SUMMER THOUGHTS: PICNICS

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I know I am being irreverent posting the above image, but I couldn’t resist it! The lazy days of summer with a picnic by water as interpreted by one of my most favorite artists, James Tissot in his painting, Holiday, at London’s Tate Museum.  I want to transport myself into that scene.

“Historians agree that the English word “picnic” comes from the French term “pique-nique” which was used from the mid 1600’s on to discribe gourmands who brought their own wine when dining out…” From The History Channel website see History in a Basket It’s Picnic Time. Also check a fascinating food blog Recipe Reminiscing

Picnics and outdoor scenes have been the subjects of artists forever….particularly loved by the Impressionists….we know how they love light and shadow as well as the great outdoors.  Here are just a few of my favorites.

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Another of my favorite artists, Fernando Botero, with two of his picnic pieces, charming.

I wanted to share some of my thoughts on outdoor living, particular picnics, while we enjoy the upcoming two months of fun in the sun, celebrating two Patriotic holidays, the Fourth of July and Memorial Day, so many festivals (Chicago is the home of festivals, most are free!), dancing in the Park, free movies Citywide in the twilight, Ravinia Festival Grant Park Music Festival, and on and on.  You can make your own picnic fare or pick-up (or have delivered, even better) everything you need for the most fabulous picnic ever.

Are you tailgating while day tripping, spending a lovely weekend get away in Harbor Country, the charming countryside of Wisconsin,  Camp Wandawegaon my to go to list! or a staycation in Chicago, I would suggest you stop at Randolph Street Market this weekend, June 23 and 24 from 10 to 5 where you will find all your picnic gear, not only for the picnic/outdoor living itself but what to wear, Artisian foods, games, collectible blankets, Patriotic items, even books for after your feasting…the list is never ending. Here a couple “charming” vintage photos of picnickers….(look for vintage photos at RSM).

Picnic anywhere even your own back yard and have “ gaming” equipment available…croquet anyone, or perhaps lawn tennis….don’t forget the thermos bottles (pick these up for your daily Starbucks for picnics or not, chic and sustainable!)  all, of course to be found at RSM, along with hampers, baskets and……..

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Ravinia Festival

Need some menu suggestions, do you read cookbooks for the stories as well as the recipes like it do….love them.  Here some books, there are zillions out there, these caught my eye…need to add them to my cookbook library…..

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I am obsessed with anything from Lee Bailey, he was always so gracious and entertaining when he made personal appearances at Saks Fifth Avenue, Chicago to introduce one of his books….part memoir, part entertaining and always the best recipes.

Doesn’t this look delicious….I think perfect for your picnic basket or any summer menu.  We are so lucky to have as many farmer’s markets all over Chicago and suburbs as we do….I actually have one a block from home, yay! I am most certainly going to make this…I don’t usually post recipes that I or my friends haven’t tried, but how could this be bad!!!!!  This was on my New York Times Cooking post, do subscribe if you don’t already you can also easily save all the recipes that interest you on blog posts and your own favs!!! It is one of my food go to blogs.

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Poached Apricots With Pistachio and Amaretto Mascarpone

by YOTAM OTTOLENGHI

(Adapted)

Yield: 4 servings

Time: About 35 minutes

INGREDIENTS

For the Apricots:

Scant 1/2 cup Sauternes (or other sweet dessert wine)

1/2 lime

1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract)

1/3 cup granulated sugar

6 medium ripe apricots (about 2/3 pound) halved and pitted

For the Pistachio and Amaretto Mascarpone:

3/4 cup raw unsalted pistachios, toasted and finely chopped

2.8 ounces hard amaretti cookies, such as Lazzaroni brand, roughly crumbled (you’ll need two 2.3-ounce packages)

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

8 ounces mascarpone, at room temperture

1/2 cup heavy cream (or double cream) lightly whipped to soft praks

1 teaspoon orange blossom water (Nena’s note, optional)

1 teaspoon lime zest

PREPARATION:

Step 1

Poach the apricots: Add Sauternes, lime half, vanilla, sugar and 3 tablespoons/40 milliliters water to a saucepan just big enough to hold the apricot halves in one layer. Place the pan over high heat and cook until the sugar has melted and the liquid boils.

Step 2

Remove the pan from the heat and place the apricots in the hot liquid, cut sides down. Leave them to poach in the residual heat until they are soft but still hold their shape (20 to 40 minutes, depending on how ripe they are) flipping them every 10 minutes. Set the apricots aside to cool slightly. (If not serving immediately, transfer the apricots to a covered container and refrigerate until needed.) Squeeze the lime into the syrup and then discard it; return the saucepan with the syrup to medium-high heat and simmer until reduced to about 1/4 cup/70 milliliters, 5 to 6 minutes. Set aside at room temperature until needed.

Step 3

Prepare the mascarpone mixture: Combine pistachios, amaretti cookies and sugar. Add three-quarters of this mixture to a bowl with the mascarpone and mix it all together until combined, then fold in the cream.

Step 4

To serve, divide the apricots and the amaretti cream between four bowls. Pour the syrup over the apricots and sprinkle the remaining amaretti and pistachio crumble over the cream. Finish with orange blossom water and lime zest and serve.

 

66FF2E0B-87D4-4C95-B713-DB0F14801BB2Happy summer and enjoy all your outdoor activities (you can, indeed, enjoy an in-door picnic as well)….I’m not great with a lot of outdoor activities, pity since I adore hot weather…..bugs bring their family and friends to feast on me!!!!! Not too much fun and I haven’t as yet, found a repellent that works for me!  Oh well…you enjoy your picnic outside I can always sit in the tarted up Air Stream trailer and chat through the door!

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All photos found on Pinterest photo credits unknown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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COLLECTIONS: RANDOLPH STREET MARKET — BICYCLES AND PICNICS

This is a repost, the first repost I have done, the original appeared in May 2017 (I have changed the dates of RSM to this year everything else remains the same!) and since we are talking vintage….why not do a year old post…not very vintage but you get the idea.  What I didn’t talk about in last year’s post was how the bicycle (and the motor car) totally changed fashion, you can’t ride a bicycle with a bustle.  Let’s look at a couple of the fashions of Victorian times….and then read ALL sbout it in a charming blog, The Victorian Cyclist.

 

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Check The Victorian Cyclist

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A vintage card (you can find lots at Randolph Street Market) with an old fashion bicycle.

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I am so excited to share the information on this season’s first outside/inside Randolph Street Market that will occur on Saturday and Sunday, May 26 and 27 from 10 to 5 and I thought it was the perfect time to think about all the wonderful picnics we can have this summer and what better way to get to them or travel around when we find the perfect location than on a restored Schwinn bicycle!  Well, lucky us we have just the thing at RSM (of course, we do!!!!) Mike’s Bikes returns for the 12th season.

imageLooks like a perfect day for a picnic.  Not only can you find the right bicycle but you can find all the “fixings” for your picnic as well at RSM.  All you need is a beautiful setting, some yummy food (yes, you can also get some goodies at the Market!) and good friends.  Chicago and all the suburbs have wonderful spots to picnic, or go to Ravinia for one of the fabulous concerts, Harbor Country or neighboring Wisconsin for all their summer events…you can picnic every weekend through October.

Basically, the first thing you see when you arrive at the Randolph Street entrance to RSM is Mike’s Bikes.  Mike is an encyclopedia on the history of Schwinn bicycles, by the way, the company was founded in Chicago in 1895.  He only restores vintage Schwinn and each is totally unique and Mike wants to pair his bikes with the perfect person and lovingly takes the time to talk to each client and explains every detail of each bicycle. I have seen many a happy smile on the new owner’s faces when they leave with a treasure, either to relive their youth and/or form new memories for themselves or their families, it is wonderful to experience their pure joy!

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Michael Mitchell has shared his passion with me and I now share it with you in his words.

