Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Downton Abbey News and Highclere Castle History

Where have I been?  I just read last night that Shirley MacLaine is joining Downton Abbey! MacLaine will join the cast as Martha Levinson, the American Mother of Lady Cora Grantham played by Elizabeth McGovern. I think that we are going to see many more fireworks and classic lines from Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess when she comes up against Martha Levinson.  What do you think? I am excited and I think that she will be a wonderful addition to the already stellar cast!

As an Anglophile I have visited many castles in England but I have not had the pleasure of visiting Highclere Castle the "home" of the Granthams. I have been as intrigued by the castle as much as the show so I thought I would learn a bit more about it and frankly the history is as fascinating as the actual show.

The Carnarvon's, yes that Carnarvon, as in the Earl of Carnarvon who side by side with Howard Carter discovered King Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922, have lived at Highclere since 1679.

Highclere Castle, as we see it today was largely rebuilt from a square, classical mansion in 1839-1842 for the third Earl. It was designed and built by Sir Charles Barry, after he had finished building the Houses of Parliament in London. The castle is in the Jacobethan style and also has a park built on a design of the famous Lancelot "Capability" Brown, considered by many to be "England's Greatest Gardener."

 In 1989 the doors were opened to the public for the first time, by the current Earl's father, the 7th Earl of Carnarvon who decided that Highclere needed to pay its own way. In addition the the parkland, and the Castle itself, over 300 antiquities brought from Egypt by his grandfather, which had lain undisturbed in a hidden store cupboard for 60 years, are on display.

 The castle and gardens, as well as, the Egyptian exhibits are open to the public from roughly April thru September, for tickets and more information visit this link. As the castle has become so popular because of Downton Abbey it is recommended to have reservations or to purchase your tickets in advance, especially during holidays and Summer vacation.

If you are looking for more of an upscale adventure you may want to book the private tour. The cost is 7900 Euro, yes you read that correctly, about $12,000.00, for a private day tour of Highclere Castle. The cost does include tea with the eighth Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, a tour of the state rooms, lunch in the dining room and a tour of the grounds. If you do book this tour, do come back and write a blog post or at least leave a comment so that we can hear all about the behind the scenes private tour, and of course catch up on some gossip about the current Earl and Countess (said with tongue in cheek).

In the meantime, enjoy the series and have a great week!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Tattered Tiques: Antiques and Blogger Stores in Illinois

As I mentioned on Friday, I went to Illinois this weekend, and although we had every intention of going into the city of Chicago our finds and activities in the suburbs kept us too busy. We ended up spending the majority of our time in Barrington, Bartlett, Wayne, Geneva and St. Charles and frankly that was enough as we were going from morning to night.

Our first stop Saturday morning was Tivoli Garden Antiques and it was fabulous! The store is owned and run by Gwendolyn Whiston and she is a font of knowledge; I could have stayed there all day. The store has a very large selection of transferware including purple, back, brown and red. In addition to the transferware there is a beautiful selection of furniture, silver, hats and so many other fascinating pieces.

Next we headed over to Tattered Tiques, where Susan of the blog  Maple&Magnolia has some of her refinished furniture and other vintage finds. The store has everything from old shoe molds which I love, to a chicken coop, to enameled signs and of course Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and many pieces refinished using it. The back room is HUGE and filled to the brim with unusual vintage finds and apparently more on the way as the owners were off to Iowa on a buying trip. 

In addition to all of the great things in Tattered Tiques, the building that it is in is filled with little stores, all selling great antiques, and clothes.

Get your party dress on!

As we had been at it for a few hours we needed to stop for a little sustenance and by chance we discovered  Ambrosia Euro American Patisserie with delectable croissants, cookies, pastries and many other treats and of course coffee drinks. Everything we tried was delicious! I felt as if I was back in Paris.

Once we had a drink and a break we were back at it and headed  to the Pink Geranium, we were met at the door by Rosie the greeter dog, she is a delightful, friendly 14 year old black lab who works 31/3 days a week at the store.  I did purchase a few things from their beautiful selection of vintage, antiques and consigned items. The ladies that own the store are friendly, helpful and knowledgeable, and we enjoyed talking to them about the items in the store and the items they have found and restored.

Our last stop of the day was to SG Too owned and operated by Debra of the blog 5th and State, located in St. Charles in a little house with a charming back garden! There were so many things to see, from the garden ornaments, to the pen and ink drawings of bees, and little animals, to the fabulous ottomans made from old French baskets, to the Annie Sloan chalk painted furniture, a selection of candles and more.

