Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Mid century atomic clock plus the art and science of pricing

I've said it here before. Sometimes you visit four thrift stores in one day and find nothing. Other days you find nothing...except something like this. It's a mid century atomic style clock, like the George Nelson ones that everyone so loves. This one is by Seth Thomas, so a period knock-off of sorts. It's still quite a nice thing and I paid very little for it since even the reproduction Nelson clocks go for several hundred to a thousand dollars each.

I debate sometimes whether I ought to share pricing; what I paid for things I mean. On the one hand, I don't want people who visit my little shop to be offended by my marking up items I find in thrift stores and consignment stores. On the other hand, I do spend quite a lot of time and gas thrifting. I visit stores around 50 miles away on a fairly routine basis looking for mid century pieces. And then I spend even more time looking in books and at auction results and at other websites to identify the things I find. Then I spend time and effort and supplies cleaning up the things I find. They are almost always dirty. Wood is dry. Silver is tarnished. All that is worth something.

When I first started looking at vintage items, I started with the DC Big Flea. At the time, I was more into Art Deco objects than Mid Century, but there was a nice older gentleman (and I don't use that term lightly) who consistently had such interesting objects at such very reasonable prices. And over the years, I bought many things from him. 

I asked him once why his prices were so reasonable. And what he told me has stuck with me all these years. What he said was that 1) he felt he should pass along whatever bargains he was able to find and 2) that if the objects were affordable, he might inspire a love of them in all sorts of people, letting them own a little piece of good design and of history. It might sound very romantic, but the concept appealed to me. As a result, the way I price my items owes much to him.

Forgive the south side of the north facing elephants. I didn't notice until I'd dismantled the staging.
This clock, for example, was priced at $21 at a consignment shop in Middleburg. If I decide to sell it (and that is by no means certain at this point), it will be priced at $87. I will need to buy a battery and a specially-sized box. I'll use a dozen or so feet of bubble wrap to protect it during shipping. There is a scuff or two on the wooden spokes that I'll need to take some steel wool to, probably using a mixture of mineral oil and mineral spirits. It takes about an hour to get to Middleburg. I hit five stores that day and came up with three other small, rather more unremarkable though still nice items.

My typical markup is four times whatever I paid plus $2-3 to cover the cost of specially sized boxes, bubble wrap, packing tape, paper and ink, plus insurance on those items that are fragile. I do sometimes add or subtract a few dollars here and there beyond that so that pricing within my shop stays relatively consistent or if I find similar items for sale for less elsewhere.

I share this because I can't be everywhere or thrift everywhere, even at nearby stores. So folks can see what amazing pieces are to be had at what amazing prices if one visits regularly and develops a good eye. And if people don't want to visit thrift stores multiple times a week and spend time cleaning up their finds, they can visit places like Etsy to see what they can uncover there for just a bit more.

So there you are. I hope this inspires some people to go visit their local thrift and consignment stores. Of course one can buy new, but isn't the thrill of the hunt so much more fun?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Vermont Rolling Pins: A Review

As you might have noticed, I bake a lot. And I mean a lot. Between my business baking dog treats and all my little personal projects, I bake something nearly every day.

So when my stupid cheapo rolling pin started to leak water on my dough (probably from being immersed, which granted you're not supposed to do), I knew it was time to find a new one. I toyed with a marble one, but my pumpkin dog treats are really orange and stain even things that don't stain very easily so I figured a marble rolling pin was probably the wrong solution for me.

Then I saw this post by Daily Prep author Muffy Aldrich. It's a holiday gift guide and in the comments, a reader referred to Vermont Rolling Pins, a company making solid wood hand-turned rolling pins designed to last forever. Wood? Lasts forever? Now that's what I'm talking about!

They have eight different models in three species of wood: maple, cherry and walnut. I wasn't sure which of the models and which of the woods would be best for me, a daily baker, so I sent them an email a couple of weekends ago.

And at 7 am on the following Monday, I had a very nice recommendation from one of the owners. She suggested either the Shaker or the Monster in maple. I liked the look of the Shaker better than the Monster, so the decision was simple, but I had a busy couple of days and didn't get it ordered right away. So I was pleasantly surprised when Cyndi called and left me a message asking if I had any other questions or wanted to discuss my purchase. It was a very nice, very personal gesture.

Finally though, I did place my order on December 4th and my rolling pin arrived today!

Isn't it pretty?

Just look at that grain!

And it's crazy heavy. If anyone ever breaks into our house, I'm grabbing this thing!

They have this vertical stand for it that I may get as well. This gorgeous thing is definitely worth displaying and I've got a great spot for it on the wall in the kitchen.