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“I have been selling vintage Chicago manufactured Schwinn bicycles at Randolph (May-Sept.) for ten years and I have enjoyed every moment. Along the way, I have met so many interesting people who share the love for these bikes. The bikes make their eyes light up and they begin by reminiscing and sharing childhood experiences of riding bikes with family and friends.
The complete process of reconditioning the average vintage lightweight Schwinn takes approximately ten hours. The process of reconditioning a bike begins with:
1. All bearings cleaned and greased.
2. Worn parts are replaced ( brake pads, brake and gear cables, and ball bearings.
3. Replacement of tires and inner tubes ( if needed)
4. Paint cleaned, polished and waxed.
5. All chrome polished.
At the end of the reconditioning process, the bike is like brand new. If needed, the spokes are replaced and the wheels are trued. And to top it off, all replacement of parts are made with original Schwinn parts.
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I recondition 1960’s – 70’s Schwinns as well as vintage Raleighs (manufactured in Nottingham, England).
As a result of the reconditioning process, each bike is priced individually because many of them require more parts and labor.
I retired from teaching school ten years ago, but prior to that, I was reconditioning the bikes for fifteen years. I was always fascinated with the Schwinn brand since childhood. Schwinns by far were at the top of the list when it came to quality and price. As a child, my family could not afford to purchase Schwinn bicycles, but whenever I saw one, I could see the quality of the bike in its paint, chrome, constructed welds, and overall styling. At the age of fourteen, I had saved up enough money to purchase a 10-speed Schwinn Varsity; I’ve been loyal to the brand since.
The 1960’s-70’s vintage Schwinn bikes that I sell are steel framed bikes that were manufactured in Chicago. These are comfort styled vintage bicycles that were designed to provide the rider with comfort seats and upright handlebars. The popular Schwinn models being sold are the Breeze, Racer, Speedster, Collegiate and Suburban bikes. Each bike is reasonably priced and ready to ride without any expensive repairs.”

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Looks like heaven to me…you can find similar goodies like everything in these photos, maybe not the flowers, at RSM!  The settings are up to you.
How about a couple of recipes for your picnic….one from me and the other from Tom Mantel’s recipe box….
FROM TOM MANTEL’S RECIPE BOX
SPINACH/MUSHROOM QUICHE
Ingredients:
8 oz mushrooms sliced
10 oz fresh spinach
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup Swiss cheese
1/2 cup fontina cheese
4 eggs
2 cups half and half
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 pastry crust
Method:
Sauté onions and mushrooms until tender.
Add spinach and a couple tsp of water and cover.
Cook stirring frequently until spinach is wilted, let cool a little.
Place pastry crust (can be homemade or store bought) in Quiche plate or a deep dish pie plate.
Distribute cheese over pastry.
Distribute mushroom onion mix over cheese.
Beat eggs, half and half, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper until blended but not frothy.
Pour egg mixture over the spinach cheese mixture.
Bake at 350 for 1 hour.
A knife inserted in the center should come out clean.
Let cooL before cutting
Can be served warm or room temperature.
Nena’s note, I have had this and it is amazingly delicious!
FROM NENA’S RECIPE BOX
DEVILED EGGS
This is just a what I put in my deviled eggs and it’s really not a recipe…you have to do it to taste…sorry!
Remove the yolks from the hard boiled eggs mash with Durkee’s Dressing (a little goes a long way, you can find it with mustards in your grocery store), Miracle Whip (my mayo), salt, freshly ground pepper and a dash of sugar until smooth (no lumps allowed!) either spoon into whites or if you want to be fancy, use a pastry bag with a fine tip and pipe into whites.  You can add a herb sprig to the top or if it is a very special picnic a dollop of red caviar, why not!  Obviously, the amounts depend upon how many eggs you are doing.  They go like hot cakes so be sure to make enough.
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All images from Pinterest photo credits not available.
Mike’s contact information:

 

COLLECTIONS: PAISLEY TEXTILES

 

 

5E98AAE5-16F5-4ED0-B779-26F05FB81C60.jpegI’ve been fascinated with paisley forever and in my very eclectic home it works perfectly in many ways from draping the back of a chair, to pillows, to the layering of authentic vintage pieces, Ralph Lauren textiles, and modern fashion shawls on my day bed (I’ll feature the “made” bed in another post, it is a pillow explosion!!!!) to many other renditions of the paisley pattern.

In the above illustration you see how the paisley shawl was worn during Victorian Times. While watching the superb second season finale of VICTORIA on PBS (having planned on doing this post for a long time) I was thrilled to see the Queen pick up a paisley shawl and wrap it around her shoulders….heaven!!!

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Paisley’s origin goes back centuries in India, Iran and other countries but the name came from where it was manufactured in the 19th Century, Paisley, Scotland. Just as Queen Elizabeth II attended her first fashion show during London Fall 2018 Fashion Week to present the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design to Richard Quinn, she also made a huge endorsement to the British fashion industry. The same was true of Queen Victoria. This being said the royal presence and seal of approval is a huge boom to any industry in the UK.

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Some examples of paisley in clothing

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Wooden paisley fabric stamp

Above images from Pinterest photo credit unknown

There are many sites and articles and, of course, books where you will find more information on this glorious pattern. I wanted to share my own collection in my home as well as share some from my Pinterest account where you will find many more examples.

50D97176-BCB4-4E6E-9F1E-AA5AD1E4E7AF.jpegOne of my window ledges with vintage bamboo shelves (mostly holding novels and to be read books) collectibles (of course, many treasures found at Randolph Street Market ) and festooned with a vintage paisley fragment next to antique lace panels backed by two panels of green drapery, one silk one velvet perhaps overkill, to me not too much!!!!  Linda Heister helped me get the drape exactly right…took a bit of time with me standing on my build-in daybed and adjusting all the elements just so! She also gave me 4 pillows also made from vintage paisley fragments. They are unadorned, I will, at some point in time, do some trim.

5D3F6AF2-F441-4207-B8FC-976F30F8DFF4.jpegThe elements of the top of my painted antique French daybed one of my first purchases for my room when I was in high school. One piece I would always keep. The upper right you can see a peek of the base which is a fitted sheet from a long ago Ralph Lauren linen collection (I have several just in case one wears out) the stripe is a mix of pattern (I often use it as a table cloth especially for Christmas time dinners) on the bottom left the tradition paisley pattern which layers over the stripe and the black banded piece is a challis shawl from a Gloria Sachs outfit (worked with her on many personal appearance trunk shows at Saks Fifth Avenue, Chicago).  The outfit was three pieces, jacket, slim skirt and this shawl each a different paisley coordinating pattern, loved it, wore it, wish I had it now…more to the point wish I could fit into it now!  At least I can enjoy, and wear the shawl!

35D23D7B-0C0E-49C8-BA87-AF4BF86C5C6D.jpegThis pillow sham is at the head of my bed and holds my guest bed pillow  love the combination of paisley patterns  F153C9CD-D13F-454E-9924-BAD694F95EC3.jpegInteresting assortment….actually three paisleys the base is yet another vintage fragment that I used to “upholster” a love seat in the library area of my apartment, a few of my vintage pillows and two bolsters one more vintage paisley and the smaller piece made from a watered velvet paisley that I found in a remnant bin that I also had upholstered on my antique dining chairs (my point here is don’t walk away if there are holes, tears, small amount yardage, think of how you can use them in your decor…use your imagination and creativity). The lily of the valley rug  drapped over the caned settee is one of my many needlepoint projects. Most of my pieces I do from charts rather than painted pieces. I will do a story on my needlework later (of course I will!!!!!)

79D971F6-36CC-4D3D-9941-5218F60D6DF7.jpegI showed you this pillow in another post it was a gift from my friend and former boss, Michael Hawley (you can check the nenasnotes archives on his profile) he had it made for an Antiquity piece when he was at Gumps in San Francisco, yet another of my treasures. At the moment it resides on one of aforementioned watered velvet dining chairs.