Basket of stone mushrooms

We did visit several other stores and shops but these were my favorite. Unfortunately we did not make it to the store of Allison from the Polohouse, we just ran out of time. The rest of my visit consisted of drives in the country looking at beautiful houses, deer and birds, baking brownies, banana bread and sitting and talking with my sister and mother and niece. A perfect weekend with family.

Then Sunday night of course Downton Abbey! I love this show! I simply cannot get enough and I am having a tough time restraining myself from going on line to see the rest of the episodes. What did you think? Poor William? Poor Mary?

How was your weekend? Did you relax and enjoy yourself? A good book? A few house chores? I hope that whatever you did you enjoyed!

Have a great week!

Friday, January 27, 2012

TGIF! Happy Weekend!

It is going to be a busy weekend! I am off to Chicago and I am very excited! I love visiting "the windy city" and the surrounding suburbs and of course seeing my sister and niece. We already have a list a mile long of things to do and see. One of the places that I have been anxious to go to is Tattered Tiques, which is has been written about by many bloggers including Maple and Magnolia and also is a place that a few of them have their items for sale.

We are also going to Anna's Antiques where Allison from The Polohouse has her shop The Blue Cardinal and of course Sentimental Gardens owned by Debra of 5th and State.

What are your plans? Whatever they are I hope they are relaxing and fabulous! Enjoy yourself!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

For the Birds! John James Audubon

Image from PBS.org

Birds, books and auctions, three of my favorite things. Although I was not in New York last Friday for the auction at Christie's of John James Audubon's " The Birds of America"; I was excited to see that the four-volume set sold for the third highest price for a printed book...$7.9 million dollars! The set includes 435 hand colored engravings which are over 31/2  feet high of 497 known birds in North America in the 19th Century.

Part of the estate of the Duke of Portland, the book is one of what experts believe was a first edition run of 200 books produced over an 11 year period (1827-1838). Of 120 complete sets that are known of, 113 are in institutions and 7 are in private hands.

John James Audubon was born in Haiti and spent his youth in France. In 1803 he returned to America where he began a series of failed ventures, as a farmer, merchant and a portrait painter. Eventually following his true passion to paint and record as many birds as he could find, Audubon took a rifle, an assistant and a sketch pad and set off down the mighty Mississippi. 

 Often time he shot the animals and then stuffed and wired them to look as natural as possible. In addition, Audubon wanted the birds to be shown in their natural habitat, so he painted the flora and fauna also; so not only is this book the greatest ornithological  book ever produced it is also considered the most important natural history book ever produced.

The original water colors were then made into copper plates from which the copies were made. But, because Audubon could not find an American printer willing to work with the oversize illustrations  he sailed to England and there he found printers in both London and Edinburgh, Scotland. The printing of such a large scale project was expensive, 115,000 pounds sterling at the time PER SET, the equivalent of 2 million dollars; so Audubon  pre-sold subscriptions of the book to wealthy families in Europe, England and North America to fund the production. Which is why many of the copies ended up in the wealthy English houses.

What do you think? Are you a fan of birds? John Audoban? I think the illustrations are spectacular and I would love to be able to page through this magnificent book.

Have a great day! Tomorrow is Friday!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Is it Friday?

Do you ever have one of those weeks where everyday you wish it was Friday? This has been one of those weeks for me. I am having such a hard time getting in the swing of things so I thought a few roses might brighten my day and yours!

How is your week? Are you ready for the weekend?

How is your weather? Does it feel like winter in your neck of the woods? It does not feel like winter here, the weather is sunny and warm. But I think it may snow on the weekend!

I am excited for the weekend! I am headed for Chicago and am hoping to visit some of the great antique shops that many of the blogs that I follow recommend. Do you know of any great shops in and around Barrington, Wayne, St.Charles, IL? Let me know!

Have a great day!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tea and Cookies Blog, Nikki McWilliams Pillows and Yonks Etsy Store

  Downton Abbey has been inspiring a love of all things British, especially tea.  Although my first love and beverage of choice in the morning is hot chocolate I love to end the day with a steaming cup of tea. I love the ritual of brewing a pot and sitting back with a book and my favorite tea cup. Are you a tea drinker? I have a feeling that many will be converts by the end of Season two of Downton!

Fabulous find! Recently sold at Yonks Etsy store, Image Yonks

To celebrate the tradition of high tea and perhaps to provide an idea or two for Valentine's Day I put together a few cups and saucers, and tea sets and of course traditional British biscuits. I think you are going to love them as much as I did.

