Monday, March 21, 2011

The Cambridge Emeralds

In the second part of our series on the British Royal Jewels we look at one of the many pieces of jewelry created from the so-called Cambridge emeralds.

The Cambridge emeralds, like many pieces in the Royal Collection, have a strong connection to Queen Mary, the grandmother of the present Queen. Queen Mary was noted for her love of many beautiful things and was an avid collector, to say the least. During her visits to the great houses of England, many a smart hostess knew to put away her most treasured and valuable possessions for Queen Mary was not above strongly hinting at how much she might like to possess a particular item that caught her fancy. As you can imagine, it was quite difficult to deny the Queen!

Queen Mary appears in black and white photos and grand portraits as an imposing figure draped in jewels. It was often said that she was one of the few women who could wear a treasury of gems and not be in the least overwhelmed by them. In fact, Queen Mary could be imposing, but she had a softer side as well. Many American servicemen stationed near Badminton House, her home in the country through the duration of World War II, can attest to her spontaneous hospitality - often picking them up and taking them home for dinner as she encountered them along the road. The Queen was also known for another secret passion - pulling down ivy from trees in the forests surrounding Badminton. Many were shocked to come across the dowager Queen, billhook in hand, working among the trees with her personal staff and detectives.

The Cambridge emeralds were passed from Queen Mary's Aunt Augusta, whose husband the Duke of Cambridge had one them in a raffle in 1818. Favorites of the present Queen, the emeralds can be seen in necklaces, brooches (of which this is one) and earrings. Most spectacularly, the emeralds are found as drops in the Vladimir tiara, so named for it's original owner, the Grand Duchess Vladimir of Russia. This tiara was one of the many pieces of jewelry "acquired" by Queen Mary after the fall of the Romanovs. Originally containing pearl drops, Mary had interchangeable drops created from the Cambridge Emeralds. The Queen today wears this tiara with either the emeralds or, when more appropriate, the pearls.

Monday, March 14, 2011

New Art

Thanks to the Shabby Chic blog as the inspiration for the new art above the bed in the master bedroom. You will note that this room is undeniably, absolutely pink. My sons were recently quizzing me about the color and whether or not it bothered me. I told them that it didn't and that I thought it was a nice color. They looked at each other in disappointed amazement saying, "Man, he's got it bad. He says that and mom isn't even around!"

Chocolate Marshmallow Cookies... Oh Yeah...

Do you remember those fabulous cookie palaces found in shopping malls in the 90's? You know, the places that offered enormous, warm cookies, not to mention DOUGH cones?! Well, they're all but gone from what I can see, the last Mrs. Field's I visited was in Beverly Hills and has since been replaced by a Pinkberry, whatever that is.

In my own town there is one last vestige of this cookie culture. Visiting is like stepping back in time, into an episode of Full House, maybe? Just up the breezeway you'll also find a TCBY store... what a combination! Stuccoed strip mall, cookie store and frozen yogurt "parlour". You almost expect to see Steph and Uncle Jessie coming out of the Volume Shoe Source next door!

But, I digress, as I often do. After visiting Cookies! Cookies! Cookies!, in search of a Chocolate Marshmallow Cookie, I realized that I could recreate my own. With the help of a Google search, I found countless recipes, settling on the one listed below. And, let me tell you, these are BETTER than anything the long gone Cookie Cottage put out and, even though you shouldn't, you'll find yourself eating more than one.
The Cookie
1/2 cup softened butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup milk
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/2 cup cocoa
20 large marshmallows, cut in half
Cream butter, sugar and egg. Add vanilla and milk, beating until combined. In a separate bowl, mix flour, salt, soda and cocoa. Add to butter mixture and stir until completely incorporated.
Using a small ice cream scoop, drop cookie dough on ungreased sheet, about 1inch apart. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and press one half on a large marshmallow into the center of each cookie. Return to oven for 2 more minutes.
Cool on pan for 3 minutes and remove to cooling rack. Once cooled completely, frost with...
The Icing
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
1/c cup chocolate chips
Bring to a boil the sugar, milk and butter in small saucepan. Remove from heat and add chocolate chips. Allow to cool, stiring occasionally. Divide icing evenly among the cookies.

Cooky Book Challenge Update #1

It's happened! The first of hundreds of cookie recipes from the 1963 Betty Crocker Cooky Book has been made. To be completely honest, several other cookies have been made since I announced the challenge, but this is the first recipe from the aforementioned chronicle of cookies.

Saturday evening was launched with a batch of Tiny Fudge Tartlets. One of the many cookies I've been wanting to try from the book since my youth, Tiny Fudge Tartlets appear to be miniature pastry squares filled with, well, fudge. Perfectly formed and buttery in appearance, the finished product isn't quite as delicious as I'd hoped, but good all the same. They should definitely be served as a side to something like ice cream, as they're not exciting enough to stand on their own.

