Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Extraordinary History of Ordinary Objects: My Dining Room Table

This is my dining room table. Nothing remarkable, really. Just an average small, square, oak table. It used to set in my Mamaw and Papaw's house. Mamaw cleaned it up and refinished it some 50 years ago after it was given to The Big A (Papaw) from his aunt.
The table is one of a kind, but you can find the chairs here.

Aunt Delphia was a sister to The Big A's father, Homer Rogers. Delphia married Chester Black and they moved to Lexington where they lived and worked on various horse farms before finally settling at Maine Chance Farm, just off Newtown Pike.
From all accounts Maine Chance seemed to suit the Blacks just fine with Chester working in the stables as a groom and a sort of man-of-all-work. Delphia worked in the house and became close with the farm's owner, one Elizabeth Arden.
Yes, that Elizabeth Arden.
Ms. Arden bought Maine Chance in the '40s after making her fortune in cosmetics and skin care, naming the farm after her first spa in Maine. Maine Chance produced such famous horses as Star Pilot, Beaugay, Ace Admiral, and the 1947 Kentucky Derby winner Jet Pilot.
Chester and Delphia lived in a little house on the farm that was part of their salary and occasionally Ms. Arden, being friendly with Delphia, would pass on bits of furniture and the such from the main hosuse to help furnish the Black's home. This dining room table was one such item. Given its small size it probably set in a kitchen or breakfast nook or sitting room inside Maine Chance Farm's main residence.
The Big A recounts that the table came to them in the early 1960's as a gift from Aunt Delphia. Presumably to help furnish the home they were building at around the same time.
Shortly thereafter in 1966 Ms. Arden passed away and Maine Chance Farm passed to the University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture where it has become a center for the college's breeding program and research into equine diseases and disabilities.
The Big A wasn't sure what happened to Delphia and Chester after Ms. Arden's passing. He thought they stayed on at Maine Chance for a while as caretakers before moving on to another horse farm in the area.
The table lives on in my humble dining room. Mamaw had found and refinished some oak parsons-type chairs for use in her house. I chose instead to mix it up a bit with some Tolix bistro chairs. I find it somewhat reassuring, though, that no matter how the table has been accessorized it retains its sturdy integrity. The thing must be at tleast a hundred years old and looks like it could last a hundred more. But it will always be, at least in my family, the Maine Chance Table.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Extraordinary History of Ordinary Objects: Mamaw Nipper's Rocking Chair

Do you have objects in your home that aren't necessarily valuable, monetarily speaking, but that mean a great deal to you? The kind of stuff that gets passed down through families. Items that are sometimes honored, but more often than not forgotten. And even if the item in question is in use in your home, you may have forgotten its history. Where it came from. Who it belonged to originally. What was its original purpose?
I seem to have quite a bit of those kinds of objects lying around my little house up here on the hill. Most of them are ordinary things. Nothing special, really. But more often than not the story behind one of these objects is more valuable to me than the object itself.
I thought that I would start this story with my Mamaw Nipper's rocking chair. Mamaw Nipper was my great-grandmother. The mother of my beloved Mamaw Carolyn, my mom's mom. So I suppose you could say that this particular family heirloom is strictly maternal. The mother of my mother's mother.

