Monday, 28 March 2016

Bunny ears to listen

Once you have found out the trick how to fold your serviette to get this result, it is of course very tempting to try it out with other serviettes also. These ones are squares of approximately 25 cm and held together with a small silver serviette holder. The serviettes are part of a small and a large beautifully appliqued table clothes with pink shaded flowers, handmade and embroidered by busy Chinese hands. They will all return in a future post, as they deserve a post on their own.

After having eaten yesterdays Easter eggs in the gingham serviettes I have filled the serviettes this morning with wooden eggs and put them in a basket as a table arrangement. Once that you get going on this (project to remember for next year) you could use artificial eggs just the same - they are on sale everywhere and easy on the budget. However, I just loved using the shiny coloured real ones inside.

The Easter bunny has ears, large ears, ears to listen and in fact tells us this:

There is a severe storm forecasted, grey skies, the rain drops are plentiful on these daffodils on the garden table. They are such a cheery sight from the dining room. A day for cocooning and a day to sit down and drop my long ear on the phone, calling people I have not spoken to for a long time.

This is a sweet not too large very cheery spring bouquet I got first thing in the morning last Saturday. I personally would never mix daffodils with tulips or any other flowers, but it was just so pretty I gave it try and thought it would last over Easter anyhow. Have a look at the remarkable ranunculus: in the middle there is a green part that grows longer and longer as the flower opens up. Like seaweed almost, really funny.

Happy Easter Monday

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Bunnies on a string and vintage table linen

These irresistable bunnies on a string were found at 'Dille & Kamille'. They dangle happily amongst the wooden Easter eggs and fluffy chickens from my Easter floral arrangement, made with blossoms and spring greens from the garden.They are so cute!

Easter breakfast just asks for pretty table linens, and for just anything that looks like spring and is colourful. My dear blogfriend Wanda sent me this very pretty hand embroidered table linen from Canada. It is square, approximately 90 x 90 cm, and just nicely fits a setting for two, on top of another bigger table cloth.The colours are very appealing and blend in with almost any plates used. Cannot decide whether I see yellow tulips or other yellow summery flowers?

The well finished reverse side
The stitcher is unknown, and as a tribute to the lady who made it (and to Wanda, of course!) I am posting it on here. It has been made with so much care and fine stitches, well finished on the reverse and a hand stitched hem in a beige colour. Can you just imagine how she sat down and embroidered this, thinking of spring and summer coming up, thinking of the moments she was going to use this? Well, it has become one of my favourites, as apart from being used at Easter it also is a nice asset on the garden table in the summer.

The hem stitch is intriguing, it is definitely made by hand, but I have to work out how it is done.
There were other things that hopped along with me apart from the bunnies when I was in town: charming little moulds for frying your eggs in a bunny shape and little cookie moulds to try out one's kitchen skills. I have never made cookies myself ever yet! On the news yesterday it was mentioned that it was remarkable that in the supermarkets we seemed to have bought a lot of stuff for home bakery, more than ever before.

This morning I found the way to fold serviettes like a bunny on Pinterest. You fold the points of a square to the middle line, fold both parts once more to the middle line, fold double, tie up in the middle and place your Easter egg in it and pull the ears into place. Voilá!, your Easter bunny. I used a paper serviette, but any linen serviette will make it look even greater.

The cookies still have to be tried out. A project for Easter Monday.

The recipe for the oeufs en cocotte has been tried out: delicious! - leek, green herbs, Parmezan cheese, creme fraiche, eggs. Very easy, but I found it tricky to remove everything from the oven, as the 'cocottes' float in piping hot water. I will have a go at it again, but will then put a lid on and will place it straight into the oven. And who knows, I might even be trying to get the bunny form with the special mould!

Happy Easter to you all!

