July 17, 2014

'The great 17thc. outdoor beehive bake oven adventure'~

(Coming along really well.)
"Cob oven, gangnam style"!
My guilty pleasure is watching hilarious Psy 'gangnam style' parodies on Youtube. I love them, and we have a lot of our favs, so Adam did his own version just for me! 

Mixing up batches of cob involves a lot of stomping in bare feet. Adam decided the funny gangnam dance was in order.

We're working on a roofed lean-to like the one above. Below you can see ours in progress~
 *(See all the photos and details of our cob bake oven ONLY on our website gallery)
This project is not quick or easy, as some would have you believe. It takes a lot of commitment, research, and very hard work. Finding proper clay is not simple. Clay must be dug up---(you can't buy it---repeat---you cannot buy it. You must dig your clay)---it should be of good and right quality, and be prepared to use as much as 15 five-gallon bucket loads, as well as a few hundred of pounds of the proper sand, some sawdust, hay, etc. (We had to dig in a couple swampy patches we have found hidden on a hilltop in dense woods behind our house along the little stream to get the clay, and carry each over-50 pound bucket through woods and down the hill, after picking out all rocks and debris of course.)

Adam got empty glass beer bottles from people at work and at the local dump, as they were needed for an insulation layer in the base.

Like all of the many, many very difficult and dirty jobs we've done over the years restoring our 18thc. house, we found this challenging, fun---and because we are doing it together and not going to the store and spending a ton of money for materials or a pricey ready-made bake oven---very rewarding~
You can go online and spend almost two thousand dollars---yes, two thousand dollars to buy this, uh, well, UGLY (and NOT period-correct) thing---(ugh!)

We decided to build our own period-correct (17thc. style) cob bake oven in our back garden, similar to one at Plimoth Plantation~
We would never spend money on something like the photo above---
This project is not about money; it's about keeping the 'old ways' alive by making something with your own 2 hands, and investing hours and days or weeks in something worthwhile to enjoy and to remember, and to recreate a little bit of the past of our ancestors.
The biggest allure of the project is not only anticipation of wonderful homemade food we'll make in it, but the fact that we are doing every bit of it ourselves, and with materials we already had, had salvaged, or dug up ourselves,---Just like the first-comers at Plimoth. 
We did a lot of research before we started our project, reading books and watching videos.
We have used our own resources, as well as all of our own best efforts. In the book we used as one of our instructional guides for constructing an oven as they did hundreds of years ago, the author says in part~
"...where we find relationship, we will also find beauty. But we have to start where we are. That's why I suggest you make-do~not only because it's better than buying, but also because you learn more by thinking about where to dig and how to scrounge..."
Our oven has an arched brick opening and foot--- (We used old bricks I garbage-picked years ago), and we crafted the door from scraps of 250 year old boards with lovely ancient patina, that we already had in our attic stash, and used a bent branch from the woods for the rustic handle!
We're pretty proud of what we have done, especially since we had never done anything like this before.
It was great to learn new skills but most of all it was like taking a trip back in time to recreate something our pilgrim ancestors made. 
We are having a lot of fun doing this together and making memories...
We've had a blast building our oven~ 
Above, it's in progress~   

...So without further ado, we'd like to share this adventure with you and invite you to visit our  
now up on our website. 
~With many photos along with descriptions, we take you on our adventure as we design and build this period-correct bake oven in our back garden, and without spending more than a few dollars.
We hope you will enjoy it.
*( Our galleries are up for a limited time. They change periodically to reflect our 17th/18thc. life and adventures).


We will be adding more pictures to our gallery weekly, and will have a 'big reveal' on our website later this summer~
We built our oven using the same materials and methods they used 300 years ago. 
Here we're ready for the next step---removing the sand from inside and exposing a perfectly formed bake oven!

Above, the oven project in progress.
Come visit our gallery and share the whole adventure--- 

April 17, 2014

Who doesn't love a cute dog?