The rocking chair itself isn't particularly valuable. In fact I'd say it's probably rather cheap. The construction is not of the highest quality - although the thing has held together for well over fifty years so I guess that's something. I couldn't begin to tell you what species of wood it may have been made of. The varnish is thick, shiny, and completely worn away in places. The gold accents and stenciling seem to me to be hallmarks of mass production.
And yet, it's that very finish, or lack thereof, that gives me such a fondness for the piece.
Mamaw Nipper died when I was about 5. I don't remember a whole lot about her. I can recall that she was a small woman. She lived in a small house in Morgan County. I think I can remember chickens in the yard and a wide front porch. I remember that you walked into the house right into the living room. The kitchen was off to the left and the bedroom was just behind the living room. It seems to me that there may have been more rooms to the house that were blocked off perhaps because they were unused, but I can't really recall. I think maybe that her kitchen chairs had sparkles in them. And I can definitely remember that she had a tiny television with rabbit ears that set in the living room where my Papaw Nipper would set and watch 'wrastling'. His favorite was Andre the Giant. How weird that I remember that.
I can't really remember where in the living room the rocking chair was placed but I can remember as clear as anything my Mamaw Nipper setting in that chair with her thin arms resting on the arms of the rocking chair and as she would rock she would rub her hands back and forth over the ends of the arms of the chair. Over and over. Back and forth, back and forth. I don't know how long this had been her habit, probably from time immortal. The varnish on the ends of the arms of this rocking chair has been worn away since before I can remember. Since before my mom can remember.
But I do remember. I remember my Mamaw setting in that chair, rubbing her hands back and forth. And that is exactly what I do, too. Every time I set there.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

Here we go again. The weather man says polar vortex. BOOOOOO!!!
I am officially sick of winter. I would like to go on record and let it be known that I am done with this weather. Snow is OK. Even cold weather is kind of nice. I mean, I love a nice snugly sweater just as much as the next guy. But weeks of below freezing temps to the point that my poor Kentucky rated heat pump can't keep up. And ice topped snow covering the ground for so long that the deer are forced to eat my landscaping, well that's another story.
However, I will say that there is one decent thing about being stuck inside for long periods of time. It tends to make one a bit bored. And as we all know boredom tends to run into surfing endless youtube videos.
I found these guys, a Bluegrass band from Alabama, and their awesome covers of. . .well, not Bluegrass songs. Ladies and Gentlemen I give you,
Iron Horse
and their cover of Elton John's Rocketman.

And if that wasn't impressive enough for you, how about their Bluegrass cover of Metallica's metal anthem, Enter Sandman. That's right, I said a Bluegrass version of Sandman.

Iron Horse decided that Bluegrass's high lonesome sound is so compatible with Metallica's almost orchestral metal that they made a whole cover CD - Fade to Bluegrass. Do yourself a favor and check it out, along with their other offerings here.
You're welcome!