I am sure that many of you know Diane from the blog Yonks, if you do not you are in for a treat! Di lives in Cardiff, Wales and is a great collector of stunning antiques and keepsakes; all of which are for sale on her Etsy store . These are a few of the beautiful tea cups and tea sets that I found in her store, and there are many more beautiful items from opera glasses to brooches. 

What do you think? Can you imagine yourself sitting with the oh so proper Lady Mary and having tea and a few cakes?

Or perhaps with the Dowager Countess?

All tea cup and tea set images via Yonks

I think I could happily pour a cup from any of these delightful tea sets and if I have to pick a favorite cup...I love the first one!

Now, a proper tea should have cakes and cookies or biscuits as they are know across the pond. Have you ever had the pleasure of exploring the biscuit/cookie aisle in the market in the United Kingdom? It is heaven if you like those sorts of things, of which I do! There are crumpets, and oat cakes, and custard creams, and hob knobs, and tea cakes, seed cakes and so many other tasty morsels. It is probably a good thing I live on this side of the pond, I would be as big as a house.

Delightful and whimsical biscuit cushions from Nikki McWilliams will add a bit of flair to your tea party without the calories. McWilliams is a designer from Scotland and in addition to fabulous pillows she sells brooches and limited edition prints.

I hope you enjoy a "cuppa" tea and perhaps a few cookies to go along with it and I hope you found something for yourself or a loved one for Valentine's Day.  Have a fabulous day!

If you are looking for a little something special to read while enjoying your tea, visit the beautiful  Tea and Cookies. Do you know it?  If not be sure to check it out, written by Tara Austen Weaver, writer of travel and food articles, this blog and two books; one about her life in Japan and the other "The Butcher and the Vegetarian."

If you would like some information and little know facts about tea, visit The UK Tea Council. And if you are looking for Royal of Official Souvenirs of the family visit, The Royal Collection Shop.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe and Downton Abbey

I hope that you had a fabulous weekend! I know I did, visiting with friends, baking a banana cake which I found on Pinterest, and spending time with my family. Is there anything better? Top that off with Downton Abbey and you have the perfect weekend.

Still in the spirit here, even though it is January.

Recipe from Bake or Break Blog

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoon of unsalted butter at room temperature
2 tablespoons of canola oil
3/4 cup of sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 egg white at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large ripe bananas
1/4 cup of milk

Preheat oven to 375. Spray an 8 inch pan with cooking spray.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, an salt, set aside.
Using an electric mixer, beat oil, butter, and sugar. Beat in eggs and egg whites on at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in vanilla.
In a separate bowl, mash bananas with milk. Set aside.
Gradually add half of dry mix into butter mixture. Mix in bananas. Mix in remaining dry ingredients. Pour into pan. Bake 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on wire rack.

Prior to Downton Abbey our local PBS station featured a program called The Secrets of the Manor House, did you see it? If you did not, try to find it on your local PBS station, because it is fascinating. Basically it tells the story of  living and working in a Manor House in Great Britain, from the height of the Manor House life which was during the Edwardian Era, to the "cash for title" period where wealthy American women infused Great Britain with cash and in turn gained titles. In addition, the historians and current  members of the aristocracy details of the true hardship of the life of a servant; where a maids day lasted for 17 hours as she scrubbed floors, cleaned grates, scuttled coal and sometimes carried 45 gallons of water of numerous flights of stairs for an aristocrats bath. 

As for Downtown Abbey I loved this weeks episode, I simply cannot get enough! I hope you enjoyed it! Speaking of which, I read an article in the The New York Times that list books suggested by the major publishing houses if you are "Mad for Downtown Abbey." If you have some book suggestions of your own I would love to hear them! Leave me a note in the comment section or email me.
On last thing, Suzanne at  Privet and Holly has a wonderful post and link on Monday's, it is called Monday Moments and this week she features a beautiful and uplifting story of love and hope!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Winter Wonderland! Happy Saturday!

Last night we had a winter storm here in Milwaukee, less than predicted here but apparently pretty bad down in Chicago.  I do love a good snowfall especially on the weekend. Obviously that means a little time to sit back and take it all in, from inside the house or out; perhaps a message from nature to take time to relax. You can get out there and be a kid and make a few snow angels or a few snowmen!

Or perhaps stay inside and make some cocoa, some crusty bread and some soup or some tasty treats. What are your plans for the weekend?