Sunday, 13 March 2016

The twisty tail of March

We have this expression in Holland when the weather is unpredictable in March: 'Maart roert zijn staart' - 'March twists its tail'.
Although glorious sunshine warms us up during the day, the nights are still cold. On opening up the door to the garden there is always frost and a car that needs window scraping (which is one of the most irritating jobs ever).
On various blogs, but also in the window panes of a few local shops, the snowmen are still on show in March. My little snowmen light holders are the last ones to be put away and to be exchanged for Easter bunnies.
March surprised us plentiful these last days: lightning and thunder out of the blue, making us jump off our chairs and not returning, just that one big bang. Hale, snow, risk of ice, it was all there.
Although the itch to go outside is strong, the temperature still asks for indoor living and making the house warm, cooking nice warm dishes.
This snowman looks (and is) cold, but its heart makes you melt: delicious soft and runny chocolate. It makes a nice base for a desert in wintertime and can be worked around with so many different additional things. Extra vitamines on this occasion. Only sold as 'season food', it disappears once the festive season is over, just like snow - all of a sudden you cannot find it anymore on the shelves in the shops freezer.

The red gingham table cloth was made in the '70s, set off with a white rig rag stitched hem. It blends in with many occasions and many different meals. It is starting to show its use after so many years and I will be sorry to part with it. Time to make a new one, and maybe a different colour.

Now that King Winter is disappearing quickly, it is time to get started in the garden. The gourds on display on the garden table have to make place for daffodils, spring baskets with blue bells, fresh herbs. Warm food and hot soups will still be the thing though, using herbs from the garden that lasted through winter and were strong enough to survive in the frost.

Royal Pip under plate, Rosenthal Maria Weiss china
Have you ever made a whole green dinner? Consisting of a green starter, green soup, green jelly salad, green pasta, green desert with pistache ice cream? You can really live it up over Easter - once that you start thinking about this and go through your recipes you will be surprised what comes up.

Good bye, King Winter! Hello Spring!
The browns of winter have changed into greens,
colour is returning all over the place.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Festive and Sunday linens

It was not until all that long ago that women and young girls to be married were very proud of their trousseau. My mother's huge mahogany linen cabinet, with facetted mirror door, was a feast to open up, the linens nicely folded up in size and colour and everything in numerous numbers. It was a  'no go area' - we were not allowed to take anything out without her supervision. She cared much about everything put away in it. Treasures, costly linens, her grandmother's jewelry in a drawer, and who knows: secrets?! Today I wonder what on earth they were thinking on having a trousseau? That they were going to live for a twohundred years and use it up in time? Even my sisters had a weddinglist with wishes for 12 items of tea towels, 12 items of this, 6 or 12 items of that. Our roles changed, easy living was the recipe, combining family and working life with no time for tedious ironing of damask table linens and coarse bed linens. Coasters, table runners, place mats, duvet covers arrived on the scene in all shapes, colours and sizes to make life easy. When worn and torn, or being well used and discoloured, it was not painful to discard one or two things, having not paid the earth for it and being no precious inherited linens from our ancestors. Happily replaced by the vast choice of cheery and affordable items on the market.

Chinese hand embroidered and appliqué serviette, Villeroy & Boch dinner service - my private collection
Even in my mother's days the precious linens would only come out of the cabinet for festive days and Sundays. For every day use bright table linens cheered up the table, together with an 'every day dinner service'. Her hospitality has been a great example for me. For just my husband and myself  I also splash out on different table settings. It is a passion and so easy to do. A beautifully decorated Sunday breakfast table makes it such a wonderful start of the day. A fully decorated dinner table is so inviting for one's guests. Mixing and matching makes the choices endless, using a plain linen serviette or an embroidered one, it quickly sets the mood.

My friend Wanda from Canada visited Hotel des Indes in The Hague on her trip to Holland. When she showed me the picture of her visit and the table setting I gasped: 'Hotel des Indes?!! No linen on the table?!!' No, just this bare table - glasses and all put straight on. It could have been any quick hamburger restaurant's table, or a brown café. Really bad and unbelievable. Being chauvinistic and wanting to be proud of Holland and its culture, this was a very poor show and a sign of how one has left certain habits and culture, even in this very known luxury hotel. The cost of personnel and laundry maybe being the quick and easy way?

