Saturday, August 6, 2016

A Surprise In The Sweet Pea Patch

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Photo: Chronica Domus


I've been eagerly anticipating the arrival of the sweet peas in the garden this year.  I planted them at the beginning of May, which is rather late in the season as far as these things go.  I'll admit, I was entirely bowled over by the charmingly old-fashioned illustration on the seed packet when I made my selection at The Seed Bank.  Here it is:

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Photo: Chronica Domus


How exciting it would be, I thought, to grow a variety of colors from a single seed packet, and an heirloom variety at that.

As you can see, the results thus far have been rather surprising.  Pink, it seems, is the only color in sight, but what a glorious pink it is.

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Early morning dew clings to a fragrant bloom
Photo: Chronica Domus


Yesterday morning I snipped all the blooms I could find to bring indoors.  I arranged them in an Anglo-Irish cut glass water jug which I placed in the drawing room, perched upon the edge of the secretary bookcase. I adore the delicate sugared almond pink hue of the blooms and, of course, their heavenly fragrance.  Nothing smells more like summer to me than sweet peas.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


Perhaps the other colors which are illustrated on the seed package will rear their heads in the weeks to come but for now, I plan on enjoying these delicately hued and scrumptiously scented blooms for as long as I'm able to.  For that, I am most grateful.


Nota bene: I am neither paid nor do I receive recompense in exchange for applauding products or services within my blog.  I do so because I enjoy them.  If you are a kindred spirit, you too enjoy recommending nice things to fellow good eggs.

Monday, August 1, 2016

A Regency-Style Garden Bench for The Frankentrees

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Our new old garden bench is in dire need of attention
Photo: Chronica Domus


High summer has arrived and the garden has become an absorbing outdoor playground as of late.  I am currently in the midst of a project that is focused around our Frankentrees, the very trees that were the subject of a post I published two years ago.

I have been patiently training these apple trees into an arch, dreaming that one day I might set a pretty garden seat beneath it.  It would, I imagined, be a place for this gentlewoman gardener to rest her weary body between the endless cycles of deadheading and weeding. 

Recently I happened across the garden bench of my dreams, an English Regency-style iron example. I believe it was made at the beginning of the twentieth century and was originally painted bronze green but has since been painted white.  Its sturdy construction is far superior in quality to anything available for sale today at mass-market garden centers and big-box chains. Besides, this is not a style which one typically sees for sale at such outlets or elsewhere, come to think of it. I am, to say the least, tickled pink to have found it.

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A Regency iron garden bench, circa 1810, with characteristic serpentine back and curved arms - the diamond-shaped embellishments make this bench much fancier than was typical of the era


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Our Regency-style garden bench shares the same serpentine back and curved arms as the Regency example shown in the preceding photograph.  Notice, too, the similarities in the curlicues which decorate the top corners of both benches
Photo: Chronica Domus


The bench was perfect in every respect but one.  The painted surface was in such a state of degradation that it would literally fall away while being handled.  I spent the better part of two uncomfortably hot days with my face encased in a dust mask laboring and scraping - in between muttering words not fit for print - until, finally, the ghastly stuff had been eviscerated.

I had every intention of repainting the bench until discussing the matter with my husband who came up with an excellent suggestion.  The result, he promised, would provide a durable, long-lasting finish that would greatly delay the need for future maintenance.  Best of all, it would immediately relieve me of several more days of hard graft.  Now, how could I possibly argue with that logic? Thank you, dear!

Loading up the Volvo with our shabby-looking bench, we set off in search of West Coast Powder Coating, a small local workshop which performs minor miracles on all manner of metal objects, including this one:

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A familiar item from the shores of the United Kingdom, a red K2 model telephone box
in the midst of receiving a facelift
Photo: Chronica Domus


We left our garden bench in the very capable hands of Chris and his team, having selected just the right shade of white and degree of gloss in the finish (70%).  By the way, Chris told me I need not have bothered scraping away the paint as the bench would be sandblasted prior to receiving its coat of primer and powder coating.

A week later, we returned to find this:

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Chris rightly beams with pride and joy as he shows off the workmanship involved in resurrecting
our Regency-style garden seat
Photo: Chronica Domus  


We could not be more pleased with the skillful work Chris and his team performed, insuring our old garden bench will be enjoyed for many years to come.  The industrial-strength finish, he tells us, should last for many years.

