Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year!!!

The Sydney Harbour Bridge erupted with fireworks to welcome in 2007.. ABC News Online
The Sydney Harbour Bridge erupted with fireworks to welcome in 2007.

One of the first places to celebrate the New Year is Australia, which this year included more than 1 million people who attending this spectacular fireworks display. How appropriate - the Commonwealth of Australia was first official on January 1st, 1901!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Antique Folk Art Hooked Rugs

Those of you who've read my blog in the past know how much I love early antique textiles, especially hooked rugs. The ones which truly catch my eye are those which are original designs, drafted by an artist-hooker 100 or more years ago. Although there are many stamped pattern rugs which are beautiful, there's just something about a one-of-a-kind design that speaks to my heart.

Today I'm showing a couple of animal hooked rugs. Animal rugs are some of the most desirable designs to be found in the antique hooked rug world. Both of these were hooked by hand in wool strips, not yarn.

were both made c. 1900, and each has it's own "character". The horse rug was made by an unknown hooker somewhere in New England. It shows the fine use of shading and color, which gracefully showcases the artist's view of this prancing, dancing horse. This rug has lots of action, yet not too much in over-powering details.

Typical of the time period, the colors are muted and primarily in soft tans and browns, with only a hint of bright color in the partial blue sky and the reds, blues and whites in the leaf & vine border. This is a fabulous, one-of-a-kind piece of fo
lk art, clearly showing the artist's imagination and expertise. It deserves a special wall for all to enjoy, and belongs in a top-quality antiques collection.

It is quite large - approximately 5' x 5.5', and is mounted on a strong wood frame so it can be hung. For a hooked rug, it is somewhat uncommon in shape, being more square than rectangular. The last time I saw it, it was one of the shops in Wiscasset, Maine, priced at just under $6000.

The next rug is more stylized, also from the turn of the last century. This too is a one-of-a-kind hooked rug, and this particular hooker designed a silhouette of a black Labrador retriever with a shaded
background. The light tan shades make this dog's image really pop, and it is a really superb rug.

Approximately 3' x 5', this simple design was well-done, with good outlines of ear and eye. The use of black color blocks in each corner provide a "frame" around this rug's main character - the artist wanted a quiet, pure vision of this dog, uncomplicated and easy on the eyes. The black color "blocks" draw one's eyes inward directly towards the central image.

This rug was found recently at a Michigan antiques show, priced at $3200. It originally came from Ohio, and - as the horse rug - was mounted as folk art.

Both of these rugs were in exceptionally fine condition, showing their age and textile "patina", yet without stains or other damage. If you are looking for a good rug to add to your collection, be sure to carefully search a potential purchase for damage, stains or dry rot. Those which are already mounted might be a bit harder to examine, but you should still be able to see any major problems. Don't worry about the minor stain or damage - it's just part of the rug's history and life. In the end, you as the buyer must decide what is acceptable to you personally in terms of textile problems, keeping in mind the price of the rug and how strongly it "speaks" to you.
Just remember that there are not huge numbers of early wool hooked rugs out there - time and owner care often compromise a rug's original good looks. If a rug speaks to your heart, and you know you'll love it, buy it and enjoy it. I can tell you from nearly thirty years of experience that I've never bought a single antique that I've regretted, because I only bought those which spoke to my heart and my heart has never led me wrong.

BUT - I can give you a list more than the length of my arm of wonderful antiques which spoke to me and that I passed up, and now definitely regret not buying. Some had a bit of damage, or were priced more than I wanted to pay. I wish I'd ignored the damage, or had negotiated time payments for those special antiques. My husband and I now whistfully talk about "the ones that got away." They are gone forever now, and I do wish I'd been more open and creative in arranging for them to come home with me.

Just so you have an idea of what mounting a rug costs, the current rate in my area is approximately $15-20 a square foot for a rug around 3' x 5' in size or under. Larger rugs are a bit more of a challenge to a professional rug mounter, and sometimes the cost is more just because of the extra time, materials and special care needed for quality work.

