The Last Days of Summer… time for the BEST Blueberry Pie!


The Best Blueberry Pie Ever

I have a super cute 2-year-old nephew who absolutely is obsessed with blueberries. (Or as he pronounces them, bloo-bewwies.) He would, and has, eaten them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. So this summer, when we were all visiting my family in berry-land, I thought it might be fun to take Mr. Super Cute to the local berry picking patch for a treat.


We arrived and he started going to town on the bushes, shoveling ripe as well as unripe blueberries in his mouth by the handful. It was a proverbial kid-in-a-candy-store afternoon.


After about 30 minutes of picking, we had as much as we could carry, and headed back to the house to see our haul. Nearly every year I make jam while in the San Juan Islands berry-country, but this year I wanted to do something different. I hadn’t had pie in a long time, so Blueberry Pie it was!


I must say, this pie turned out to be one of the best desserts I’ve ever made. The crust so tender and flaky, and the filling… divine. Probably because of the pickers! We had the pie for dessert that night, unfortunately for Nephew, it was after he had gone to bed.

The next day, Sister, Nephew and I were driving home, so Mom had us take the remaining pie with us. “Car Pie,” we named it. Mom packed up the pie in a bag, adding utensils and bowls, so whenever we wanted it, the Car Pie would be ready.


We headed south and stopped in Seattle for a little detour on the big Ferris wheel there on the pier.

20140711_113340Gorgeous day, great view and a fun adventure.




Before we got back in the car, Sister and I decided that we needed drinks to accompany our tasty treat. We kept telling Nephew that we were going to have Car Pie in a few minutes. He had no idea what that was, but we assured him it would be wonderful.

Sister, holding Nephew, approached the nearest restaurant… a crab-shack sort of take-out spot. We walked up, the guy behind the counter asked, “What can I get you?” Nephew declared, “Car Pie Please!”


We about wet our pants as we laughed and told the counter-guy we wanted iced teas and milk. Still laughing, we went back to the car and served up the pie.




Nephew was very serious as he experienced his first taste of Car Pie, and in the end it was a huge hit. Even now, after nearly every meal, he still asks for Car Pie. I’m a happy Auntie! Click here for the Car Pie, I mean, Blueberry Pie Recipe.


To make the flowered crust, I used these cutters:




Click here for my Blueberry Pie Recipe. Update: You can always use frozen blueberries in this pie. Same measurements, just pop in frozen for fresh.

The Best Blueberry Pie, the Tamara Blog

Happy end of summer! It’s been a wonderful one!


Tamara’s Camera: LACMA’s Urban Light

I’m a Los Angeles transplant (from my beloved Nor Cal), and have come to love my adopted city.  I’m always minutes from the beach, the weather is beautiful — if you like that sunshine kinda thing.  Plus, this is a city of artists.  Here we are privileged to have theatre, dance, films and art in abundance.

One of my most favorite public art installations is the Urban Light exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  Take a look:

Here is more info on the museum, and the Urban Light installation. I love art!

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris — My Favorite

My favorite place on earth is the Luxembourg Gardens, or Jardin du Luxembourg, in the heart of Paris.  Now, I’ve seen lots of public parks, and I do have fond memories of them – roller-skating (or in my case, roller-crashing) in Golden Gate Park, seeing Central Park’s Alice in Wonderland bronze for the first time, the daffodils popping up in London’s Hyde Park.  But for me, the Luxembourg Gardens have a romance, a charm that is incomparable.

I first fell in love with the Jardin du Luxembourg on a trip through Paris while in college.  I was struck by the calm, simplicity and beauty of this series of public gardens.  And the Jardin is clearly meant to be enjoyed by the public.  The design encourages strolling and relaxing, and is considered by locals to be “The most beautiful place of the district to court.”  Well doesn’t that sound like bliss?

Its main garden was the origin of this park, and was created in 1617 by Boyeau de La Bareaudière. Opened to the public in 1778, the jardins are the largest public park in Paris, and cover roughly 50 acres in the 6th arrondissement.  The French Senate occupies the ornate Luxembourg Palace, which borders and shares the gardens.