They recommend using bees wax or mineral oil once a month to keep it in good condition, but I'll probably end up using my Kerf's Wood Lotion. It's food safe and contains bees wax, but I think it's easier to work with.

I can highly recommend Vermont Rolling Pins. Of, and if you order by December 15th, you can even get one in time to give as a gift for the baker in your life. Trust me, any serious baker would really appreciate one of these. I can't wait to use mine!

I have not been compensated in any way for this review of Vermont Rolling Pins.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Cute as a Button Holiday Cookie Packaging

Tonight I went to my first ever cookie exchange. I know, how have I never never been to a cookie exchange? Anyway, a crafting group I belong to decided to host one and so I felt some pressure to step up my packaging game a little. I figured a crafting group would expect better than just a half dozen cookies in sandwich baggies. Though it turned out I probably over-prepared, which is not that unusual for me honestly.

First I had to decide which cookies to bring, which you'd think would be difficult for me since I have so many I love to make, but I decided to break out the star for this event: Earl Grey Tea Cookies.

They're a shortbread-like butter cookie made with pulverized Earl Grey loose leaf tea right in the dough. Every time I make them for anything I get stellar reviews. Plus crafters + tea = sort of inevitable, right? I've pasted the recipe below, but in this case, the cookies really weren't the point.

The point was the packaging.

Since most cookie exchanges tend to involve bringing half a dozen cookies for each attendee, I wanted to do something small, simple and inexpensive since even though I only needed 8 for this event, others might do exchanges with as many as two dozen. I used only materials I had on hand so if you have something different in your stash, feel free to change it up a little.

What you'll need:

plastic wrap
parchment paper (or wrapping paper or scrapbook paper or fabric)
baker's twine (or ribbon or cooking twine or fishing line or beading wire)
vintage buttons (or charms or broken old earrings or anything with a hole in it)
copies of your recipe

First you need to make your cookie logs. Take however many cookies you want to wrap up and wrap them in plastic wrap. For anything with butter in it, you need the plastic layer to keep the cookies from bleeding butter all over your nice, pretty package.

Next, cut your paper to the proper size to wrap around your cookies. Since these tea cookies are bite-sized, I needed a fairly small sheet: basically 8" high by 12" wide. If you're wrapping larger cookies, you'll need bigger paper. Makes sure it is tall enough to go around your cookie log 1.5 times and about 4 times as long as your cookie log. Roll up your log in your paper and twist the ends to keep them closed. I didn't secure them with anything, but if you're using fabric, you'll need to use a little more twine to tie them up.

Next, take your recipe (I just printed out mine on printer paper in color and folded it in half lengthwise so it was a good size) and wrap it around the cookie log in the opposite direction from the direction your wrapped the paper. This will help everything stay in place while you get the twine and buttons sorted out.

Next, get your twine and wrap it 4 or 5 times around the recipe, right in the middle. Tie it off as if you're starting to tie a bow, but don't finish the bow.

Next, add your button. I threaded one end of my twine through one hole and the other end through a second hole. Then tie your bow to keep the button in place.

You're all done! You could also add a tag in the previous step before you add the button if you know who will be getting your cookie packages, but because I wasn't sure who was coming, I just left out that part.

They were a big hit at the cookie exchange. Everyone liked the cookies and the vintage buttons. And it was so easy! These 8 took about 20-25 minutes to package. And the recipe appears below. 

I hope you get invited back to many, many cookie exchanges. I highly recommend them! Just picture that said with a mouthful of cookies.

Earl Grey Tea Cookies

hands-on time: 20 minutes | total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes (includes chilling time) | makes 6 dozen

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup confectioners’ sugar

2 tablespoons Earl Grey tea leaves, from approximately 6 tea bags

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Pulse together all the dry ingredients in a food processor until the tea leaves are pulverized. Add the vanilla, 1 teaspoon water, and the butter. Pulse together until a dough is formed. Divide the dough in half. Place each half on a sheet of plastic wrap and roll into a 12-inch log, about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Slice each log into disks, 1/3 inch thick. Place on parchment- or foil-lined baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake until the edges are just brown, about 12 minutes. Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Get Dressed Day 27: Errands and Projects

I bet you thought I forgot about this challenge! I haven't. I just decided that posting an outfit picture a day was actually kind of a lot of work and so it fell off while I was baking for shows back in mid-November. I have only had a day or two where I was all yoga-pantsed out though. Most days I have faithfully gotten dressed as planned.

Here is today's outfit, just to prove it.

I've got on leggings, but at least they're not yoga pants!

