Archive for the ‘Collecting’ Category

Around here, the past couple of winters have been really mild. Uncommonly mild, even. Last year, we watched and waited for winter to arrive, and it never did. Not really, anyway. We just kind of shivered our way into spring.

But apparently THIS winter has decided to settle in and give us a good run for our money, at least in terms of temperatures. If I could ask for anything, I would like a little snow to go with the cold. Please and thank you.

This is how our week is shaping up, weather-wise.
I know, I know. I shouldn’t whine. This is nothing compared with some parts of the country, where minus signs frequently appear in front of temperatures, and polar vortex is NOT a noteworthy weather phenomenon. But here in middle Tennessee, we live on the teetering transitional edge between north and south. And some years, our average lows hover in the mid-30s – not exactly tropical, but not exactly locked in the icy clutches of winter, either.

Part of me is glad I don’t have my greenhouse up and running this year and  part of me wishes I did. Even on a cold, blustery winter day, a little sunshine and a space heater can make it feel like spring. But there is a big price to pay – namely the cost of keeping the inside above freezing every night.

While we start the inevitable countdown to spring (I generally begin marking off the weeks to last frost as soon as Super Bowl Sunday has come and gone), I’m focusing my time and attention on indoor stuff: cleaning, organizing, crafting, cooking and exercising. Maybe not in that order.

Last week’s menu had several new items from January’s Southern Living recipes. This week’s menu has a few more recipes from that issue. I’ve finally embraced the no-knead bread recipe, and we’ve eaten two loaves in as many weeks. I don’t know why it took me so long to give it a shot, but I’m glad I did. I got February’s Southern Living in the mail over the weekend and there are several more good-sounding recipes in it, so my family can rest assured they will get a nice mix of old favorites and new foods over the next several weeks.

I’ve kept up with my daily Bible reading and the 52-week organizing challenge; this week is pantry and spice rack cleanout. Luckily for me, I had done a pantry re-org before Christmas, so I’m coasting for a few days. Next week’s challenge is to set up a home recycling center, which is unnecessary because we have curbside recycling, and they sort everything for us, so if the temperatures aren’t bitterly cold, I hope to use that week to clear out a lot of the clutter in the garage. No promises, though.

I like to think of it as part of the organization challenge, but whatever you call it, I’ve abandoned any pretense at limiting my Fiesta collection. And so I’ve begun the hunt for a new/second hutch for the kitchen…a two-piece style with a breakfront so I can eek out a little more counter space as well as have more display room for my vintage dishes, and lower cabinets and drawers to stow cookbooks and linens and a few less-used cooking and serving pieces. I found a Hoosier-style oak cabinet last weekend at an antique mall, and I loved everything about it except the width (too narrow) and the price (too high.)  I’m holding out hope that stalking Craigslist will eventually yield the piece with exact dimensions and price I’m looking for.

So how is your winter going? Are you like me, and ready for it to be over and done with already? Or are you settling in and enjoying the season?

Happy Monday,

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I love my Fiesta dish collection. I have both vintage and contemporary collections and both continue to grow with new acquisitions.
macy's box
My newer Fiesta collection tends to grow in chunks – a new set of 8 bowls, plates or mugs will appear in boxes (often with that telltale red star on the side….curse you Macy’s – you give away my secret every time.)

My collection of vintage has grown more slowly – usually one piece at a time, although my new love-fest with pumpkin-colored OvenServe has grown more rapidly thanks to some vendors offering multiples of the same pieces.

When I view eBay or Etsy or LiveAuctioneer for new listings, I notice there are typically two approaches that sellers use: they either try to entice the plunderers with an intact collection, or they break it up piece-by-piece for the pluckers.

It seems the pluckers outnumber the plunderers – the collections often seem to languish without any nibbles. But I guess when a huge collection does sell, it temporarily tilts the scale in favor of that approach.

As a collector, I usually find my best deals one piece at a time. My frugal side insists on patient plucking. So what about you – do you go for the one-shot plunder and enjoy poring over your new haul? Or are you a picky picker, plucking your pieces one at a time? And can you say that five times fast?

Happy collecting,

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Our “Spring Break” trip (minus any actual Spring Break-ers) was a week of relaxed-pace recreating in Myrtle Beach.  I knew our vacation was off to a great start when I spied our condo’s dishes:


If you guessed Fiesta, you guessed correctly. I’m feeling very influential these days.  Or maybe I’m just in good company.  What’s not to love about these dishes?