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A closeup of one of my many full paisley shawls (this one is on my “comfy sit in all the time” chair) it is in mint condition…not always easy to find, especially the centers which are often solid red or black, and usually quite pricey. I have gone that route but LOVE to find that illusive bargain.  I actually found a beauty last summer at RSM! Love the treasure hunt, that is why I always look forward to the monthly Randolph Street Market. I don’t drive so can’t get to antique malls, etc. a joy that we can visit this always fascinating event right in the heart of the City….thank you Sally Schwartz!!

The above photos are my images

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The above  images are all from Pinterest photo credit unknown.

FROM NENA’S RECIPE BOX

CURRIED LAMB

I have done this recipe to rave reviews for years it is from the Life Picture Cookbook. I use leftover leg of lamb which I usually serve for Easter the recipe below call for lamb shoulder…choice is yours. You can substitute beef, veal or pork, I never have. I serve with small bowls of the following toppings…shredded fresh coconut, chutney, peanuts or pistachios, Golden raisons, chopped hard boiled eggs, perserved lemon slices, chopped green onions and lots of white rice. It serves 6. Does keep well if you have any left over it can be frozen without the add ons.

3 pounds lamb shoulder

1/4 cup flour

2 cloves minced garlic (I use the jarred garlic, which I love)

4 large white onions, sliced

3/4 cup butter

4 small apples, pared and chopped

4 Tablespoons curry powder (I use Spice Islands and probably add a bit more)

4 Tablespoons dark brown sugar

4 Tablespoons raisons

2 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce

2 lemons sliced

4 Tablespoons shredded fresh coconut

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 teaspoon grated lime peel

1 Tablespoon salt

Cut meat into 2-inch cubes, roll it in the flour.  Sauté the garlic and onions in butter in a large skillet for 5 minutes or until lightly browned.  Add meat and sauté for 10 minutes (less is using leftover lamb), stirring constantly.  Add apples and curry powder.  Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the remaining ingredients and two cups of water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour.  The aroma is a killer!!!  Serve over white rice and accompanying garnishes. Enjoy. Suggested wine…your choice but I would do a love a full bodied red  Dessert I would do a fruit sorbet with season fruit and a slash of orange liqueur.

 

 

PROFILE: NANCY PLUMMER AND FINE THREADS

imageNancy Plummer
I really love doing Profiles on my talented friends who I have met through teaching, you can check out several in the archives.  Today’s post is on Nancy Plummer, a very talented woman who truly enjoys, and is very good at it, sharing her passion for helping her clients look their best.  Her background is retail as well as teaching a perfect combination for her business.
Nancy and I have been friends since 2001 and although we don’t see each other as often as we would like we fall back into a common love of our industry and its strengths and challenges, usually over a glass or two of wine and a nibbly bit!  Nancy is a whiz at technology, over the years I have learned a lot from her.  Let’s learn a bit more about her, shall we…..
I asked Nancy how we met……
“I believe it was one of the many fashion events when I was teaching at AI and Program Chair at IADT. I do have communication from you on speaking at several of my events and at school since 2009. You did speak in November of 2010 – topic was NENA’S FIFTY YEARS OF FASHION. Remember that? You also was my guest speaker at one of my successful style events at the Center on Halsted. You were a guest speaker, and that was October of 2009. I was active as Program Chair from 2007-2010.
No, we met when I was at Neiman Marcus 2001-2003!”

WHEN WAS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOUR TALENT

It has to be when I was a member of the Swinging Needles 4-H Club in Huntsburg, Ohio. I received numerous awards for my sewing. I made aprons, potholders, sundresses, etc. My Mother, seamstress extraordinaire, was also the leader of the club.

WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU HAD “MADE IT”

February 11, 2009. My book, Your Personal Style was published and released by Fairchild publications. All the learnings I had received throughout my career was now written down for me to pass on to others. It’s not only educational but a beautiful keepsake. It has been used in over 30 colleges across the United States.

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HOW DID YOUR ORIGINAL PASSION BRING YOU TO WHERE YOU ARE NOW

I began my business, Fine Threads, sewing for professional women. These women believed in me and pushed me to continue their style journey. So, I went inside their closets and took them shopping. At the time, I didn’t know what it was called, but quickly learned it was image consulting. I was introduced to the organization The Association of Image Consultants International (AICI) where I honed my craft.

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WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN YOUR ALTERNATE CHOICE AS A CAREER….WAS THERE ONE

I would be a college professor. I really liked teaching others, and so I went back to college to get my Masters Degree in Training & Development. I wanted to not only teach others but to plan the curriculums and organize the training. I became a Program Chair for the Fashion Department at IADT (no longer in existence), yet still, teach and train plenty of individuals and groups.

imageNancy working with clients, here a classic trench, one of the Spring 2018 trends.

imageAppearing on Windy City Live

YOUR FAVORITE BOOK

I have 3 favorite books! 1) The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini 2) Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden and 3) The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

FAVORITE MOVIE

Pretty Woman

THEATER AND MUSIC 

Alvin Ailey Dancers, the plays Wicked and Hamilton, Music from The East Village Opera Company, Adele, Sam Smith, and John Legend

LOCAL RESTAURANT

Avec

HOBBIES

Reading, writing, Bikram Yoga, bike riding, walking along the Lakefront (or any body of water – ocean perhaps!), Sunday Church-Brunch-Movie, sewing (especially fabric stores), and live music concerts, and hearing great speakers on a variety of topics.

HOME

Unique Modern Furniture like West Elm and Anthropologie Home

WHO WOULD YOU HAVE AT YOUR FANTASY DINNER AND WHAT WOULD YOU SERVE

Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Denzel Washington, Sandra Bullock, Diane von Furstenberg, Zac Posen, Byron Lars, Sarah Jessica Parker, Oprah Winfrey, Idris Elba, Michael Jackson, and Madonna.

I would serve an Ethiopian, Mediterranean buffet from Chef Marcus Samuelsson

imageMarcus Samuelsson…. Nena’s note, I visited his restaurant Aquavit many years ago…must do Red Rooster in Harlem, New York on my next visit.  Photo from Pinterest credit unknown.

FAVORITE VACATION SPOT VISITED AND/OR ON LIST

Martha’s Vineyard and would love to visit Paris, France

FAVORITE NEW CHICAGO RESTAURANT

BLVD in the Fulton Market area of Chicago. I’m excited to check out the “old Hollywood glamour and glitz” and of course the food.

imageBLVD, I want to go too….really glam!  Photo from Pinterest credit not available.

FAVORITE CHICAGO STREET ART

Anything from Chicago artist Sam Kirk

imageSam Kirk and a portion of a mural.  Photo from Pinterest credit unknown.

HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE REMEMBERED

Kind, creative, and a unique blessing to mankind!

A FAVORITE RECIPE

Arroz Con Pollo from my Mother. Ingredients include white rice, chicken, green olives, tomato sauce, celery, thyme, green peppers, salt, garlic, black pepper, vegetable oil, onion,  Add 2 cups of water. Bake at 350 until rice is cooked. Nena’s Note.…there are zillions of recipes online with photos…I went to the Williams Sonoma website for the recipe…..Arroz Con Pollo Williams Sonoma

 

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website: www.finethreadschicago.com,“Let us guide you in developing a style that’s uniquely your own.” 