Nearby is one of the jardin’s three fountains, the La Fontaine Médicis, commissioned in the 1630s by Marie de Médicis to remind her of the grotto in the Boboli Gardens she enjoyed in her childhood in Florence.

La Fontaine Medicis -- Wikipedia

The garden contains just over a hundred statues, monuments, and fountains, scattered throughout the grounds, A particular one of note being a 6 foot one which is a model of the Statue of Liberty.

This is one city park that’s packed with beauty.

One of the most memorable elements of the park are pretty verdigris-colored chairs which are scattered about, and look more like they were placed there for a still life painting than for actual use.  But on sunny days it’s hard to find a vacant one.

Paths meander through the grounds and are covered in buff-colored sand, which reflects soft, warm light.

I’ve had the great good fortune of visiting this little slice of heaven in the spring, summer and autumn, and each season highlights different virtues of the park.  Spring reveals primroses along paths and buds emerging on trees.  The summer sunshine makes the gravel glow golden, and with the autumn, falling leaves dance in the breeze and blanket the paths with an array of colors.

There’s a little café tucked at an edge… it looks more like a house than a café.  Why is it that nearly all things Parisian are cute?  It’s a perfect place to enjoy a croque-monsieur and a glass of wine, especially if the weather is not conducive to sitting outdoors.

But sitting outdoors in one of those metal chairs is one of the small joys in life.  Watching lovers stroll by, spying artists sketching, nibbling at a freshly baked croissant and taking in the scenery… that’s the charm and the beauty of the Luxembourg Gardens.  I do love Paris.

In the heart of the Left Bank (sixth arrondisment), bounded by Rue de Vaugirard, Boulevard St. Michel, Rue Auguste-Comte, and Rue Guynemer, Paris, France.  Main gate:  15 rue de Vaugirard  75291 Paris, France.

Open hours for the Luxembourg Gardens depend on the month: opening between 7:30 and 8:15 am; closing at dusk between 4:45 and 9:45 pm.

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Fancy Camping and Muffins in the Fire

“We’re going camping. Wanna come?” Sister #3 stared at me with a smirk on her face. (I’m sister #2, and yes, that stirs up all kinds of jokes.) “We’re gonna have fun without you….”

She was taunting me. She knew that I didn’t like to be left out, especially left out of super-silly, breath stopping, laugh-‘til-you-cry moments with my two sisters. She also knew, however, that I’d be a little apprehensive about camping. I haven’t done it since my age was in the single digits. And while I love the outdoors, 3 days without a shower really wasn’t appealing.


I had a decision to make. Stay at home and wonder how much fun I was missing, or put on my big-girl hiking boots and head out into the “wild.” I pondered what I might face, weighed my options (Bad TV and work emails vs. hiking and kayaking). I called a summit with the sisters, and laid down my conditions… well, my one condition. Okay, it wasn’t a condition… more of a request… or, not so much a request as a suggestion… all right. I ASKED (politely, mind you):

“I’d love to go, but how about something a little different? What if we made this trip Fancy Camping?”

I had to explain. There has been some talk on travel sites and magazines lately advocating luxury Glamour Camping, or “Glamping.” Promoters tout the accommodations as luxe and posh. While at these resorts, ‘campers’ enjoy four-poster beds, chandeliers, Turkish rugs, massage treatments, even restaurants. Now I acknowledge the lure of this type of luxury accommodation, but I hardly see it as camping. (And really… why pay for a ‘camping’ trip that costs the same as a five-star hotel?!)

For me, camping is being outdoors, enjoying fresh air and scenery, and unplugging from our tech-focused world. I live in a big city, some days I don’t even see a blade of grass, and I lose touch with the sights and sounds of nature. But on this trip, I’d have an opportunity to reconnect, and have those senses reawakened.


There is a certain primal allure to cooking dinner on an open fire, chatting with the background of owls and crickets, and facing the setting sun with nothing but flashlights. But I thought it would be fun to figure out a way to do it without sacrificing certain basic amenities. There must be something between the ‘roughing it’ of traditional camping, and ‘glamping’ with servants.

Fancy Camping is about fully enjoying the camping experience, but adding some niceties to smooth out some of that roughing it. No we didn’t have crystal stemware, but we rounded up votive candle-holders, and colorful oilcloth table coverings. Mom and Dad contributed a pretty lantern and cheery melamine dishes (no paper plates here!). We had painted tin trays for our table, a floral mat for outside the tent, and fine cotton pillowcases.