The week provided several rounds of golf for Mr. Official, a couple hours of hot yoga and a nice 5-mile run for me, plus plenty of pool time.  Our winter whites have been banished for the season, replaced by a pink-brown color they call “tan” – I hear it’s the “in” color this summer.

The temperatures exceeded expectations, pegging out in the high 70s/low 80s most days.  We  ate our fill of local seafood each night and we drove Thunder Road:IMG_3395


…well, one of us did. Somebody had to take pics, and besides, I wasn’t sure I met the height requirements.


Because Mr. Official is an easy-going good sport, one night he agreed to forgo a seafood feast and dine on movie theater popcorn and Cokes while watching Jurassic Park in 3-D (in a nearly empty theater.. which was kinda weird.)

In between golf, yoga, and taking laps around the lazy river on innertubes, we also got in a day of antiquing, which netted two red fruit bowls and a turquoise salad bowl for my (ever-growing) collection.  I also acquired some wonderful additions to our landscape, courtesy of a plant sale at Brookgreen Gardens and a fabulous little nursery in Murrells Inlet:IMG_3426.

But the highlight of the trip was on Friday…it was a paparazzi moment for me and my camera when I spotted this gosling surrounded by a couple tough-looking bodyguards on high alert.  I managed to squeeze off a few shots before they shooed me away.


Technically, it was six goslings.


Oh, wait…you thought I spotted Ryan Gosling?  Silly goose.  Nope. But I think these Canadians are just as cute as he, and it was way easier to get a photo of ’em than THAT guy.

Happy Monday,

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Do you like history?  I do.  It was an acquired taste, but I confess I do love peering intently into the stories that weave together and form the tapestry of human experience. So much of the past influences and affects our lives today.  You know, events like…

Today in 1990, Campbell’s Soup produced its 20 billionth (with a “b”) can of tomato soup.  Love it or hate it, you can’t deny it’s iconic-ness (is that a word?)  After all, Any Warhol and the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art celebrate it.


On the 17th, Betty White turns an unbelievable 91, proving that the ability to laugh at life and yourself can keep you relevant and vibrantly youthful.

And speaking of timeless, A.A. Milne’s birthday is remembered on the 18th.  Where would we be without Winne-the-Pooh and his comrades?  My children and I have watched, read and sang the beloved stories of Pooh’s adpoohventures since Oldest Son was a baby.

(We still have his first Pooh bear….and it still plays the tune when you squeeze it.  When we knew Swimmer Girl was going to be a baby girl, her brothers suggested Pooh bedding for her crib, and made sure she would grow up knowing all the wonderful goings-on in the Hundred Acre Wood.)

And finally for this week of history, January 21 marks the 28th year since James Beard passed away at the age of 82.

I was a young bride when he died, and at the time my cooking style  bore absolutely no resemblance to haute cuisine.  (It still bears very little similarity, but my pantry is stocked with more and better foodstuffs than it was back in the mid-80s.) His legacy continues to drive American tastes and inspire would-be-foodies everywhere to raise the bar and make meals memorable, and I am grateful to him for helping make us all more aware of the what makes food “good.”

I hope your week is full of good thoughts and happy memories.

Happy Tuesday,

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h…then your favorite recipes are a glimpse into your gustatory system.  (Now there’s a term you don’t hear everyday, right?  Okay, let’s just call it your “tastes.”)

After a holiday pinning binge (pingeing?)  on Pinterest, I realized I have amassed 3,000 pins.  Not all are recipes, but a lot of them are because Pinterest is a great way to keep track of recipes I want to try without creating a stack of printed recipes and hand-scratched scribbled notes.

That’s my Pinterest story and I’m sticking to it.

Seriously, I won’t pin anything that I don’t plan to actually make, and I have un-pinned recipes that we tried and rejected.

I am simultaneously adventuresome AND particular about recipes I will even consider.  As a result my family has collectively “raised the bar” over the years, snubbing most pre-processed and fast food in favor of dishes made with fresh, wholesome ingredients in an array of colors, textures, and flavors.

And so I am often surprised (and saddened) when I find a much-hyped recipe (“This is the best thing I’ve ever made!!!!”) is bland or poorly seasoned, or the food consistency is mushy, hard or otherwise blech.  It’s not inedible; it just isn’t good.

I’m not a food snob….truly I’m not. In my pantry are some sodium- and fat-laced foods that would make true foodies cringe. Things like cream-of-something soup.  Powdered soup mixes.  The occasional ready-to-make rice or pasta dish.  Velveeta.  Onion and garlic powders. Quick oats. The list goes on.

