Royal Palace of Madrid

Like many tourists, one of my first stops during my visit to Spain was the Royal Palace of Madrid (“Palacio Real de Madrid” in Spanish). I actually visited twice on consecutive days, because I underestimated how long it would take to properly appreciate all of the exhibits and I wanted to give this beautiful complex the attention it deserved.

The Royal Palace is located right in the middle of the old city; buildings that are commercial on the ground floor and apartments (or sometimes hotels) above are separated only by a road and the public parks such as the Plaza de Oriente and Jardines de Sabatini. This means that you can get a good look at the palace even from outside of the gates. It’s possible to look right inside the Plaza de Armeria (the main courtyard) from the publicly-accessible area between the Catedral de la Almudena and the palace. The throne room is on the second floor right above the central doors, and looks over the courtyard and at the cathedral.

This is the statue of Charles III at the base of the grand staircase.

And this is the grand staircase from above, with a statue of Charles IV at the center. It is, quite simply, awe-inspiring in its grandeur.

On ceiling above the grand staircase (and, indeed, most of the ceilings inside the palace) is a fresco. As this is probably the biggest single room that I saw, I’d venture to guess that it’s also the largest fresco. It is by Corrado Giaquinto and depicts Religion Protected by Spain (although I have to admit I had to look that up after the fact, I was so gobsmacked by the palace that I forgot less-consequential things like artists and titles).

After this, though, I have very few photos of the palace, since there were only a few areas where photos were allowed. Suffice it to say that it is an exercise in opulence and incredible attention to detail. Also on the palace grounds is the armory, which contains fantastic examples of full plate armour (for men, children, and horses) alongside swords, crossbows, and other weapons. Most of the items on display belonged to royalty or upper nobility, so they are beautifully detailed as well. Of course I wasn’t allowed to take photos in there either.

One place that photography was allowed was an extra to the basic tour that I just had to go see: the royal kitchens. They are absolutely huge, which makes sense because they once played host to hundreds of people working at hot, sweaty, tiring jobs that eventually produced all of the food that royalty and nobility at the palace ate. Above is a selection of the kinds of copper and glass molds that were in use.

A wooden work table with the more delicate tools for preparing and decorating the foods prepared in the molds.

The station for washing vegetables.

The pastry station with its marble counter top for keeping the pastry dough cool (much as we still use marble rolling pins or rolling pins filled with cold water for the same purpose today — it keeps the lard or butter from melting, which makes the dough flaky).

Prep table in the room with the main ovens and stoves. The big rack in the background holds all of the different kinds of spits for roasting above the massive fireplace.

The stoves used wood as fuel and the smoke was vented through pipes that ran under the floor, which kept them from having to have overhead chimneys. I’m not sure how they managed to get the chimneys to draw correctly; apparently it was quite the feat of engineering. Notice the high ceilings for air flow; the kitchens were in the basement and the windows that light it and allow for air circulation are at ground level.

Here you can see another of the massive cast-iron stove/ovens, with the fireplace for spit-roasting in the background.

Back when these kitchens were in use, they were often written about by visitors who were impressed by how much work it took to feed the upper classes in the manner to which they were accustomed. They also wrote about how the kitchens ran like a well-oiled machine, or they compared it to a military operation. I personally have a hard time imagining the monumental task it must have been to make these kitchens anything but absolute chaos. My hat is off to the generations of people who worked here.

Spice Cupboard

I finally organized my spice cupboard! I’ve been putting it off forever, but I finally got fed up when I yet again bought more of something I could have sworn I was out of, only to find an old jar of it stuffed in behind containers I could swear I had moved.

I mean, it wasn’t a horror show, really. But when I cleaned it out I realized that I’d had some of the contents of those containers for at least six or seven years. One, a jar of Italian spice, had to be at least ten years old. Not that any of it would have hurt any of us to eat it, but what kind of flavour was I getting out of stuff that ancient?