Scarf: H&M (old)
Jacket: Gap (old)
Shirt: Old Navy (here)
Leggings: H&M (old)
Boots: Vintage

Today I'm off to do some errands that have piled up since last week and then I'll be taking some photos of some projects I did last week. I may even do a little more painting. If so, I can take off the scarf and the boots and put on running shoes. I've learned a lot this month about dressing for my new profession in such a way that makes sense for what I do every day and is also a little bit stylish.

Well, a little more stylish than oversized t-shirts and sweats.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thrifting back from the Tidewater

I have a lot to catch up on from the Thanksgiving weekend away! I hope all had a lovely one.

We drove down to visit my husband's parents and grandmother in the Tidewater region of Virginia and had a very nice time. So did Chester, who got presents from grandma, Care-A-Lot Pet Supply in Newport News and Three Dog Bakery in Richmond.

On the way back, we decided to take our time and stop at pretty much every Goodwill we saw, which was quite a few given that we drove home via Route 1 instead of I-95. I also bought a few things in Fairfax before we left so I have quite a haul here!

There's a lot of stuff here so I'll run it down item by item.

This long, narrow bowl is by Anri Form, apparently an Italian company that still exists today, though they now make more wooden tourist figurines than pretty, high quality serving pieces like this one. This is about 16" long, so a good size for a small baguette. It has a little metal button on the bottom with the maker's mark, a nice detail, so even though I'd never heard of the company when I picked it up, I figured it was something pretty nifty.

Tis the season for consuming adult beverages. Like whiskey. These glasses caught my eye because of the gold rim and unique shape. No idea who made them, but they're a sweet pair.

Or perhaps champagne is more your speed? These would make cute toasting glasses for a vintage-minded bride and groom. They're from Fostoria, a fairly well-known crystal company. They even have their original label. I'm loving the platinum rim, but all my barware is all gold so these will be for a lucky someone else.

After the turkey-fest this weekend, some of us are probably craving salad. I've listed these salad serving utensils, but I've been staring at this picture and Doug and I usually use some boring old kitchen tongs to serve salad so now that I think about it, I may de-list them. So if you want them, better act fast.

I'm new at mid century pottery since I've always been more of a furniture girl, but I knew this was obviously something special when I saw it on a shelf in Hampton. The shape and the foot are so unique! It was made by California Pottery, probably in the 1960s. The mark on the bottom says CP 508 USA so it was pretty easy to figure out who did it. I've also seen this piece online in pink, but personally I like the green better. It was super dirty inside since it is, after all, a planter, but I scrubbed it and it came clean. It has a couple small chips, but it's still not a bad looking piece.

I was lucky enough to come across this Dansk wine carafe in Fairfax before we left. I didn't see it on my first pass through the store, but it caught my eye from across the room while I was waiting in line with the teak tray above. I'm pretty sure either one of my aunts or my parents had one of these while I was growing up. I seem to recall it being filled with water or orange juice most of the time. Dansk advertising from the 1970s calls it a wine carafe though and who am I to argue with them?

The last thing I found down in Hampton was a pair of brass deer. Everyone and their brother is selling these or a similar pair on Etsy these days (must be holiday fever), but I found them cheap so mine are priced pretty low. If I were more of a Christmas decorator I might have kept them, but they deserve a mantle and we haven't got one!

The final thing pictured is a couple of glass domes. I found these a few weeks ago thinking that I might just hold onto them for when I find cheese board that are missing their domes (which happens fairly often), but I figured, why hoard them? If I find a board for them, I'll re-list them, but in the meantime, someone else might be having the same problem that I was preemptively trying to solve.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Salted caramel six layer chocolate birthday cake

I was cruising Pinterest a few weeks ago while Doug was sitting next to me on the sofa. When I came to this Salted Caramel Six Layer Chocolate Cake, he said, "Um, could that be my birthday cake?" Why of course, darling!

So last week I acquired some delicious semi-sweet Scharffenberger chocolate, a whole heck of a lot of butter and cream and went to town. I probably shouldn't have also made dog treats that day. Or also enchiladas from scratch.

These are important life lessons, people.

So by the time I got to the cake, it was like 8 pm, but I was still certain that I could do it. Until it came time to make the caramel for between the layers, a task I always approach with a moderate amount of dread.

I've made caramel before. A few times actually. But somehow something always seems to go wrong. Not always majorly wrong like a ruined pan or a fire. But well, the first time I ever tried to make caramel about a year ago, we had to buy a new saucepan. That's when I learned that when Martha says "a heavy-bottomed saucepan" she means a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Don't try it in your flimsy light-weight non-stick Target pan.