In certain dishes, these ingredients have a role to play.  Not every dish needs to be totally scratch-made from just-plucked farm-fresh foods and gourmet seasonings in order to taste good. The trick (in my humble opinion) is to know when to use a short-cut and when to not short-change your dish.  And that knowledge comes through a lot of trial-and-error.

You don’t have to dirty every pot and pan to create a great weeknight dinner, either.   In case you hadn’t noticed, I really love my crockpot.  Crockpots and slowcookers are true kitchen workhorses.  And like any good workhorse, they are great for some things, and  disastrous for others.  Case in point:  I tried recipes for crockpot oatmeal and hash brown casserole over the holidays.  The oatmeal suffered from my inattentiveness when I mixed it together.  (Using a smaller second container as an insert and creating a water bath is a good idea.  But use good steel-cut oats, NOT quick oats.  Trust me.)  A hash brown casserole can be made the night before and baked in the morning with good results, but it is not a good dish for cooking overnight.  I should have known better, but I tried it because there were so many glowing comments.  Which makes me wonder if those blessed souls have ever had a really good hash brown casserole.

Yesterday I made a “forgotten chicken” casserole and stuck it in to bake before we headed to worship.  The result?  It has potential, but to those who raved on the original recipe….really?  It was bland, even though I used a wild rice and mushroom pilaf mix.  I can’t imagine a 3-hour baking would do anything good to the minute rice in the original recipe.  I will try it again, with some serious alterations and adjustments, because three hours at 275 yielded reasonably tender, moist chicken breasts.  There is hope for the concept, but the ingredients need a tweaking, and maybe a complete overhaul.

I realize that every family’s tastes and sensibilities will vary wildly.  But if I could wish for one thing, it would be that families everywhere would stop settling for overcooked and badly seasoned food; if the reviews on recipe sites are any indication, there’s far too much of that going on.  Home-cooked food should be anything but greasy, dry, tasteless, bland or mushy.

Trust me, anyone can learn to recognize high-potential recipes and then modify them to suit their tastes; when you do, cooking can become a very fun adventure.  If your family is in an eating rut, slowly introduce more contrasts in flavor and texture.  Not every food has to be an all-out assault on your “gustatory senses,” but stop settling for bad or same ‘ol, same ‘ol food every day.

Happy Monday…and happy cooking,

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Before Christmas, I came across two Fiesta finds (okay, steals) on ebay.  One was a Riviera “Mexicana” platter that the seller had mismarked as Universal Potteries.  (A quick lookup with Google confirmed that Universal Potteries never made ANYTHING that looked like Riviera.)  The platters, whether solid or decaled like the one I bought, typically start at $25 and go up from there  I was the lone bidder so I got it for the opening bid of $12.99.

The other was a Kitchen Kraft cake plate for $0.99 that typically commands a $30 to $75 pricetag. The seller described it as “unmarked Fiesta plate,” but I knew what it was when I spotted the photo.

I felt like the American Pickers, except I only had to tap a few keystrokes and know what I was looking at to unearth my treasures.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Mr. Official and I scouted out the Fiesta dish “outlet” on Sevierville Highway as we headed home from Gatlinburg several weeks ago.  They had some nice vintage pieces, along with new factory seconds and (maybe) first quality items, which were overpriced. Shrug. We were in a tourist trap, so the markup was expected and it was still fun to look.

Among the vintage pieces was a stack of cream soup bowls they had tagged for $65 each.  Which is about the going rate if you have pristine-quality pieces and a willing buyer.  (I paid about $10 each for mine, and accepted a couple with chips in the mix.)  But, here’s the kicker:  they had marked them as onion soup bowls, which retail for about ten times that amount.

Now granted, for those of us living in 2012, we don’t usually differentiate between cream soup and onion soup bowls.  Even our fussiest china dishes probably have just a single bowl for each place setting, and it serves soup, cereal, ice cream, fruit, pudding or whatever requires a bowl.  But back in the day, there were special dishes and serving pieces for just about everything.  And whether you know Fiesta or not, there’s no mistaking these two pieces once you see them:

Cream soup bowls with lug handles
Onion soup bowls with Nautilus handles and lids

Let’s hope no unsuspecting buyer thinks they’re getting a steal based on the misleading tag, which could happen if you just know the Fiesta lore and know that onion soup bowls are exceedingly rare and expensive.

