Saturday, August 31, 2013

Now officially on the count-down to a homecoming!

When Ranger called to say he and his buddies were stepping onto their bird, his father and I were standing in an antique mall where he was reading to me from a book he'd just found (and later bought)... He read:

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. -- I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. -- Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will triumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776

We're on the count-down to a homecoming now... On we go!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Atlanta Antiquing, How to Clean Vintage Glass... And, making Vanilla Sugar!

I shared our discovery of Kudzu, the antique market we visited
in Atlanta on the way down to Ft. Benning on Friday morning here;
however, there was more antiquing waiting for us on the way home!
Honestly, as fun as combing through objects in hopes of finding a treasure
or two to bring home can be, antiquing during these trips is also a very
necessary distraction. The drive home is always longer and more lonely
than the drive down to see our Ranger. Six and a half hours of replaying
how he seemed and the words spoken and unspoken between us... It's a lot
to think about. Too much to think about. Therefore, to break up our trip and
thoughts, we search out antique shops... Like Kudzu and Peachtree Battle!
What an exquisite collection of treasures... And, just like Kudzu, we
met the nicest people you could imagine! My beloved found a set of
books worthy of being added to his collection and me... I found this!
A set of tea and hot water pots on a trivet by Hall China!
Not particularly rare but complete, in absolutely perfect condition...
And, made in the USA!

I'm thrilled to have it and, I plan to use these little pots too!
If you find yourself nearby, Peachtree Battle Antiques
is currently having a fantastic summer sale...
Everything was 20% off yesterday, which
meant my little pot tea set was only $40!
Another shop on our list of stops was Antiques and Beyond. Before I
show you some of their treasures, I must tell you about Jacqueline... Because
while my GPS insisted on parking us in traffic, Jacqueline was able to get
us through Atlanta and to her shop virtually traffic-jam free! A and B was
worth finding. They had several pairs of bronze bookends that are now
at home here and, lucky-me... I stumbled on more vintage canning jars!
Although there were three I picked up at Kudzu already in
the Jeep, I was particularly interested in this collection
since many of these jars included zinc flower frog lids!
I love the idea of arranging beautiful cut flowers
in these jars so flower frogs are a must!
I didn't notice it until I got home...
But the sweet lady at Kuduz discounted the three jars I purchased there!
How nice was that?
Cleaning vintage finds can be tricky. They don't make things the way
they used to... Some treasures aren't meant for the dishwasher and great
care must be taken when cleaning and/or polishing our new treasures!
For glass jars and vases I find that nothing beats mild detergent,
quality bottle brushes and good old hot and cold running water!
Since I checked them at the shop for cracks, nicks and
chips, I already knew my jars were perfect so I needed to take
no additional precautions to avoid being scratched or cut!
I rarely buy anything that isn't in perfect condition; however, just
to ensure I don't get hurt by something I overlooked or a weakness
that develops during cleaning, I always pull on my sturdy rubber gloves!
Since most of my delicate glassware is carefully washed by hand, I
keep these rubber sink mats in the bottom of my sinks at all times
to protect it. As a bonus, these mats protect my sink bottoms too!
To keep mats looking clean and smelling fresh, I simply toss them
into the dishwasher with my dishes whenever I find it necessary!
As much as I wish vendors wouldn't place price stickers onto
glass, many do and they can be awfully tricky to remove without
making a mess. Especially when the sticker is on an item that cannot
be fully immersed in hot soapy water. However, with jars, stickers
like this don't stand a chance! After just a few minutes soaking...
The sticker and adhesive residue rubs right off!
Some even pop off completely intact!
All of my jars are now perfectly clean and sticker free!
To dry my jars, I first allowed them to drain...
Then I moved them to the edge of my
cutting board to allow air to circulate inside!
After a few minutes, I dry the inside and outside of my jars with a soft bar towel
To ensure every bit of moisture is absorbed, I insert a paper towel into
my jars. Paper towels wick up moisture, even without touching the sides
of the glass. It's like magic! In fact, it's the only way to completely dry the
squeeze bottles I use to decorate cookies and narrow flower vases too!
Next time you have a vase, jar or bottle that absolutely must be bone-dry,
leave a paper towel in it overnight and you'll see... It works every time!
To make room for my new collection of vintage Ball and
Atlas canning jars I needed to relocate some of my Pyrex...
Pyrex is an excellent example of older glassware that must only be washed
by hand. If you appreciate and enjoy the colors and the charming decorations
that make vintage Pyrex so collectible like I do... Then to preserve them, you
must never, ever put them into your dishwasher. As someone once did here!
While this piece remains perfectly functional, its
once vibrant gold design is now all but gone forever!
Fortunately it was a mistake that was made only once!
Nevertheless, once was enough for me!
Now that my new canning jars are all clean and dry, it's time to put them to good use!

