CHARLES DICKENS AND MY INTRODUCTION TO SILVER

How Charles Dickens introduced me to silver.

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Every evening through the bitter cold Saskatchewan winters our mother read Charles Dickens to us.  The Old Curiosity Shop, Little Nell and her Grandfather was as real to us as the neighbors next door.  That was the year I turned  nine years old, and discovered what I thought was an Old Curiosity Shop.

Nine years old meant I was old enough to go downtown by myself.  I could spend all the time I wanted walking up and down Prince Albert’s Central Avenue.   Looking at books in Adam’s Book Store.  Buying a cherry custard ice cream at McConnell’s.

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It was off a side street I found a shop with a  dirty window crowded with other people’s memories  – walking sticks, stone crocks, faded photographs and mysterious objects I couldn’t identify.  I had discovered my Old Curiosity Shop. When I opened the door a bell tinkled.  The shop was dusty with forgotten pasts.  It smelt of mildew.   Of neglect.   It was wonderful.

The floor creaked.  Bare light bulbs hung from the high ceiling. There was no order.  Clothes tumbled out of trunks.  China plates and bowls teetered precariously.  Ancestral photographs frowned at me.  And then I found the silver.  Tarnished black.   Again it was wonderful.

A bundle of elaborate silver spoons had been thrust carelessly into a green glass canning jar.  The aging price sticker said five cents each.  I had a dime.  I could buy two.  I knew what I could do with them.   Armed with an old tooth brush, silver polish and soft flannel I had been lovingly polishing my mother’s silver candlesticks and tea service for several years.

And that was the start of my obsession with silver  – preferably old, along with my acceptance that all silver will tarnish and life is too short to be polishing your silver with commercial polish every Saturday.  This recipe for cleaning silver is safer (no chemicals), cheaper (house-hold ingredients) and better for your silver.  It returns your silver to incredible brilliance with damaging it.

 

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MAGIC SILVER CLEANING SOLUTION

Aluminum foil, glass dish or plastic bowl, tongs,   1 cup boiling water, 1 tablespoon baking soda, 1 tablespoon sea salt. 1/2 cup white vinegar.

Line your bowl with the foil.  Add the baking soda and sea salt.  Pour in the white vinegar(it fizzes).  Pour in the water.

Lay your silver items – not touching – in the bowl for 10 to 30 seconds depending on the amount of tarnishing.  Longer if they are badly tarnished.  Remove with tongs and rinse under running water.  Then polish with a soft cloth.  (try to avoid touching the silver with your fingers as they will tarnish your silver)

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This amount is perfect for silver jewellery and small items. I made up the amount times eight (8) so I could clean large items.  If you find it not working after cleaning several items simply remove the discolored  foil and replace it with new foil.

Dear friends I did research on this method and I was confident I wasn’t harming my silver.  It is important not to leave the silver in mixture for any length of time. If your have valuable family heirlooms you might want to research this yourself, but it does work a treat on silver plate.  My understanding is continuous use of commercial silver polish actually removes the silver.  This method does not.  The hot water quickly cools but the mixture continues to work.

I absolutely promise your silver will gleam.  I had not polished any silver for almost a year.  It was so tarnished that as I dipped first one side of a silver jug and then went to turn it to the other side the difference was like black and white.    Gather up your collection of silver and polish it all in one go.  It  is like having your own butler from Downton Abby is shining away in the pantry

 

 

 

VALENTINE ROSES FOR A NEW LIFE

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BEL’OCCHIO  …  the beautiful eye

About a million February’s ago I was making plans for a truly splendid Valentine’s Day.  I had recently finished a script for a documentary film.  I had been paid extremely well  and wanted to celebrate this so romantic day in a special manner.

I thought about the loves of my life.  The important people in it.  What they meant to me.  There were several woman who were close friends but had moved to other cities.    Theirs was always the sympathetic ear. The helping hand.  The strong, stand by me attitude.  But they were no longer in my life.  Distance plays havoc with friendships.

I knew that some my friends did not have “significant others” in their lives, and a one struggled with her marriage.    I picked up the phone and ordered a dozen red roses to be sent to each friend.    I was very specific about how they were to be  delivered.  In a long florist box tied with an enormous ribbon.  And, they were to be delivered the day before Valentine Day’s.  I wanted my friends to wake-up on that day to a room fragrant with roses.

I received happy thank-you notes but it was not until three years later did I discover just how much  the roses meant to one of my friends  –   Helen.   Over the years I saw her steadily gaining weight.  By the time she moved away she was more than 100 pounds overweight.

