Sunday, January 24, 2010

Winter Tea

A variety of delicious sweets for our tea

Every January for several years now, my husband and I have hosted our annual Winter Tea. It's a way to extend the celebrations after the holidays, and to bring our friends together for genteel conversation and warmth during the bleakest season.

The furniture needs to be rearranged for more convivial conversation, so we gather our chairs around a table where we place all the sweets! We usually hold our tea as an open house between noon and 5:00 so our guests can come and go to suit their schedules. Soft, classical and light music plays in the background as the guests arrive.

Tea cups waiting to be used

Their first stop is the kitchen, where the kettle is always on and the selection of teas is plentiful. Each guest selects his/her cup and saucer, and we encourage them to try as many teas as they wish throughout their visit! Some guests like to gather in the kitchen, and others congregate around the sweet table in the other room.

Tea accessories

In the past we have prepared finger sandwiches for the guests who arrive first. But this year we just served sweets. Sometimes I do some baking of cookies or sweet breads and cakes, but this year we purchased mostly store bought. I'm particularly fond of the scone mix I use. It is from a company called Sticky Fingers, and all you need to add is water, and you have fresh-baked scones in 15 minutes! I also make my own Devonshire cream, which is 8 oz. softened cream cheese, 1/2 cup sour cream and 2 tablespoons of confectioner's sugar whipped together. That and blueberry jam is heavenly on the scones!


Devonshire cream and blueberry jam

We had a great turnout this year, and everybody seemed to really enjoy themselves. Hosting a tea is a great way to catch up with your friends. It's an old fashioned, elegant event with modern and casual hospitality. I'm in favor of bringing back the Victorian Tea as a standard form of entertainment. Why don't you host a tea sometime soon?

Enjoying the tea
My mom and husband enjoying the tea!

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Healthy Stew Recipe

West African Peanut Stew

A lot of people have made New Year's resolutions to eat healthier. I know I used to do that years ago. But little by little, over the years, my husband and I have managed to compile a yummy supply of healthy recipes that we love to eat on a regular basis. Then we don't feel so bad when we do eat the not-so-good-for-you stuff!

We both became vegetarians about 9 years ago. I am a strict vegetarian, but he eats salmon for the health benefits. Heart disease runs in his family, so I'm always on the lookout for healthy and delicious recipes that we both enjoy. And I have autoimmune diseases that flare up now and then, so I figure if I can at least do everything within my power to stay healthy, darn tootin' I will!

Here's a recipe that's a bit exotic, but so rich and satisfying you'd never know how healthy it was. I just made this tonight, and didn't think of blogging it till I was putting the leftovers in this bowl!

West African Peanut Stew
Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 jalapeños, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1-1/2 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 cup water
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
2 plum tomatoes, or 1 large tomato, diced
1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1 can low sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn
5 oz. fresh spinach, roughly chopped


In a large pot, heat the olive oil and sauté the onions and jalapeño for about 3 minutes. Add the cumin, ginger and cinnamon and cook 1 minute more.

Add the vegetable broth, water, sweet potatoes and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the peanut butter, black beans and corn. Stir well. The add as much spinach as you can fit in the pot, and when that has settled, add more! You can't get too much spinach! Simmer 10 minutes more.

If you like a bit more kick, leave the seeds in the jalapeños. Crunchy or creamy peanut butter... it doesn't matter as long as the only ingredient is peanuts! Sometimes I add some brown rice if I need to stretch it. If you're a meat eater, by all means use low sodium chicken stock if you want. This is a great winter recipe. Let me know if you try it and what you think!

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

January Thaw

Chicago River

Well, like most of the country, we've been experiencing slightly above average temperatures this past week. Our snow piles are slowly getting lower. But temperatures are still hovering around the freezing point. We may even see some low 40's by the weekend! I'm just loving the fact that I don't have to walk down the street with a scarf covering my face!

I shot this view of the Chicago River a couple days ago, with its ice layer breaking apart. It looked as though there should be penguins or polar bears somewhere out there, but alas, I saw none.

I try to get out of my office every day at lunch time, just to stretch my legs and to search for things to inspire me. I usually don't get Victorian inspirations, but I find interesting things to photograph! Here is a view out my office window a couple weeks ago. Not one of the more pleasant days to venture outside!

My office Jan 2010 v2

My office Jan 2010 v1

When it's below freezing, ice skaters are a regular sight in Millennium Park.

Ice Skaters in Millennium Park

The Crown Fountain displays changing faces on 2 gigantic monoliths. In summer, the faces spit out streams of water to cool off delighted children. In winter, I can almost see their breath!

Crown Fountain view 1

Crown Fountain view 2

Thaws can be deadly in downtown Chicago. Ice falling from the skyscrapers has been known to kill people on the sidewalks below.

Falling Ice Warning Sign

I hope everyone is having a fun and safe winter. Drive and walk carefully, stay warm, and enjoy any milder weather you get. It's not over yet!

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Who Is She?

My Framed Victorian Lady

Some time ago, probably in the late 1980's, I came across this oval framed print, approximately 18" x 23" at an antique shop. Being an old frame fanatic, I was drawn to the size and the original wavy glass. I think it was no more than $10, so I happily bought it. My grandmother had recently died, and I was thinking of replacing the original print with a picture of her to hang on my wall as a memorial.