Pinterest nancy-plummer3, Twitter @nplumm, Facebook @FineThreadsStyle

Your Personal Style 

BLOGS YOU FOLLOW

Man Repeller, Sartorialist, Advanced Style, Atelier Dore, A Cup of Jo, Cupcakes and Cashmere

ALL PHOTOS, UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED ARE COURTESY OF NANCY PLUMMER

PROFILE: RANDY BRYAN BIGHAM

imageRandy Bryan Bigham with his book, Lucile-Her Life by Design

I am extremely excited to share a profile on a very special individual I met on Facebook, Randy Bryan Bigham.  I became totally intrigued by his scholarship and dedication to Lucile Duff Gordon, a designer I have long admired and whose story is a unique and fascinating part of fashion history.  I asked Randy for some advice on Lucile’s venture in Chicago (you will read more about that in this week’s Friday Fashion Flashback) and we became “off Facebook friends” via correspondance (he follows nenasnotes much to my delight) and I asked him if he would be one of my “profiles” and he said yes!  His answers to my questions along with his biography and photos are very personal and I am thrilled to be able to introduce you to such a humble scholar.  I know you will feel you have found a new friend just like I have!

Randy Bryan Bigham is an independent fashion history scholar whose research has been featured in a number of books, including Lucile Ltd (2009) by Valerie D. Mendes and Amy de la Haye; Hollywood Before Glamour (2013) by Michelle Tolini Finamore; and  London Society Fashion (2015) by Cassie Davies-Strodder, Jenny Lister and Lou Taylor.

The author of Lucile – Her Life by Design (2012), the first full-scale biography of Edwardian couturiere and Titanic survivor Lady Duff Gordon, Randy has contributed to TV documentaries for the BBC, the Sundance Channel and the National Geographic Channel. His journalism has appeared in Women’s Wear Daily, the Sunday Times Magazine and The Lady. He’s also the author of Finding Dorothy, a biography of silent screen star Dorothy Gibson (2012), and of Life’s Décor, a biography of Helen Churchill Candee that was included in the 2008 reissue of Candee’s 1924 travelogue Angkor the Magnificent.

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Randy was a consultant for the 2016 exhibition Lucile – Fashion. Titanic. Scandal at the Guelph Civic Museum in Canada, and coming up in 2018 his own private collection of Lucile garments and memorabilia will be spotlighted in an exhibition at the Titanic Museums in the USA.

imageRandy (on the right) with Edwardian era and Titanic historian Hugh Brewster who worked together on the 2016 Canadian exhibition Lucile: Fashion. Titanic. Scandal.

Since 2015, with friend and research colleague Inger Sheil, he’s been an admin for the Facebook group, Fashion Designers, 1800-1950.

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With Inger Sheil, a friend and colleague of 15 years, Randy is an admin for the Facebook group, Fashion Designers 1800-1950. This 1919 cover of Les Modes features an evening gown by Paris couturier Jenny (Jeanne Sacerdote), whom Randy has researched.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB

Do you mean my first job as a writer? Or do you mean my very first job? If you mean the latter, it was mowing lawns at about age 13! It was for an old lady, a Mrs. McClain, whom I used to ply with questions about her memory of the fashions of her youth. She was born in 1902, and could recall the dresses of the Edwardian era, which I was already fascinated by. Mrs. McClain said she remembered lawn parties where the women’s gowns trailed the grass, and I just loved that visual. Talking to her was fun. The long hours of hard work, mowing her huge front yard — not so much!

As to my first proper writing job, it was for the small daily paper in my hometown. I had worked freelance, writing for big papers, doing art and book reviews, but no editor would hire me on staff until the tiny newspaper in Ennis, Texas took me on. That started my evolution as a writer, learning to pare down sentences, to edit, to get the best quotes, to tell the story so simply that readers are — hopefully — moved. The human interest feature story always mattered to me. I was a horrible news reporter. I must have driven my first editor mad! Hard news and politics weren’t for me. I still hate all that, and I’m sure I’d die of boredom if I had to write about it!

BRIEFLY DESCRIBE YOUR CURRENT OCCUPATION

I write freelance – locally and nationally, and I work as a consultant on various projects, some having nothing to do with fashion history. One thing that’s come along fairly recently is my working as a consultant for Paper Studio Press, which publishes beautiful paper doll books. I’ve worked on three titles so far, all of them on fashions of the 1910s, my favorite era. And I just did an interesting section on the history of the fashion show for a Bloomsbury textbook that will be out in 2018. Really, I just have fun. I don’t make a lot of money, but you don’t need a lot to be happy. Some of the research and writing I do is for free. Helping other writers out with material for magazine articles, assisting curators with info on garments for exhibitions, etc., are some of the things I do. Not so interesting to some but it amuses me.

WHEN DID YOU DISCOVER YOUR TALENT

I’m not sure that it’s talent. I think it is more luck than anything, and a lot of determination. If you love something you just have to do it. There isn’t much of a choice. It’s in you or it’s not. You’re led to do what you do through passion and tenacity. But going back to talent: I knew I could write reasonably well, and I had that gift in elementary school. Teachers noticed it and asked me to read my stories to the class. I can’t recall now what the stories were about, and how I had the nerve to get up in front of the class, I don’t know. I’m in my 40s now, and should be past being shy, but I’m petrified of speaking in public, and can only do it impromptu. I cannot prepare for it. I would be too nervous.

WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU HAD “MADE IT” EXPLAIN

I don’t think I have made it yet! I’m just a fashion history nut who’s been lucky to find ways to express my love for the subject. I have contributed to important projects – books on the Titanic, which started my interest in some of the famous women aboard, books on fashion history, exhibitions. But all those projects just sort of happened. The accomplishment I’m most proud of is writing Lucile’s biography. That’s been such a driving force for me, and the research has opened doors. I’m very grateful to the people who saw my work as important and helped me along the way. There were a few naysayers but you can’t listen to people like that.

HOW DID YOUR ORIGINAL PASSION BRING YOU TO WHERE YOU ARE NOW

My original passion was Lucile. When I first found out about her I was intrigued but didn’t think I would find very much. I was really surprised she was so celebrated and influential and, to tell you the truth, a little shocked she was not better remembered. Back in the late ‘80s, when I first went to school at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in New York, almost no one was interested in her. People would ask “Who?” And it used to irritate me. I felt I had to justify myself all the time. Now it seems everybody is an expert on Lucile! (Nena’s note…no one does it as well as Randy, without question!)

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Randy was first drawn to the work of Lucile, seen here with a model in her New York studio in 1916, when he was a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology in the mid-1980s.

The library at FIT has the scrapbooks and photo albums kept by the staff of the New York branch of Lucile Ltd, so I became fascinated and immediately thought I should do a book. That was just a dream then. I had to earn a living, so I couldn’t devote a lot of time to it, and that’s why it stretched on until 2009 when I finished the final draft. Publishers were interested along the way, including a university press that wanted to cut it down and to not use very many color images. As you can imagine, I wasn’t thrilled with offers like that, so I finally published it myself five years ago. I was excited and am still happy to see how it’s been taken up and cited in various major studies on the history of dress. There’s so much drivel about how one can’t hope to have a success with a self-published title, and while that might be true in most cases, if you’ve got a special subject, the right people will be drawn to it. And I probably have made as much money from it as have authors who’ve gone the traditional route.

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  1. Lucile, among her achievements, is responsible for launching the first modern fashion parades, using a stage, music, lights and all the accoutrement of show.

WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN YOUR ALTERNATE CHOICE AS A CAREER….WAS THERE ONE

I don’t think I could have done anything else well. I went to FIT to be a designer and I was hopeless. You should have seen me trying to draft a pattern. I don’t have a natural perseverance with anything but writing and editing. Nothing else seems worth it. If I had the talent, I would have loved being a designer. I have the creativity, I think, just not the technical skill.

