October 11, 2017

What’s Happening

People ask me all the time to tell them what’s happening in Baltimore, so I have two upcoming events to tell you about that I am involved with.

First is the Valleys Planning Council’s Art  for Land’s Sake Show & Sale, a biannual event featuring local artists. The Valleys Planning Council’s mission is to conserve land and resources, preserve historic character and maintain the rural feel and land uses in the valleys just north of Baltimore, a place where I spend a lot of time.

Here are some of my favourite pieces in the show.Paula 3

sam9

michael 4

Art for Land’s Sake is held at the stunning Caves Farm, a large historic equestrian center just north of Baltimore. caves valley farmTickets to the Preview Party on Friday, October 20th are available here. Tickets for Saturday and Sunday are $5.00 per person. Click here for more details.

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I am a charter member of Team Tea Caddy, three of us working on a major exhibition of historic tea caddies at Homewood House at the Johns Hopkins University, beginning Sunday, November 5th. I didn’t know much about tea caddies until recently, and have discovered that they tell the fascinating history of the movement of tea from China to England and then on to America. In the 1700’s, tea was more valuable than gold, and these caddies show how it was treasured. image

The earliest were made of china and porcelain, and then silver, wood, tortoiseshell and ivory. blog pic

While many of the forms are similar, their decoration and origin is literally all over the map!image

This amazing collection has been assembled by Mark Bramble, Broadway producer, director and the writer of 42nd Street, which just re-opened in London earlier this year. Because of his extensive travels writing and producing Broadway shows, he’s had the opportunity to add pieces to his collection from all over the world.

The exhibition will be open from November 5th through December 15 at Homewood House & Museum. Mark will be giving a free lecture (tix are required) on his collection and signing his book on November 16th at Johns Hopkins University.

I hope to see you at one or both of these wonderful events.

October 5, 2017

I’ll Take This… Even though it’s in the country!

I went out to see my friend Sam, who painted the beautiful portrait of Connor several years ago, and realized that another house on the huge old property where he lives is for sale. Then I saw some pictures of it on a friend’s Instagram feed and just knew I had to hunt it up. image

It is a 6 bedroom/6.5 bathroom that clocks in at just over 9,000 square feet. But the best part is that it’s the original house on a huge farm property that has now been mostly tastefully subdivided. image

Unlike a lot of houses, this one has been left to age gracefully. No one ripped the wisteria off the porch, image

added a brand new “chef’s” stove, image

tore out the old radiators with plate warmers, image

added tacky plastic shutters,image

glassed in the original sleeping porch,image

or demolished the old picnic pavilion. image

It would be criminal for the next owners of this house to modernize it. image

If you’re going to own a place like this, you are obligated to be a good steward of the property, and not ruin it for the next generations of owners. For more inforation and images, please click here.

September 29, 2017

A Bounty of Figs!

Not this little Figueimage

It’s been an amazing year for figs, except for my tree, which still hasn’t fruited after three or four years. After a very rainy June and July, much of August and September has been dry, so that’s helped the figs ripen without getting too sodden, making them very sweet. Usually, we get figs closer to Labor Day, but they are much later this year, and my friend expects to have them well into October.

Friends who are overwhelmed with figs are picking about 60 a day, so they have shared their bounty, as you can see above! Of course, I had to pay it forward. I gave another fig-loving friend a dozen, and made my Drunken Fig Jam with the remainder.image

I have a recipe I’ve used the past few times, but this time I felt like I could switch it up a bit. Instead of using lemon peel, I used orange peel, paring it into very thin strips with a julienne peeler. You can see some of the peel above. I also used sugar in the raw instead of white sugar and then tossed in a tiny bit of vanilla sugar, too. The original recipe called for 1/4 teaspoon of bourbon – I mean, really? What is the point of that??? I used about a half a cup!

This mixture sits for an hour or so to macerate and draw out the juices, and then it’s cooked over a low heat for about an hour, stirring occasionally. I do add a bit of pectin to make sure it sets, because I don’t like it to be too runny. I also give it a whizz with my immersion blender to break it up a bit. I serve the jam with a nice goat cheese and good crackers or slices of French bread. It is really marvelous. I might have to beg for more figs!

September 21, 2017

#ThisIsBaltimore2017: The Crazy Busy Edition

I can tell it’s almost fall, because I am super busy with my actual real job, some consulting work, events, and classes I am teaching. It’s all good, but it’s also hard to come up with creative and interesting posts for you. So I am going to do a few brief posts in the next few weeks. Hope that’s okay!

