Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Garden Room!

When I moved several years ago, my children came and did yeoman duty with the packing; but it was up to me, in the new, much smaller home, to unpack and decide where things were to go.

I had already made the second bedroom into my office/showroom: took off closet doors, moved office furniture and shelving in ahead of time.

    



So all of the important components of MerryWalk Antiques were arranged for. But that first week, I often found myself standing in that space, some precious object in hand, and thinking,"This will go in the other room", and then realising, "THERE IS NO OTHER ROOM!" Fortunately, the two-car garage, where I had also installed shelving, took lots of the dilemmas.(We'll take a stroll through all of that later on!)

Including a big box too heavy for me to lift, that I'd been toting around for 25 years or so.Did I really want to burden myself one more time with this weight? After all, this was downsize time! But the box contained three large fragments of a Porquier Beau fireplace surround, and I had always intended either to use them myself, or sell them to a client who was adding on a room or was willing to reconfigure a wall to use them. No such event ever occurred, and here I was, one more time, with this lugubrious problem.

Well, I did indeed bring them along, and a year or so after the move, I was ready to knock out a wall and create what the French call a "jardin d'hiver". Basically, I was just enclosing the outside deck, so it was not a large addition, 10'x12', to be precise. As I planned it, I thought about the old house, and realised the only thing I truly missed was my gas log fireplace. A FIREPLACE! Yes! And a place, after all these years to use the Porquier Beau pieces. The builder liked the idea and created exactly the right framework for the tiler to make the installation.
                  The three large fragments:


 


Just as I was searching through my inventory for appropriate additions...and I really didn't start out to make a  PorquierBeau/Rouen annex...I saw a gorgeous umbrella stand coming up for auction in France. I knew it wasn't of the period, but here was the pattern, which I had never seen on an umbrella stand. Had to have it! With the assistance of my French connection, Judy Datesman, we got it: it has trundled its way across France, and was actually shipped just one day before the Paris bombing last December (I was relieved that French Customs didn't think it was a bomb casing and destroy it, but no, it arrived in all its pristine glory.)


There is no mark on it; I would theorize it was a special order for someone any time from the 1950's to the 1980's. A worthy research project in its own right.

So the fireplace wall composed itself thusly:


 And there are other interesting plant holders. Some are good old French faience:




  As well as a handsome set of large American jardinieres:


And a glorious big swan found in a local consignment shop:

 

Any time of day, the light is wonderful in this room, and it has added, both literally and figuratively, an important new dimension to the house and my life here.


Last fall, I brought in the begonias and lots of other things; they wintered over reasonably well, but now everything has gone outside to fill out planters that have fresh blooms. Now, only an occasional flower comes in to add a touch of color to the room:
               


We are having a long, cool spring, so the tulips lasted well, and my magical peach-colored iris (one spray in the Porquier Beau wall pocket above) are coming out everywhere! More about those another time; it is time to do new web pages...so you'll hear from me soon again...Joan

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Chewy Brownies: a Tribute to my Mother

Chewy Brownies: a Tribute to my Mother.

My mother was a wonderful cook and baker; our dinner table was  properly set, and the food was appealing  and delicious.  Her pet peeve was a plate that had no color balance, hence the paprika shaker and the fresh parsley were always at hand. (I once was taken to dinner in Philadelphia by a friend who was anxious for me to try his newest dining find. My dinner plate was fish, mashed potatoes and cauliflower, sans even those simple garnishes. I could hardly keep from laughing out loud, remembering my mother's rules.)

And some things have stayed in the family forever, including this recipe for Chewy Brownies, unlike any I have ever seen printed anywhere. When I went to shop for this blog, I was so pleased to find so many of the same labels available that she had used so many years ago.
         

No, we didn't have "organic Dark Brown Sugar", so she just used whatever dark brown came in a box, and our eggs were not brown eggs, but they did come from a very nice farmer named Ivan G. Little (Mother and I used to refer to him as "Mr. Gee, Ivan") who came into Baltimore every Friday with eggs and poultry. But all those other labels are the old familiar ones: Hershey's Baking Chocolate, Diamond Walnuts, Gold Medal Flour, McCormick's Pure Vanilla. And that is the total list of ingredients. Here's the method...(quantities listed at the end of this blog)




Heat the chocolate in a small heavy-bottomed pot (many recipes say "over boiling water" so as not to scorch; I find this works just as well). At the same time, chop walnuts (don't buy already chopped walnuts, they will never be as fresh).

Beat eggs and brown sugar well, add vanilla, then the melted, cooled chocolate. Then just fold in the flour until it is mixed and no white showing (but do NOT beat well at this point; this batter is like muffin batter and overbeating will make the final results tough). Then fold in the nuts.


