Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Latter-Day Victorian

Those of you who came on the tour of my Victorian drawing room will not be too surprised when I tell you that I often feel like a not-so-modern version of Queen Victoria. I don’t mean in a creepy, National Enquirer “My Previous Life as an Empress” sort of way; only that I have found that I share certain values and ways of thinking with this estimable lady, her contemporaries, and her zeitgeist.

(Image from
“Inside the Victorian Home” (written by Ms. Judith Flanders), is the title of a deeply engrossing and eminently readable book that I have perused several times in my quest for historical verification of my lifestyle. Ms. Flanders expounds in great detail on the many issues of the Victorian era, and it seems that the Victorians developed certain peculiar obsessions that – to my delighted surprise – I find that I have shared since childhood. Let us explore some of these fixations.

The Complete Set
One of these peculiarities I even remember learning about as time-specific in my earlier days as an art historian. It was during this era that the production of household goods, such as linens, silver and fine china took off in scope and volume in a way never seen before or after. Never previously had a dinner table been set with such elaborate profusion of vessels and utensils, and never before had such a deeply felt need of uniformity and perfection been experienced. Hence, the 248-piece, or the 562-piece dinner service in one single, compulsive, cohesive pattern was born. Yes, of course there had been dinner services before, but never with the same obsessive need to have a “complete set", with endless bone plates, consommé bowls and salt cellars, where everything had to match, from beginning to grand final. The same principle was soon applied to other areas of domestic life and interior decoration as well, with complete sets of everything from furniture to toiletries. This gave rise to the whole concept that we in the decorating business like to refer to as “matching stuff”.

Even as a small child, I used to be incapable of picking just one acorn, say, and take it home and be satisfied – no, no, it had to be a “complete set” of acorns, whatever that may have been, the “completeness” being some arbitrary number that would present itself in my young brain: maybe six or ten acorns would be satisfyingly complete. Slightly weird, but I can see the pattern now… As an adult, I have retained a fondness for matching sets of stuff, seldom capable of buying just one pretty plate or glass – because it just feels so much better, somehow, to buy a minimum of eight. (When it comes to shoes in particular, I’m terrible – I can never be happy with just one single shoe, however pretty; I always, obsessively, buy two!)

It may therefore come as a shock to us all that I have wholeheartedly embraced the current fad for “mismatched” table settings – because it feeds into the collector’s mindset of basically buying a bit of EVERYTHING and enjoying it all AT ONCE – but there are times when I do a mental double-take, and have to gently talk myself down from the peaks of anxiety that sometimes interfere with this relaxed outlook. 
Incorrect application of the "mismatched" concept - one that would, rightly, give the Monarch the hiccups!
But be warned – it isn’t as relaxed as “they” would have you believe! The whole “mismatched” business is an art in itself: you still can’t have eleven matching wine glasses with just the twelfth one breaking the trend – you have to have a balance in this system as well, with six or four of each kind, or twelve different ones altogether, or some other mathematical formula that will produce a charmingly “spontaneous” look… Am I getting out of control here? Aaargh! Give me a Complete Set!!!
Correct interpretation of the concept - two pairs and four singles - a delight to behold!
Designated Tools & Spaces
The Bowl Quiz
In the Victorian universe each space, each tool, each object has its own, specific use and may not – positively CANNOT – be interchanged, confused, or otherwise mixed up with another purpose. And no, I don’t have an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, I really don’t. I’m just charmingly archaic. And it disturbs me on a very deep level when I sometimes see a person – such as a certain Significant Other – eating his cereal from (oh, no!) a mixing bowl, when it ought to be so crystal clear to every discerning mind that mixing bowls and cereal bowls – or even soup bowls, for that matter – differ vastly from each other. How? They just do.

So, here is a quiz for you: Which two of these bowls may be used for correctly eating cereal - whether hot or cold? If you answered anything other than the two bowls on the middle level, you are as sadly mistaken as that SO I just mentioned.

On the top shelf we find a serving bowl (left) and a pasta bowl (right); on the counter top, from left to right: a soup bowl, a mixing bowl, and another serving bowl. See - that wasn't so difficult, was it? (And before you call the Husband-Protective Services I want to inform you that, with my usual tact, I do not interfere with my husband's life choices; I merely shudder, imperceptibly.)

No, if I do have an obsession it would be with containers. Round tins, square tins, oblong tins, drawstring pouches, zippered pouches, stationery boxes, pillboxes, hat boxes and just plain boxes, cases, jars, bags, purses, caddies, folders and envelopes. I buy them, I collect them – and I never have the one size or shape I need! 
A small part of my obsession
A particular favorite - from Blue Q
When I prepare to travel, I can buzz about my packing for surprisingly long stretches of time looking for just the tin, the pouch, or the perfectly sized box that will serve as the ultimate protective case for whatever item it is I want to bring on my journey. Traveling light? Not Queen Victoria – not me. 
And a couple of close-ups...

