Friday, June 25, 2010

Practical Magic

In the small space of our summer home, extra storage doubles as decoration.
 A plain-and-simple mix of old and new plates and bowls line up on an easy-reach countertop plate rack
--the pure utility of it thrills me.
 The antique ironstone butter dish doesn't store butter anymore--it stashes loose cash.

A few more of my favorite sleight-of-hand kitchen tricks:

+ Pour salt on a red wine spill as soon as it happens and, abracadabra, the salt crystals will drink in the color. Wash the fabric after the party's over. If wine spills on a carpet, apply salt immediately and allow it to dry before vaccuming.

+ My nephew, Ford, says lemon pepper makes most anything taste better. I've tried it on scrambled eggs, sliced tomatoes, stir-fry, fish and chicken dishes, potato salad, soups and sandwiches. He's right. Everything does tastes better!

+ To clean a sticky skillet that's cooled, fill it with water. Heat the water on your stove until the stuck-on ingredients loosen and slip into the water. Wash the pan while it's still warm.

+   +   +

Monday, June 21, 2010

Peaceable Kingdom

The cattle in the pastures beyond the Mayan Riviera remind me of Edward Hicks and his Quaker paintings that espouse 18th century Quietism.
As my sister and our little tour company traveled the backroads, we encountered cattle casually chewing their cuds in the company of birds. Apprarently, the cows are happy to accommodate the birds who peck away at their hides, feasting on insects and parasites they find there--a benefit for both,
 a happy exchange.
Wouldn't it be lovely if everyone on earth 
could get along so peaceably?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Window Treatments

I confess to "having a good stare" whenever I walk about. I stare unabashedly at whatever objects seize my sensibilities or my camera's lens--architecture, nature, art--all with an eye toward stealing snippets and vignettes--photo treasures to take home for ever-longer stares. I'm particularly partial to windows and how they're decorated.

This window seems out of place on a German cobblestone street lined with shops. It hints of a cathedral or abbey but the space behind the windows has a semi-commercial quality. I wonder if the purpose of the building was altered by changes brought on by the Reformation--the window glass is missing but the side curtain of ivy softens the edges.

While pausing at an outdoor cafe in the heart of Austria's idyllic Salzkammeregut Lake District one morning, I am charmed by the cafe's main building and its eyes to the world. Everywhere in this fanciful Mozart-ish country, windows spill brilliant floral waterfalls from their ledges.

I'm enchanted by domestic scenes. This Italian window with a bamboo canopy for grapevines brings me to a standstill--so practical, so simple. Small-space decorating often comes up in my editorial work and this seems like a wonderful idea to pass on to others...a good example of getting the most from a tiny space.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Breaking Bread

I've always loved rustic handcrafted breads resembling those that 16th century monks and peasants baked to sell at village markets. Perfect with wine, cheese and friends.

Besides tearing pieces from the loaf in a peasant-like, down-to-earth way, I also like to break bread with friends using the herringbone method. Here's how:

+ Use a good serrated knife and gentle sawing motions.
+ Cut a 1-inch-wide wedge off one edge of the loaf. Cut another wedge at one end of the first cut in the opposite direction, angling into the body of the loaf.
+ Return to the first side and cut parallel to the first cut to make the first slice. Repeat on the opposite side.
+ Continue this pattern, alternating the cuts from side to side.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Morning Mass

The peonies are falling all over themselves in Iowa, the weight of their blooms taking them to the ground. These are the last of them--the only way to hang onto them a little longer is to ask them to stand still for the camera.