Setting the Table

The Seder is a meal of ritual.  While there can be some playing around with the menu, sacrosanct are the serving of matzo ball soup and the absence of flour in any recipe.

Never a fan of the matzo ball, I handed off this part of the meal for many years to a friend’s mother, who was delighted to bring her specialty to the table. Sadly, Sibi died and with her went the BEST matzo ball soup in the world, this according to my family. Sibi’s replacement soup provider arrives with two pots still bubbling from her stove, as well as her own ladle. Such preparedness is my own little prayer answered.

Baking a flourless dessert is, thankfully, not the hassle of years ago.

This recipe from Country Living magazine is my go-to. It’s a cake so delicious as to deserve an appearance more than once a year.

Chocolate-Almond Torte

Special equipment – a spring form cake pan

2 sticks unsalted butter cut into small pieces

9 ounces good quality dark chocolate, chopped

6 large eggs, separated

2/3 cup superfine sugar

½ cup fined ground almonds

· Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10” spring form cake pan.

· In a heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, melt butter and chocolate together. Stir until smooth. Set bowl aside to cool.

· In another bowl, whisk egg yolks with sugar until pale and fluffy. Gradually pour melted chocolate mixture into egg mixture, stirring constantly. Now, fold in the almonds. Set bowl aside.

· In a large bowl, using an electric mixer set on medium speed, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture until just combined.

· Pour this mixture into the spring form pan and bake for 35 minutes. (torte will be very moist in the middle).

· Cool in the pan about 1 hour. Then undo spring form. Now you have the torte on the pan bottom. Slide a spatula (or long piece of dental floss) to loosen the torte from the bottom. Then use the spatula to push/slide the torte onto a serving plate.

In a corner of the dining room is the dessert table. The torte offers a wonderful landscape for a plop of whipped cream with a sprinkle of blackberries and raspberries.


Passover co living www

For those who believe fruit is dessert – a peach compote with a side of macaroon. Fresh mint is a pretty topper for both desserts.

With the meal in hand, I can revel in setting the table with an heirloom embroidered cloth, not of my own inheritance, but of a purchase at a second hand store. Cast off by one family, it is a part of my family’s holiday table.

table cloth closeup www (Small)

Such beauty reminds me of the importance of remembering those who once graced our tables at holidays and how filling their seats with new families and friends is a testament to their memories…like a good matzo ball, gone but never forgotten.

Whether searching for the Passover matzo or a golden Easter egg, may this year’s holiday be beautifully blessed.

xx EllynAnne

DIY and Save a Bundle!

The June 2012 issue of Country Living magazine showcases a home with “cinematic décor,” that includes this dress form clad in a lush print
mannequin in CL_urban outfitters (Medium)

Such gorgeousness comes with  a hefty price tag – $300.00! 

For a fraction of the cost, you can do as I did and create your own stylishly clad dress form using fabric scraps and glue.

Here’s my rainy day project from October 2011.
hallway mannequin in apron

This past week-end, Miss Scarlett greeted cocktail hour guests in a swirl of taffeta Domesti-Chic. On another day, a different apron. The dress form as art and display.

Tie One On…an apron, of course!

Country Living Shows Off

In October, I visited Country Living magazine located in the Hearst building in NYC.
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Pretty exciting!
New York_Country Living visitor pass and clutch
The architecture of this building is the most stunning renovation – from the escalators moving through a series of cascading waterfall steps to the welcoming openness of walls of windows through which you can see the skyline. 
New York_Country Living lobby (Copy)  New York_Country Living atrium 1 (Copy)
While anticipating the arrival of my CL contact, Cosmopolitan’s 2011 bachelors took a break from their photo shoot – took me so long to find my camera, this is the only snap of the Pin Up Parade I managed.
New York_Country Living Cosmo bachelors
Had much better luck with this snap taken by a helpful floor steward – after weeks of communicating via email and telephone, CL editor Sara Morrow and I meet!
New York_Country Living Sara ea-4
Sara’s vision for an article on show toweling – specialty towels normally set out for guests – included my providing background to such household goods, along with a variety of toweling from my collection. Appearing in the December-January 2012 issue, the
CL cover Dec 2011
two-page article is an informative and fun read on this distinctive vintage genre.
          CL_article DEC_JAN 2012 PG 1 (Small)  CL ARTICLE DEC-JAN 2012 PG 2 (Small)
While I enjoyed providing towels for selection within the article, I’m glad I wasn’t in Sara’s position and forced to pick one over another! Rather than just put the towels away until I used them myself, I thought to share more of these showstoppers here.

We’ve always set out our “best” linens for guests, especially as  homes with multiple bathrooms were not always the norm, which meant guests would be using the main or only bathroom of the house. Knowing the bathroom was going to be used by non-family led the hostess to prepare the bathroom for her guests’ inspection with a change out of the everyday, from soaps to toweling, with specialties reserved just for company.

Of the showy specialties not included in the article is this couples’ motif set. 
Show Towels_HisHers (Small)
His and Hers, Mr. and Mrs., Yours and Mine, His and Mine were very popular transfers, and available through newspaper and magazine services, catalogues or specialty stores like five and dimes. Companies provided these transfers in bright packaging, which added to the sense that such embroidery was for fun.

This type of toweling was also a popular set for a young woman to embroider and store in a Hope Chest for her future life as a wife.