I’d been collecting these little Tupperware spice containers (Modular Mates small spice shaker 1843 bottoms and 1844 lids) for a while now, picking them up second-hand whenever I got the chance. They don’t make the small ones any more, and I figured that the larger ones would just prompt me to buy too much of a single spice again. While I can see that being useful for something like cinnamon that I use in large quantities, it’s not something that I need for all of my spices. And while I love those magnetic spice tins that look so great on a kitchen wall and mean that you can see what you have left at a glance, to keep herbs and spices fresh they’re supposed to be stored in a dark place — like a cupboard. (I’ve seen some designs where those magnetic spice racks are placed on the wall directly above the back of a stove, which looks lovely, but not only are the contents getting damaged by light but also by the heat of the cooking below. I wouldn’t recommend this setup unless it’s 100% for show.)

And now my spice cupboard looks like this! I find it immensely satisfying. To my dismay, I thought I had more than enough containers for my spices, but even after green binning a bunch of ancient ones, I still had more than I thought. A number of the herbs and spices that I don’t use often are now in my freezer, although I plan on transitioning them at least in part to the little containers when I get some more. For now, the freezer will keep them fresher longer anyway.

I think I’ll need to put in a couple of shelves so that the containers aren’t stacked, though. I know they won’t stay orderly otherwise. Or maybe I can find some kind of racks that slide out for easy access? I’ll have to look into it. But for right now I can find what I need when I need it, my choice of containers encourages me to buy in bulk (to reduce single-use plastic), and I’m loving it!

“New” Vintage Pyrex

I’m so looking forward to the 2019 market season! For me that won’t start until the March 9th edition of 613flea, which means that until then I’ll be working on leveling the collection I have to share. Even though I have to have patience until my next market, I have to admit, I’ve been taking a great deal of joy in some of the “new” (well, new to me) Pyrex items I’ve found.

One of the things that has been holding me back when it comes to posting about my latest finds is that, frankly, I didn’t have enough room to photograph them decently. My workspace had become cluttered and messy, and my light box was just too small for the larger items. I have an absolutely lovely fold-up light tent that has worked for me for years (it’s so convenient!) and I’d eventually love one in the same style in a larger size, but right now I needed something quick and easy. So I got some large pieces of poster board and made something very akin to what you’d find in this tutorial. I think the results were pretty grand!

I absolutely love these Cinderella mixing bowls in the Colonial Mist pattern, which was originally sold from 1983 to 1986. One great thing about this style of bowl is that they’re also ovenware, so they do double duty as casserole dishes.

This set of three mixing bowls in the Homestead pattern (1976 to 1980) is a more standard shape, but also be used in the oven or microwave as well.

I was especially happy to find this Pink Daisy casserole, even though it’s a bit worse for wear and without its lid, because pink is a highly sought after colour. This particular pattern ran from 1956 to 1962, so this dish is between 57 and 63 years old, which adds to its rarity.

These Pyrex England stacking casseroles in the Emily or Spring Garden pattern aren’t quite as vintage, but since they’re from 1986 that means they’re still 33 years old — and they’re imported.

Given the colours of the pattern and the brown lids, I would have pegged them as being from the 70’s, but these Pyrex England casseroles in Brown Vine are from 1983 to 1985.

People have asked me why I like vintage Pyrex (and vintage kitchenware in general) so much. Although I really do love that I’m keeping perfectly serviceable items out of a landfill, I there’s more to it than that. I think it boils down to the fact that I like pretty, unusual things, and when I use such things I feel better about whatever I’m working on. Cooking is something that has to be done every single day, and it’s easy for it to become dreary and monotonous. I try to alleviate this by trying new dishes, new styles of cooking, and new techniques, but I think that it also helps to surround yourself with things that make you happy. To me, there is a thrill of the hunt for things that I consider both practical and beautiful, as well as a great deal of satisfaction in using these things once I have them. To paraphrase Marie Kondo, for me, these things spark joy.

Resolutions

1. Crafting

This is a two-part resolution. Firstly, I’d like to use up the materials I have purchased over the years, and/or use recycled or thrifted materials whenever possible.