YOUR FAVORITE BOOK, MOVIE, LIST THE FOLLOWING,IN ORDER OF PREFERENCE…THEATER (LEGIT, MUSICALS), BALLET, OPERA, SYMPHONY, TYPE OF MUSIC YOU LIKE TO LISTEN TO, LOCAL RESTAURANT

I read mostly fashion history and biographies. I don’t care for fiction, although I quite enjoyed E.M. Forster a few years back, but that’s mainly because I’ve seen the films that have been made of them. One of the dress history writers I enjoy most is Caroline Evans, whose book The Mechanical Smile I was honored to contribute research to. She was one of the first scholars to embrace my work and to make me feel what I had done mattered. I also love to read Christopher Breward. His books are all excellent. He is excellent. So is Alistair O’Neill.

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Randy with fashion historian Marlis Schweitzer, author of When Broadway was the Runway and other titles featuring her own research on Lucile.

As to theatre, I don’t have modern favorites as far as plays. I so love researching early 20th century musical theater. While learning about the Ziegfeld Follies, when I was working on Lucile (she designed for the Follies in the 1910s and early ‘20s), I got hooked. And I’m crazy for silent film history, particularly the costumes of the early female stars. I’ve written an article on Theda Bara’s influence on fashion in the ‘teens for a scholarly journal, and I hope it sees the light of day. And you know the first paper doll book I helped with for Paper Studio Press was on Theda.

Regarding modern film, I like some foreign titles, particularly French and Italian. I’m crazy for Anna Magnani! And, believe it or not, I like a few horror flicks. I know that doesn’t fit much into the rest of my personality but I can’t help it. I’m a fan of The Blair Witch Project and of the first Friday the 13th, if you can imagine that. I’ve even become friends with Adrienne King, the star of that first film, and the only really good one in the series, if you ask me. I interviewed her a couple years ago. She’s a dear, sweet person, so real and supportive.

imageAlthough Randy loves romantic period films, he’s a fan of the horror classic Friday the 13th, and has become friends with its star, Adrienne King, with whom he’s seen here in Dallas in 2016.

As for TV shows, I watch CNN, “The Golden Girls” reruns and I haven’t missed a season of “Survivor.” And, you’ll probably laugh at this, but I like the “Finding Bigfoot” series on Animal Planet. I’m not really a believer but I like the mystery of it.

imageRandy loves history but isn’t above enjoying pop culture reality shows like CBS’s “Survivor” and The Animal Planet’s “Finding Bigfoot.” This card, signed by the cast, was sent him by a friend, Linda Plochocki, for Christmas last year.

I don’t have a favorite restaurant but I do love Italian food. I’m not hard to please in that area, and my expanding waistline is proof of it.

HOBBIES….

I love taking country drives and snapping photos of nature. I’m not a gifted photographer but I like being out and about on a beautiful day and recording what I see.

imageA pastime for Randy is taking photos along the country roads in and near his hometown of Ennis, the Official Bluebonnet City of Texas.

I used to enjoy hiking but my injury has so far prevented my resuming that. Someday, I hope to get back to it. I lost my right leg from the knee down back in 2013 due to an infection that came on suddenly. It was a huge adjustment. To say it changed my life is an understatement. It just about did me in, but I think if you keep focused on what matters, you can come through anything. It has taken the four years since I lost my leg to have a firm philosophy about it. The bottom line for me now, when it comes to being disabled, is it doesn’t matter. And I don’t feel disabled. I am still me. I haven’t changed in the essentials. But I don’t walk as fast, and I can’t run anymore. I used to love to run. That’s the only thing I get emotional about. I hate that I will probably never run again. But in general I’m still happy with life; whatever good it has in store for me, I welcome it. The bad stuff nobody wants, of course, and you just learn to work around it.Randy lost his right leg at the knee in 2013, after surviving a serious infection. The setback only strengthened him, he says, and made him more determined to enjoy life.

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This shot of Randy was taken in a field of bluebonnets near Ennis during the town’s Bluebonnet Trails Festival.

HOME….MODERN, TRADITIONAL, ANTIQUES (WHAT ERA) ECLECTIC DESCRIBE

I love anything Elsie de Wolfe would have approved of. I adore Louis Seize antiques, mirrors, chintz, old wicker, green and white stripes. I’m a huge Elsie fan.  I think with certain tweaks that take into account changes in modern life, her ideas are still in good taste.

imageElsie de Wolfe’s early 1900s interiors featured design elements Randy appreciates.

WHO WOULD YOU HAVE AT YOUR FANTASY DINNER AND WHAT WOULD YOU SERVE

I would invite Zandra Rhodes, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington (I love old jazz), Cecil Beaton, the cast from Finding Bigfoot and Bigfoot! And I would add you to the list because we could compare notes afterwards! I’m not a gourmet so I have no idea what I’d serve but I’d hire someone to do it all up perfectly.

FAVORITE VACATION SPOT VISITED AND/OR ON YOUR GO TO LIST

I fell in love with Versailles when I first visited the Palace and Petit Trianon in 1997. I’ve gone back twice, and would love to go again. It really is a spiritual experience for me, having researched Marie Antoinette and Rose Bertin.

imageOne of Randy’s favorite places in the world is Versailles, where this picture of him at age 28 was taken in 1997.

That reminds me: I do have a favorite book! Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell. It’s stellar. Get it. You’ll love it.

imageOne of Randy’s favorite books on fashion history is Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell’s Fashion Victims

FAVORITE WORK OF ART

I really appreciate Corot’s landscapes, especially Souvenir de Mortefontaine. I know it’s one of his most famous, so it may be expected that I would like it, but I never tire of it. It warms the soul. And that’s what great art is supposed to do. I have a copy framed on the wall by my bed. It’s been there for over 20 years.

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HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE REMEMBERED

Just as someone who loved history and who got a kick out of sharing it with others. I hope I’ve had a hand in shedding light on the work of great designers in history like Lucile who are in fact artists deserving of admiration and respect for the beauty they gave the world in their time. That’s what we try to celebrate in the Facebook group, Fashion Designers, 1800-1950.

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A FAVORITE RECIPE

I’m not a cook. I do make a mean pimento cheese but that’s probably too simple to brag about. I eat salads when I can, and that certainly saves on calories, but I’m not going to lie — on busy days it’s a McDonald’s cheeseburger! And believe me, if I could eat pasta every day and not gain weight, I’d do it. A family friend who’s an incredible cook, and is surrounded by other gourmets, shared a recipe recently and he gave me permission to include it here. Kevin Graves is his name and he collaborated with his friend Robin Dailey to come up with this delicious recipe. Kevin calls the dish Palm Beach Chicken because that’s where they were when they conceived it. It is garlic infused sautéed chicken breasts served on a bed of cooked asparagus with a creamy sauce and topped with green onion and chopped fresh tomato.

imagePalm Peach Chicken, a recipe by Kevin Graves and Robin Dailey, is delicious and beautiful.

Palm Beach Chicken with Asparagus and Tomatoes

2 lbs. Aldi Boneless Chicken Strips
3 Tbsp. Minced Garlic
1 stick Butter
4 Tbsp. Avocado Oil
6 Green Onions Chopped (divided)
1 medium vine-ripened Tomato, chopped, drained
6 oz. Whipped Cream Cheese room temp
1 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream
1 Tsp. natural tenderizer with no MSG
1 Tsp. Smoked Paprika
2 Tsp. Garlic Powder
1 Tsp. Onion powder
1 Tsp. Dried Cilantro
1 Tsp. Dried Parsley
¾ Cup fresh Shredded Parmesan (divided)
½ Cup Grated Parmesan and Romano
Dash of Lemon Pepper
1 Tbsp. Powdered Chicken Bouillon
Tsp. Corn Starch

Directions:
Melt butter in pan on ned-low, add avocado oil, 5 chopped green onions, sprinkle tenderizer into mixture, add chicken. After it’s been sautéing and has been turned a few times add garlic, garlic powder, onion powder, lemon pepper, paprika and dried seasonings. Add a few more shakes of tenderizer, keep turning, then let simmer on low.