A very early spring day. The sun is shining, but it's cold and everything is still...brown, ugh. Miraculously though, all the mountains of snow that half-covered our windows this winter are gone, and I have spied green shoots popping through the dirt here and there.
I have no car.
Among other things, our two yorkies have a "pet stroller"---Yeah, a pet stroller. It is quite marvelous, really.
I had to walk up the hill to the town hall and the post office on this early spring day. The yorkies go with us most places in a front-pack, on leash, or bike carrier.
This is just a little too far for tiny little legs to hoof it there and back, and when Adam is not here, I can't squeeze both of them into one front-pack.
Adam has always called our girls "the ambassadors of peace and goodwill" because of the smiling attention they draw from everyone, wherever we go.
This cold spring day was no exception, and people came out from behind the counter at both stops to pet and coo at them.
It's a tiny town. Everyone knows them and loves them.
They really do make everyone feel a little bit happier.
I had the camera with me and snapped a few photos while on our errand.
Is there anything more cheering than a pet that loves you?

Who doesn't love a cute dog?

 We love you, guys---You're the best~

A few photos of very early spring in the backyard~


January 12, 2014

The annual Colonial Twelfth Night Ball Gallery~

Come attend the ball with us~ The ball photo gallery is now up HERE on our WEBSITE~
*(Please note~Our galleries are only up for a short time. We change them periodically to reflect our "17th and 18thc. life and adventures".)


January 7, 2014

"Adam's tea party"

 My Lavender Cookies with Rosewater Icing---An old fashioned teatime sweet~(I have given this recipe in a past post on this blog).
When Adam first started at his new job, a few of the ladies in his department saw photos of us at tea in our 18thc. duds on the walls of his cubicle. This started a discussion about the British, tea, the royals, reenacting and Downton Abbey, among other 'period' shows. It turned out that a handful of these ladies were positively addicted to royal-watching, and tea parties, and all things Brit.
One mentioned that rosewater seemed to be an ingredient much used in tea treats of the past, and how no one cooked like that now.  Adam chimed in with "Oh, yes, my wife does! You should taste her Lavender Cookies with Rosewater Icing, that she makes for our 18thc. English tea picnics!" He then volunteered me to make some, which he offered to bring into work, saying they could all have some with tea one day on their breaks. One thing lead to another and soon someone else suggested a short, "Downton Abbey Tea Party" during lunch one day after the holidays.
That day was yesterday. The handful of ladies and Adam decided to wear something just a little reminiscent or worthy of an old-time Tea, and each would bring something---little sandwiches or a plate of treats. On Sunday, Adam and I had fun making a batch of the lavender cookies and frosting them with my rosewater icing. I put them on a pewter platter with a few dried flowers as decoration on the side. Yesterday morning Adam put on his older, 3 button tweed jacket and wore a tie and a pocket handkerchief.  (This jacket looked most like a tweed Scottish or English one.)
For half an hour yesterday, this small group had a ball brightening a cold winter day at their own 'Times past Tea'. A piece of fabric from the company's collection served as a tablecloth on a conference table. Someone brought a teapot, someone else fancy cups and saucers. There were several kinds of tea sandwiches. Adam said my old fashioned cookies were the hit of the party---Even the maintenance man happened by, and Adam offered him one. He loved them so much, he took a few, and asked for a few to take home to his wife. Adam said it was funny to then see this guy hinting for the recipe!
People from other departments were evidently peeking into the room, eyeing the goings on and food enviously.
Here are a few photos Adam took so I could share a bit of the party~
Adam wore his old tweed jacket for the group's impromptu "Downton Abbey" tea party at work
A lovely time was had by all---at a conference table they decorated.