... and let's not forget the hat boxes on top of the Pink Cabinet...
I do not (yet), as Queen Elizabeth II does, travel with my own white leather toilet seat, but I have given it some thought… But every other tasteful accoutrement that could possibly become useful in some remote emergency scenario, and that is not positively nailed down – I’m packing it! Just ask the dear Prince Albert - he can tell you! “Poor man” you are thinking now, “all that heavy lifting.” Not so. He explained to me at an early stage of our marriage that his – rather impressive – muscles were purely cosmetic. They are no use at all. I do my own heavy lifting.
Queen Victoria with dear Prince Albert and some of the royal offspring in 1846. 
Painting by Franz Xaver Wintherhalter 1805-1873.
(Image from

Oh yes, dear Queen Elizabeth II – so modern, so sporty and casual; practically a hoyden by our standards – I am just now reading “Dressing the Queen: The Jubilee Wardrobe” by Ms. Angela Kelly, about the royal wardrobe (blessedly free of any malfunctions), and funnily enough, fascinated though I am by fashion and style (in which area Ms. Kelly, the royal designer and curator, sadly seems to be somewhat lacking), I find myself even more inexorably drawn to the comments dealing with the arcane details of court procedure, all the while deploring the descent into modernity that has become so rampant even in this elevated place.

In fact, I am so agitated by this that I must go and look for my smelling salts now, and I may have to conclude this discourse when I feel stronger... 

Regards from your Victorian Rosebud!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Woodland Fairies

 Hello, Viewers!

While we are on the topic of fairies, let us take a look at what happened last fall - the unmitigated success of the Convocation of the Woodland Fairies! It all started with a so-called Woodland Fairy costume that I saw, then had to purchase, on the internet. It was purple and green and perfectly adorable, and it provided the inspiration for the color scheme of the event. "Violets & Moss" it said on the invitation, and that captured it all. 
(Image from

Perhaps it should be added that, for modesty, I wore my costume with a long purple petticoat (same shade as the short one here) and a purple long-sleeved shell underneath - but it still looked lovely! I found perfectly matched green pantyhose and slippers, and also added a feather headband and peacock feather earrings. So much fun!

Sadly, the colors of these following photographs are not true to reality - the flash photo shows a tablecloth in a garish, blueish purple, while the flashless ones show a color that is almost burgundy. I must beg my readers to imagine the true color, somewhere in between - a rich, deep shade of plum that was wholly satisfying to all lovers of purple.

Let us take a closer look at some of the details...

The centerpiece consisted of three mossy twig baskets, sitting on a scrunched-up lime green table runner, held in shape with some gold-sprayed pebbles and pine cones.

One basket held three lime green twig spheres, pierced with peacock
plumes and decorated with lilac hydrangea and a sparkly, lilac bird.

The middle one held a small table waterfall, with more
hydrangea and a sparkly green bird.

The third basket held an artificial three-tiered topiary - again with
extra hydrangea, a sparkly bird, and a peacock as a crowning glory.

A lot of extra feathers, candles, curly ribbons and other sundries added to the almost magical ambiance! Gold doilies made sure that the woodland didn't get too rustic.

The "gold" soup spoons were given extended handles of small twigs, attached with golden duct tape. The green plates we have seen before, but this time they were ornamented with pine cones - carefully soaked in hot, hot soap water to remove any dirt or bugs; then dried in the oven, and finally gold-sprayed.

A lantern hanging from the chandelier - lots of atmosphere!

The project of the day was - wings! I decided it was about time all the fairies had their own set, so I bought a few different sets of wings from, let them choose the color they wanted, and provided the usual boxes of fluff - plus some extra glitter paint! As usual, I was touched to see the creative energy unleashed; all the fairies were ready to take off into outer space!

This one is going to be airborne any moment!

The menu was inspired by the woodsy fall theme as well:

Kabocha squash soup - the delighted fairies dubbed it "Woodland Soup" 
Cornish hens with wild rice, orzo, mushrooms, pine nuts, aubergines and such...
Sticky brownies with whipped topping.

Woodland Soup 
(I received the rough outline of this recipe from a friend who must remain nameless, and have made a few adjustments to it.)

1 Kabocha squash
Olive oil
Garlic powder

Place squash in oven-proof dish; drizzle rather generously with olive oil; sprinkle very generously with garlic powder. Bake at 375° for 2 hrs or more, until thoroughly soft - squash will crack, and that is a good thing. I prefer to do this step the day before, to cut down on kitchen time on the day of the party, and to make sure the squash has time to cool properly - it must be cool enough to handle.
NOTE: Strangely enough, it seems that an under-baked (hard) squash cannot be softened later, with extra boiling of the soup - I tried it once when I had accidentally taken the squash out a bit too soon, and made this surprising discovery. Therefore, make sure it is really soft before removing it from the oven!