I snapped these photos this morning, I may have to get out there and make one of my own, I do love a good snowman.

How cute! Snoopy!

Today I am headed to visit friends, and then will be making a banana cake that I saw on Pinterest. I will let you know how it turns out! Enjoy your day!

On a side note I have to tell you that there are still GOOD no make that GREAT people in the world! I am just in from shovelling snow at my mothers. I love to shovel but I hate the bottom of the drive where the plow deposits what seems like all of the snow from the entire street in your drive. As I was starting that dreaded task a man dove by with a plow and stopped to tell me he would do the hardest part for me! I do not know this person, neither do my parents, and when I thanked  him profusly and offered to pay him but he declined. Thank you so very much to this good Samaritan, who ever you are, your parents raised you well!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Comfort Food for a "Chili" Day

It is freezing here in Milwaukee, actually it is colder than that, I think yesterday the high was 15! Are you kidding me? Last week it was 50 and now it is 15, what a wacky winter! My favorite thing to do on a wintry day is to hunker down with piles of magazines, book and a cocoa and then to have a nice simmering post of soup on the stove accompanied by crusty bread or muffins.

Since I am here working I had to skip everything but the chili and corn muffins. Yesterday, I made this delicious pot of spicy chili, and some cheddar corn muffins to go along with it! This is a basic chili recipe that I often throw together, I am sure that you have one of your own but I will tell you mine.

Chili Recipe:

1 lb ground beef/chuck
1 medium yellow onion diced
3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 28 oz cans of purees tomatoes
2 cans of diced tomatoes
1/8 cup of chili powder
1-2 tsp Cayenne pepper
pinch of cumin
dash of herbs de Provence
3 cans of dark red kidney beans
1 can of light kidney beans
1 can of chic peas


Add olive oil to stock pot, heat for a minute or two and then add the diced onions, cook until translucent. Add ground meat and cook until done. Drain off the excess grease. Add the cans of tomatoes, and puree then the spices. Cook for a few minutes and stir until incorporated. Then add all beans and simmer for 1 hour.

Serve with shredded cheddar, a dollop of sour cream and more diced onions. And a corn muffin!

Corn Muffins

Flour 1 1/2 Cups
Yellow cornmeal 1/2 Cusps
Sugar (optional) 2TBS
Baking powder 3 tsp
Salt 1/4 tsp
Corn kernels, fresh 3/4 Cups
Cheddar cheese, diced 3/4 Cups
Milk 1 Cups
Vegetable oil 1/4 Cups
Egg, beaten 1 each


1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F

2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar (if using), baking powder and salt. Mix well. Stir in the corn, and cheese.

3. In another bowl, combine the milk, oil and egg. Mix well. Combine the liquid and dry mixes, mixing thoroughly. Do not over beat.

4. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with vegetable oil spray and pour in the batter. Bake until a wooden pick comes out clean when inserted, about 20 to 25 minutes. Serve hot.

What is your favorite chili recipe? Corn muffins or corn bread? Or do you have another "go to" soup recipe that you frequently make on a cold winter day?  I would love the hear about it! Send me your soup recipe link and I will add them to this post! We could call it a soup swap! Enjoy your day! Be safe because there are records being set all over the country for weather.

One more thing, I forgot to show you my new wellies!

No calorie chocolate.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Milwaukee Architecture

As you know, I love Milwaukee. I think it is a fabulous city that has a lot to offer as far as culture, Lake Michigan and the arcitecture.

In any case, Milwaukee was settled by Europeans mainly by the German and the Poles and they brought with them great craftsman who help to build the stunning mansions of the beer barons and the wealthy of the city. So often times when I am here I like to look up and take in the things you normally pass as you are taking in a neighborhood.

The Northpoint neighborhood of Milwaukee, located along Lake Michigan and bordering Lake Shore drive, often refereed to as "the Gold Coast" is where you will find the old world craftsmanship on one after the other of beautiful houses. Today, while on my way to an appointment I took a few photos of some of these beautiful places.

After snowing another 3 inches it warmed up to 39 and then back down to a chilly overnight of 9! I am not used to this COLD! I have been away too long. I hope you are staying warm wherever you and and having a wonderful day!

I also wanted to take a minute to thank these wonderful blogs, they are the top referring sites to my blog for the month of December. I am so grateful to all of these lovely ladies! They are not in any particular order.

Lauren at Pure Style Home
Jeanne at Collage of Life

Thank you for helping my blog grow! I am inspired by all of your blogs and your beautiful posts.