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Winter of Our Discontent

Have you ever had one of those Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad . . .Months? How about a couple of them?
I believe that it all began at Christmas. The Captain and I had pulled off the mother of all surprises for the babies this year. A surprise so big that we will never be able to top it. Well, probably not.
I myself thought that spending the New Year at The Happiest Place on Earth would be setting a precedent for the rest of the year. Surely 2014 would be the best year ever.
Yeah, well, not so much.
We did in fact have a most excellent time at Walt Disney World. Even though it rained. Even though it was chilly. Even though I had to ice my poor old broken down foot at the end of every day. We had a great time. It was like those commercials for Disney World that you see on TV. The kids were great. No one fought. We had Fast Passes for most of the rides we wanted and barely had to wait in line. We had reservations at some great restaraunts. Oh, and I got to meet one of my life-long loves, Winnie-the-Pooh.
The magic pretty much ended directly upon leaving Magic Kingdom.
Somewhere between Atlanta and Knoxville a rock hit our windshield. And it chipped. Nothing major, just a little chip really. Still it needed to be fixed. No big problem, you would think.
Then it started to snow. And snow. And snow. Oh, and it got cold. Real cold. Well, you know. You were there.
Turns out you can't really fix a glass windshield when it's below freezing outside and what started out as a teeny tiny little chip turned into a big ol' crack, about 14 inches long, covering the passengers side of my windshield. Luckily those other TV commercials are also true and those window guys really will come right to your house and replace your windshield just like that.
Another little side effect of the extreme cold is that it will make metal brittle. I took high school physics. I know how it works. Still it was something of a shock to have my garage door spring bust and the garage door come crashing down. I was also somewhat shocked at just how much weight that garage door spring bears. Turns out a garage door is damn near impossible to raise without the help of said spring. Who knew?
Apparently having to park out in the driveway during sub-zero temperatures day after day and night after night will contribute to a small crack in a windsheld turning into a large crack in  a windsheld. There's physics for ya' again.
So in between X-rays and MRI's for the aforementioned broke down foot, we had to find someone to fix a garage door spring. Not as easy as one might imagine. But finally a nice Menonitte guy from just over the ridge was able to fix it and the door works better than new.
And this is where things took a turn for the worse.
When I was growing up we had this dog. A fine German Shorthair Pointer named Queenie. I remember when we went with The Old Man to pick her up, a gangly liver-colored pup, all legs and  bark. We had her all growing up and even though The Old Man maintained that she wasn't much we all knew that his disdain for her was that he knew, like we all knew, that she was in fact smarter than him. Smartest damn dog I ever did see. She could open door knobs. Seriously.
Queenie, despite all The Old Man's protestations otherwise, was actually a pretty decent bird dog and went on to birth several litters of pups who went on to become damn fine bird dogs in their own right. Just after The Captain and I were married Queenie had her last litter of pups. The Old Man promised us one and since we had just bought a house and had a back yard just begging for a dog we took him up on the offer. Queenie had four pups. Two males and two females. We chose the fattest of the males and named him Blitz. We thought it a good German name for a good German dog.
Blitz got real big real quick and he never really made much of a bird dog. But he sure was a good pet.
Peanut was about 2 when he was born and Blitz grew to be very protective of her and in turn Bubbo. Any time the kids would go outside Blitz would bark until either The Captain or myself would go out to assure him that the kids were supervised. Likewise if the kids were out playing and left his line of sight Blitz would bark until they returned to where he could see them. He was an excellent guard dog and when he topped out at about 110 pounds (easily the biggest of his breed I've ever seen) he was certainly intimidating.
Time went on. The kids grew. We built a bigger house with a bigger yard and moved and Blitz moved with us. We added to our fur family with another dog, a Basset Hound named Tater and a couple of cats, supposedly to keep the mice away. And all this time Blitz was growing older and older. But in the way of dogs you don't ever really notice how old your furry friend has gotten until he has gotten real old.
Blitz had always had what you might call little doggie skin tags all throughout his life, but as he grew older one of the growths grew bigger. And he developed more of them. And then this winter the one that was the biggest became inflamed and infected. Eventually Blitz quit barking at the mailman and even quit eating. At the end he weighed maybe 80 pounds. When his appetite went we knew.
I've had dogs my whole life. The Old Man is a certifiable dog junkie. I don't think I ever remember a time when we didn't have at least a couple of old hunting dogs around the house. And through all that time there were, of course losses. Dogs get old and die. Dogs get hit by cars. And sometimes you even have to love the dog enough to help him die.
But Blitz was different. He was The Captain's and mine first dog. The very first furry addition to our little family. And now we had to hold him and love on him while we said goodbye to him. To be honest I really didn't expect to miss that old dog as much as I do. But there it is. I just about cry every time I pull into the driveway and Blitz isn't there to greet me.
I know from past experience that it eventually gets easier. And it does help to know that he's not hurting anymore. We had to have him cremated, of all things, because when he died to ground was frozen solid and even though I didn't want to say goodbye I wasn't going to keep him here in pain while I selfishly used the excuse of waiting for the ground to thaw.
We've been remembering all the great things about Blitz. Like how he kept turtles for pets. And how before Queenie passed she would come to stay with us sometimes when The Old Man went out of town, and Blitz would automatically defer to her despite being twice her size. And how a few years ago there was that terrible wind storm that blew a tree on top of his kennel. Luckily Blitz wasn't hurt but when we finally got the tree cut enough to open the kennel door he threw all 110 pounds of himself into my arms for me to hold him like he was a puppy. Those memories will always be with us even though Blitz can't be.
We got him back from the vet today in a lovely little carved wooden box. In the spring we plan to bury him out at the farm beside his mother, Queenie. I thought it only fitting. And even though today has been chilly and Al Roker tells me that the polar vortex is making another dip into our area, the sun shone today. And it kind of feels like spring is not that far off anymore. There is sunshine at the end of the tunnel. And I guess that's only fitting as well.
Eventually spring comes to everyone. And life does go on. Even for grieving pet lovers.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Shortbread