Secondly, I’d like to participate in more group or community projects, like Mochimochi Land’s Let’s Knit a Ball Pit — ideally using materials previously specified. The ball pit will be a part of Vogue Knitting LIVE in New York City, and once the event is over they will be donated to the American Foundation for Children with AIDS. I contributed the two knitted balls in the photo above to this project, and I really enjoyed it! I hope that they arrive in time. I’d like to keep the ball rolling, as it were, and donate my time and skills to other events, even if it’s something as simple as hats for the newborn babies at the local children’s hospital.

2. Environmental

I would like to try to decrease our household’s reliance on single-use plastic, and to continue to reuse, repurpose, and recycle. To me, that doesn’t mean being rid of plastics entirely; actually, I think it would be rather wasteful to completely be rid of the plastics we do have, just to buy all new replacements in another material. Rather, I’d like to commit to using recycled plastics, either post-consumer recycled commercial products, or finding a new home for second-hand plastic products, like the lunch boxes above that I bought at a thrift store.

3. In the Kitchen

I want to expand my cooking knowledge, skills, and style — while at the same time trying to keep it reasonably healthy. I think I’ve been stuck in a bit of a rut lately, and I want to do better! To that end, I have purchased even more second-hand cookbooks that I’m not only going to try out, but that I’m going to read through for ideas. At Thing 1’s request, I am looking into more Japanese food:

Sushi by Ryuichi Yoshii (1998)
The Japanese Kitchen by Kimiko Barber (2004)
Ten-Minute Bento by Megumi Fujii (2007)

Of all of the books that I have thrifted lately, I think I am most excited about The Japanese Kitchen, which helps break down and de-mystify each ingredient, and Ten Minute Bento, which is all about quick and easy (and I think will become a favourite cookbook to pull out to prep dinner on busy weeknights). There is a lot about Japanese cooking that I don’t know, but these books look like they’ll really help me get a better grasp on it.

In a more general vein, I have also picked up:

Gordon Ramsay’s Passion for Flavour by Gordon Ramsay (1996)
Deliciously Dairy Free: Fresh and Simple Lactose-Free Recipes for Healthy Eating Every Day by Lesley Waters (2015)
Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens by Jennifer Schaertl (2010)
More Bread Machine Magic by Linda Rehberg and Lois Conway (1997)
Jamie Oliver’s FoodTube Presents: The Cake Book by Cupcake Jemma (2014)
Cocktails for Book Lovers by Tessa Smith McGovern (2014)

Now, some of these, like the cupcake book and the cocktail book, are just for fun — but shouldn’t cooking be fun? The dairy-free one and the one about cooking in small kitchens (and I have to say, that title grabbed my attention) are probably the ones I’d use the most, though. Yet every cookbook is a kind of inspiration for me, even if I don’t try a single dish.

4. Business

I think that it’s time for my business to expand from flea markets to online. I think I will start with local sales, since a lot of my products are both heavy and quite breakable. I just don’t know that it would be cost-effective to try to ship vintage Pyrex or, heaven forbid, cast iron cookware. But vintage Tupperware is both hardy and light enough to make the trip! I think that this expansion will challenge my photography skills (since product photography is quite different than casual snaps) and my organization skills. I’m also looking at how to make it all as environmentally-sound as possible; I especially don’t want to package items in styrofoam, bubble wrap, or air-filled bags, since they’re all single-use plastic. I’m looking into wool and straw and other biodegradable options. People shipped things without breaking them long before plastic was invented, so there have to be options. The question is, can I keep it cost-effective? Challenges, challenges!

So what are your resolutions for the New Year?

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like…

It feels like the Christmas season is finally in full swing! Now that my last market of the season is complete, I can actually concentrate on our family celebrations at home.

I introduced you last year to our household’s Elf on the Shelf, who was named Candy Cane by my kids. As she does every year, Candy Cane showed up on the first day of December, along with the advent calendars.

On December 1st, Candy Cane appeared on the family room mantle, bringing with her a suitcase overflowing with tiny outfits.