And, as this was Fancy Camping, I decided that meant careful attention had to be paid to the food. I mean, hot dogs and baked beans are fine, but why not make the meals memorable? I worked on a menu and made plans for our five meals in the wilderness. On the day we were kayaking, artisanal cheese and arugula sandwiches would be the fare. Dessert one night would be foil-baked apples with lemon zest, brown sugar, and butter. But I’ve always had a particular love of breakfast, so I spent some serious time thinking about our first wake-up. Visions of smoky bacon and fresh pastries filled my head. I wondered… is that possible?

Sisters 1, 2 & 3, and Nephew, hit the road. After 16 long minutes we arrived at the campsite. Okay. Mom and Dad’s house (AKA Base Camp) happens to be in God’s country in the Pacific Northwest, and Deception Pass State Park happens to be the most popular campsite in the state of Washington. Don’t think that 10-mile drive wasn’t a consideration for an exit strategy if it all went south.

Our first meal at the campsite started with simple wraps, which we crisped on the fire, stuffed full with local farmer’s market veggies and cheese. We devoured them with much good wine (Nephew drank water). Then we retired to the fire for dessert. S’mores were required, but since we were Fancy Camping, we decided to use peanut-butter cups in place of ordinary chocolate bars along with gourmet-shop marshmallows, and the results were divine.

A couple hours later, we all piled into our very comfortable tent. Earlier we had sprinkled the floor with lavender – a beautifully scented natural bug repellant. We also installed an air mattress. Why not? They’re easy to inflate, and make the mornings SO much happier. Tired and content, we rolled into our beds.


Lately I have developed the habit of waking up with the sun, and in a tent outdoors, this pattern repeated itself like er… like clockwork. I got up and did my yoga practice – there’s nothing like doing yoga outdoors. Then headed to the table to start our breakfast.

Once the Sisters and Nephew woke up, the fire was coming along nicely and I had nearly finished the preparation for our first Fancy Camping breakfast; Orange and strawberry fruit salad, thick cut apple wood smoked bacon, fresh baked orange-berry muffins, and strong coffee. Hot baked goods are absolutely possible while camping.

Here’s how we made our Delectable Orange Fire Muffins:

Use medium/large oranges. If you have a special citrus peeler, (Sunkist has one that looks like a pointed stick, I used this thumb-operated model.) remove the peel in two halves and set aside. If you don’t have a special peeler, just cut the oranges in half and remove the fruit with a spoon, leaving the halved peels intact. The fruit will become part of your fruit salad.



Once all the peels are prepared, pour in the muffin batter, until the peel is about 2/3 full. (We made our batter before leaving home and put it in a plastic bag stored in the cooler, then just cut off the corner and piped the batter into the peels come morning.) Then, add berries — if you’re so fortunate, perhaps harvest some on your morning hike. Next place the tops back on the oranges and move them over to your fire. With the tops in place, the smoke is kept out of your muffins and the moisture kept in.


Carefully place the batter-filled oranges on a piece of vented foil directly in your hot coals and let bake for 15 to 25 minutes (depending on the heat of your fire).


When they finished baking, the muffins were the moistest, most flavorful muffins we’d ever tasted — beautifully orange-infused and full of fresh local berries, sweet and crumbly and decadent. And they were baked right in the orange peels! Topped with a little butter and some homemade jam, they were simply delicious. If that weren’t enough, there’s minimal clean-up, and the muffin ‘wrappers’… biodegradable!


We four sat around the fire, well–fed and content. No need for chandeliers and servants. A beautiful setting, perfect weather, good company and a fine meal… that’s what I call Fancy Camping.

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Mardi Gras, Carnival, and… Pancake Day?

A couple years ago, I spent the last few weeks of winter traveling through Europe.  It was a particularly bitter-cold month – even the local antiques dealers I met said so.  My trip ended with a quick stay visiting my good pal, Tammie, an Australian ex-pat who was living outside of London at the time.