 One evening Helen called.  She was in town briefly.  Would I meet her for a drink at her hotel?  I arrived early, sipped my wine watching for the friend I had not seen for years.  A tall, drop-dead gorgeous blond woman strode into the room.  Heads turned.  Admiring glances from men.  It was Helen.

This was her story.  When she received the roses she knew she had to change her life.  She told me that  of all her friends I was the only one who never suggested  she should loose weight.  She  said she knew that I expected one day she would do it – when the time was right. Helen was in an emotionally abusive marriage.  On that Valentine’s day she started her program for weight loss.  As the pounds dropped away she became stronger and more confident.  Her abusive husband, unable to control this new woman, left her.    My friend Helen got her life back.

 As we travel through this life we have no concept of what a simple act of kindness can do.   We have a responsibility to care about our fellow man.   Perhaps this Valentine’s day one can send roses to their elderly neighbor.   Share your planned romantic dinner with your single friends.  Send cards telling your friends how important they are to you.

From the bottom of my heart a happy Valentine’s day to all who read my blog.

BODACIOUS BLUEBERRY BRAN MUFFINS . . . a snap to make!

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There is several reasons to call this a bodacious bran muffin.   Most bran muffins taste like crushed cardboard .  Then along comes these bodacious bran muffins filled with yogurt and so  bursting with beguiling blueberries  one can’t believe they are good for you too.    That’s the first reason these are bodacious muffins.  The addition of flaxseed meal gives you a good shot of  omega-3.    There is the antioxidant loaded, vitamin rich blueberries.  Then all the wonderful health benefits of bran and Greek yogurt.  Secondly this muffin recipe tastes “let’s have a second one”  delicious.  And lastly – the muffins are a whizz to whip up.  You can even make them the night before, tuck them in the refrigerator and bake them for breakfast.

There is always something baking in MRS.BUTTERFINGERS kitchen.  The recipe for bodacious blueberry bran muffins await you.

FOUR APPLE CAKE . . . It’s a “doodle” to whip up.

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Don’t you just love a cake you can whip up at a moments notice.  A cake that comes out of the oven and is ready to serve almost immediately.   One that is  a doodle to make.  And a cake that everyone immediately  asks for second servings.

The ingredients are simple.  Eggs, sugar, flour and melted butter.  Some flavouring.  Then at least four kinds of apples.  Any kind of apple works although it is a bonus if one of the apples is the “mushy” kind like Spartan or Macintosh, and use some apples that are crisp, some sweet and some tart.

I time this cake so it comes out of the oven  shortly before I plan to serve it.  It is perfection itself savoring this apple cake while it is still warm.  The generous amount of various types of  apples are suspended in a barely there rich, cinnamon flavoured  batter.

The recipe for Four Apple cake  awaits you on MRS.BUTTERFINGERS.

EASY PEASY DIVINE CHOCOLATE CAKE

 

 

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Today is “chocolate cake day”.   Celebrate  with this extravagant version of a favorite treat.

This gorgeously rich chocolate cake is a snap to make.    It is extremely moist and has a lovely texture.  You require nothing but a balloon whisk, two good sized mixing bowls and either two 9 inch cake pans or a 9 by 13 inch pan.    You can serve it with or without frosting.  Just add a big scoop of ice cream.

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The frosting for this cake is the ultimate chocolate cake frosting – ganache.  It contains no icing sugar – simply chocolate and whipping cream, with a little butter and a touch of corn syrup.  Ganache is the sublime concoction that is used to make chocolate truffles.  Whipped into gentle peaks it almost doubles in volume.  Or you can just pour it over your cakes.  Use any type of semi-sweet chocolate for ganache – except chocolate chips.

If you are a neophyte at baking remember baking is science.  In this recipe the combination of baking soda and baking powder is required as a leavening because the cocoa is an alkaline mixture.  Baking soda is required when there is a high alkaline presence.   Amounts must be precise – too much baking soda or baking powder and your cake will fall.

The recipe awaits you at MRS BUTTERFINGERS. 

THE “GRAND DAMES” OF PRINCE ALBERT

The dictionary  defines  “Grande Dames”  as French: a great lady, especially an older one of great dignity or prestige.  Popular culture defines  “Grande Dames” as slightly flamboyant, prone to extravagant and eccentric fashion and excessive costume jewelry.