Asparagus:
Rinse, snap, rub 2 lbs of asparagus with avocado oil and a few dashes of garlic powder and salt and steam in the microwave for 3.5 minutes.

Tomato: Chop, drain, add 1 chopped green onion and a dash of salt, pepper and garlic powder, sit to the side in small colander

Take a long oval tray and spread vertical to the length of the oval tray (imagine the tray is horizontal so lay asparagus spears in opposite direction and place chicken pieces in the middle.

Keep the chicken drippings simmering on low, add the heavy whipping cream and cream cheese, 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan and cornstarch and whisk. Pour a few ladles over the chicken and put the rest in a pourable cup. Keep it warm or it will break and separate.  After adding the sauce sprinkle the tomato mixture and top with remaining shredded Parmesan and serve.

ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF RANDY BRYAN BIGHAM

Some links Randy has shared with us….

Lucile – Her Life by Design by Randy Bryan Bigham, currently only available via lulu.com, can be ordered here:
“Ontario Today” CBC Radio interview with Randy Bryan Bigham by Rita Celli
 
“Beautiful and damned” by Randy Bryan Bigham in The Lady
 
“A beautiful, devilishly gorgeous career” by Randy Bigham for Urbanette
 
“The Pioneering Fashions of Lady Duff Gordon.” An interview with Randy Bryan Bigham by James Blake Wiener for Fair Observer
 
“Lucy Duff Gordon.” Entry by Randy Bryan Bigham and Leslie Midkiff DeBauche in Columbia University’s Women Film Pioneers Project.
 
PastFashion, Randy Bryan Bigham’s fashion history blog.
 
“Pop Culture Tonight ” Radio interview with Randy Bryan Bigham by Patrick Phillips

COLLECTIONS: PAGE TURNERS

imageI am totally fascinated by collectors and their coveted collections and most of all learning something new each time.  We all, of course, watch Antiques Roadshow (don’t we wish we could get more of the English BBC version, please!) and find something fascinating each time we watch, not only the value but the history of the items.

I found such a collector and his collection recently when visiting my friends Tom Hawley and Tom Mantel.  We were going to a concert that Tom H was playing at and stopped by to pick up his parents, Harold and Elenor Hawley, (you have been treated to several of Elenor’s recipes in past posts and will find two more at the end of this post) it was a quick visit and I became intrigued by the cabinet in the above photo (Harold is an accomplished woodcrafter, I’m sure there is a more glamorous name for this craft, sorry Harold…..his work is amazing a true craftsman. There are many examples in their home. He built a wonderful walnut shelf for my apartment, I’ll feature it in a future post.) Harold built this case of oak, along with several other pieces, to display his extensive collection of page turners and the amazing antique Asian chess set that fits into the center.  The side pieces are fitted with beveled glass and it has shelves underneath.  I decided that this would make a fascinating topic for one of my collections posts.  I was fortunate to go back a couple of weeks later when Christmas decor was going up and took the opportunity to talk a bit with Harold about his collection and take lots of photos.

How did the collection begin….both the Hawleys like to collect and Harold was thinking of a new collection when Elenor said “Why don’t you start a collection of page turners!” and so the hunt was on. His collection begins with a piece from 1859 and goes through 1912-1914 with most of the items from the late 19th Century.  The history of the page turner goes back further to churches and synagogues where they were used to read Holy Books…they were used to do exactly what they imply turn pages in huge manuscripts and books (and later newspapers) as well as open double pages without a sharp knife (letter openers).  As you will see they have rounded or square ends not sharp ends.  If you look on Pinterest, and you will find many examples, you will often find them listed as letter openers.

imageThe only book I could find on the subject.

Instead of my talking about this extraordinary collection, let’s look at some of the pieces.imageThis vignette holds some of my favorites and I love the way Elenor staged her Grandfather’s prayer book that he brought with him from Germany when he immigrated to the States…the ivory piece with the roses, to the left in the picture, I think is my most favorite of all. The silver and ivory piece, on the book, is the smallest at 8″.

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imageI am also very fond of the angel and the cameo pieces.  The pierced ivory is also most unusual.

imageimageimageimageSome of the Asian pieces along with an advertising piece done as promotional giveaways (somethings never change!).imageimageMore of the Asian pieces.

imageSome sterling handled page turners with march strikers.

imageimageimageIsn’t this amazing….makes me want to take up chess again!

A huge thank you to Harold and Elenor for allowing me to document this unusual story of a collection and it’s collector.  I am sure you all agree it is amazingly beautiful and each piece a work of art.

All photos were taken by me on my iPhone 7….if you look closely you will see my silhouette hovering in a couple of shots….sorry about that.

Remember to check the monthly Randolph Street Market to add to your collections or to start a new one, you never know what treasures await you.  Next market Saturday and Sunday, January 27th and 28th from 10 to 5.

How about a couple of brunch suggestions for New Year’s Day.

FROM ELENOR HAWLEY’S RECIPE BOX

Corned Beef Oven Omelet

12 eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups Mozzarella cheese, shredded

4 cups milk

2 – 4 oz packages Buddig thinly sliced corned beef

2 Tablespoons minced onion

Beat eggs and milk together, add salt; tear corned beef into small pieces & add to mixture.  Stir in cheese and onion and combine.  Pour into greased 9″ X 13″ glass casserole.  Bake uncovered 1 hour at 350º oven or until omelet is set and top is golden brown. Test by sticking a silver knife in center, the knife should come out clean.  Cut into 12 or 15 pieces.  Any leftovers may be rewarmed in microwave.

Elenor’s note: “I often put the casserole together and refrigerate overnight, especially when we have overnight guests…it will need an additional ten minutes or so to bake.”

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Prepare topping and filling mix:

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 teapsoon cinnamon

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Mix and set aside.

Cream 1/2 cup butter until solf

Gradually add 1 cup sugar

Continue creaming until light and fluffy

Add 2 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition

Sift together:

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Add to butter mixture, alternating with 1 cup sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.  Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla.  Pour half the batter into a Bundt pan.  Sprinkle 1/2 nut mixture evenly over batter. Stir spoonfuls of remaining batter evenly over nut mixture and top with remaining nut mixture.

Bake at 325º for 40 minutes until done.

Elenor suggests serving with fresh fruit, juice, and coffee…. Nena says…anyone for a mimosa!!!

 

WEDNESDAY MUSINGS: ICE SKATING

imageWhen I was a little girl I wanted to either be a ballerina or a figure skater.  I took lessons in both and loved every minute of them.  Today let’s talk about figure skating.

I think one of the things I liked most of all about skating was wearing the incredible costumes Mom made for me.  Totally adorable,  little skirts of felt or velvet with tops and little bonnets to match and, of course, I could wear colored tights long before we wore tights. the only time you wore tights in those days was either for ballet or figure skating, lucky me I got to do both!  I thought I was totally cool!

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Each Saturday, during the winter, Mom and I would take the El/Subway from Howard Street (we lived in Rogers Park in Chicago at the time) to the Grand Avenue station where we got the Grand Avenue bus East to Fairbanks and walked a couple of blocks to the Arena (which became the CBS Chicago headquarters).  Daddy would often go with us and stop off at work and meet us or go with us to watch me skate.  The figure skating classes were taught by professional skaters and I was crazy about mine.  The classes were small and we had the entire rink to ourselves…the ice smooth as glass (I always had difficulty skating on outside ice, especially when used for hockey games, fairly rough compared to figure skating ice, yes there is a difference!)  But the most fun of all was when The Ice Follies were in town and we got to skate on their ice which had exquisite colored patterns in the ice.  We felt like we were The Ice Follies…and then we got to watch them perform at the Saturday Matinee….it was magical! We, of course also had The Ice Capades, but The Follies were my favorites especially since they shared their ice with me!   I have searched and searched for a photo of the Arena’s rink to no avail, but did find a couple of fun illustrations from The Ice Follies.

imageimageA couple of programs I found on Pinterest.

imageimageI have never heard of this film, now a must-see on my list…..and she skated in it….amazing!