Before you hire someone to mount your rug, ask to see some examples so you are cmfortable with their work. There are good mounters and not-so-good mounters, and you want someone who truly understands antique textiles. Discuss in detail if there are any extra costs - cleaning, repairs, mounting design that allows both vertical and horizontal hanging (good for geometric rug designs), etc.

Above all, get a detailed receipt for your rug, including a written description. Remember to take a photo of it before you turn it over to a mounter. Last but not least, do ask for an approximate date when the rug will be finished to be included in your receipt.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Love to Cook? Try

I'm a foodie - love to cook, to experiment in the kitchen, try new foods. My husband's the same way. In fact, he's kicked me out of the kitchen more than a few times while he cooks up some new dish he wants to surprise me with. He's pretty darn good in the kitchen, and I haven't been disappointed in any of his cooking yet! (But let's not discuss the after-cooking clean-up . . .)

There's been some very funny moments. Like the time a couple of weeks ago when he tried cooking chestnuts. You can boil them, steam them, roast them. I told him about a new method I'd just read about, where you take chestnuts still in their shells and cook them in the microwave. So one night, to surprise me, he decided to try this new method. Unfortunately, he'd never cooked chestnuts before, and didn't realize that whichever way you choose to cook them, you really do need to score the shells with an X first.

That night, I heard a few surpised curses coming from our kitchen, then quite a bit of laughter from my husband. He was microwaving unscored chestnuts, and when they got really hot they exploded. He wasn't prepared for the chestnuts blowing up, and it startled him.

Luckily, he didn't damage the microwave, and only made a minor mess in the microwave. We called it chestnut puree, but really, it was a zillion bits of chestnuts and shells all over that ended up in the trash. We laughed until we had tears in our eyes, but at that moment it sure was funny.

I've been having a lot of fun with the website
It's a website which has a huge amount of cooking information, and a wonderful forums section where people who enjoy cooking share a lot of information, how-tos and recipes. Some of the recipes are quite unusual, and it's not uncommon for those participating in the forums to be living in other countries and sharing their regional insights and food ideas. There are many different topics, but here's some examples:

>> What is your favorite holiday breakfast?
>> Crock Pots
>> Smoked Butter
>> Heirloom tomatoes
>> Persimmons
>> Frozen Herbs
>> What cookbooks are you reading?
>> What is your favorite Brownie recipe?

This group of foodies share all sorts of superb recipes that you never knew existed. The Brownie recipe section was hugely popular, and there's enough choices there to have you making brownies for the next decade.

Here's the next recipe I'm going to try:
(The notations are from website administrator/owner Heidi Swanson, who writes the articles for this website. She is a cookbook author and photographer, and is absolutely awesome. Be sure to read some of her articles - they are excellent!)

Lingonberry or Cranberry Jam

Depending on the tartness of the berries you may need to adjust the amount of sugar.

1 lb. 2 ounces (500 g) frozen or fresh lingonberries or cranberries

A scant cup (7 oz/200g) of caster (superfine) sugar (hs note: I just gave my regular granulated sugar a whirl in the food processor for 15-20 seconds)

Finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
1 small apple, peeled and cored

Rinse the berries, if necessary, then drain well and put them in a non-metallic bowl with the sugar and lemon juice. Leave overnight, turning once or twice.

Coarsely grate the apple and put it into a jam-making pan or other heavy based saucepan with the grated lemon rind. Strain in all the juice from the berries (hs note: I didn't end up with a ton of juice, but scraped all the thick, sugary juice in) and add two wooden spoonfuls of berries, leaving the rest of the berries in the bowl for now. Add 1/2 cup (125 ml) water and simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until the apple is very soft and the whole lot has thickened (hs note: I ended up ~10 minutes). Add the rest of the berries and heat through for 5-8 minutes. Pour into sterilized jars. Seal tightly and turn upside down. Cover with a cloth and leave to cool completely before turning upright and storing in a cool place. The jam will keep for a couple months but, once open, keep it in the fridge and use fairly quickly.