This Atlas mason jar is begging to be my newest vanilla sugar vessel!
First, I begin with the best sugar on the planet, Dixie Crystals! If you cannot
find Dixie Crystals in your area, it might be under the brand Imperial Sugar!
Then add vanilla beans. These can be whole beans you haven't used yet,
which is what I use. Or, they can be open pods from where you've scraped
out the fragrant vanilla beans. If you use these, just be sure the pods are
completely dry before you place them into your sugar. Allowing them to
air-dry overnight always does the trick. After the pods are nice and dry...
Place them into your sugar and, in as little as a few days you'll have
vanilla sugar that only gets better and better over time! After the lady
I met at Kudzu tasted one of my cookies, she said it was truly the best
chocolate chip cookie she had ever eaten. When she asked for the recipe
and I told her it's on the back of the Nestle's bag, she told me that didn't
seem at all possible. Then she asked if I used real butter or anything else
special. I told her that I always use real, unsalted butter in my baking
but I also use vanilla paste and my own vanilla sugar. Like this!
Thanks for the suggestion to use this beautiful jar for
my vanilla sugar belongs to my dear friend David!
Although I could have used a larger cabinet, I purposely cleaned
out one of the smaller cabinets in my kitchen to display these jars...
Because we collectors of vintage kitchen
goodies can easily become carried away!
Of course that's never happened to me... Ha!

Thank you to everyone sending us your best wishes and prayers for our Ranger's safe return from what is his fifth deployment. As we left him yesterday, he hugged me and said, "I'll be home in a little while." As he said those words, I was immediately transported back to a simpler, less scary time... A time when Ranger was newly licensed to drive and would promise to be home, in a little while whenever I called to remind him dinner was ready and we were waiting on him. 

On we go!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Bridal Tea Cookies, Deployment Cookies and, Kudzu!

Five minutes before I finished cutting out 400 cookies to donate to
the BIKE MS bake sale at the dream job, I received an e-mail
from a former coworker asking if I would create cookies for a very
special bridal shower she was hosting this weekend. Despite feeling
very tempted to never touch another cookie cutter so long as I live...
And, despite receiving the call that this was the weekend
we would have to rush down to Ft. Benning in order to
squeeze our Ranger before his 5th deployment back
to Afghanistan... I still found it impossible to say no!