Banana leaf place mats, colourful table runners, hand embroidered table linens, damask, it is all part of whatever mood I am in to surprise my husband and my guests. It is fun and a challenge to do this, together with flowers, ivy and other things from the garden.

Now, I did something strange at IKEA's last Thursday. Having the spring fever I just had to get myself something new and decided (with my collection in mind) to get a yard of material for a new table runner on our modern Italian dinner table. The most boring stripe, very plain, very precautious. More is less, is the expression, but I just did not understand my choice once at home.
A few try outs with my various plates did however trigger my creativity and once I get going on it no doubt it will end up with either nice colourful and floral ends on both sides, maybe added by nice full length trimmings. The 'blues' were the best match, not the floral plates.

Royal Pip plates - last year's birthday gift from a friend
usually used as under plates, best used on white linens
This story takes me back to  Slot Zuylen and our tour of the castle. The linens are not always on show, the guide opened up this linen cabinet, wearing white gloves. Light and dust are forever big enemies of such precious textiles. The upcoming agenda of the castle shows there will be 'Open Cabinet Days' from 14-16 May. I hope there will be more details on show, as the red ribbon cards leave so much to the imagination: 'damask Chinese linen', 'guest towels', 'flowers', 'grapes', 'insects', 'stripes and squares'.

The website has a new feature. You can glimpse through photo albums and get an idea on how and when things were used. The era and the families surely come to life.

Our guide explained the story on the 'Chine de commande' and how complete the dinner set still is. The family would sing hymns and say prayers before their meals together with their servants.
The huge table linen holds a pretty and busy pattern.

Belle's brother, Willem René van Tuyll van Serooskerken, baron de l'empire, in his green outfit, smiles at you when you pass the corridor and go down the stairs. The story goes that he rented out the castle and sold its furniture. Maybe he did not enjoy festive moments at the dining table, living elsewhere?

Happy Sunday dinner, bon appétit!

Saturday, 5 March 2016

A sampler and a pincushion: joy and effort

As Women's International Day is coming up on 8 March here is a post on Castle Zuylen once more.

The women who lived at Slot Zuylen are plentiful and the most famous of all is of course the writer and composer 'Belle van Zuylen'. You can read all about Isabelle van Tuyll van Serooskerken on her special (English) page on Wikipedia and see a tv trail on her life on RTV Utrecht, really worthwhile having a look at - even if you do not understand the Dutch language, as it takes you back in her time.

As you do a tour of the castle the ins and outs of family members, life and history of the castle are being told. In one of the halls this painting shows the history of dramatic life and death of at least one particular family. Painters of the time were such detailed history story tellers. Alas, no close up of the painting - just go and visit the castle yourself and let the guide tell you all about it. The castle website has a special page on portraits and paintings. The link to this website is in the second alinea of this post, just scroll through the various tabs of it, and on the floor plan of the castle to peep into the rooms.

Isabelle was not too happy at the castle, which for me is a completely different experience, as I love the intimacy of the castle, the garden, the quiet, the river Vecht and its nature surroundings. Then again, there is no comparison - I never lived there, not in her time, and was free to fly out of my nest when I was ready for it and discover the entire world.
For her it was a golden cage. Her inquisitive and intellectual mind needed feedings from the outside world, in the end she went abroad.
Her private room holds personal items, the window looks out on the garden with the brick snake fence, not on the river on the other side of the castle. The golden silk screen holds a Japanse fan pattern, her bath is just behind it - covered in a sheet at the time we visited. One tries to imagine how she wrote her first book at this desk when she was young, the castle being the background of the story.

For all women of her time learning embroidery was a virtue and a must. Part of Belle's initials are in the middle of this sampler-  'I T'

The sculpture of Belle, and me taking the picture, are reflected on the glass panel in front of the embroidery
Detail of the sampler
A guide is limited in time and tries to tell as much as possible in one hour. On the guest room we were told it held many items because at the time people who would come and stay at the castle, would come from far and would stay long. It looked pretty cluttered to me. Now, there was this more than intriguing cushion on a marble top table. I quickly took a picture and it was not until I started to edit this picture in Picasa that I started to wonder hów it was made. You see tiny little holes in it, not really embroidery stitch holes. Are they pin holes? Is it a pin cushion? Is it meant as a scented sachet? Next time I will ask the guide. Whatever it is, the text is self explanatory 'Que le plaisir surpasse la peine' - 'May joy surpass the effort'. It must have been a great effort to embroider the text, to fasten the beads or pins precisely in order on the silk. It is a very special object.