Keep a close eye when you add the cream and use a bigger pan than I did.
Or in a pan that's too small. Apparently. I'd recommend a large saucepan over a medium saucepan frankly. And keeping some baking soda close by just in case.

In my defense, I did not take this picture. I was fetching baking soda from the cabinet to put out the fire. Doug took this picture.

Bamboo skewers keep slippery fillings in place in the refrigerator. This is pre-ganacheing.

After all that, I'm not sure anyone will be surprised that I forgot to take a picture of the finished cake. It was really good though and Doug was happy, which is the important thing.

Happy birthday sweetie! Sorry I almost burned down the kitchen.

The recipe from Martha Stewart can be found here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mini Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Brown Butter Frosting Filling

I wasn't even going to blog this recipe for pumpkin cookies with brown butter frosting. I'd seen it repeated over and over by different bloggers on my blog feeds and on Pinterest and so I was just going to make the cookies I needed for a church function tonight and go on about my day.

Then I made the icing. And it was really drippy. So I put it on one of the cookies and it don't know how to put this delicately. It looked like bird poop on top of baby poop. And once I saw it, I couldn't un-see it. It definitely didn't look spreadable or like it was ever going to have the texture of the ones in the Martha Stewart picture. Don't get me wrong, the cookies are delicious. They would have been fine to eat myself, but they were definitely not fine to bring as a treat to an event.

That said, it was easy to fix.

When I was peeling the cookies off the parchment paper, a little voice in my head kept saying, "Whoopie pies. Whoopie pies. Whoopie pies!"

And the texture is definitely more similar to whoopie pies than it is to any cookie I've ever had. They're really spongey and cake-like.

So here's what I did: I added four ounces of softened cream cheese to the frosting in the stand mixer and whipped it all together. And I put a teaspoon on half the cookies and then put the other half of the cookies on top. And I think they're really cute and yummy. So there.

Mini Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Brown Butter Frosting Filling


2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
3 1/2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 can solid-pack pumpkin (15 ounces)
3/4 cup low fat milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon low fat milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 ounces of cream cheese, softened

  1. Make cookies: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice in a medium bowl; set aside.
  2. Put butter and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in eggs. Reduce speed to low. Add pumpkin, evaporated milk, and vanilla; mix until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add flour mixture; mix until combined.
  3. Transfer 1 1/2 cups batter to a pastry bag fitted with the largest plain tip you have. Pipe 1 1/2-inch rounds onto parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until tops spring back, about 12 minutes. Cool on sheets on wire racks 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks; let cool completely.
  4. Make filling: Put confectioners' sugar in a large bowl; set aside. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, swirling pan occasionally, until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Immediately add butter to confectioners' sugar, scraping any browned bits from sides and bottom of pan. Add softened cream cheese. Add milk and vanilla; stir until smooth. Spread about 1 teaspoon filling onto half of the cookies. Put the rest of the cookies on top of the frosted cookies, making cookie sandwiches.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Friday's Find: Color Field Painting by...?

Remember how I said on last week that I rarely buy art because I don't know that much about it? Well, that's not strictly true. I just so rarely see anything I like in a thirft store (hello Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light yuck gag cough retch) that I almost never buy anything. Plus, thrift stores around here tend to price art rather preciously for some reason. Sure, a sketch of the Fairfax County Courthouse would be entertaining to have up in my house, but not for $60. That rather attractive but no-name landscape print? $120. Cray-cray.

So when I saw the piece above at the Salvation Army Store in Annandale (same place I found those Brasilia pieces) I assumed it would cost more than $40. Lucky for me, it didn't.

So, what's so interesting about a bunch of horizontal lines that "anybody could paint"?

Well, the horizontals are perfectly straight and clean, but the vertical edge is not. If you got the horizontal straight, couldn't you just tape off the edge and get the vertical straight? That's a deliberate choice.

Next, that dark blue line third from the top is more painterly than the other lines. There are some translucent spots with the blue, but not with the equally dark brown or red. Why? Another choice.

Also, the Washington, DC area isn't known for much art wise. Sure we've got a lot of great museums and a wonderful school in the Corcoran, but for whatever reason, most art movements still start in New York or Los Angeles. The one exception is the Washington Color School, a fact I somehow dredged up out of my brain likely placed there by one of my four university level art history classes here in the city.

The Washington Color School painters were a part of the larger color field movement of the 1960s and 70s, often lumped together with abstract expressionist painters like Jackson Pollock. Unsurprising to anyone who has lived in Washington though, these painters were of a more orderly sort, working in lines and dots and other easily organized subjects, very unlike the messy splatters of Pollock.