I was five years old when I first saw Minnie Jones.  My Mother said it was impolite to stare, but I couldn’t help it.  I had never seen anybody like Minnie Jones.  She was small and slim.   Wearing a black coat with a fur collar.  It was June.    Her hair was flaming red.  She wore a black cloche hat with big purple velvet flowers pinned to the side.  But it was her eyes, her enormous kohl rimmed eyes that captivated me.  Her eyes were black, black as raven’s wing.

War broke out and rationing  began.   We grew Victory gardens,  collected tin cans, held patriotic parades  all for the war effort.    Store shelves were bare,  and almost everything was hard to come by.    I would see Minnie Jones  walking the viaduct down Central Avenue  to the shops.  She lived on an acreage at the edge of town.    Sometimes she pulled a large red child’s wagon, and sometimes her large, mixed breed dog did the pulling for her.    She would go to  the service entrance of Eaton’s grocery department and carry home discarded produce and the tissue paper fruit was wrapped in.

Years went by and Minnie Jones continued to make the long walk into town.  Her black coat became green with age.  The flowers were gone from her hat, and I could see the hem of her skirt trailing down under her coat.  But her hair was still a flaming red and her brilliant black eyes still rimmed with kohl.

I’m ten years old, and  I hadn’t  lost my fascination with Minnie Jones my first Grande Dame.    The story goes that  Minnie Jones  walked into  local car dealership.   The war was over and once again they were able to  sell  new cars.    Several salesman were lounging in the show room waiting for customers.    The veteran sales men would have nothing to do with this town character.  They made a newly hired chap deal with her.  Minnie Jones bought two new cars and paid with cash.   The war was indeed over.   Minnie Jones was starting a taxi company.

I was five when I  had my first cat.    I called him Minnie Jones.  Minnie grew  to be a  big bruiser of a tomcat.  The edges of his ears were tattered from frost bite.  I dressed him in old baby clothes, covered his head with a baby bonnet, and wheeled him around the neighborhood.   To this day I continue to have a love affair with cats  I just don’t dress them in baby clothes.

I’m sixteen years old.    My first job,  working at   Woolworth’s five and dime store.    I worked the cosmetic counter.  This is where I met the second of my “grand dames”,  actually two of them.  They were sisters and you never saw one without the other.  They strolled Central Avenue almost every day,  checking out the shops.    They were tall,  slender,  elegantly dressed generally in beautifully tailored skirts and twin sweater sets, and always in pastel colours.   When they came into the store they lingered over the jewellery counter.  They favoured pearls; pearl earrings, pearl necklaces, pearl pins.   But it was the  cosmetic counter they really loved checking out the newest shades of Max Factor powders and lipsticks.  They wore a great deal of make up, heavily rouged cheeks, eyebrows drawn on, dark red lipstick.  People called them the “Calcimine twins”.   (Calcimine is  a type of chalk-like paint used to paint  interior walls. )    The Calcimine Twins” were true “grand dames”  and they introduced a naive sixteen year old girl to the wonders of cosmetics.

I decided  when I grew older I would be like the “calcimine twins”.    I would never appear in public without make-up.      I  would never wear fuddy-duddy old lady clothes.  And, of course I would never, never grow old.

JANUARY’S SOUP . . . FRENCH ONION . . . SO VERY, VERY FRENCH!

THE BEAUTIFUL EYE

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It is my habit to create little  traditions to mark an important occasion or celebrate a new season.  I like to make the unpleasantly  cold days of January the month I serve FRENCH ONION SOUP.

The prices of vegetables are soaring sky high so the savvy cook looks to locally grown vegetables for the dinner table.  FRENCH ONION SOUP is a classic.    The ingredients are readily available.  The soup is easy to make.     Using chicken stock allows the sweet flavour of the onions to sing.   Gussied  up with rich, deeply flavoured  Gruyere cheese it warms the cockles of your heart and impresses guests and family alike.

We had a bumper crop of onions this past summer.  The bins in the cold room are filled with these golden darling and I have been using them lavishly.  Winter on the West Coast can be damp,  bone-chilling cold.  This is the soup I like simmering away  filling the kitchen with its gorgeous earthy flavour.  Then there’s delicious moment when your spoon breaks the cheesy crust and you sip your way into soup heaven.

Be prepared to shed a few mascara streaked tears when you are slicing the onions but it is definitely worth it.  The following recipe for FRENCH ONION SOUP  LES HALLES STYLE is so very, very French.  You’ll love it.