That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown

Last night I took part in a wonderful, fun Christmas concert with my pals from the Corktown Ukulele Jam, the Corktown Chamber Orchestra and about a hundred enthusiastic singers from Choir! Choir! Choir! There were carols, Corelli, a Chanukah tune, George Michael ( yes, of Wham! fame, a rousing version of “Last Christmas”…and I’m not ashamed to admit I loved it), and we ended with a rousing Hallelujah Chorus. There was also some Linus and Lucy, and a reading from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

A propos, as this is my Christmas tree:

The Ukes were up in the choir loft, so you can’t see us, and 35 little ukuleles weren’t much of a match for 100 big voices,   but as our fearless leader, Steve McNie, said, it’s like a pizza: it’s about the flavour of the whole thing rather than one ingredient.

Here’s a little taste of our Corktown festiveness: “Oy, Chanukah“, “Last Christmas” and the “Hallelujah” chorus.


Early Readers

Brother: Looks like we can squeeze in an episode of the “The Flintstones” before bed-time.

Me: Meh…it’s a repeat.

I really was an early reader…just not this early, so far as I know. I’m about a year old here, and my brother was two. As a future editor, I clearly took the printed word seriously. And television. Luckily I gained access to slightly more sophisticated reading material. (Can’t say the same for TV. )

Bunnies and Bears

Another kitchen-related post…In the unnecessary but cute category, I present bear and bunny shaped egg presses:

What’s an egg press? It’s a mold to reshape a hard-boiled egg so it no longer resembles an egg. You know, for those folks averse to eating a baby chick…maybe it will look more appetizing as a bunny. Cute food? Or disturbing? My eggs now have faces.

The presses are part of the bento tradition—bento is essentially a japanese lunch box, but the contents range from simple to highly elaborate. There’s a sub-category of bento where, it seems, folks try to one-up each other creating seriously complex art/lunches with vegetables carved like cartoon characters, rice balls shaped like animals, and sushi shaped like the entire cast of Harry Potter.

Compared to some efforts (like these examples, verging on the “are you insane?!”), the egg presses are bento for the lazy. All you do is boil some eggs, peel them while they’re still hot, place them in the presses and put them in the fridge to cool for about 10 minutes. Here’s my first attempt:

The eggs I used were  a bit too small, so bear doesn’t quite have all his ears.

The presses also come in other shapes—I saw fish, cars, hearts and stars. I’m amused at the pairing of the bear and bunny, though, because, as any ukulele enthusiast will know, they are reminiscent of U900, the famous crocheted bear and bunny ukulele masters.

Once Below a Time

My Welsh copy of Peter Rabbit isn’t my only souvenir of Wales. I’ve actually been to Wales twice. The second time was when I was in grad school and writing a thesis on the Anglo-Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

Thomas  is now known mostly as the author of the radio play Under Milk Wood and the children’s story “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” as well as his most famous poem,”Fern Hill.” In the ’50s, Thomas was like a rock star, travelling the world giving readings to swarming fans. He still has a lot of fans though, and I was lucky enough to take part in the inaugural year of the Dylan Thomas School, a 2-week gathering in Wales of Thomas scholars and general afficionados. There were seminars and guest speakers, including Thomas’s daughter (who sounds eerily like a female version of her father) and Sir George Martin (of Beatles fame), who was working on a new production of Under Milk Wood starring another Welshman, Anthony Hopkins. We also got to go on some day trips, some of which were Thomas-related, such as the town where he was buried and where his writing shack still stands, overlooking the ocean, and, of course, the famous Fern Hill, the family farm that inspired the poem.

So this is my other souvenir of Wales. It’s a piece of fern from Fern Hill. From the “dingle,” to be specific.

And if you don’t know it, this is the poem:

Fern Hill

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would
take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

–Dylan Thomas

Hold the Pepper

It’s the day after Hallowe’een, and I’m all sugared out (for now). I usually have to balance out sweet with savoury, and last night I discovered…

From Loblaws’ President’s Choice Blue Menu line. What salt-loving language nerd wouldn’t love multi-grain, mini alphabet pretzels? They’re semi-healthy and educational!

Kitschen Kitsch Day 5: Friday Finale

After this post, I’m done with the Kitchen Cupboard of Shame (if you’re just tuning in, you can catch up here)…But I have to say, this salt and pepper set is my favourite. Cowboys!

Identical twin cowboys that bear a striking resemblance to a young Conan O’Brien. I have my own personal Team Coco!

These are also made in Occupied Japan, so are vintage 1945-52. Conan O’Brien wasn’t born yet, however. They’re cute, and yet kind of disturbing, actually, as twins. I’m ok with matching tomatoes, and turkeys, and fruit-like objects that may or may not be oranges, but somehow the matching human heads are a little off. I hope real twins don’t get that reaction from people. Maybe it’s just the two-Conan thing.

And how did they decide who got to be salt, and who pepper?