But as this Victorian lady hung on my wall, waiting to be removed from her frame, she grew on me. She's one of those pictures whose eyes follow you. Being a sentimental Victorian at heart, I eventually knew I would never remove her from her frame.

She is a chromolithograph, with very muted colors and a Gibson Girl look, probably from the early 1900's. But who was the model? Was it a copy of a more famous work of art, or simply created for the sentimental commercial art market? I wondered about it for many years, and then I came across this photo ten years ago in the April 1999 issue of Victorian Homes magazine.

From Victorian Homes Magazine, April 1999. Photographed by Esther & Franklin Schmidt.

That's my lady! Look at her in that ornate frame in that gorgeous room! It's an article about a couple who design Victorian rooms for their clients, and this article shows their own 1889 Victorian home in San Francisco. I just love all the details in their home and that my lady has a prominent place on an easel in the corner.


She kind of reminds me of the portrait of Elise McKenna in the movie "Somewhere In Time," played by Jane Seymour. Loved that movie and soundtrack! It always made me want to go to Mackinac Island and visit the Grand Hotel where the movie was shot. And I did just that a couple summers ago... but more about that in a later post!

What should I name my Victorian lady? Any suggestions?

"Somewhere In Time"

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Saturday, January 9, 2010

My Eastlake Victorian Inspiration...

Frontispiece, "The House Beautiful" by Clarence Cook. Drawing by Walter Crane

I thought I would start a new feature on my blog called "My Eastlake Victorian Inspiration" in which I post a drawing or photo of something Victorian that has sent chills up my spine! You all know that feeling that comes over you when you see something that hits just the right chord within your gut?

For so many years now, I have been researching and collecting books, magazines, photographs and other items that have contained images of Victorian items, room settings, furniture, or simply some kind of Victorian "feeling" that I can't always put my finger on. These images give me the desire to someday acquire that look in my own home. I've always jotted down notes to myself, or bookmarked magazine articles, so that I can easily refer back to my inspirations.

But I have accumulated so much over the years, that whenever it comes time to refer back to my inspirations, I can't seem to find the source! Just look at my collection of Victorian Homes magazines. I have saved every one since 1985! Hey, that's 25 years! Every so often, I just sit down with a volume and glance through, recalling all the great articles and pictures that have shaped my love of Victoriana.

Our Roll-Top Desk
Binders full of my Victorian Homes magazine collection on the top of our desk.

So now, whenever I come across one of those great inspirations, whether from my collection, or from some new source, I will post it under "My Eastlake Victorian Inspiration."

Which brings me to the inspiration for this post. It is an 1881 illustration entitled My Lady's Chamber done by Walter Crane and used as the frontispiece for a book titled "The House Beautiful" by Clarence Cook (a great original reference book and still in print, by the way!).

Not that I want my house to look like this. But what do I love about this drawing? First, I think I love the busyness. There are so many patterns going on, which is one of the reasons I love the Victorian period, and why so many other people hate it! I love all the knick-knacks. I love the lady's dress, and that she's having tea in such a pretty room. And of course, I love the cat with the saucer of milk! I see the influences of the Pre-Raphaelite style in a lot of the illustrations from this period, this one included.

What can I gain from being drawn to this illustration? That I like busy patterns. That, I think, is the main focus. So, I can incorporate more overlaying of patterns in the wallpapers and fabrics I choose.

That was fun! This will help me gather my thoughts about the type of Victorian lifestyle I want to be living.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Ready for Winter!

Snow Shovels

Hello everyone, and welcome to 2010! I thought I'd share some wintery shots taken over the past week at our house.

Some of you in the southern United States still have flowers in bloom. Here is how my rosebushes look these days. This is one of my Royal Bonica roses with its rose hips nearly buried in snow.

Royal Bonica Rose Hips

I usually bury may non-native plants in a thin layer of leaves for the winter, and hope a nice blanket of snow will insulate the plants enough to prevent the ground from heaving in the spring. Heaving causes air pockets around the roots, causing the plant to die. This Nikko Blue Hydrangea is my most tender plant. It is hardy only to Zone 5 (I am in a Zone 3 micro climate). I bury this hydrangea about 2 feet with leaves to keep the canes alive.

Nikko Blue Hydrangea

The weekend after Christmas, we had freezing rain.
Every branch of every tree and shrub was coated in ice.
It made everything look like it was made of sparkly glass!

Freezing Rain 1

Freezing Rain 2

My pond heater is broken so my pond froze over this year.
I need to buy a new one soon! Meanwhile, we have this
auxiliary heated bird bath for our backyard buddies.

Heated Bird Bath

The plastic Canada Goose looks more like a Snow Goose with its snowy beard,
cape and icicles on its beak!

Frosty the Goose Statue

There are icicles everywhere.

Frozen Bird Feeder

And finally, our house and gazebo.

Our House in Winter

Gazebo in the Snow

This is hot cocoa weather. We hit -1°F last night, and will stay well below normal all week. At least we didn't get the 2 feet of lake effect snow that fell this weekend on the other side of Lake Michigan! Stay warm, my cold climate friends!

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