The next day...
Olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 whole head of garlic, trimmed with tips of peel removed
2 stalks of celery, thinly sliced
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 parsnip, thinly sliced
handful of mushrooms - or more, if desired - sliced
2-3 2-inch pieces of ginger, peeled 
Salt, garlic powder, onion powder, marjoram, thyme - to taste
Big glug of dry sherry
1 Tbsp honey
1 quart vegetable broth - preferably without MSG, partially hydrogenated fat or other life-threatening ingredients (if you are less squeamish, you could use soup cubes & water instead)
Flesh of baked squash
Small bunch of dill, chopped
1/3 - 1/2 cup ground almonds
  1. Sauté onions & garlic head in olive oil in large soup pot on medium heat
  2. Add celery, carrot, parsnip, mushrooms, ginger
  3. Season; let vegetables soften and "sweat" well, while stirring occasionally 
  4. Add sherry, vegetable broth, honey; let simmer for up to 1 hr, or until vegetables are soft
  5. Meanwhile, remove seeds from squash; scoop out the flesh and mash roughly with a fork
  6. Add squash to soup (including roasted garlic powder from peel); simmer to heat through
  7. Taste & adjust, if needed
  8. Most likely, you will need to add more water - the soup is supposed to be fairly liquid; not a puré. For this reason you need to use some broth (or soup cubes); otherwise the soup will be either too watery in flavor - or else too thick in consistency
  9. When soup is quite ready, add chopped dill
  10. Remove from heat; stir in ground almonds - do not boil after this step
Seems weird, right? But it is DELICIOUS - ENJOY!

Regards from Rosebud!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Flower Fairies

Hello, Viewers!

Back to the topic of Fairies! Having gotten off to a rip-roaring beginning, the Fairie Friends were now begging for more...

A Spring Convocation was the obvious next step, and this time I was a little better prepared. The call went out, and the Faeries gathered, their wands at the ready. This is what they saw.

For this center piece I used the same wide glass bowl filled with water, but with an underlay of shiny turquoise paper to suggest a lily pond. 

A couple of water lilies are floating around, and an antique bud vase holds a few roses in the center. 

The pond is surrounded with china bird and flower figurines; butterflies are hanging from the chandelier.

The tablecloth consists of a gold liner with an overlay of pink netting. (The gold layer doesn't show very well in this picture, but in real life there was a visible shimmer.) Small pastel-colored fabric flower petals are nestled between the layers. The rose topiary and the gazebo candle lantern add to the flower garden theme.

The plates are disposable plastic that I gussied up with plastic flowers and leaves - a glue gun will do the trick in no time. Our first course consisted of roasted beets, blue cheese and walnuts on a bed of mesclun lettuce, lightly dressed with lemon and olive oil, and garnished with an edible flower - of course!

Nut-encrusted salmon (see recipe below) with slow-roasted tomatoes was the main course, together with an Israeli couscous & asparagus salad, which turned out to be a winning combination. 

The dill dip I bought ready-made, so I can't vouch for the ingredients, but it involved some mayonnaise, loads of dill, a hint of garlic - and the rest will have to be left to the reader's own imagination and creativity.

Dessert consisted of these pretty Ladurée-style macaroons and coffee.

The craft project for this gathering was fairy tiaras. I had bought circular forms from a millinery supplies store to serve as a base, and then I let my fairies loose in the boxes of stuff - extra tulle, feathers and flowers, of course, made for some astounding creations.

Below: The Meeting of the Wands!

Nut-Encrusted Salmon

Salmon fillet - skin removed; cut in portion size pieces (this dish works beautifully both as an appetizer and as a main course!)
Egg white(s)
Chopped nuts - preferably walnuts or pecans, but hazelnuts would also work, or a mixture of several kinds
Salt & pepper
Garlic powder
Tarragon or another herb that you like

1. Mix nuts and seasoning: spread out on a large plate
2. Beat egg white(s) lightly until foamy in wide, flat bowl
3. Coat fish pieces lightly in egg white; then dip in nut mixture (for your own peace of mind, you may want to don disposable plastic gloves for this procedure)
`24. Place on lightly greased coo0kie sheet, or in an oven-proof pan; bake at 375 for approximately 10-15 minutes on each side. (Cooking time will obviously have to vary, depending on the size of the slices.)

Can be served hot, but my preference is to eat it at room temperature, which makes it the perfect party food - it can be prepared well in advance. However, do not refrigerate, since this will destroy some of the flavor and crispness of the nuts. But the dish will keep very well in normal room temperature for at least 3-4 hours. This being said, leftovers manage fine in the fridge for a couple of days, and if desired, one can always reheat them in a hot oven for a minute or two to revive the nut coating.

(This was actually my husband's idea!)
Instead of dipping the fillets in egg white, brush them lightly with honey Dijon mustard (or regular Dijon, if you prefer). Exquisite!

Appetizer Variation
To make more of a small fish slice, serve on a bed of finely diced, sautéed zucchini (seasoned with salt & pepper). Simple but delicious - it sounds like nothing special, but it really works!

Regards from Rosebud!