Tammie lived in the quintessential English cottage nestled beside the Thames.  The night I arrived, we tromped over to the local pub for a bite to eat.  We had a spectacular meal (goat cheese and caramelized onion tart – yum!), and then Tammie remembered that it was Pancake Tuesday!

Pancake Tuesday?  I had never heard of such a thing.  I love learning about the origins of words as well as cultural traditions, so to satisfy that curiosity, I did a little research.

In the UK, as well as parts of Canada, the day before Ash Wednesday is called Pancake Tuesday.  As this is the last day before Lent (the 40 days preceding Easter), all of the rich, decadent foods in the household need to be used up in preparation of the lenten fast.  A simple, quick and tasty way to use up eggs, butter and sugar… pancakes.

Pancake Day races are another tradition still holding strong in many villages in the UK.  The most famous of these races dates back to 1445 in Olney, in Buckinghamshire.  Contestants (usually women wearing aprons) run through town while flipping a pancake in a frying pan.  The usually short race is, of course, presided over by local clergy.

Pancake Race

Photo courtesy The Woodford County High School

In France and the US, the day before Lent is called Mardi Gras, from the French, literally meaning Fat Tuesday.  In Ireland, Australia and parts of Canada and the US, the day is called Shrove Tuesday.  Shrove, past tense of the word shrive, means to confess and receive absolution for one’s sins.

Many scholars agree that Carnival – the traditional pre-lenten celebration in catholic countries – derives from the Latin words carne and vale, which translates to “farewell to meat,” and acknowledges the prohibition of consuming meat during lent.

Pancake 2

Photo The Sun

Whatever the reason and no matter what it’s called, I say any excuse to eat a little something sweet is a good one.  Enjoy this recipe for European style pancakes (known in the US as crepes).  Serve them this year on February 24th, and enjoy a happy Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day.  Me?  I’ll hold a happy memory of pancakes in a cozy little pub in Whitchurch-on-Thames… with Tammie.

Shrove Tuesday Pancakes (adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe)

4 large eggs

1 cup whole milk (do not use low-fat or nonfat.  It is, after all, FAT Tuesday!)

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup all purpose flour

Additional melted butter

Powdered sugar/Granulated sugar

Fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350°F. Blend first 6 ingredients in blender. Gradually add flour; blend until smooth. Let stand for 15 minutes.

Heat medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Brush with butter. Add 2 generous tablespoons pancake batter, tilting pan to coat bottom. Cook until golden on bottom, about 45 seconds. Turn pancake over. Cook until bottom is speckled with brown, about 30 seconds. Turn out onto paper towel. Cover with another paper towel. Repeat with remaining batter, brushing skillet with butter as needed.

Butter ovenproof dish. Sift powdered or granulated sugar over speckled side of each pancake, then sprinkle lightly with lemon juice; fold pancakes into quarters. Overlap pancakes in prepared dish. Cover; bake until heated through, about 10 minutes. Serve with more sugar and lemon juice.

Note:  I prefer the crunch of granulated sugar over powdered sugar for the dusting.  Use what you like.

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Twinings Teashop, The Strand, London

On one of my most recent sojourns to England, I had the desire to find a special place to buy some tea – I was in London, after all.  Now, one might first think of finding a teahouse or restaurant where one could enjoy a high tea experience with all the accoutrements.  But I wanted some history with my tea. 


In the early 1700’s, Thomas Twining began working for a wealthy merchant from The East India Company who was importing a new beverage from the Orient.   Thomas was intrigued by the potential markets for this commodity, and started his own company.  He opened a shop on the Strand in 1717, and there began the Twinings family history of English tea.

In 1837, Queen Victoria granted Twinings their first Royal Warrant for tea as “Purveyor in Ordinary to Her Majesty.”  And in 2006, Twinings celebrated the company’s 300th anniversary. 


I was excited to see this still-thriving icon of English culture.  After witnessing the sumptuous food halls of Harrod’s, my anticipation was high for the flagship store and museum, still operating in this very location for three centuries. 

I set out on the tube and emerged to a chilly but clear morning.  Surprisingly, the neighborhood is a decidedly un-charming business district, which includes the Royal Courts of Justice.  The shop looks rather out of place, dwarfed by a bank and a modern coffee house, but there in all its finery, stands the Twinings teashop. 


