Saturday, December 24, 2016

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to My Readers. 

Wishing You Peace, Love, and Latkes. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Christmas Nostalgia: Putz Houses

You're probably giggling about the name. No, I am not referring to the Yiddish name for a fool or an idiot. I am making reference to a name of a decor - a German Christmas decor of little houses. The name, Putz (pronounced "puts") is a Pennsylvania-German term for: ornament, decoration, and finery.

Our parents or grandparents saw them at the "five and dime" department stores. In fact, on one that I own still has the original 19-cent price tag. At this time I have about a couple dozen, along with an assortment of the miniature "bottle brush" trees. Sometimes I scatter them around the house, and other times I clump an assortment together to create a "village." So, what is the history of these charming little cardboard houses and churches with the cellophane windows? 

A splash of pink on my mantle
America first started seeing these little pasteboard (cardboard) houses in the late 1920's in dime stores and in Sears and Roebuck, and Montgomery Ward catalogs. They would often come in little boxed sets with a mixture of various styles of these miniature houses, and even churches. In the late 1920's and early 1930's, they became very popular as the Japanese started creating them, and especially before the Occupied Japan era, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. It was after the attack the importing of the Putz houses from Japan were put to a halt. 

Tucked among my collection of bears ready for Christmas 
The creators of these miniature cardboard houses earned very little, but the detail they would put into these houses were colorful and whimsical using mercury glass beads, cellophane, mica flakes, and glass glitter.  These little houses would adorn mantles, Christmas trees, and even placed around electric toy trains. 

Today, these vintage little charmers are still available on places like eBay (be sure they are tagged as "vintage" and not "vintage-like" if you are wanting the originals), but you won't be paying the original "five and dime" prices for them. Prices have gone up, but considering their history and scarcity (due to being made of fragile materials), it makes sense. The good news is today they have been reproduced, and even patterns, kits, supplies, and even tutorials are available so you can make a collection for yourself to pass down for years to come.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Sweet Life: Parisian Hot Chocolate

It's snowing. I know. I know. It's snowing where a lot of you live, but in my home town, the snow usually stays in the nearby mountains. It's rare to see it in the valley - - and so much of it - - and for it to stick on the ground. We typically see around a foot of snow about every seven years, and if it snows in-between those years, it is often a skiff of snow that melts within 24 hours. 

Snow days seem to insulate my world, and my world becomes quiet. I find myself reading more - cooking more - - crafting more - - and even dreaming more. This month, as I am reading various holiday articles, there seems to be many articles about the "Best Hot Chocolate." They all sound delicious. I mean, how can you go wrong?  The hot chocolate articles reminded me of David Lebovitz and his view on hot chocolate, especially "Parisian Hot Chocolate."

If you haven't been introduced to David Lebovitz, let me introduce you. David is a former pastry chef, and was voted one of the "Top Five Pastry Chefs in the Bay Area" by the San Francisco Chronicle. He has been featured in many popular food magazines, and newspapers; and author of seven food-related books. I currently own "The Sweet Life in Paris" and his latest book, "My Paris Kitchen."  

The Sweet Life in Paris
If you've noticed there seems to be a Parisian theme going on with David's books, you're correct. He left his pastry chef world behind in 1999, and moved to Paris.  If you want to read more about David, I recommend visiting his blog

The Sweet Life in Paris is a fun read about David living and adjusting to the Parisian life: from the decorative socks of Frenchmen to cheese etiquette - - and recipes scattered about. One of the chapters is dedicated to hot chocolate. David seems to have an aversion to many of the hot chocolate offerings in Paris's cafes, while referring to them as "sludge."  So, David has come up with his own recipe of "Le Chocolat Chaud." Simple. 

2 cups whole milk
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (use the best you can find)

Optional: 2 tablespoons light brown sugar to taste. 

Heat the milk in a medium-sized saucepan. Once the milk is warm, whisk in the chocolate. Stir until melted and steaming hot. 

For a thick hot chocolate, cook at a very low boil for about 3 minutes, whisking constantly. Keep a close watch on the mixture, as it may boil or scorch. Sample a sip, and add brown sugar to taste - - or not. 

Serve warm in small demitasse or ample latte bowls. Sprinkle a few flecks of fleur de sel (sea salt) to change it up. David suggests that this recipe improves if allowed to sit for a few hours before serving  - and of course you will need to rewarm. Recipe makes an average four servings. Marshmallows need not apply. 

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