Pour batter into baking pan lined with parchment paper (this wasn't even around in my mother's day; it's a vast improvement over greasing and flouring pans for any kind of baking). Scatter reserved nuts on the top, and bake at 350°, roughly 20-25 minutes. A knife inserted in the middle should come out clean, but  just barely: these are chewy...if you overbake, they will become too dry and cake-y (if that happens, save the whole thing, and make an ice cream cake, layering this with vanilla and coffee ice cream).



When the pan comes out of the oven, cut immediately, and then brownies can sit until ready to be lifted onto your serving dish (one of the virtues of baking paper!)

And here is the original recipe, typed up for me about 50 years ago by my mother, when I was getting ready to open my catering  shop, The Yum Yum Tree, and she sat and typed all my scattered random recipes so I could put them into a useful file.


I don't really expect you to be able to read this, so here it is:

    5 eggs     
    5 oz. baking chocolate   
    3-1/8 cups dark brown sugar (pack down well when measuring)
    1-1/4 cups flour 
    2-1/2 tsp. vanilla 
    2 cups chopped nuts (save about 1/2 cup to scatter on the top)

    Beat eggs and sugar. Add vanilla, chocolate, flour, nuts; stir as little as possible.
    Bake at 350° 20-25 minutes. Cut while still warm.

These freeze very well, properly wrapped.

Enjoy! Joan Datesman




Thursday, October 22, 2015

Garden Thoughts: Flowers Outdoors and In

Such ambivalence! On the one hand, I am wandering through this glorious fall weather looking for just the right, bright seasonal perennials to finish up the gardening year. On the other hand, I am also awaiting my bulb order and planning where things will go for spring. Waiting patiently with me, this dear little Breton carved panel which lives right by the new door to the side patio. We are ready to dig!
   


  I'll start with my yearly diatribe about chrysanthemums: where are all the delicious varieties of yesteryear?  The quill-petalled, the pom-poms, the daisy-flowered? Almost impossible to find...just garden center and nursery ad nauseum  cushion mums, which might as well be made of plastic for all  the charm they add to my beds. Surely there is more, somewhere? Yes, it turns out, and some of it is already in my yard, transplanted from my former home: Chrysanthemum Nipponicum, known in this country as "Montauk Daisies".
    

 I have loved these for years, as they are a lovely shrubby plant all season, and then just when everything else is going, they burst forth with traditional daisy blooms. I brought these over from the other house, and they have never been so happy! It is wonderful when a plant shows its appreciation so exuberantly.

But a little more color was still needed, and Trader Joe's (no, I don't own their stock ) usually , and this year, certainly, has the answer:
     


Brilliant colors: a rich red and my favorite apricot, both daisy-petalled and with lime green centers.
Three of the apricot ones, potted for now, on the little side terrace where I can see them from the dining table:
 


And the red one nicely nestled in an antique Desvres wine cooler. (The wine cooler is for sale, but not my
mums!).
 

 It, too, will be tucked into the ground a bit later on. With any luck, these will winter over, and be a start for next year's  fall collection.

 I can't think about flowers, without also thinking about faience, because there are such great jardinieres and vases to use, and also, so many decors with floral motifs. Even now, as I sit writing this, I am surrounded  by gorgeous old plates and vases: they are all for sale, but I have the fun of looking at them until they leave me.


A group of plates, HR Quimper, incorporating both 19th century HB costume figures and old Porquier Beau botanical concepts.

 A shelf of Porquier Beau scalloped plates and fan vases. Spring flowers or fall, we love them all!

So...dig we must now:


 And this will be the result...next April.


Happy planning and planting to all, Joan



 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Summer's Bounty: Entertaining thoughts

Important clients coming for lunch, food that has be taken elsewhere for neighborhood picnics, flowers from the farmer's market: everything begs to be arranged, admired, eaten.



 Lunch guests were promised something simple and low calorie: gazpacho the perfect solution.


I don't really have a recipe, but just wing it with whatever is on hand, plus fresh produce from the market, plus a special addition that I gleaned from the preview party food at the Grosse Pointe Antiques Show several years ago: diced watermelon...which makes a refreshing surprise, and holds up well.
 In fact, despite heavy inroads at lunch, it  lasted a good week and was easy to serve right from the enamel ware soup pot. (Made more elegant with a handsome silver ladle, a gift from a friend some years ago.)
   
And then, on the its last day, just for me, I added diced avocado, also delicious!
  
Desserts also needed to be considered, in several ways: seasonal fruits, and also some of the baking which, in my catering days, was always a part of the menus. I had  almost forgotten about this luscious green grape compote, until my daughter served it as one of several small desserts at the party in July (see my blog for July 20). Again, this was a catering standby for summer parties; it's stunning done in a big glass bowl, so one can see the layering effect. Here I used individual wine goblets. It, too, keeps very well, covered and refrigerated, for at least several days. And it couldn't be simpler: green grapes,dark brown sugar, sour cream.