Often after class, we would go to The Hilton to the Boulevard Room for their ice show, I could have watched for hours.  I would have what I thought was a grown-up cocktail, we didn’t call them Shirley Temples…Mom and Daddy, of course, had “real” ones and with a wink from Daddy to the waiter, mine was the “same” (these were the days of Old Fashioneds, Whisky Sours, Manhattans…each served in the proper glass!). imageFrom the book Vintage Cocktails Assouline

imageimageimageHow in the world they skated on so tiny an area is still a puzzlement to me.  It was truly amazing and wonderful, so glamorous!

Now, of course, we watch the Winter Olympics with the incredible skills of the skaters (by the way a new movie, I, Tonya, is now in release, mixed reviews but for all accounts an interesting film!) and are able to take advantage of the extraordinary outdoor skating opportunities our fabulous City offers us.  Here are some that are worth a visit.

imageThe McCormick Tribune Ice Rink at Millennium Park (you can, of course, rent skates) It is wonderful any time of the day but what can be more fairytale-like than at night!

imageAlso in Millennium Park in Maggie Daley Ice Skating Ribbon, to be enjoyed by all, again the views are part of the experience.  An ariel view of the rink.

imageThe newest kid on the block The Rink at Wrigley, how fun is this!

Skate at the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Farm in the Zoo, remember this spectacular Zoo is one of the few in the world that is free!  Yet another exquisite view of the skyline of our City!image

Have you been to Navy Pier lately, if not you are in for a major treat it just keeps getting better and better.  I love going in the Winter it has an almost magical charm, its calm, and totally beautiful with views of the City that you can only get if you are out on the Lake.  For a special treat, you can skate indoors in their Fifth Third Bank Winter Wonderfest….

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And this hidden gem at The Peninsula Chicago, complete with its own Chalet, for its guests to enjoy, could this be any more enchanting, I think not!imageimageimageimageCould there be a more romantic spot…no, there couldn’t!

Of course, there are many other ice skating venues in the City and indoor rinks to polish your hockey skills along with your pair dancing and singles savvy.  Just grab your skates and enjoy!

The last three photos I took with my iPhone all others from Pinterest photo credits unknown.

imageReady for Hot Buttered Rum…..

For 4 drinks from epicurious:

2 cups water

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter

1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup dark rum

Bring all ingredients except the rum to a boil in a 1 1/2-to 2-quart saucepan over moderately high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 10 minutes.  remove from heat and stir in rum.  Serve hot.

 

 

A FASHIONABLE CHRISTMAS

imageWhen these two gentlemen greet you at the door of Casa Hyder/Smith you know you are in for a great time, their annual Christmas Tree Trimming Party was not an exception.  I have been after Greg Hyder since I began nenasnotes to join me with his stories, all of a sudden he became shy and kept putting me off.  I finally said, “you are off the hook”!  A sigh of relief from him and then he thought better of it and said: “how about coming to our Tree Trimming Party and documenting it!”  Why not indeed! I have known Greg for years and Jim for just about as long.  I worked with Greg when I was still at Saks and he was always very generous with chefs from The Peninsula Chicago, where he is Director of Style and Community Relations, when I had events that featured the top chefs in Chicago, in addition he never said no to door prizes for special shows and events.  We have had many too many glasses of wine together, obviously both our sign of a good friendship!  Silly us!!!

Well, all I can say is when someone tells you they are obsessed with something believe them!  There isn’t a square inch of their exquisite home that isn’t decorated to the nines.  It is extraordinary, to say the least.  Let me take you through it, at least a little bit of it.  The scale is something else.  The tree is gigantic, I have no idea how they got it up three flights of stairs.

imagePicking out the perfect tree at Gethsemane Garden Center

imageLights on and the ornament placement begins….each area of the tree has its own themed ornaments, let’s look at some of them, there are hundreds!  Many collected on their trips and many are family traditions.

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imageimageimageimageAnd, of course, a Cubs section!!!!  Our hosts are avid Cubs fans!

imageSome baubles were held aside for the party guests, remember the theme of the day was a tree trimming party!!!!  We were told if their placement didn’t meet with Mr. Hyder’s approval off they would come (after the party!)  Pictured are Tim Emond, Becca Smith (Jim’s daughter), Julie Machmon and Jean Antoniou.

On to the Santas….

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The custom-made Cubs Santa next to the fireplace….glorious!!!!

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imageimageimageimageimageThe crystal chandelier is festooned with red ribbon and the bobeche are filled with cranberries rather than drippings of candle wax, finished with a huge ornament.

imageAnother chandelier looking from the hall into the living room.

imageThe hall from the living room into the rest of the home.

imageSanta has forgotten his hat on the bed…

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Jim’s painting over the chest in the bedroom, it is only displayed during the Christmas season, another takes its place the rest of the year.  I was quite taken with this painting.  Obviously a talented artist.

imageAnother wall in the bedroom, I love icons and have done a post on them.

imageOne of the bathrooms, of course, in its festive attire!

How about a couple of wreaths…..

imageIn the dining room..

imageAnd inside the backdoor in the kitchen….

imageThe back bedroom with its African theme gets in the holiday spirit!

imageimageimageThe drinks tables…special Christmas Mimosas, yummy!

imageThe tree in the corner of the dining room with more treasured memories

imageimageOh, and did I mention food……my oh my what a spread. Top photo the sweets table (I suggested a cookie exchange next year they were so good!!!!!) Bottom the baked ham, cheeses., paté, relishes and on and on and on……(I got a goodie bag, yay!!!!)

imageJim, Nena, and Greg in front of the tree (still wasn’t finished the tinsel had yet to be placed piece by piece by piece!) that rivals the one in The Walnut Room and this one is alive!!!!!  Thank you so much, my friends, for allowing me to share your Christmas story with my readers, I am most grateful!

The soup served was worthy of my having two cups, here is the recipe beyond fabulous but then so was the entire afternoon…

FROM NENA’S RECIPE BOX

GREG AND JIM’S CREAM OF PUMPKIN SOUP WITH CURRY

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 1/2 quarts chicken stock

32 ounces (4 cups) canned pumpkin

2/3 cup brown sugar

Salt to taste

White pepper to taste

Nutmeg to taste

2 cups heavy cream

Chopped chives or parsley for garnish

Serves 12

Melt butter in 6 or 8-quart saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add onion and saute for 5 minutes until translucent.  Add curry powder and cook for 2 more minutes.  Add chicken stock, pumpkin, brown sugar, salt, pepper, and nutmeg; blend in cream.  Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.

Adjust to desired consistency with a roux (equal parts melted butter and flour) or a whitewash (flour and water).  If too thin, cook an additional 10 minutes to cook out the starch.  If too thick, add more cream.  Adjust flavor with seasonings.

Blend in a blender until smooth and creamy.  Ladle into bowls or mugs and garnish with chives or parsley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WEDNESDAY MUSINGS: CHRISTMAS CRACKERS

imageBy now you are well aware that I am a major Anglophile and I become totally English at Christmas (it is in my DNA, my Mom was English and German), I adore all the tradition of an English Christmas and had the opportunity, several years, ago to spend Christmas with a family in the English countryside.  It was a glorious week….roasts every day and major celebrations with presents and extraordinary meals for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

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I remember sitting in the parlor one evening and said out loud that the perfect end for that day would be a glass of port and Stilton….out of nowhere in came my hostess with a whole wheel of Stilton, the proper silver scoop server, crystal port glasses, and a decanter of vintage port…..talk about hospitality!!!!!   My hostess adored Christmas Crackers and we had them for all three days.  They were quite elaborate and, of course, we all sat around with our paper crowns and read aloud our silly messages housed inside. I don’t remember all the tokens inside but they were very special.  I know she got at least one set from Harrod’s. Years later back home in the States I was entertaining for Christmas Day with the traditional standing rib roast, Yorkshire pudding, etc. and wanted to do Crackers for my guests (and me!) and thought I would order them from Harrod’s, you can’t get much more authentic than that….well they started around £200 at the time and went up from there….needless to say I found some locally!

imageI found these last year, obviously for the ladies in attendance got others for the gentlemen.