My favorite painters have long been Ellsworth Kelly and Mark Rothko so I'm very familiar with the style and when I saw this, I knew it was good.

Unfortunately, I've been unable to identify the artist. The best explanation I can come up with is that several members of this movement taught locally. I would expect that this piece is a student work because the initials (perhaps DG?) do not seem to match up to any known artist in the school that I can discern.

Anyway, I love it and I'm pleased that I found it. Maybe someday I'll figure out who did it, but until then, I have art for the office!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Get Dressed Days 7 & 8 - Thrifting, thrifting & thrifting

When I started posting some of my old vintage stuff that I wasn't as excited about any more back in August, I wasn't really expecting my little store to take off the way it has. In three months, I've sold a lot of stuff, some of which was purpose-bought for the store. As in, I saw a great piece in a thrift store, didn't have a use for it myself, but totally would keep it if I had room.

So now when I'm not baking dog treats, I'm often trolling local (or not so local thrift stores) looking for more great stuff to put in my Etsy shop. Doug approves since otherwise I probably wouldn't leave the house. I'd just bake cupcakes. For no reason. Leaving us with an entire batch (or 3) of cupcakes to eat.

Anyway, sometimes these trips result in stuff that actually goes in the shop. Other times they result in a vintage Coach bag or a vintage tan trench coat for me.

Spy face.
Guess which it has been this week?

Though I did find a few things that will eventually make it to Etsy.

I've got an enormous bias toward housewares. First, my collecting personality leads me to things that are useful. Some people like ceramic animals. I like furniture and barware. It's not good or bad, it just is. I'm the same with crafts. And since I can't really collect much more furniture for our two-bedroom condo, I gravitate toward glass and metal barware. As a result, this is the stuff I know the most about so when I see it in stores, I immediately know what it is, what it's worth and whether I would want to sell it or keep it. Other stuff, like vases and pottery and art, is tougher because I don't know as much about it. And I stick to mid century stuff because that's what I collect so that's what I know. Lucky for me, Mad Men has also kept it pretty hot in the marketplace.

So let's get to all this stuff.

You just don't see a lot of modern silver. This happens to be silver plate and tarnished at that, but I'll shine it up and in the shop it will go. I love surfboard shaped stainless trays and since they've sold very well on Etsy, I'll keep looking for more.

If not for Mister Modtomic, I would not have known what these are. Or, well, what they're trying to be. Dorothy Thorpe made these silver rimmed single initial monogrammed glasses that have more of a cursive sort of script than these gothic letter ones and the rims are solid unbroken lines, not printed with a break on each side. But I figured it wouldn't much matter to the monogram-crazy Pinterest crowd. And considering there was a guy hovering to see if I was going to buy them when I was looking at them in the store, I'd say these were a good buy.

I really hadn't intended to start another glassware collection (I already collect Culver Valencia), but it seems that's what I've done. I bought a set of 10 cooler glasses in this pattern at a flea market a month or so ago and when these popped up in the same pattern at a thrift store yesterday, I figured I'd add to the set. What I'll do with 10 coolers, 2 cocktail glasses and a snifter is beyond me though. Look for more, I guess.

And finally, see that teak serving tray they're sitting on? I play this game with all the wood stuff in the thrift store. I pick up a teak piece like a bowl or a cheese board or a tray and flip it over. If it says made or designed in Denmark, I consider its form. Is it unique? I consider its condition. Is it beat up or covered in knife marks? If it is, how deep are they? Can I sand them out without wrecking the patina? If it says Made in the Philippines or Thailand or GoodWood, I put it back. If it says "Dansk" or particularly "Dansk IHQ" or "Dansk Torun", I put it in my cart.

The back of this tray says Dansk IHQ, which is the mark of Jens Quistgaard, a designer for Dansk and several other 1960s era furniture and housewares companies. I luuurrrve him. And so do a lot of other people. I don't need another tray, but it might be hard to let this one go.

Oh, and lest you think I forgot or had a repeat of Monday, no way!

Shirt: J. Crew (old)
Belt: J. Crew (old)
Jeans: Old Navy Diva Skinnies (here)
Shoes: Sperry A/Os (here)

And I forgot to have my husband take a picture when he got home last night so here's a little Polyvore action describing what I had on yesterday.


J Crew j crew

Old Navy v neck shirt

J.Crew tall pants

Coach shoulder bag

Sperry Authentic Originals
$130 -

And today? More thrifting! I finally got my Young House Love book last night so I'm off to the thrift store to see how many ugly mirrors, brass knick knacks and painted ceramic figurines I can find to spray paint.

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