Everyone who has been reading my blog knows all about how we love our old favorite, the Brit historical series 'Tales From The Green Valley', and how lately we have seen all 6 episodes and the Christmas Special of a new BBC series about life on a Tudor farm in 1500, and that I gave us the companion book, 'Tudor Monastery Farm' for Christmas.
Most of you also know that I am an antique dealer, and have collected antiques all my life. Adam and I love the very early English and American antiques of the 16th and 17th centuries most of all, and we like to think our little old house is time traveler's delight, most of our furnishings dating to that far-away time.
Our things were lovingly collected over years and years with patience, sacrifice, diligent searching, and a little luck---I didn't want a house full of "repros", or an almost "instant Pilgrim look" that I see so often now out there. 
As a widow for many years, I had little money, and most of my best "finds" went to the homes of my customers.
Adam and I have always had a limited and tight budget, and have relied on our knowledge of history, of the period antiques we love, and on our persistence and commitment to finding 'bargains'---wonderful things priced far, far below their actual value.  Often it meant selling 4 of my things to buy one better one.
We also pride ourselves that we had the patience to wait for pieces we wanted, sometimes for years, until we could afford them, rather than fill up our home with mediocre things or 'fakes' in an effort to have an instant home, or to create a "look". Too many people can't stand a 'hole' in their house, and must fill up every corner as quickly as possible, rather than make do and wait for a piece that is an investment, and something they will love for years.
I remember once when I owned a rare set of 18thc. country bannister back chairs, but no early table. Rather than buy some cheap copy or something else to fill up the void, I carefully placed my prized pair of pewter candlesticks on the floor with the chairs around them, as they would be if the proper size table was there. I apologized to no one. I lived with it, anticipating the table of my dreams, which I knew I would find, and for a bargain, in time.
One thing I have seen lately over and over among a few collectors who seem to relatively recently have been bitten by the seductive "Pilgrim" era bug, is that they all seem to fill their homes with an abundance of 'fake' foods, too many baskets, and just way too much 'stuff', 'artfully' displayed on seemingly every surface, (not to mention almost every available foot of floor space as well) resulting in a look that is just that'---a 'look.'  It is neither authentic or real, but tends to turn their homes into insipid showroom vignettes you'd see at a shop selling reproduction antique furniture,  or a hodgepodge mess of how they think people then lived. They also don't seem to take some of the unique physical features of their own particular home into consideration when collecting and decorating. Now, I have even heard some say "Well I saw things like that done at Plimoth Plantation, Jamestown, etc.". Those places are museums---They are stage sets to give visitors a little taste of the lives of our ancestors. Your homes are NOT museums, and that is the big difference.
We LIVE in our home. We are comfortable, and most of all we want our friends to feel comfortable coming to see us, and to actually have a place to sit, and a table surface on which to enjoy some real, homemade food! The most beautiful homes done in a 17thc. style are those that are done with taste, authenticity, and restraint, and where the owners have had the patience and creativity to furnish with the actual antiques of the period. These homes do honor to a time long past and people long gone. 
(See this FORMER POST~)
That having been said, I am not averse to having one or 2 'faux' items of period-looking foods for display in an appropriate place where it would be IF you have a spot for them, because obviously the 'real things' tend to spoil, mold, or rot. (I reserve these items mainly for display at the holidays.
I will NEVER however, set up phony vignettes that makes my home look 'artificial', nor will I copy the "Pilgrim" formula-decor I am now seeing in several people's homes---all of whom, by the way seem to be clones of each other, instead of showing off a bit of the individual owner's personality.)

I loved the Tudor bread---the "Monk's bread" that I saw in the 'Tudor Monastery Farm' series and the book, as well in a show on English food, past and present.  I did decide to make one ARTIFICIAL LOAF of Tudor bread for display on a plate on our actual 16th/17thc. refectory table in our living room.  The loaf won't remain there all the time, but it's a nice touch for the holidays or some other occasion, and it won't spoil or develop mold.
The loaf turned out so nicely, if I do say so. I made a basic 'salt dough'---I recommend you DO NOT use a 'regular' bread dough recipe, as it will spoil eventually.)
My indestructible loaf looks delicious, and exactly like those shown in the series and pictured in the book.
  I reserved my book back in early summer last year, and gave it to us for Christmas. We loved the series too~

A sneak peek...


...at the part of the incredible original top of our own c. 400 year old table. The aprons are simply carved, and it has a box stretcher base.  You can see this, and our restored 18thc. home and gardens by clicking the link at the end of this post.
 I've photographed my faux bread on one of our reproduction hand made Tudor plates that are exact copies of those found on the wreck of the 'Mary Rose'.
We watched this fantastic series years ago as well, and I thought you might enjoy this episode of the hilarious 'Supersizers Go..."