Looking for an elegant yet deceptively simple cookie to bring to your cookie swap this year. Try this super easy shortbread. The thing to remember about shortbread is that because it is so simple and the ingredients are so few you want to make sure you use the best quality you can imagine. This means best quality butter - no light butter or margarine. I used vanilla bean paste here because I like the little flecks of vanilla visible in the cookie but you could use any good quality vanilla - no imitation vanilla.
fyi: I used Bourbon Smoked Sea Salt (purchased at Liquor Barn) because, well, you know. . . But I have made these before with just plain ol' course ground sea salt and they are just as yummy!

Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Shortbread

4 Cups flour
1/2 Cup cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
1 lb. (4 sticks!) of butter, softened
1 Cup sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla
Dark Chocolate for melting
1 tsp. shortening (optional)
Sea Salt

In large bowl mix together the flour, cornstarch, and salt. Set aside.
In mixing bowl cream together butter, sugar, and vanilla with electric mixer until smooth. Add flour mixture a cup at a time until well blended. Once dough begins to stiffen up you may have to turn out onto a lightly floured surface and kneed for a few minutes. If using a stand mixer just switch to your dough hook and mix until everything is mixed together. Note the dough may be a bit crumbly but it shouldn't look dry.
Turn onto an un-greased jelly-roll pan and press into an even layer. Cut into 1"x3" bars. Score each bar a couple times with a fork. Cover and chill for 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bake for 35 minutes. Once removed from oven, re-cut the bars. Let cookies cool completely in pan before removing. Once the cookies are COMPLETELY cool, dip them in melted dark chocolate (you may add a bit of shortening to the melted chocolate if it seems a bit thick or if you want a shinier finish). Lay on waxed paper and sprinkle with Sea Salt. Allow chocolate to harden. Store in a tightly sealed container away from heat.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Bluegrass Festivus

So, you know about Festivus, right? It's a holiday for the rest of us? December 23? Festivus Pole? Airing of grievances? Anything ringing a bell? No? Well, look it up here.
Festivus is kind of a big deal in the Mr. and Mrs. Captain household. For some reason we can really get behind a holiday that only ends when the head of the household has been wrestled to the ground. And for that kind of holiday you're probably gonna need a stiff drink. Try this on for size. I'm declaring it the official cocktail of Festivus. (at least in the Bluegrass State!)

Bluegrass Festivus
1 part Bourbon *
1 part Orange Juice
2 parts Ale 8 One

Serve over ice and stir gently to combine.

* I tested with Old Pogue because I think it has a kind of Orange-y, Spicy, Gingery profile that goes well with the Ale-8, but you can use any good quality Bourbon.

French Toast Cupcakes with Maple Bacon Frosting

1 Box Duncan Hines Butter Golden Cake mix
7 Tbs. Butter, softend
1/2 Cup water
3 Eggs, room temperature
2 tsp. Cinnamon
1/4 tsp. Nutmeg
1 tsp. Vanilla

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Add cupcake liners to 24 muffin cups.
Cream together butter, eggs, spices, and vanilla. Slowly add water. Add cake mix about 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. Continue mixing on medium high until light and fluffy.
Fill cupcake tins 1/2 full. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool completely before icing.

Maple Bacon Frosting
1 8oz. brick Cream Cheese, softened
1 lb. Powdered Sugar
1/4 cup Maple Syrup
1/4 tsp. Vanilla
4 or 5 pieces cooked Bacon, crumbled

Cream together Cream Cheese, syrup, and vanilla. Slowly add powdered sugar, mixing well each time. (depending on weather consistency of frosting can vary. If too thick add a bit of milk 1 Tbs at a time. If too thin add powdered sugar 1/2 Cup at a time)
Spoon onto completely cooled cupcakes, sprinkle with bacon crumbles.