to pay more attention to these design nuances when I find something new to add to my collection.

I should add a disclaimer here that not everything in my collection is vintage or antique. I do have a number of reproductions, including all of the ginger jars that I display with some of the larger platters.

lrtransferwareAfter I snapped this photo of a number of pieces I show off in the living room in my grandmother’s china cabinet, I realized that whether I consciously intended to or not, I continue to channel those photos I’ve saved. Compare this image to the one from Nell Hills at the opening of this post!

This collection is not especially valuable. I’ve acquired the pieces in a haphazard, whatever-is-affordable way. And, clearly, it has morphed considerably from my first purely decorative purpose. But like any collection — cookbooks, garden plants, quilts — it has been a joy to acquire and I can’t imagine our home without it!

See you next time!