Visit our period home and take a tour or our house and gardens HERE~

January 4, 2014

Friday night in the deep freeze

It is "wicked cold heah", as some locals would say.
It is and has been well below zero. Heating fuel is astronomical, and so we are not warm.  I have never seen it so bad---We normally do not get long periods of weather this cold at a stretch.
We are cold all the time---You spend money for the fuel you expect to last for a couple months at least, and you are not even warm---You simply can't afford to crank up the heat to a comfy 65 or 66, and even so the fuel is gone in a month. Everyone I have talked to in New England and the midwest is complaining of the same thing.

Sparkling snow is a couple feet deep around the houses in the neighborhood with piles up to, or covering a bit of the windows of some. Intricate designs in frost and ice decorate the old panes of our window glass. Deep winter is here and we are in the midst of a rare and bitter deep freeze.

We are wearing layers of fleece and heavy wool socks as always. I can't enjoy the sun, if shining, because I have closed the interior wood shutters in the rooms that have them, in an effort to conserve every drop of fuel. Morale was pretty low yesterday, and I decided I would suprise Adam with a lovely roast chicken dinner cooked in the fireplace. I used the bedroom hearth as we would eat in there, keeping only that room really warm, and be able to watch the TV as well later. I went up to the attic and brought down my 'tin kitchen', or reflector oven, as they are called---designed and made for hearth cooking, this one was made especially for me over 25 years ago by a craftsman in Michigan when I still lived in the midwest.
I have always cooked Thanksgiving turkey in the fireplace, not having done one in the oven in over 25 years as well. I love hearth cooking, and have done it for many years.
I built a "ripping fire" in the fireplace about 2:30 in the afternoon. By 3:30, a good bed of coals lay under the 18thc. andirons, and I kept adding split logs of oak, maintaining a nice even fire.
Ahhhhh......It was so cozy and warm, and so elemental---I was transported back to other long-gone days of our ancestors who had no such creature comforts such as indoor plumbing or any central heat at all, against the chill of a New England winter.

I made roast chicken seasoned on the outside with my own special herb mixture, and stuffed with onion chunks. With the divine smoky drippings, I made a yummy homemade chicken gravy. I made mashed potatoes and homemade fresh cranberry orange relish.
The day before I had made a homemade French apple cream cake, and last evening while the little bird was roasting, I whipped up the most wonderful and easy caramel sauce. For dessert we had the apple cake with the warm caramel sauce drizzled over it.

The bedroom was lit only with a few candles, and the glow from the fireplace. The dinner was fantastic. We shut out the cold and dark, and spent Friday night in our 1686 bed with it's heavy  tapestry curtains, the dogs at the foot, but eyeing the chicken hopefully, and enjoying our hearth-cooked feast.

I served my French Apple Cake with homemade warm caramel sauce~

We laughed until we cried watching old Tim Sample videos on Youtube for the rest of the evening.

*(Update-Jan. 2014~ Sadly, the new job is not what we had hoped, and the only way we were able to have this Christmas was because Adam was able to work a lot of temporary overtime. It has turned out to be a nightmare with not paying even close to a bare living wage. The new owners broke contracts, and now though they must work overtime, no one is paid for it. With the outrageous amount for insurance taken out of every paycheck, things are as bad or worse now than before, and are now not able to afford both fuel and food. This is an inexcusable travesty---We are both devastated. The hunt for a job paying a living wage goes on...)

January 1, 2014

The Colonial Twelfth Night Ball~

...January 10th, 2014 at the historic Wayside Inn, Sudbury, Massachusetts~

"The Sudbury Companies of Militia and Minute

Cordially invites you and your guests to our

Twelfth Night Ball

at the Wayside Inn, Sudbury, Massachusetts

Friday, January 10, 2014
8:00-11:00 pm

Help us ring in the New Year at the historic Wayside Inn!
The Twelfth Night Ball is the perfect occasion.
Dress in your finest and contra-dance to the music of the Colonial Minstrels, called by Jacob Bloom.
Refreshments will be served."

Getting ready...

My faux fur muff with a bow I made for it to match my gown. I have it pinned on the inside. I change the bows to match my gowns~
 I used paints and water and hand dyed the ostrich feather to exactly match my gown several years ago.
COMING AFTER JAN. 11th, 2014~
See it HERE on our website~
*(Our galleries are only up for a short time. We change them periodically to reflect our "17th/18th century life and adventures~)