Above the door is a gilded lion and the Royal Crest, flanked by statuettes of men dressed in traditional Oriental costumes, representing the tea’s origin.

I stepped inside and instantly adjusted my expectations.  The shop measures about ten feet wide, and a good 60 feet long.  It’s strangely deep with high ceilings… but what should I expect from an 18th century building?   The walls are lined with dark wooden cabinets, and portraits of the Twinings’ family notables watch from above.


With further inspection, I saw that the displays house a huge variety of teas, herbal infusions, coffees and hot cocoas, as well as an extensive range of accessories, from teapots to caddies to strainers to china. 

I was invited by the shop attendant to visit their museum.  Far in the back is a small display (to call it a museum is rather lofty) that chronicles the Twinings’ family and the history of tea in England. The ‘museum’ showcases tea advertisements and has a beautiful collection of antique teapots.  It’s charming and informative, if not terribly well laid out, but considering the space constraints, it’s perfect.  I mean, if tea is nothing else, isn’t it cozy?

I purchased some tea and got my bit of history at the same time.  I came with expectations of grandeur, and was properly greeted with genteel English charm.  Twinings teashop on the Strand is indeed, a little slice of English heaven.

Twinings Tea, The Strand Shop

216 Strand, London, WC2R 1AP Open: Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, Saturday 10 am to 4pm. Nearest Tube: Temple


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Ahh Prague. And Glogg (hot wine).

Glogg -- The Tamara Twist

I got a wild idea one day after reading a single paragraph in… I think it was TimeOut magazine in London in 2003.  Prague… the architecture was hardly touched in WWII.  It was the best of Eastern Europe, but accessible to Westerners.  My friend Noah described it by saying this: “Prague looks just like Disneyland.  But it’s the real thing.  And I had one of the best meals of my life there.”  Color me intrigued!

I badgered my pal Anne to go.  I arranged all transport from our comfortable digs in London, she just had to come along. I knew if I could just get her her first cup of coffee, she’d do whatever I said. “Sure,” she said, without an ounce of trepidation.

Leave it to us to head to central Europe on one of the coldest spring days ever.  Bundled in wool coats, cashmere sweaters and scarves, we headed to our hotel, which was in the historical centre of Prague, aka The Lesser Town (Mala Strana).  To say it was charming was well… charming.  Dormer windows opened to the crisp air and overlooked the snow-dusted red tile roofs of the town.  One channel in English on the TV.  Surely this was a town to be explored!

Prague City -- the Tamara Blog

Anne and I set out to see the sights.  It was just past 2pm, and the sun was beginning to get low in the sky.  We knew if we were to see things, we had to hop to it!  We headed to the The Charles Bridge, a stone Gothic bridge that connects the Old Town and the Mala Strana.  Czech king and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV commissioned it, and construction began in 1357.  The bridge is flanked on either side by 30 Baroque statues, added in the 17th century.

The bridge has stood for centuries, many believe due to the egg yolks used in the mortar.  Floods have besieged Prague over the years — most notably the flood of 2002, the worst flood in 5 centuries — and the bridge stood.  Let’s hear it for egg yolks!

Prague Bridge -- The Tamara Blog (Incidentally, while there, we encountered several below-water-line shops near the river that had apparently been flooded months before.  Perhaps in another hundred or so years, the moldy smell will dissipate!)

After shivering through the Old Town and the Charles Bridge, we needed a pick-me-up.  Several cafés were offering “hot wine” on their sign-menus.   Who were we, mere foreign tourists, to resist?  Into the first welcoming establishment we staggered, sat down and began un-layering (the un-layering will become a trend on this trip).  The waitress recognized our urgent need for something warm, and quickly brought us two steaming mugs of the lovely elixir.  The red wine was warmed and infused with spices and lemon wedges, and was served with a shaker of sugar, as it arrived unsweetened.  We stirred in spoonfuls of sugar and happily sipped away the next half hour, plotting our next outing in the City of Music.

Ahhh.  Prague.

Prague Castle DSCF1639

In my Norwegian/Swedish heritage, hot wine, or Glogg, is only served during the Christmas season.  This is, perhaps, a good thing… as I might otherwise be a bit sloshed year-round.  Here’s my favorite recipe for that lovely warm holiday drink.  Skål!