The hard toil is certainly not over yet (is it ever "over" when it comes to the garden?).  Plans are afoot to complete the area around the Frankentrees and directly beneath the bench.  For now, I can at least rest my wicker basket upon our garden's newly restored installation while I gather the remainder of the apple harvest, which arrived rather early this year.    

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Rosy-hued apples await picking
Photo: Chronica Domus

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Finally! The perfect Regency-style garden bench to place beneath the apple arch
Photo: Chronica Domus


I do hope you enjoyed reading about the revival of this particular garden bench and that it might inspire you too to breath new life into a tired piece of outdoor furniture.


West Coast Powder Coating
165 Mitchell Ave, South San Francisco, CA
Tel: (650) 871-0400

Nota bene: I am neither paid nor do I receive recompense in exchange for applauding products or services within my blog.  I do so because I enjoy them.  If you are a kindred spirit, you too enjoy recommending nice things to fellow good eggs.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Rather Peculiar Carrot Crop

Sometime during the month of May, my daughter Patience and I planted carrots.  We did not plant many, so we thought, just a starter pack of six seedlings purchased from a seller of organic plants at the San Francisco Farmers' Market.  The variety, we were told, was a type of mini carrot whose name has since escaped my failing brain.

Yesterday, I noticed the little orange carrot tops had poked out from beneath the damp earth.

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Photo: Chronica Domus


Aha, I thought, it must be time to dig up our crop.  But wait... just... a... minute!  Exactly how many carrot tops was I staring at?  Had they seemingly multiplied during their growth spurt?  We had, after all, only planted six little starter plants.

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Our six pack of carrots in among the chives and sweet pea stakes
Photo: Chronica Domus


Curious to reveal what might be hiding beneath, Patience handed me the trowel.  When the soil had loosened, I gently tugged at the carrot tops and lo and behold out came ...

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Heave-ho, and out you come!
Photo: Chronica Domus


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A trug full of carrots!
Photo: Chronica Domus


Patience and I were flabbergasted at the sight of our peculiar carrot crop.  How on earth had six little seedlings turned into so many carrots, and how had they become so contorted as to look, well.... deformed?  Or, as my daughter succinctly put it "They look like broken phalanges".  Hmmm... quite!

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Washed and trimmed our ugly duckling carrots were ready for eating
Photo: Chronica Domus


Sharing a jolly good chuckle over our horticultural endeavors, we both agreed that although our crop would not be winning any blue ribbons for their looks, they might just eek one out for their sublime taste. Crisp and sweet, these were certainly winners in our book.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

What's Blooming Inside: An Opportunistic Summer Arrangement

As much as I enjoy the panoply of blooms that are available for sale at the San Francisco Flower Market, there's nothing quite like the joy of growing one's own.

In this particular instance, it was never my intention to grow these glorious tennis ball-sized globes at all but, as the old adage goes, "the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry".

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Photo: Chronica Domus

You might remember back in February reading about the leeks I planted which stubbornly refused to grow for what seemed like an eternity.  There were two dozen of them.

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Blink, and you might just miss a row of wimpy leeks in the early spring vegetable garden
Photo: Chronica Domus

Well, those feeble little things finally grew up and provided our kitchen with their flavorful goodness for weeks on end.  However, too much of a good thing is... well, you get the picture.

Before I knew it, the remainder of the crop began to climb skyward.  Seemingly overnight, the plants had metamorphosed into beguiling five foot tall tapers crowned by purple globes.  I was delighted at their transformation, as were the local honey bees which found them of interest.

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Behold, a bee magnet!
Photo: Chronica Domus

Yesterday, I took my secateurs to hand and snipped half a dozen of the blooms to bring indoors.  I added them to foraged wild fennel, which grows in abundance in the Bay Area, much like the cow parsley I recall in England which lined every countryside lane.  The intoxicating licorice-like aroma of the feathery fennel fronds is such an unexpected olfactory treat.

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Fennel flowers take on the appearance of exploding golden fireworks when in full bloom
Photo: Chronica Domus

It took me a matter of minutes to assemble the modest arrangement you see below, which sits on our kitchen table.  The best part of this little story is that I managed to use my otherwise inedible leeks. Waste not, want not, I suppose.

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An old earthenware crock finds new life as a flower vessel
Photo: Chronica Domus

Is there something indigenous to your region which may occasionally find its way into your home, in the manner of our wild fennel?