On December 2nd, she hid away in our old china cabinet and tried on her outfits in front of my grandmother’s antique hand mirror.

On December 3rd, she spent time in the kitchen making hot chocolate.

And today, December 4th, she absconded with some of the kids’ LEGOs, including some minifigs from their advent calendar, and played with them by the window.

In addition to hunting for Candy Cane every morning, an essential element of this part of the season is making Christmas gifts. I was thrilled last week when Thing 1 came back from Guides with this lovely mason jar full of chocolate chip cookie mix. Each member of the troupe learned about following a recipe and got to measure out and package their own ingredients. I thought it was a great learning experience, and the girls had a lot of fun! (You can find the recipe on Very Best Baking if you want to make one of these jars yourself.)

Thing 1’s experience with making the cookie mix made me think. I do all kinds of canning, so why am I not making dried mixes in jars as well? These aren’t just good Christmas presents, they’re fantastic for teacher appreciation, housewarmings, new parents, sick friends, poor students and young adults moving out for the first time… I already have two books that devote a large portion of their contents to the subject: Company’s Coming: Gifts from the Kitchen (Jean ParĂ©, 2001) and Jazzy Jars: Glorious Gift Ideas (Marie Browning, 2002), and as someone who makes preserves I have lots and lots of jars, so why am I not using them? I honestly think it’s because I have too much choice (I know, not the most horrible thing overall), and I’m having a hard time narrowing it down.

So my question is this: what is your favourite recipe for a dry mix in a jar?

613Christmas Saturday December 1st

Tomorrow is 613Chrismtas, 613flea’s once-a-year Christmas event, and I couldn’t be more excited to be participating! It’s my biggest market of the year, and even the weather is predicted to cooperate.

I have so much new stuff to bring that I can’t photograph it all. My bins for vintage Pyrex and Tupperware are overflowing, and I have a whole bunch of beautiful Blue Mountain Pottery that are waiting to be shown off. I’m enlisting my husband to help me set up so that I can bring a third table to fit it all (usually I only have two tables and lug it all myself). It means that my booth will look a little different than usual, but that’s so I can bring all of my very best “new” stuff!

There is a change of venue for this market: it’s at the much larger (and better-heated) Carleton University Fieldhouse. I’ll be more or less in the middle, in booth 808.

I’m happy to be able to say that I’ve upgraded my Square card reader for this event, so I’ll be able to take debit cards, Apple Pay, and Google Pay, as well as the usual credit cards and cash. The new machine makes it so easy!

So please pop by and say hi, even if vintage kitchenware isn’t your thing. I’m always excited to meet people who read my blog.

Felting with Vintage Tupperware

When I’m at the flea market, one of my most consistent sellers is vintage Tupperware pitchers. I hear so may people exclaim that they remember them fondly from their childhoods, generally filled with Kool-Aid and paired with bell tumblers. I have to admit that they were a consistent part of my childhood as well, even though at our house they were filled instead with juice that came out of a can in the freezer.

However, this past weekend I learned that these days they have an alternate use. One lady came to my booth and was absolutely thrilled to learn that I had one vintage pitcher left because she uses the lid for wet felting. For those not into such things, wet felting is a craft that uses layers of wool roving or yarn, agitated together with hot soapy water until it all sticks together as a single piece of fabric. If you’ve ever accidentally thrown a piece of woolen clothing in the washing machine and had it come out shrunken, stuck together, and unwearable, you’re familiar with the process. However, wet-felting is when it’s done on purpose to create pieces of art. The end results can range from absolutely gorgeous to terribly cute.

What makes these pitchers such great finds for wet felters is the ridged undersides of the vintage lids. (The lady I spoke with told me that the lids of new Tupperware pitchers have been redesigned so that they’re smooth on the bottom.) The ridges are perfect for gently agitating the layers of wool so that they stick together. And the handle makes for an easy grip. Apparently the pitchers are considered to be great finds by this crafting community, not only because they don’t make them that way any more, but also because they’re generally snapped up so fast.

Who knew?