Glögg (pronounced GLUHG)

For any of you non-drinkers out there, this recipe can easily be adapted by substituting the alcohol with apple or cranberry juice, and eliminating the sugar.

Makes 18 servings.  9 cups.

3 Cinnamon Sticks, broken into manageable pieces

10 cardamom pods, lightly crushed — or 1/4 teaspoon ground

6 whole cloves

4 strips orange peel

4 strips lemon peel

2 bottles (750 ml) dry red wine

1 cup sugar

1 cup raisins

1 cup brandy

1 cup dark rum

1/2 cup whole blanched almonds (we use slivered)

Place cinnamon sticks, cardamom, cloves and orange and lemon peels in cheesecloth and tie to enclose.

Combine wine, sugar, raisins and spice bag in 4 quart nonreactive (stainless steel or non-stick) saucepan. Bring to a boil, then quickly lower heat and let steep, uncovered, 10 minutes. Add brandy, rum and almonds. Simmer 10 minutes – do not boil.

Serve immediately, Or, cool to room temperature and refrigerate, covered, for up to 3 days.  To reheat, place over medium-low heat until hot; do not boil. Ladle into glasses adding a few raisins and almonds to each glass.

Make it even better: Serve with gingerbread cookies.

Glogg -- The Tamara Blog

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Outdoor Ice Skating – in Santa Monica?!

Everyone is familiar with the ice rink at Rockefeller Center, but who knew little rinks were popping up all over the West.  There’s one in Union Square in San Francisco, and even one in little Walnut Creek, CA, just in time for the change of seasons.

But there are no seasons in the Southland, it was 75 degrees outside last Sunday night…. in November.  But in a small outdoor parking lot, I definitely felt transported to a winter place.

Tivoli lights adorned trees , color changing paper globes were strung overhead, and the asphalt of a parking lot had been transformed into a slab of sparkling ice. 

It’s a new holiday tradition in my family to hit the rink in downtown Santa Monica, CA, and I got several friends to head outside, strap on ice skates and enjoy some good ol’ seasonal fun.

Complete with cheesy, guilty-pleasure disco music, a spin on the ice is a flashback for all, recalling embarrassing ten-year-old angst.  Yes, we still try to look cool while flailing wildly just before hitting the ice… hard.  And I believe that wearing the wet patch on my butt is a badge of honor, as it should be for anyone trying to have fun while entertaining the onlookers.  But more than anything, skating makes everyone smile. 


The rink had been well used over the course of the day (where’s a zamboni when you need one?), but the grooves just added to the challenge. 

Couples skated hand in hand, and children put their parents to shame, whizzing past pell-mell.  There were folks of all ethnicities and ages enjoying the holiday magic, perhaps dreaming of snow… or even temperatures below 60.  Little “pros” twirled in the center, showing off many hours of lessons.  Most of all there was laughter, some nervous, some gleeful.


What more can you ask from a hot muggy night the week before Thanksgiving?


Several in our crowd wanted to watch from the safety of the benches, and for them I had a thermos filled with the best hot chocolate you’ll ever taste.  It’s so rich and yummy, it really does stand all on its own as dessert. 


Even though the skaters didn’t work off many calories, they were welcome to their own cups of the chocolaty goodness… with the added bonus of a shot of Bailey’s Irish cream or homemade kahlua.  Ahh, that’s good stuff.

There is a difference between hot cocoa and hot chocolate. Hot cocoa is made from cocoa powder, and hot chocolate is made from shaved chocolate bars. My recipe uses shaved/grated chocolate.  It’s richer than cocoa, because chocolate bars have a higher cocoa butter content than cocoa powders.  Make it.  You’ll like it.

Hot Chocolate

8 oz. milk chocolate, chopped very fine or grated

4 C. milk

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. vanilla

Pour milk into a heavy bottomed saucepan.  Add in grated chocolate, and heat over medium heat until chocolate begins to melt, whisking often.  Add cinnamon.

When chocolate has reached the desired temperature, remove from heat and whisk in vanilla.

Pour into cups and enjoy!  Makes 6 servings.