The embroidery on this towel is very fine and very beautiful, the stitches impossibly tiny and perfect. These days, handwork of this type is a dying art. It features drawn work, an ornamental needlework done by pulling threads out of the fabric; the remaining Sara #11a Monogram close up [640x480]
threads are then bound together in a variety of ways, creating decorative patterns. The monogram was then stitched to the design, which was sewn into the diamond shaped cut out. Even with a magnifying glass, it’s hard to absorb the stitches are hand done. A fine linen towel so beautifully embellished would leave many a guest searching for an alternative to mussing it. Displaying such 
Sara #8 Kitchen_Under Stripe Over Floral [640x480]     Sara #12c Undertoweling Dressed Up [640x480]
heirloom artistry upon a larger, utilitarian hand towel is one solution to the dilemma of Am I really supposed to dry my hands with that top towel or what? 

Usage Tip: To eliminate confusion about whether towels are really to be used, drape one a tad off kilter or slightly dampen one’s edge and wrinkle it a bit.

Souvenir toweling has always been a popular purchase, perhaps because it was so packable. This linen towel exhibits pulled thread with embroidery, likely bought during the 1930s, when Cuba was a popular vacation destination. I discovered “CUBA” in an old suitcase filled with stained and torn lace. I was happy to pay the seller’s asking price: $1.00.Show Towels_Cuba linen_picnik (Small)
This “peek-a-boo”  towel is titillating and a little bit naughty, which were the ground rules for such humor in the Fifties. Aprons in this peek-a-boo genre have a skirt that lifts to reveal lacy undies, which is very PG compared to this lassie’s panty-reveal! I’d venture this towel was purchased as a souvenir or as a gift for a friend, and
Sara #6 Plaid Peekaboo  Sara #6a Plaid Peekaboo_the peek
set out to amuse party guests. This example of mid-century risqué humor is a bit of social history and worthy of a higher price tag.

Children were taught to wash their hands and face with soap and water before eating. Wetting just the fingertips didn’t count and always earned one a trip back to the sink. These towels
Show Towels_childrens xstitch bunny_picnik (Small)
may have been gifts, adorably adorned so as to encourage membership in the “Clean Hands Club.”

‘Tis the season to show off our vintage holiday towels and not
Show Towels_Greetings xmas .49 (Small)
worry about value, for the fun of searching out “new” show toweling never gets old.

Tie One On…an apron, of course!

a Passover Rescue by Country Living Magazine

Raised in a southern Reform Jewish home, I’m a tad wanting when it comes to the exactness of the culinary requirements for the strictly traditional Passover meal. Knowing this about myself, our seder guest list always includes someone who grew up in a more traditional Jewish home and therefore, knows how to make matzo ball soup, without which a Passover seder simply cannot occur.

Alas, my most honored and eldest invitee for this honor passed away last year, and with her, the best matzo ball soup ever, according to Gideon, my youngest. So this year’s matzo ball soup fell to me. I, who do not eat grits because of the texture, haven’t actually eaten a matzo ball either…again, a texture thing.

So I turned to the internet, where I discovered the shiska and her recipe for matzo ball soup success: the boxed soup mix by Manischewitz; then, on to my trusty issues of Cooks Illustrated and the Test Kitchen results for the best boxed chicken broth: Swanson’s Certified Organic. Following the directions for both, I placed a brimming pot of mb soup in the refrigerator and shut the door.

The Seder meal takes days to prepare. The pot of soup joined the already-refrigerated dessert, a compote marinating in champagne (actually, the fruit was resting in a prosecco bath, because I had a bottle on hand and was loathe to pop a Moet and Chandon for peaches).

A day to my seder, and the mail delivered the May issue of Country Living. With tons still to do, I nonetheless plopped down and immediately began flipping through one of my favorite magazines.


And on page 119 was a photo of a Chocolate-Almond Torte…a flourless dessert, and therefore, perfect for Passover! Because I knew my compote was a bit lackluster, this Torte was the answer. And at only 5 ingredients!!

The instructions call for melting butter and chocolate in “a heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water.” And I would have followed this to the letter, except that I have an ancient double boiler inherited from a premiere baker, Else Geisel, my mother-in-law:

DSCN7106 [640x480]

While the mixture melted and melded, I moved on to the next step, “…whisking egg yolks with sugar until pale and fluffy.” Rather than using a modern whisk, I instead chose to incorporate the mixture using an initialed, sterling fork that had belonged to another superb baker, my grandmother Birdye.
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Using the utilities of these women, I felt their guidance and a sense of happiness, as if they were with me on this torte journey.

The CL recipe notes a working time of only twenty minutes. The mess I created took a lot longer to clean up.

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With the torte in the oven, I went outside to cut some lilac blooms, and there she was – a bright yellow butterfly. Racing back into the house for a camera, I knew, just knew, she would be gone upon my return. But, no! I promise, this is not photo-shopped.

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I took the butterfly as a sign, that despite my insecurity and lack of actual know-how, I was going to pull this seder together, especially with dessert.

My Prince Charming, who’s eaten a life-time of mb soup, proclaimed my version THE BEST HE’S EVER SLURPED and the CL Chocolate Almond Torte delicious beyond yummy. DSCN7124 [640x480]

Holidays like Passover and Easter are so very rich in tradition and the foods served are as much a part of that as any ceremonial recitation.

Whether matzo ball soup or a baked ham, what’s important is we celebrate our heritage with not an empty seat at our table.


Tie One On…an apron, of course!