 
A big tray with finger sweets for a neighborhood cooperative picnic; right up my alley. It is all piled in a shallow white wicker tray, lined with foil, and then covered with an antique monogrammed white hand towel. The composition includes miniature tarts: pecan, coconut, and dried fruit, chewy brownies, cut very small (this is my mother's recipe, which I have never seen anywhere, and has NO shortening in  it!) and  fresh grapes and strawberries.



Two funny notes about this production (and it turned into quite a production): I used to have 24 of the miniature tart pans (each pan takes 12 little pastry circles), so I could turn out almost 300 of these little goodies( or miniature quiche), at a time...very efficient! When I moved, I decided I was never going to use a rolling pin again, so I gave most of the pans away, keeping four of them.  Four! What a lot of juggling went on that day! Then, when all was ready to be arranged, the day of the picnic, I made a careful composition, thinking, "I must have miscalculated, this doesn't look very fulsome". Because I had completely forgotten the brownies, which were all cut, and just waiting to be levered out of their pan. So I had to take it all apart and do it over a la the picture below.I think all dessert assortments should include something chocolate-y, and something fruit-y.



Well, we are now well into September, at least the corn and peaches are still holding their own, and no more entertaining at the moment...not until current construction in the house is done. That'll be the next blog!
 

And I wish you: Bon Appetit! Happy, healthy eating.... Joan


 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Great Quimper Catalogue Give-away!

Some long overdue housecleaning/reorganizing took place in my office last week. We started with one of the easier, but also more tedious, tasks: getting 30 years of  Quimper auction catalogues in chronological order, and removing all the duplicates for dispersal-disposal. Here is my stash, for the moment in two empty
drawers, shortly to be properly shelved.

And all the rest ( in not wonderful order) have been tucked into a little wagon, ready to be emptied by those of you who come to shop. Not only is there valuable information in all these pages for the serious collector, there are lovely illustrations, both photographs, and original art, which would also be of great use to those of you who do scrapbooking and collage work.  So first come shop, and then browse to fill the gaps in your reference library, or your craft table stash.
     
Looks like fun, doesn't it? I found myself sitting on the floor and looking through all of these for the
umpteenth time...and you can, too!
And now back to web site work...Joan

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A lavender Saturday

Time out from antiques and  onto some much-needed garden attention.  The lavender, which really flourished this year (apparently the bitter winter was not harmful at all!) was so luscious and lavish for several weeks, I didn't dare go near it, as there was a veritable bee convention going on at all hours. Now, it is drying on the shrub, and the bees have departed...I'd love to know where all that goodness has been stored, but I'll leave that to the professionals at the local farmer's market. No, my mission this weekend was: first, pruning, and second, a simple take-to-dinner gift. The two nicely coalesced as I clipped, sorted, and tied in bunches.
  

A big glass jarful right on the kitchen counter, and the rest arranged for two gifts, some in a jar, and some tied with a piece of French ribbon. I  keep a handsome old glass cake stand and cover on that same counter in which I save all the various ribbons that arrive from time to time. That made it very easy to complete my mission, and off to dinner I went, my lavender bunches stuffed into a fun paper sack depicting various small museums in France: now that's a wrap!

Monday looms...back to wrapping and shipping, more photos for special clients, and new web pages soon, soon.  I promise! Joan

Friday, July 24, 2015

And home again!

As always, once one returns, it all fades so quickly (like Christmas, one anticipates for so long, and then, over and done!). Fortunately there is a heavy-duty paper trail which follows me, i.e: the boxes with all my purchases:
      

All arrived most expeditiously, everything opened, sorted, priced...and now the fun part of my life begins: clients with special requests are contacted first...and then I must choose what to show on new web pages on my site www.merrywalk.com
     



Where to begin?  There are several groups of tablewares that are charming and unusual,  there are several spectacular platters, there are some rare signed and dated  presentoirs, plates from 1830 to1930, and more....
  


Do I keep anything for myself? Once in a great while, because I've always felt one can't be a good dealer if one skims off the best things and keeps them. (Of course, not everyone has the same notion about "Best"!)
Nevertheless, it is usually just an oddity that begs to stay...this time it was a wonderful pitcher I found in a small shop near Contres, where I stayed at the wonderful Manoir de Contres.



The shopkeeper couldn't really tell me much about it, just muttered  something about "Tours", which is a city about an hour from there. It has a signature incised in the clay, and the piece could have been made??? yesterday? or a long time ago??? Doesn't matter; he looks like "The King of the Golden River" which is one of my favorite children's books, and I have a vintage copy on my small shelf of that genre. The book was written by John Ruskin in the 19th century, the only book for children he ever wrote, and it is a fable, or more precisely, a morality tale. Now I have them sitting together on a small table, a nice souvenir from a good trip!