Friday, December 27, 2013

The IMPENDING Demise of 2013

Ah, yes, finally...

The much anticipated conclusion of this dreadful, horrid year is nigh.  We shall celebrate on Monday with sparkly things and a new chapter of "A Recipe for Punch."  Let the countdown begin.

Cue Guy Lombardo.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Twas the Night Before Christmas, 2013, Stalking the Belle Époque Style

Twas the night before Christmas, about 10:30
When Joseph was nestled next to his Bertie
The two had packed a nice Christmas hamper
With goodies to bring to "Grandma" and "Grandpa."

The Bertie Dog was snoring like a freight train
And Joseph was dreaming of George the Fifth's reign
Within the dim house the chandeliers glistened
And though he was sleeping, Bertie still listened.

When out from the porch, they heard some faint scratching,
And they both wondered what Stumpy was hatching.
Through the window, they saw a bloke with a hunch,
And knew at once, it was their dear Mr. Punch.

"You there, my Chum, with the face sort of pale,
Did you know that your poor cat has no tail?"
With a soft blanket and a pat on the head
Our dear Mr. Punch made Stumpy Cat a bed.

And as he came inside, that puppet so wise
Said, "Merry Christmas to my two favorite guys.
And just so you'll know how sure I am of that,
this year I brought you a big orange cat."

"I call him Oscar and oh, he's a pip.
Keep him well fed and drunk on catnip.
Let him know that he's safe with a bit of a snuggle
So, he can forget, that he once had a struggle."

"See...Doggies and kitties and fat fishes that swim,
Horses and lizards, and big monkeys so grim.
Why! Even you humans with all of your hair,
Must always remember that someone should care."

With Joseph's sure nod and a wag of Bert's tail,
They retired to share a glass of wassail
And finding that no one still has such a drink
They gobbled fine cookies 'til they could not think.

And then, back to bed, sure that nothing could fail
Bertie, Punch, Joseph, Oscar,  and the cat with no tail
Knew that they should wish, from their heads to their socks,
"Yes, Happy Christmas, to all, from Stalking the Belle Époque."

Christmas Eve Special: Merry Mania

As you prepare for the coming holiday, enjoy this vintage foolishness and mayhem.

Up first, get into the spirit with some orphan suffering.

Next, raise the cup that cheers, but doesn't inebriate as a beautiful lady squirrel hosts a Christmas circus.

And then with Little Audrey and some ethnic stereotypes.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Treat of the Week: 2013 Christmas Cookie Edition

As this dreadful year finally draws to its much-needed conclusion, I must admit, I have been enjoying the end-of-year festivities.  Among them, are the annual Christmas cookies which my mother makes.

Sunday with my parents began with a lovely and light frittata with a salad of broccolini, chickpeas, tomatoes and sun-dried tomatoes with crusty rolls.  

As much as I enjoyed that, it was with much anticipation that I awaited the unveiling of the cookies.

One batch of cookies from scratch is a lot of work, but to do this many is nothing short of miraculous. Each cookie and piece of candy is carefully planned, prepared and decorated. 

Let’s take a look at these delicious masterpieces.

We have chocolate-dipped Sugar Squares.  These tender sugar cookie squares are dipped in white and dark chocolate and then adorned with sprinkles for a wonderful candy-like kick.

Joining these are Pecan Tassies drizzled with melted milk chocolate.  These tarts begin with a delicate cream cheese dough, filled with chopped pecans, brown sugar, bourbon and chocolate chips. A true Southern delight!

Among my favorites are the Praline Cookies: Chewy sugar cookies with a nutty flavor are topped with glorious pecan pralines.

The annual battle for the Butterscotch Cookies has begun.  Each year we fight over who gets the last of these beautiful butterscotch cookies. Soft and delicious, they’re iced with a melt-in-your mouth butterscotch frosting, adorned with sanding sugar.

A decades-old tradition--“Aunt Ida” Cookies: my mom has been making this cookies since she was a little girl. Cream cheese dough pillows are filled with alternating mixtures of assorted nuts, chocolate, brown sugar, cinnamon, apricots, cranberries, raisins and cherries. Dusted with cinnamon and confectioner’s sugar, these are a family tradition that’s eagerly awaited each year.