The question is: who made it? Did Belle make it? Has it been made by one of the other inhabitants of the castle? The female portraits are plentiful, it could be made by any of the women represented on those. Is this not a lovely portrait? My great grandmother wore a bonnet like this when she was very young, in the late 1800's. The pearl earrings are just outrageous, no doubt showing off her wealth. Imagine the weight of them, the pain of wanting to look beautiful and impressive! The pearl fastened to the white collar is almost just as big. The portrait is on show in a newly opened up room. On another visit I shall write down her name, at the moment all I can say is that I just love the expression on her face, somewhat cheeky, somewhat surprised.

Women of our time have achieved a lot since her time. But are our looks better? Such a contrast to the way women dress today in their jeans, with short cut hair, wearing sneakers. It is gorgeous to look at this and imagine her life. By the looks of it she enjoyed her food, being middle aged maybe, with a chubby under chin. How delicious the food will have been with the ingredients from the castle garden and poultry and fowl from the countryside. In the kitchen Wedgewood pie molds are on show, no doubt used for festive cooking. Witnesses of days gone by.

Wedgewood molds

Friday, 4 March 2016

Friday - gardening time

Slot Zuylen tulips
Last year these gorgeous tulips were blooming just outside the Museum Café of Slot Zuylen. There are many reasons to visit the authentic castle often, it is a lovely relaxed and quiet place. The organized open days have a lot to offer, products from the castle garden and things from the area. Very worthwhile visiting and always very inviting to return to, for both the castle and the activities.

The entrance tower of  'Slot Zuylen'
It was my plan to garden today and do something with the tulip bulbs, which got lost and found in the garage. However, snowflakes and rain drops are taking it in turn today.

Not very inviting - the daily long walk with the dog will be the only outdoor activity. The tulips were on sale during the spring 'open day', but where oh where did I put them away in the garage?

The garage should hold our cars, but in winter it gets rather stuffed up with garden furniture and boat things, leaving my car frosted over outside! It is also the last station of things that should be taken to the thrift store. In other words: it is more of a warehouse, where it is difficult to move around and find things, than a place to protect your car from the awful weather. As winter slowly passes by one's eye moves from the Christmas decorations put away there on the shelves to the summer stuff. And there it was on the wall, my eyes caught the bag with tulips, put up on a hanger with a garden light guirlande and hidden behind the garden door stop. I seem to have a selective eye over the season, ignoring what is not necessary at the very moment. Of course it is rather late to plant the tulips, maybe flower pots would be the best idea for the upcoming season? In autumn they can get a definite place elsewhere in the garden.

Maybe planning and getting organized is gardening, too?
Some terracotta pots burst in the winter, although we did not have a lot of frost. The broken pots were a reason to do market research and see how they could be replaced. Garden centers and Ikea happily catch on to our need of getting the spring fever. The huge pinkish red pots were really shouting at me 'take me home, take me home' yesterday. The idea on the left can easily be copied with the cache pots already bought at Ikea at an earlier stage and being part of the garage scene.

It is so inviting to start gardening! But not this Friday with its rain and snowflakes. Hopefully there will be many happy spring moments in the garden soon.

Below a picture of the other tea towel I talked about in the previous post. My mother seems to have used it more then the Tuesday one, there is a nasty tear in the left upper corner. On this website you can read a lot on the creative work and designs made:  Milvia. When I see all the tea towels I wonder why I did not get the whole week range? This is the fun of internet - you can find everything and enjoy everything on line. I shall enjoy the real one until it really falls apart; for the moment both act as throwovers and are eye catchers as such.

'Friday - gardening' - designed by Milvia