Having said that, the years and years of curiousity have now been fulfilled. Only 427 more recipes to try...
For information on another cookie of infinitely better proportions... read on to the next post...
Note: For the recipe to any of the cookies, please feel free to email me.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Spring Cleaning

It’s time for spring cleaning at our house and this will undoubtedly mean exciting discoveries. There will likely be several dollars worth of change, a dozen or so fuzzy teaspoons, batteries (we are always out of batteries, no matter how recently they’ve been bought) and a never-ending parade of pens and pencils, something else that we are also always out of . Phone messages in our house are generally written in barely visible “mac and cheese” colored crayons on the backs of envelopes or the already over-doodled phonebook.

Another remarkable aspect of spring cleaning is that you discover things about your children that you weren’t aware of and long burning questions are answered. For example, you never knew that they willingly ate fruits and vegetables. The evidence that they did generally comes in the form of the very black, very dry banana peels and ancient orange skins that were thrown behind the couch weeks or months before. Partially consumed apples are also in evidence and, once, a rather large remnant of steamed broccoli. You also understand why your dental bills are so high when you spy the incredible mountain of candy wrappers – Airheads, Kit Kat, Now and Later, Mike and Ike - the list of confectionary delights is neverending. And who thinks that it’s a good idea to put half-eaten Jolly Rancher’s under the cushions?

Annoyingly, you will also find those DVD player remotes you spent weeks searching for. Annoyingly because just the day before you gave the DVD player to Goodwill thinking you’d never find those @$#!% remotes anyway.

What you won’t find is that $100 bill you lost a few years ago. I know, because I’ve looked everywhere. Even in the furniture we didn’t own at the time. It’s $100 after all! You will also not find the many socks that are missing mates or your wife’s emerald and diamond engagement ring (you shouldn’t have made her mad!).

Looking at this list you probably think we’ve made some great headway, perhaps cleaning an entire room! Sadly, you’d be mistaken. We just cleaned in and around the couch.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Home, Sweet, Home

Last Father’s Day I was given the greatest gift a father of eight can possibly receive… three solid hours of peace and quiet. Unless your home life is a solid wall of diaper changes and toddler wrestling matches, you can’t possible imagine how even 20 minutes of silence can change a person’s whole outlook. Just being able to use the bathroom without someone calling at you through the door is a blessing of gigantic proportions. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the needs of small children can’t easily be postponed, but there are moments in one’s life when you would really rather not focus on someone else.

And herein lies the problem in our family. The ratio of 10 to 1 works beautifully in many of life’s circumstances. Can you imagine what our educational system would be like if we had classes of only 10 kids to 1 teacher? Imagine the lowering stress levels of middle managers if they had only 10 employees to keep track of. But, 10 to 1 is a decidedly troubling number when applied to the number of Gariepy's to the one, incredibly small bathroom that serves as our family’s privy. Imagine a room the size of an exceptionally small closet and you have a room at least twice the size of our powder room. It’s a charming room as far as it goes, but it is disconcerting to be able to brush your teeth and wash your feet in the tub all while sitting comfortably on the commode. There is something to be said for small rooms. My wife appreciates the ease with which she can clean this room and I am sure that it’s perfectly comfortable for the smallest people in our home. You also can’t beat the sink as a place to rest a heavy book, if you’re inclined to do so. However, the convenience of having at least two such rooms is highlighted a few times each year when the dreaded flu hits the family. Of course, I try to remind myself and my children that that when the house was built nearly one hundred years ago, it’s rather unlikely that this room existed at all. Farmer Joe would probably have found our bijou powder room quite luxurious.

It’s not just the size and singularity of the family bathroom that surprises people when they see the house. No, our house is rather small, especially in relation to our family size, in nearly everyone’s eyes. My mother frequently asks when we are going to move to a larger home. I don’t want to suggest that we’d be happy to move as soon as she was willing to pay the extra expense, but my wife and I like our house. It’s relatively easy to clean – no small consideration when at least 50% of your day is devoted to that activity – and having all of the boys in one room makes it unlikely that they will be able to get into too much trouble as the years go by. After all, it’s hard to hide really bad behavior when your youngest brother already runs to your mother and dad when you say a “bad word” (I wonder just what the “L” word is, anyway…). It’s also allows us to use a very effective form of discipline on our seventeen year old daughter. At the earliest hint of trouble from her we only need to mention that the boy’s room is getting rather crowded and shouldn’t we consider moving one of her brothers into her own private sanctuary? Problem averted.

I suppose a larger house would be more convenient, but it’s comforting to know where everyone is and to have a sense of what they’re doing. There’s enough time to be apart everyday but, in our small house, we are forced to spend time together and that’s not all bad. For the children, it’s a great way to learn how to get along in the world, and how to share. For their parents, it’s an opportunity to create a welcoming and secure place for the kids to land at the end of each day. However you explain it, it’s not the amount of space that counts, but what kind of feeling you fill it with.