I also have fond memories of Chocolate Icebox Cookies.  In fact, most of my memories are food related.  But, I recall eating these rich chocolate rounds as a child.  I was just as delighted by them then as I am now.  The chocolate dough is formed into a log which his then rolled in chopped walnuts.  After they're baked and cooled, they are topped with a thick later of melted dark chocolate. 

Gingerbread Cookies: For as long as I remember, my mother’s famous gingerbread cookies have graced the Christmas table. Trees, bells, Santas, reindeer, and people of assorted sizes, my mother decorates each one by hand. Each little person has his or her own personality. It’s almost a shame to eat them—almost.

Shortbread Cookies: Tender, wonderful shortbread is decorated with sprinkles and dark chocolate—cut in the shape of Westies like my Bertie. Chocolate shortbread Scotties are a perfect companion with their ribbons of white chocolate. This gives “dog biscuits” a whole new meaning. 

Pinwheels Cookies are new this year.  These cinnamon swirled drizzled in white glaze and chocolate are a tender delight.

The Plum Bobs have made a comeback!  A favorite from years past, these nutty-buttery tarts are dotted with centers of plum jam.

Pfeffernussen  are German spice cookies with a distinct peppery flavor. Ground pepper, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and clove create a delightful sharp note which contrasts with the confectioners' sugar with which they are snowily dusted.

Pralines: Pecans suspended in fudge or the traditional brown-sugar praline mixture, this is one of my favorite candies. I’ve been known to eat as many as I can get my little hands on.

Peppermint Bark: My mother’s homemade peppermint bark is always a treat. Dark and white chocolate punctuated with crushed candy canes—nothing says Christmas more.

Assorted Sweetmeats: Made in festive molds, these candies of dark, milk and white chocolate are filled with nuts and fruit making for a sweet, tender, crunchy, chewy, glorious snack.

Assorted Candies: In the shapes of stars, toys and rosettes, these candies of dark, milk and white chocolate have a colorful surprise on the reverse—a lush coating of brilliant sprinkles.

Here's hoping that the end of this year is as delicious for the rest of you!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Holiday Posting Schedule

Hello all,

Being as it's the week of Christmas, Bertie, Mr. Punch and I will be taking off some time.  In light of that, regular posting will be rather spotty.  The next chapter of A Recipe for Punch is planned for December 30, 2013.  In the meantime, you can catch up with any chapters you might have missed to date in the Chapter Archive.  It'll give you a chance to see what's going on at Fallbridge Hall and to meet Punch's Auntie Morgana.  She's a lobster gal.  

This coming week, though I won't be posting regularly, that doesn't mean I won't be entirely away from my keyboard.  You never know what I might be up to.  So, pay a visit and see what sort of holiday hijinks I can throw your way.


Mastery of Design: An Automaton by Fabergé, circa 1900

Elephant Automaton
Carl Fabergé, circa 1900
Gold, Enamel, Silver, Ivory, Diamonds, Rubies
Presented to King George V by Queen Mary, 1929
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Here’s a peculiar and lovely little thing. When one thinks of Carl Fabergé, the mind immediately presents images of enameled and jeweled objects, and mostly, eggs. That’s, indeed, what we have here. However, it’s got the added bonus of being an automaton.

Every so often, Fabergé would sneakily slip a jeweled automaton as a surprise into one of his celebrated eggs. This one, however, came all on its own. The gold and enamel figure of an elephant features silver details, rose-cut diamonds and cabochon rubies as well as ivory inlay. Wound with a key, the elephant “walks” by means of wee silver wheels in his elephant feet. He also swings his head back and forth and raises and lowers his trunk. His articulated tail will, occasionally, spin. He’s being “ridden” by a golden rider with an ivory turban.

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
via The Royal Collection Trust
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Click image to enlarge.

This gorgeous automaton was given to King George V by Queen Mary (of Teck) for Christmas, 1929. Isn’t it wonderful? The elephant was kept in a vitrine with a collection of other Fabergé animals. (The others didn’t move.) Always organized, Queen Mary kept the box in which the elephant had been delivered and placed a detailed note inside the box which contained instructions on how to operate the automaton.