I have collected things just because I liked them, and didn’t really care what they were called or what they were worth because I wasn’t spending much on any of them.

a “pig in a poke”

In fact, that’s how my Fiesta collection began.  Along with several plant collections (roses, hostas, daylilies, heucheras…the list goes on.)

But I caution anyone who is ready to move from dabbling dilettante to serious collector to do your homework first. You don’t need to become a walking encyclopedia of details on the object of your desire, but at least know where to go for answers before you get caught up in the excitement of finding a treasure.  It might be a great buy, or it might turn out to be a proverbial “pig in a poke.”

I’ve found the more I learn about Fiesta, the more I appreciate the pieces I come across.  Sometimes I have the fun of unearthing a piece from the dark, dusty recesses of a salvage store.  I wipe away layers of dirt and grime to see it is, then try to act nonchalant as I hand it to the cashier.  Other times, I simply admire a gleaming, beautiful piece that is proudly displayed by someone who knows what they have, and what it’s worth. 

So what do you collect, and why do you love it?

Happy collecting,

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Barry Zito is a very
expensive pitcher

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

But how much is a pitcher worth?

Well, if he (or she) can throw like Barry Zito, they are worth a lot more than a thousand words.

Beyond the boys of summer, there are Fiesta pitchers.

A few weeks ago, I did a quick rundown on the ball jug/tilt pitchers made by Fiesta under the Harlequin name, along with other similar pottery pieces of that era.  The ball jugs are usually found with fairly modest price tags; full size pitchers in pristine condition can command $100, maybe $150 or $200 if the right buyer comes along.  The smaller creamer-size versions bring far less – I snagged mine for $5, which was a bargain, but pretty typical.

However, if the pitcher in question is a full-size Fiesta disk pitcher in the ever-elusive medium green full-size, like this one:

 Or a gray juice-size Fiesta in perfect condition, like the smaller one shown here:

then they can command major-league prices in the ballpark of $2,000 or more.  (All puns intended.)

One of Fiesta’s most unique and iconic pieces is the disk pitcher.  Fiesta included a disk-shaped juice pitcher in their very first year of production, then added a larger 7-inch pitcher in 1938.  They continue dominating the disk pitcher market with the larger version in all the new colors, along with a newer (post-1986) mini disk version that holds five ounces and works as a personal creamer or syrup server.

While sorting out the old and new can be a challenge, at least there aren’t nearly as many look-alike disk pitchers as there are ball/tilt jugs.

I’ve found some disk pitchers, but really none of them would be mistaken for a Fiesta pitcher.  While a few of these pieces have great  lines and shapes in their own right, it seems the disk pitcher is/was fairly difficult to execute with graceful lines.  I’ve picked out some of the better attempts, as well as a few that are undoubtedly beautiful in the eyes of their beholders.

Hall Pottery made several attempts with disk pitchers; some were more graceful than others.

Alamo Pottery made a version that was stylish and pretty – and the shape is similar to Fiesta, although the markings are distinctly different:

Vernon Kiln Pottery’s Vernonware disk pitcher was particularly graceful and came in several colors:

Feltman-Langer USA, creators of the no-spill travel mug, made their own splash on the mid-century pottery scene with this sleek horizontal ribbed version:
Universal Potteries‘ disk jugs were…well, we’ll just call ’em distinctive. They even came with a cap for the spout.

A few more full-size jug mugs in this rogue’s gallery.  On the left is a Wallace China pitcher; on the right is a Shawnee/McCoy “Stars” pitcher – you have to look closely to see the embossed stars:

And here are some miniature disk pitchers. These mini disks are both most likely from Cronin/Sevilla.  At a glance, they look much like a Fiesta pitcher, except for the lower handle placement; those with the telltale white interior are definitely not Fiesta.

Below is a Cantinaware Pottery creamer.  This is a relatively new piece in a line offered by Target in the mid-1990s until a court-ordered injunction was issued by Homer Laughlin.

 There’s even a collector’s market for “Burrite” plastic disk jugs. To each his own…

And now for the final burning questions on everyone’s mind, I’m sure:

1.  Is it “disk” or “disc?”  Disk is the older word, but both refer to thin, circular things.  You’ll find the pitchers labeled both ways.
2.  And about the term pitcher?  It was first used by the ancient Greeks to describe earthen vessels.  It wasn’t until 1845 that it was used to designate the baseball player on the center mound.

If you are a Fiesta lover, you’ll undoubtedly want to add some disk pitchers to your (ahem) “lineup.” Fortunately, they can be had for much less than an MLB player’s contract.

Happy collecting,

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