Sunday, July 3, 2016

George Washington: Three Artists Inspired

I recently learned that the one dollar bill, which prominently features a painting of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, was first printed in 1963. It is the oldest design of any US currency in circulation today.  Mr. Stuart wisely held onto his original unfinished portrait of Washington, known as The Athenaeum, so that he could make subsequent copies of it to sell on both sides of the Atlantic. He painted seventy-five in total.  Not surprisingly, it became his most celebrated work.

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The Athenaeum, Gilbert Stuart's unfinished portrait of George Washington, defined the artist's career

Rembrandt Peale, another prolific and successful contemporary of Gilbert's, established his own career by painting George Washington seventy-nine times; a career-defining milestone if ever there was one.  The artist helped cement George Washington as an iconic symbol of the young nation. Interestingly, Peale had been greatly inspired by Gilbert Stuart's 1795 dollar portrait of Washington.

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George Washington as painted by Rembrandt Peale in 1854 currently hangs 
in San Francisco's de Young Museum
Photo: Chronica Domus

Over the years, many more artists have been roused into action by America's first president. Mr. Ray Beldner, a San Francisco-based sculptor and artist, is one of them. Below is his depiction of George Washington, which itself was inspired by Rembrandt Peale's Washington portrait as seen in the preceding photograph.

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Ray Beldner's 2005 portrait titled 
"E.pluribus unum" hangs next to Peale's original in The de Young Museum
Photo: Chronica Domus

The extraordinary thing about this particular depiction of George Washington can be found in the details.  If you look carefully, you will notice the portrait is comprised entirely of one dollar bills, the same bills that feature Gilbert Stuart's Washington portrait. Mr. Beldner has painstakingly sewn them together in a most novel arrangement.  By some unfathomable trick of the eye, they form a perfect likeness of The Sage of Mount Vernon.

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Photo: Chronica Domus

The first President of The United States has not only inspired countless men on the battlefield and beyond, but has also managed to inspire those of a creative bent. Stuart, Peale, and Beldner, three artists, over two centuries, forever united by their greatest inspiration, George Washington.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

New Additions to The Hanging Wall Shelf

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At last, the hanging wall shelf is full!
Photo: Chronica Domus

Last October, I wrote about my Morandi-inspired hanging wall shelf.  After arranging a small collection of earthenware vessels upon it, I was delighted to discover that sufficient room remained for additional bits and bobs to be added over time.

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The hanging wall shelf as it looked last October
Photo: Chronica Domus

As you may have guessed, I'm a bit of a gatherer type.  I was certain it would not be long until an interesting and attractive object presented itself, begging to be added to the hanging shelf.

My opportunity came last December during a visit to London's Portobello Road Market, which I wrote about, here.  Rummaging through the crates and boxes of Mr. Peter Adams' stall, my husband and I selected several of the diminutive treacle and toffee colored ink pots and salt glazed polish vessels to take home with us.

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Spoilt for choice!
Photo: Chronica Domus
We also snapped these up:

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Photo: Chronica Domus

What, you might be asking yourself is Virol?  Well, we too were wondering the same thing.  It turns out that Virol was a perplexing concoction of bone marrow, among other ingredients, conceived during the early twentieth century.  It was marketed to British mothers of young children and carers of the elderly and infirm.  I suppose one could describe Virol as a type of super food of its day.

An early metal sign depicting an earthenware jar of Virol

Virol promised everything from "perfectly moulded features, clear bright eyes, firm flesh with good healthy colour, and well-formed limbs ... a Virol constitution".  Sign me up please!  Or, maybe not.  I have a sneaking suspicion that Virol may have fallen flat on its face in its attempts at exciting the gastronomic juices of this gentle author.

Our Virol bottles look perfectly at home alongside their earthenware companions, would you not agree?

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Photo: Chronica Domus

The taller of the two measures a mere three and a half inches, and the smaller bottle is a fraction shorter.

Now that I've filled up my hanging wall shelf, I'm afraid I haven't a clue where to put this charming little fellow, which I could not pass up when doing my rounds of The Alameda Antiques Faire earlier this month.