Kitschen Kitsch Day 4: Uh…Fruit?

I don’t know if these are supposed to be oranges or lemons. The colour is ambigious.

Not to mention the fact that they are the most unnatural shape of orange/lemon ever. Before I noticed the flower blossoms on the top, I thought they were ears of corn. But then, they’re not shaped like corn, either.

These are Occupied Japan items. You’d think the Japanese would know what oranges are shaped like, given mandarin oranges come from there. And given their skill with ceramics, it’s not like they couldn’t make them round (see: Tomato Ware). Maybe they were playing a joke on the Americans who would be buying their wares. I really can’t explain it.

I think this was the point where I realized collecting salt and pepper shakers was truly weird, so I may as well go all out. Really, these are weird.

Kitschen Kitsch Day 3: Fruit

Vegetable salt and pepper shakers led to the inevitable fruit salt and pepper shakers. The strawberries were also the same red as the tomatoes, so at this point the addition was rationalized purely as a nice little colour hit for my dull kitchen.

These strawberries are the size of actual strawberries. This set also has a tiny sugar bowl, but it lost its lid. And, I’m imagining, a very, very tiny matching sugar spoon, although that might be stretching it a little. Anyway, it’s so small that it must be from some place that rationed sugar during the war.

The strawberries also almost led to a whole fruit-related sub-category, but I managed to stop myself. Tomorrow I’ll show you where I stopped.

Kitschen Kitsch Day 2: You Say Tomato, I Say Tomato

I have not one, but two, sets of vintage salt and pepper shakers that are shaped like tomatoes.

This is because I already owned a teapot shaped like a tomato. And a matching tomato cream and sugar set. Now that I think about it, that tomato teapot was the actual beginning of my vintage kitchenware collection. I had a dark kitchen that needed brightening up, and that red was just the ticket. I quickly found out that, like the Japanese salt and pepper shakers, tomato-shaped items were everywhere in Retro Land. It’s actually called Tomato Ware. At some point in the 20th Century making ceramic items shaped like tomatoes became a world-wide phenomenon; the Tomato era actually stretches from 1920s to the 1970s, although the bulk seem to be 40s and 50s. Tomato tea pots. Tomato salt and pepper shakers. Tomato cookie jars. Tomato jam pots. I still haven’t found an explanation why.

I never actually used the tomato teapot, however, because I couldn’t get past the thought that the tea would come out tasting like tomato juice. Yes, that is about as logical as Tomato Ware collecting. But I guess a lot of people really, really like tomatoes.

Kitschen Kitsch

I have a confession. Those tacky vintage turkey salt and pepper shakers aren’t the oddest things in my kitchen. The turkeys have company. The turkeys were, in fact, the start of what people on ebay would call a “collection”…but what others might call “temporary insanity.” You see, once I bought the tacky turkeys, it just seemed, well, sort of normal to buy these.

I was at a flea* market when my normal taste went right out the window and I somehow thought it would be cute to have a pepper shaker named “Pepe.” (*I initially typed this as “flee.” Freudian?) I’m not sure if Salte and Pepe are supposed to be Mexican or Italian. They were made in Japan, by people who had most likely never been to either Mexico or Italy. Among other things, while Pepe is usually a male name, this Pepe seems to be the girl of the pair.

Japan has long been known for its porcelain and ceramic production. High quality Noritaki china is still coveted. But on the other hand, the country also produced a bewildering array of salt and pepper shakers, figurines and other kitschy items, primarily in the ’40s and ’50s. All my vintage salt and pepper shakers come from Japan. (Yes, I said “all”.  There are more. I know.)

After buying Salte and Pepe, I was shocked to learn that one of my friends (who shall remain nameless) had a huge collection of vintage salt and pepper shakers. He explained to me that the Made in Japan items were more collectible than non-stamped or North American ones (due to the Japanese reputation for quality porcelain), and those stamped “made in Occupied Japan” were more coveted still. Japan was occupied by the U.S. and its allies from 1945 to 1952. Americans boycotted Japanese products during the war, but the post-war “Occupied Japan” labels assured Americans that part of the proceeds from items made in the country of their former enemy would go toward war reparations.

(These shakers may make a full-on appearance later.)

I’ve been trying to figure out why salt and pepper shakers became collectible. More specifically, why I temporary got caught up in it (it was a long time ago—I promise). The best I can figure is that it has something to do with the sheer variety of them. Go on ebay or any collectible site and look up “vintage salt and pepper shakers.”  Hundreds of them. All different.  It’s like hockey cards. Once you have a few that are different, it becomes an obsession to find all the others that are unique from the ones you have. There’s always another out there that’s better than the one you just got. Luckily, I managed to stop before it became interventionable.

If there’s any interest, maybe I’ll pull out the rest. We can have Kitsch Week! Yay or Nay? Will you think less of me if you see what’s really hiding in my cupboard?