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
via The Royal Collection Trust
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Click image to enlarge.

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
via The Royal Collection Trust
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Click image to enlarge.

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
via The Royal Collection Trust
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Click image to enlarge.

Seasonal Silliness Continues: Happy Howl-i-days

Silent night, silly night...settle in with some Sugarplum Nightmares 
First with Hector the Dog.

And Rudolph (the Jam Handy version). Enjoy Rudolph's mom's fine legs.

And, finally, follow the bouncing hen fruit.

Her Majesty's Furniture: The Christmas Table, 1855

The Victoria & Albert Museum

This table, created in the style of Louis XVI features marquetry of tulipwood among other woods, with mounts of gilded and silvered bronze and a frieze set with a porcelain plaque

Queen Victoria (r. 1837-1901) ordered this small French table as a Christmas present for her husband, Prince Albert, in 1855. The porcelain plaque on the front frieze shows their joint monogram, ‘VA’.

The gift of the table was meant as a souvenir of their state visit to the Emperor Napoleon III in France earlier in 1855, a visit which also coincided with the Exposition Universelle in Paris. This elaborate exhibition was France’s pointed response to the British success of the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Queen Victoria visited the Paris exhibition three times, enjoying it immensely. However, she did not order this table until she returned to London. The table is the work of the firm of Edouard Kreisser. It was accompanied by a matching cabinet. Both the table and the cabinet were known to be at Osborne House in the late-nineteenth—located in the Small Drawing Room or Audience Room. It is not known when or how the table left the Royal Collection, but I have no doubt that Queen Mary didn’t know it was missing or she’d have found a way to get it back.

The table resurfaced in 1964 when it was known to be with the dealers of Kerrins in London. It was then purchased by Mr. George Farrow, who presented it to the V&A.

Sunday Sparkle: The Cooper Christmas Pendant, 1906

The Victoria & Albert Museum

The Cooper Christmas Pendant consists of a Madonna and Child within a jeweled niche, suspended within a circular wire frame which has been adorned with stars. The pendant is hung with an additional circular pendant and drop below, while above, a dove descends between the two chains that connect the suspension loop. The piece flickers with the colors and lights of hand-worked silver and gold with rubies, aquamarines, sapphires, opals and chrysoprases.

This is the work of John Paul Cooper whose artistry as a jeweler was celebrated at the 1906 Arts and Crafts Exhibition. Studio Magazine praised Cooper’s work for its sculptural qualities and for its originality during a period when other exhibitors' work appeared rather formulaic and staid.

The shimmer, rich colors, rounded cabochon-cut stones, plain bezels and the hand-worked silver seen here are typical of Arts and Crafts jewelry. Cooper favored figural subjects and he often worked with spiritual and symbolic themes.

Mastery of Design: Queen Mary's Jade Box, 1910

Jade and Diamond Box
England, 1910
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
via The Royal Collection Trust
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Mrs. Whitelaw Reid presented this handsome box of white jade to Queen Mary, Consort of King George V for Christmas of 1910. I’m not sure if she did it willingly or if she was gently prodded into doing so, but she did it nonetheless. 

The rectangular box of white jade with green veins features a hinged cover which has been set, at the center, with brilliant cut diamonds in a silver crown. The foliate hinge and clasp mounts, similarly set. The lower mount of the gold rim is enameled on the outside with medium blue guilloché stripe.

Sunday Morning Special: “Christmas Comes But Once a Year,” 1936

Another of the treasured “Sugar Plum Nightmares,” this Max Fleischer cartoon from 1936 features his character, “Grampy,” the nutty inventor as he tries to bring some joy to a group of orphans by creating dangerous Christmas gifts for them out of forks, cheese graters and percolating coffee pots.  Sure, they may scald themselves, cut their little fingers, swallow small parts and break their necks, but by jiminy, they’re going to have a happy Christmas thanks to Grampy and his craftiness.  And, yet, the big question I have is “why does the dog live in a cuckoo clock?”  As I’ve said before of 30’s-era cartoons, expect lots of knee-bending and bobbing up and down.  And, of course, yes, the song will stick in your head until 2015. Merry Christmas.    It's coming.