So... With a gentle reminder from this vintage
German plaque to Create Gladly, I got started!
My friend's wish was to delight guests attending the Bridal Tea with some
of my decorated sugar cookies in the shape of wedding gowns, teacups and
teapots. I was asked to incorporate a touch of the bride's color as well!
Perhaps it was the crush of creating 400 cookies just ten days ago... Or
maybe it's because I was ordered to stay off my feet for the past seven
weeks to allow my Achilles tendon to heal... Which by the way, being
confined to the house has me missing the dream-job more than I ever
imagined would be possible! Or maybe it's a little of all that on top of
the call regarding Ranger's deployment date being certain; but bottom
line, when the time came to create teapots and teacups, I simply had
nothing left. For the first time that I can remember, I felt entirely...
Uninspired! Then, I realized that all my little teapots and
teacups needed to tie them to a Bridal Tea was a little Love!
So I grabbed the tiny heart-shaped cookie cutter from my
Martha by Mail collection and, I cut hearts into the handles!
Nothing inspires like Love!
Not only did Love solve the dilemma of how to transform simple
teapot and teacup cookies into cookies worthy of a Bridal Tea...
The resulting heart cut-out made the
perfect miniature cookies to go with them!
Because everyone knows you can't have tea without cookies!
Isn't that right?
Honestly, how cute are these tiny heart cookies?
Suddenly, it all came together and I
couldn't wait for my friend to see them!
You know, it's funny how things work out...
My friend happens to live near Charlotte so finding out that
we had to leave a day before she planned to come pick up
the cookies seemed like a problem. However, since we were
driving right through Charlotte on our way to Ft. Benning...
Problem solved!
We met early this morning and guess what...
My friend loved the cookies!
I couldn't help but hold back one teapot and teacup set to send to
my mom... This week was her birthday and in the package of gifts I
sent, I included one of the bicycle cookies I created. Sadly, it did
not arrive in one piece... But that's okay because unless my cookies
arrive broken, my mother will not eat them! She tells me they are
too pretty to eat... However, since the bike was broken she enjoyed
it with her evening tea. I can't wait to hear what she thinks of these!
These wedding gown cookies were created with what has become
my go-to cookie cutter for wedding-favor cookies. It is of course, by
wardrobe of dress shapes and I used most of them here. But when
given a choice, this is the shape that always wins for weddings!
Shhhh! Don't tell... But I may have recently
added a pink cake stand to my collection!
In terms of how I decorated the wedding gowns...
Each is different; however, I kept it simple with an elegant
white-on-white royal icing design. To complete them, I
tied a silky ribbon in the bride's color around the waist!
When decorating cookies with ribbon, I always choose a transparent
fabric because it allows the icing decoration to show through...
See? No cover-up!
It's always a little hard to let them go...
But imaging about how much they'll be enjoyed always helps!
Ready to go!
Remember that collection of copper cookie cutters that found me
last month? You might remember that I told you I planned to sell
all of the duplicates to help fund my hunt for some more of the
Martha by Mail sets missing from my collection... Well, I'm happy
to share with you that last week, I was successful in acquiring Dogs II!
I still cannot believe it's finally mine! I've wanted this little Scottie-dog
cutter for so, so long... I wish I had it when I created this cake for my
boss since it resembles her Sweet Pea... But that's okay. I have it now!
I'm still hunting the Baby Shower cookie cutter set from the Martha by Mail
cookie cutter collection... But at least I can finally check Dogs II off my list!
Although I've been up to my eyeballs in cookies lately,
there was still some baking left for me to do last night!
You see, after I packed our suitcases I decided I just couldn't show up
empty handed... After all, it's going to be a very hectic few days for our
Ranger and his battle buddies as they prepare to deploy. So what better
to leave for them than a six tins of homemade chocolate chip cookies!
But not just any chocolate chip cookies... Yes, I whipped up three batches of
Nestle's Toll House cookies, and two batches of chocolate cookies with Reese's
peanut butter chips mixed in... But I also made my dear friend David's delicious
Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies! If you haven't already, you absolutely must
bake some now! I won't even try adding to David's already-perfect description of
these treats... They are simply the best combination of chocolate and fruit, ever!
Ranger has always been a Reese's peanut butter cup fan. So these were a must!
Not pretty at all... But stupid-easy to make and, they taste just
like a Reese's peanut butter cup turned into a chewy cookie!
To pack all of these cookies, I used these Bake it Forward tins
from Imperial Sugar. You can learn more about the story here!
These tins are perfect! Not only do they fit exactly into the USPS's APO, AE
flat-rate shipping boxes I use to send Ranger and his buddies care packages...
My cookies always arrive in one piece, no matter what type of cookies I ship!
The message on the top of these tins also lets the people
we love know their happiness is very important to us!
Honestly... What's better than that?
I used Ranger-yellow tissue paper and
Red, White and Blue twine... Of course!
Before I close, I must tell you about a truly spectacular find today!
And no, it's not the train rack I picked up at the
Pottery Barn outlet. Although that was pretty sweet!
No, I'm referring to Kudzu. Not the invasive vine eating the South, silly!
I'm talking about the amazing Antique market on the outskirts of
downtown Atlanta! Today marks our 15th trip to Ft. Benning; and yet,
somehow we've managed to miss Kudzu every time. Until today, that is!
I was especially excited to find this collection of vintage mason
jars like the one David uses to store vanilla sugar in his kitchen!
I keep vanilla beans in the sugar dedicated for use in my sugar cookie
recipe too; however, I thought it was high time I had a few jars like David!
I'm glad I phoned him because while I would have gladly paid $32 for the
first half-gallon jar I found... After speaking with David, I learned that price
is probably at the top of the range I should expect to pay. So I kept looking!
And, it paid off! Because I found this lot, priced just $22 for 1/2 gallon
jars, $16 for the middle size you see there and only $12 for pints!
By the way, it was 95 degrees in Atlanta today and much too warm to
leave Ranger's cookies in the Jeep while we shopped. So I brought them
into Kudzu with me. The people there were so kind to watch my tote
full of cookies that I passed out a few to thank them. Two of the sweet
ladies helping at the register said they were the best cookies ever!
Oh, to have a kitchen large enough for this stainless steel pot rack
and work table would be a dream... If your kitchen is big enough,
you better hurry to Kudzu and snap it up before it disappears!