In past years I spent time with friends for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day and I always brought the Crackers and have found many locally, ones that I adored were from Burberry with super gifts inside, I got a beautiful red leather tape measure in mine one year.  I have also found stunning ones at Costco (they are actually Tom Smith’s Crackers!!!)…yes, you heard correctly as well as by mailorder from  Olde English Crackers where you can even create your own.  Probably too late this year but you might try the Costco route, who knows.  You might even get lucky at Randolph Street Market Holiday Event this Saturday and Sunday from 10 to 5 and find some vintage ones, wouldn’t that be perfection.  You know you will find things for yourself and for gifts as well as some vintage Victorian ephemera.

imageChristmas Crackers covered in Liberty of London prints, charming.

You knew, of course, that I would give you a bit of background on when and where this tradition began, it is an interesting story.  In  mid-19th Century Victorian England,  Tom Smith, who was a candy maker and baker, discovered while in Paris a version of an early Cracker, a sugared almond wrapped in decorated paper twisted at each end.  He decided to wrap his sweets at home in the same way.  The trend didn’t catch on.  Being an entrepreneur he decided to include a trinket.  The idea of the snap came from fireworks and in 1961 Smith presented this version to the public and shall we say the company has never looked back.  The legacy of “Bangs of Expectations” was carried on by Tom’s sons, Thomas, Henry, and Walter.  In 1906, Tom Smith’s company was granted the Royal Warrant by the Prince of Wales, which entitled the company to become a member of the Royal Warrant Holders Association.

imageI found this advertisement quite delightful.

imageStart now and you will be all set for Christmas 2018!image

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imageCovers of the boxes

imageOf course, a book recommendation for further research and enjoyment!

imageAnd another one for fun!

imageI know there isn’t time to make your own plum pudding (I do have a super recipe that I will share next year in plenty of time!) you can get really good ones from Crosse and Blackwell or you can make a mincemeat pie (my most favorite, I can eat an entire one myself, not all at one sitting….well maybe!) and serve the following hard sauce (which, by the way goes beautifully with poached pears or just by the spoonful!!! Bad Nena!) It is by far the best hard sauce ever, it was given to me by one of my Saks Store Managers, Bob Pike, along with the Plum Pudding recipe.  Enjoy!!!!

FROM NENA’S RECIPE BOX

BOB PIKE’S HARD SAUCE

2/3 cup soften butter

3 cups confectioners sugar

1/4 cup Calvados (or a bit more like I add)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla

Place butter (in pieces) with sugar in a food processor add Calvados and vanilla.  Process until creamy.  Chill.  (I use a hand mixer, I no longer have a food processor and you can lick the blades!)

 

All photos are from Pinterest no photo credit available

 

 

 

 

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS: HOLIDAY READING

imageIf you are this far along with your Holiday plans it’s time to sit by the fire with a glass of “real” eggnog, a slice of the fruitcake, I gave you the recipe for last week, or some of the cookies that I am featuring at the end of this post, and a Christmas Story or two….here are some thoughts for you and, of course, for gifts.

A couple of new ones this year by two of my favorite authors who by the way, have new books coming out early 2018…can’t wait!!

imageThis is a charming mystery with one of my most favorite detectives, Charles Lenox.  He is almost my favorite but I’m afraid Armand Gamache still has the biggest part of my heart!!!  But I must say Charles Lenox is very close….You can get this on your Kindle for a major bargain.  An easy read and one I know you will enjoy….the mystery had me guessing until the end but not so Lenox, the smartie!!

imageI am crazy for all of Rhys Bowen’s stories and have followed Molly Murphy since the series began.  Yet another mystery but set in the US, you know I am a bit partial to an English mystery as you shall see.  Read for your pleasure and give as a party gift or a perfect grab bag present.

imageA charming bit of fluff and why not.  If you are addicted to all the Christmas films on The Hallmark Channels…this is for you.  I’m more a White Christmas (I cry every year!), kind of gal!

imageimageOf course, a couple of Christie’s in the mix…definitely in the English spirit of the Holidays and a bit of murder thrown in, oh my!

imageA beautiful vintage A Christmas Carol, nothing more classic and again a perfect gift…I’m mad for this hand tooled leather volume.

imageNew this year and the basis for the film in theaters now…looks fabulous and both are on my to-do list before the end of the year.  And, of course, an annual must-see is the Goodman Theater’s production of A Christmas Carol, I never miss it. It runs through December 31st.

imageAnd speaking of a must-see have you gotten yourself and everyone you know to The Joffrey Ballet’s exquisite version, you have until December 30….hurry, you don’t want to miss it, if you have gone I suggest you go again the details are so intricate you need to see it more than once, that is a given!  How about a doubleheader with both The Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol, treat yourself to a couple of days in our beautiful City with a stay at one of my favorite hotels, The Peninsula,  The Ritz Carlton or any one of our fabulous boutique hotels with a special dinner….it is the holidays after all!  So much to do and it is already the middle of December, oh dear!

imageA charmingly nostalgic short story made into a vintage 1966 TV piece, you can watch on YouTube, with Geraldine Page. Capote narrates it.  Talk about a tearjerker!!!!  It is my chum Tom Mantel’s favorite and The Toms and I watch it every year while doing our holiday marathon baking weekend.  The strangest thing happened last week, I was going to bed and turned on WFMT-FM, my favorite station, and heard a familiar voice, no it wasn’t one of the hosts, it was Truman Capote reading A Christmas Memory, karma, I think so!

imageA beautifully written book and one I read every Christmas Eve when I was commuting from Evanston to work, I still read it every Christmas Eve day.

imageA lovely book on the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah which begins on December 13th.

These are just a few of the Holiday books that are available, each of your Independent Booksellers have tables full of more suggestions, not to mention all the cookbooks, children’s books and on and on and………..As you are well aware nothing pleases me more than a book at any time of the year.  Enjoy!

imageThis charming scene is actually a pop-up book, well not really it is a record album cover in The Tom’s magnificently decorated home.  I took this photo all others are from Pinterest photo credits unknown.

Remember the last Randolph Street Market is Saturday and Sunday, December 16 and 17.  You will be able to complete your Christmas list, enjoy a glass or two of spirits along with some goodies.  A perfect place to fill those holes in your list or grab last minute items for stocking stuffing (Mom and I always got special goodies in the toes of our stockings, no coal for us…thanks, Daddy!), grab bags or to take to those many holiday parties on your horizon.

I’m leaving you with one of my most favorite cookie recipes that I have made since I could stand on a chair and help with the baking (and cooking), so for a verrrrrry long time.  I don’t remember if I shared it with you last year, I think not, but in any case, worth having in your recipe box.  The cookies just get better with age in their cookie tin.  You won’t be able to eat only one!

From Nena’s Recipe Box

Russian Teacakes

1 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup finely chopped nuts

Heat oven to 400º. Mix thoroughly butter, sugar, and vanilla.  Work in flour, salt, and nuts until dough holds together.  Shape dough into 1-inch balls.  Place on ungreased baking sheet.  Bake 10 to 12 minutes until set but not brown.  Watch carefully so as not to burn.  While warm, roll in addition confectioners’ sugar.  Cool and roll in sugar again.  I use quite a bit of sugar.  Makes approximately 4 dozen cookies.  (I can eat all 4 dozen in one seating, don’t but can!!!)