(Note:  If you prefer your chocolate with a stronger taste, you may substitute 2oz. semi-sweet chocolate for 2oz. of the milk chocolate.)

There are temporary outdoor skating rinks all around the west, take a look for one in your neighborhood:


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Chihuly at the de Young


Recently, I had the good fortune to visit my old stomping grounds, San Francisco.  I dragged my friends to that fair city-by-the-bay for a very special showing of world-renowned glass artist, Dale Chihuly.  It was held at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park.


The de Young holds a very special place in my heart, as it was the first museum I ever visited, in elementary school.  We saw a Picasso exhibit, and I remember buying many post cards of his Peace Dove series.  (The doves, interpreted by a friend, later adorned my bedroom wall.)


I had visited Chihuly’s studio in Tacoma, Washington, as well as seeing installations of single works in London and Las Vegas, but never in an actual museum with so many pieces displayed.  (After doing some research, I’ve since learned that this is his largest exhibit ever… Chihulypalooza!)  I knew we were in for a treat, and assured my companions of this.  We were not disappointed.   


The hall was dark, the ceiling dropped low, and we entered another world.  There were suggestions of sea creatures, mind-bending forest foliage, baskets of glass, and Italian carnivale-inspired gondolas.  There were chandeliers made up of thousands of tiny tendrils of colored glass, seussian critters, and a spectacular fifty-six foot glass garden.  


I spoke with one of the museum officials who told me that this particular exhibit, consisting of tens-of-thousands of pieces of glass was shipped in 15 containers, and took a dozen installation technicians two weeks of ten-hour days to construct.  And while Chihuly himself supervises all the set-up and lighting, the exhibits never look the same once disassembled and moved to their new location. 


The last steps of the showing took visitors into a small white-walled room with a transparent glass ceiling, stacked with more of Chihuly’s fanciful colored shapes.  Lights show through the ceiling, creating glorious color-plays on the blank canvassed walls.


Chihuly has his critics, but don’t count me as one of them.  I find his pieces inspiring and dramatic.  And this was a wonderful return to the de Young for this child-at-heart.  And of course, I came home with more postcards.

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The English Hallmarking System

When looking through old English gold or silver, whether a locket, a pendant (a piece of Tamara Jewelry!), even a candlestick or a piece of flatware, you might notice tiny markings stamped into the metal.  These are hallmarks, and they can tell you a lot about the piece’s history.

The hallmarking system began in the United Kingdom during the 12th century when an edict was laid down that no piece of silver “was to depart out of the hands of workers” until it was tested and marked as genuine. 

The English system has 3 identifying marks.

Examples of English Hallmarks

Examples of English Hallmarks

The Assay Office mark.  This mark tells the region where the piece was made and each region has its own mark.  The Leopard stands for London, the Anchor, Birmingham, England.

The Standard mark.  This indicates the metal content of the item.  In English hallmarks, the Lion Passant is the symbol for Sterling — 925 parts-per-thousand silver.

In 1696 a new series began with the inception of the Britannia standard (the standard mark being the form of a female figure, called “Britannia”), an alloy containing 95.84% silver, with the balance usually being copper.  The Britannia Standard was used from 1697 to 1720, but there was conflict between makers who used the Britannia vs. Sterling Standards.  Britannia Standard silver was softer and more expensive, but carried cache’

Silversmiths lobbied the government, and the “sterling standard” on silverware production was restored on 1 June 1720, and continues today. The “Britannia standard,” however, was not abolished and remained in use also after 1720 as a voluntary alternative to the “sterling standard.”

The Date Letter mark.  At the end of the 15th century, in an effort to ensure accountability by the Assay Master – also known as the “Keeper of the Touch,” – the date-letter system was devised.   With the inception of the date letter, inspectors could trace an offending or unscrupulous assay-master from the date letter.  This quality control measure became a chance benefit for collectors, for now they could determine the age of a piece.  

The date letters began appearing on silver around 1478, and continued in 20 year cycles for more than 200 years without a break.  (The letters J and from V through Z were omitted, so that there would be five cycles in a century.) Each cycle has its own style of letter and/or its uniquely shaped shield.

So, with these hallmarks, and a little research, you can find out What, Where and When pieces were created, giving you a little peek into their history.  Enjoy!