Makes about 2 cups.

If you get a chance, do take a quick peek at - sign in for free and become a participating forums member. If you see the name Antique Cook, that's me.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Our New Grandson

We're just back from a week in Florida, visiting our new grandson James for the very first time. James is adorable - just 2 months only, and already has his very own canine guardian. Here you see him with Mick (short for Michelob beer, as his father works for Budweiser). Mick is a Catahoula Spotted Leopard dog, and has volunteered to be James' personal protection. He wasn't trained to do this - he just loves James, and no one gets near this baby without Mick's approval.

You wouldn't want to argue with Mick. He's 60 pounds of solid muscle, and can do serious damage to someone if he chooses to. He's loving and protective, and has a very gentle nature. But you do notice him when he positions himself next to the baby. We never saw him growl or do anything dangerous. He just loves this baby, and stays near him, quietly watching, as others coo and play with James. As Mick determines that each person is okay and not going to harm the baby in any way, Mick settles in for a nap, always close by.

I just love this photo. Mick loves this baby so much, and you can see that James is giggling too!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

We love Oriental Food

Since I travel a lot on business, I end up eating in restaurants far too often. Not that I have anything against restaurants - it's just that, depending on where I'm traveling, my food choices tend to be somewhat limited.

I rarely go to fast food chains. Maybe to McDonalds once in a while for their pancake and sausage breakfasts (an acceptably filling meal for an inexpensive price). Otherwise, I look for family-operated restaurants, especially those which offer nightly specials, or regional home-cooking.

But when I'm home, I love to cook. And since my husband also enjoys cooking, we often plan meals together. We both really love Oriental meals - Thai, Chinese, Indian - and experiment frequently. I'm not big on eating meat, prefering seafood and fish, with just a touch of pork or chicken once in a while. He, on the other ha
nd, still loves meat and can eat it 2 or 3 times a day. (I'd rather minimize it to 2 or 3 times a month.) We've managed to adjust to each other's needs by cooking something Oriental, so that he can add meat as needed, and I can enjoy my meals with just veggies.

The other day we spent the better part of an afternoon at one of our favorite Oriental grocery markets. The local ones are very limited in their offerings, and we have to travel about about 100 miles roundtrip to do any serious Oriental food shopping. That means we go to at least 3 groceries, and we buy supplies to last us several months. It's worth the time and distance, not to mention the gas, for us to shop this way - we always come back with new ideas and interesting products to try!

This time we came home with a new game plan - I cleaned out one of our kitchen cupboards (for several years it was one of my cookbook storage areas) - and we filled it with our latest Oriental grocery purchases. We filled th
is three shelf cupboard completely - see the photo - and now I have to sort through my cookbooks to determine which are staying and which need new homes.

If you look closely at our Oriental cupboard, you'll see we bought a huge amount of dried Chinese mushrooms (they only take about an hour to re-hydrate, and they have a wonderful woodsy flavor and very meaty texture), fresh chestnuts, lots and lots of canned cream of coconut, a new-to-us curry powder, fish sauces, commercial-sized cans of oyster sauce and (my favorite) hoisin sauce, rice wine vinegar, and rice noodles. The groceries we visit are very moderately priced - we filled our cupboard for about $60 or so, and will have many, many meals over the next few months. We buy our fresh veggies, meats and seafoods locally, mostly dependent upon what's on sale.

There's also a bit of extravagance slipped into our shopping. I love tamarind candies, especially not the super-hot spicy ones. Can't find them near home, so I buy several boxes of them and they last for at least a couple of weeks. I also like ginger candies, not so much candied ginger, but the ones which are shaped like taffy candy and have a good strong ginger taste to them. They don't last very long either.

Anyhow, if you are into cookbook collecting, be sure to take a look at my
Ruby Lane website, Red Moon Antiques. to see which vintage cookbooks I have for sale. I'm just starting on sorting, so will be offering books from my collection over the next month or so. Take a peek and see if any of them speaks to you . . .