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A 19th century ink pot complete with the potter's fingerprint embedded in the glaze for posterity
Photo: Chronica Domus

No matter, for I am sure it won't be too long until I find an appropriate resting place for it.  Do I see another hanging wall shelf in my future?  Perhaps so.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

An Impromptu Visit to San Francisco's "Little Italy"

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Columbus Avenue lies at the heart of North Beach
Photo: Chronica Domus

Last Sunday was one of those rare occasions that found us with no social obligation to fulfill. We arose late, bleary eyed from having spent the previous evening at home with friends enjoying refreshing cucumber gimlet cocktails (it was, after all World Gin Day, and we simply could not let that slip by without a nod to Mother's Ruin, could we?).  The house was clean and orderly, our "to do" list had been checked off, and Patience our daughter was away for the weekend visiting relatives. The gaping hole in our schedule was unfamiliar territory but, rather opportune as I discovered.

"Why not trot down to North Beach for a late lunch and an afternoon walk?" I said to my husband.  And so, we did.

North Beach is a vibrant historic neighborhood located at the northeasterly corner of the city.  The area was home to the Beat poets of the 1950's and 1960's and to large numbers of American Italian families.  North Beach is often referred to as "Little Italy" for reasons that will immediately become apparent upon landing on the main drag, Columbus Avenue.

Chock full of Italian delicatessens selling specialty ingredients for the home cook, pizzerias, restaurants, bakeries, and cafés, North Beach is undeniably Italian in flavor. It is also home to two of the city's largest Catholic churches.

We just happened to be walking by when we spotted this fellow dashing across the street to meet his friends for lunch:

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A Capuchin friar takes his leave of the church of St. Francis of Assisi
Photo: Chronica Domus

If you look carefully at the following photograph, you will see a few canine companions accompanying their owners who are seated at the church steps.  St. Francis of Assisi was, after all, a friend to all animals.  A small ceremony to bless them had just concluded shortly before our arrival, which coincided with the Feast of Saint Anthony being celebrated by the friars.

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Photo: Chronica Domus

Also unbeknownst to me when I suggested we hot foot it to lunch, was that our impromptu visit coincided with the annual North Beach Festival.  That explained why the place was positively humming with masses of locals and tourists alike.

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People, people, everywhere!
Oh, and the Transamerica Pyramid rising from the foot of Columbus Avenue
Photo: Chronica Domus

Food and beverage stands were set up along the length of several blocks of the neighborhood, together with small stages that would showcase a variety of live entertainment. Every restaurant and café was seemingly packed to the rafters.

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Are we ever going to find a place to eat?
Photo: Chronica Domus

Sidewalk tables were occupied as well, with diners enjoying both the hubbub and crystalline blue skies. There would be no summer fog to dampen anyone's spirits this day.

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Ah, finally, a table at Rose Pistola awaits us
Photo: Chronica Domus

We sought sustenance and sanctuary in the soothing atmosphere of Rose Pistola, which was, thank goodness, situated away from the melee of festival attendees.  The food here is simply marvelous. Trattoria-like in its simplicity, fresh, and impeccably prepared.  In a word delizioso!

Too full for dessert (at least I was), we waddled across the road to Mara's Italian bakery where we stocked up on some pastries, Italian style, for later.

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One could easily be forgiven for mistaking this scene for so many like it in Italy
Photo: Chronica Domus

The selection of sweet treats on offer at Mara's was almost overwhelming.  Cannoli, biscotti, torrone... the delectable list goes on and on.

A much needed walk was in order to jolt us out of our postprandial torpor.  Down the road and around Washington Square we went, passing even more Italian bakeries, if you can believe it, until we found Saints Peter and Paul church.

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 The twin spires rise 191 feet into the sky (notice how diminutive the substantial Victorian house appears by comparison)
Photo: Chronica Domus

Once inside, we toured the impressive space, which boasts an altar made of snow-white Carrara marble and a copy of Michelangelo's sculpture Pieta.

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Photo: Chronica Domus

Now that we've had a chance to play tourist, it was time to hop into the motor car and head home.

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Up, up into the sky!
A typical view of what one sees when traveling along the famously steep roads of San Francisco 
(better be sure the breaks and clutch are in good order)
Photo: Chronica Domus

Ah, finally home, and look what we brought with us to enjoy later in the day with coffee.

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These Sfogliatelle pastries are almost too good-looking to eat... almost!
Photo: Chronica Domus

I do hope you enjoyed tagging along with us on our impromptu visit to North Beach. If you too are San Francisco bound in the future, do please plan on visiting this vibrant neighborhood for a taste of old San Francisco.  Perhaps not on a busy festival weekend though.

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