Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Sort of an Ode to Chairs

Every object has a story, I guess, even if it's just in its early chapters, even, I suppose, if its story so far is only of being manufactured and then shipped and sold in a big-box store. I know I often value things not so much for how they look or how much they cost, but for the stories behind them and the memories those stories evoke. Sometimes those stories go back quite a while, sometimes, as with this first chair, the part of the story I know, because it's the part I'm in, is just beginning.
On Friday Joe and I visited a shop we'd never been to before, Betty Blue's Junk Shop, on Plumer, south of Broadway,, tucked away next an auto painting shop. It's lovely, to those of us who delight in finding a second-hand store with interesting items at good prices, with a friendly owner, and Betty Blue's has all those things. We found this little rocker for just $40, and it's not even a fixer-upper! It doesn't need a thing besides maybe a little furniture polish - oh, and I'll probably be moved to create a suitably retro seat cushion at some point. Bare wood's a bit hard on the bottom.
I love chairs (you've probably guessed that), and the oak rocker above is one of the first I loved, even though when I first saw it, it was painted a sort of vomit-grayish-beige. It's been in the family for 93 years, ever since my grandparents bought it from Sears Roebuck so my paternal great-grandmother would have a chair in which to rock my grandparents' first child, my Aunt Dorthe, who's still doing well all these years later, living on her own in Kalispell, Montana. That regrettable color, which someone painted it in the 1960s, stripped off easily, which was a great relief 20 years ago when the chair was passed on to me.
This Morris chair isn't a family heirloom, though I guess it's on its way to becoming one. I wonder sometimes what will happen to the furniture we've loved if our kids don't feel the same way about it. Well, this chair's story is an example of what might happen. Many years ago, I worked as a receptionist for our small-town family doctor. One of his patients was a very old woman who lived with a paid companion in a 3-story house filled with wonderful old furniture. When she died, her son came from wherever he lived to arrange her funeral and to decide what to do with her property. He came by the office and told Mac's nurse and me that, because we'd all been so good to his mother, he wanted to do something for us, so before he called in the dealers he let us come to the house to pick out whatever we wanted at rock-bottom prices. I paid $35 dollars for this chair and just $5 for a small oak cabinet. A year or two later a local antiques dealer (noted for cheating the people he bought from) offered me $365 for it, but obviously I didn't take it. I have no idea what it's worth, but it would have to be an awful lot to persuade me to part with it - I can't imagine selling it.
This little rocker is obviously still in need of a serious makeover. Joe wants to at least attempt to strip the paint off to see what's underneath - if we don't like what we find, we can always paint it a different color, and of course, either way it will get a new seat cover. I was driving down Grant Road when I spotted this chair outside a secondhand furniture store (of which there are many on Grant Road). I noticed the color first - hard to miss that green - but it was the lines of the chair that really captured me. I pulled in and quickly talked the owner down from $50 to $35. Maybe he would have gone lower, but I guess I'll never know.
This red chair is one of the most comfortable I've ever sat in, even without a cushion. And the price was definitely right - someone had set it out on the curb for the semi-annual brush-and-bulky trash pickup (that's where the little table next to it came from as well). I decided not to do anything to the metal frame, which has been painted more than once - most recently black, but turquoise and red show through where the black has chipped.  It has, as Joe says, patina. The wood had been painted barn red and so I just repainted that and I love it. The little table was white, more or less, and it just got a coat of turquoise spray paint.  Now that the weather's cooled off (they're predicting a high of 85 today), the little shade house/ramada is a wonderful place to relax, especially in this newly repainted chair.
And now one last chair, that I think must have been my mother's or her sister's, since it was far from new when I got it. I sat in it with my dolls as a little girl, and my own little girl sat in sometimes, though we also got her a much sturdier wooden rocker. Today this little chair is battered by time and no one sits in it now except Berthe Antoinette, who doesn't weigh much and who can be trusted not to play roughly. I suppose I should have it repaired, but for some reason I don't want to see it changed. Maybe I'll look into that, though. Someday.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday Muffins

It's been a long week at work. Even though we only work Monday through Thursday, those four days were intense. The good news is that the weather seems to be cooling off, down into the 80s and maybe even the 70s today, though there will probably be a few more days in the 90s before month's end.  Anyway, we needed a treat today so I made muffins, banana bran muffins, to be precise, and here they are, along with a couple of tiny Halloween table topper quilts I made a few years ago and the gorgeous mums one of my students brought me last week. I just love October!

The recipe is from an old issue of Eating Well, one of my favorite food magazines. The recipes I've tried have all been tasty, pretty easy, and healthy. I really should re-subscribe, I suppose. The recipe as the magazine gives it is at: Here's how I made them, which includes a few minor alterations:

Banana-Bran Muffins - makes 1 dozen 
2 large eggs
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup mashed ripe bananas, (2 medium)
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup unprocessed oat bran 
1/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat 12 muffin cups with cooking spray.

     Beat eggs and brown sugar in a medium bowl until smooth. Mix in bananas, buttermilk, bran, oil and vanilla.
     Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the dry ingredients; add the wet ingredients and stir/fold gently with a rubber spatula until just combined. Never overbeat muffins; it makes them tough and gives them pointy heads. (I think it probably does the same thing to children.) Stir in the walnuts. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin cups (they’ll be quite full). 
     Bake the muffins until the tops are golden brown and spring back when touched lightly, 15 to 25 minutes (it was 18 minutes in my oven). Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Loosen edges and turn muffins out onto a wire rack to cool slightly before serving.

Nutrition Per serving : 196 Calories; 6 g Fat; 1 g Sat; 3 g Mono; 36 mg Cholesterol; 32 g Carbohydrates; 5 g Protein; 4 g Fiber; 182 mg Sodium; 167 mg Potassium, 6 WW points

The original recipe calls for a mixture of all-purpose and whole wheat flours, along with wheat bran, but I only had whole wheat flour and oat bran on hand, so I used those. It also gives 1/2 cup chocolate chips as an optional ingredient, but I decided against that and added more walnuts. If you go to the website you'll see the walnuts are sprinkled over the top rather than stirred in, as I did it. They look prettier that way but I like a bit of walnut in every bite. I just ate my first muffin, still warm from the oven, and it was very good, not overly sweet, though I imagine that, like traditional banana bread, they'll mellow with standing and taste richer and sweeter tomorrow.
     I don't know why I haven't been baking lately. I've gone back to Weight Watchers and am fairly happy with my slow but steady (sometimes stalled) progress, so that's one reason, but I looked at my favorite breakfast cookbook, Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Café, and I'd figured out the points for the muffin recipes and they're within the safe range, most with a point less than these. Oh well, it's fall now, more or less, so that may be why I'm back in the baking and soup-making mood - and I intend to enjoy it.