When I got back from Canada, I realized Figue needed a MAJOR grooming.
It was a little shorter than I expected, but she’s still cute as a bug!image

I was really excited about the eclipse, but of course, it was cloudy here.
I did get this shot through the clouds though.image

It was a beautiful evening for a concert in the park!image

My friends’ dog, Scout, with his Maryland Pride bandana.
He’s checking out the carpet fringe for future consumption.image

Tulips from Trader Joe’s in September.
Although there are tons of flowers everywhere, I couldn’t resist these.image

I spent the weekend at a friend’s house on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
You can just see Baltimore on the horizon, but it takes about 1.5 hours to drive there!image

To me, this is perfection: fresh Eastern Shore tomatoes, Duke’s mayo, salt & pepper and white bread.image

This is a Datura. It’s about 12 inches long. The smell is so subtle, but just gorgeous.image

See you next week!

September 11, 2017

Carriage House Conversion

One of my best friends is a Realtor, and she sometimes grabs me to come look at houses that she is listing. So when she texted me that she was taking some pictures of a carriage house conversion, I jumped at the chance to see it, since I know the architect who did the re-design. image

This picture, taken from the Baltimore School for the Arts, right across the street, gives you an idea of what a little treasure this place is. It’s in the elegant Mount Vernon neighbourhood of Baltimore which is filled with beautiful townhouses, museums and other cultural attractions. This house is lucky enough to have enough off-street parking for three cars, and we even managed to get my Volvo wagon in behind the gate, with room to spare.

It’s also got a wonderful outside space for entertaining or just sitting and having coffee early in the morning. image

The house has a new kitchen which opens to a laundry room and imageto the living room where the architect has creatively solved the problem of having lots of light combined with complete privacy. imageHe’s added an opaque window, and used a set of old carved doors to shut out the light when needed. The western light is diffused and provides a great solution to an eternal problem.

Much of the original brickwork has been left intact, but is broken up with huge windows and glass doors. image

Upstairs, there are two bedrooms, one with another fun set of windows with another pair of old doors. These details, along with the original beams and bricks, really make this house special. image

The shady patio was one of my favourite things about the house, along with its great location in the middle of the city. image

If you’re interested in this house with two bedrooms, one full- and one half-bath, and two or three off-street parking places in the heart of Baltimore, or would like to see additional details, contact Tracey here.

September 5, 2017

Another Old House and a Monastery

Last fall, I was doing some research on the early 1900’s Baltimore architects, Palmer & Lamdin, and came across a listing of all of their works. Most of their work was done in several Baltimore neighbourhoods, but one address stood out – it was about 20 miles west of the city, in what would have been a very rural area of the state. I looked up the address and found that it was actually a monastery! IMG_4746

For months, I’ve been meaning to drive out and check it out, but it was only this past weekend that I had the time. Luckily, after a day of heavy rain, Sunday was gorgeous and cool, with tons of great clouds.

The old house, and by old, it dates from 1732, was a bit of a surprise, since I was only expecting a monastery! It’s called Carrollton Manor, and you can read its history here. It was given by Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, to his grand-daughter, Emily MacTavish. Interestingly, I was on the Board of Directors of Carroll’s house in Baltimore City.IMG_4727It was originally intended as a five-part Georgian manor house, but the wings were never built, resulting in a rather plain edifice. In this image, you can see the cupola on top of the house – a great way to provide ventilation. IMG_4737The view from the house is lovely – overlooking fields which are now farmed by the University of Maryland’s agriculture program, and provide income for the property. IMG_4726I was able to take my “signature peek” into the house, by flattening my camera lens onto a window. I combined two images taken from either side of the front door, so you can get an idea of the grandeur of the main hall. My understanding is that this house is being renovated and will be in use once again, instead of lying fallow. IMG_4731xThere was some beautiful ironwork on the house and I had fun taking pictures of it. IMG_4720

After I left the house, I wandered up to the monastery, which is actually the Shrine of St. Anthony of Padua. He’s one of my personal favourite saints, as he is, among other things, the finder of lost objects. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve summoned his help, and he’s promptly found the object. IMG_4744Honestly, this place was so unexpected! The shrine is based on the Sacro Convento of Assisi, the friary in Italy where St. Francis for whom the Franciscn Order of monks is named, is buried. It’s a little piece of Italy in the Maryland countryside.

Four arcades surround a formerly cloistered courtyard with a fountain in the center. Luckily, when I was there, it was very quiet and I could walk through the space and contemplate… things. IMG_4748IMG_4750x

Of course, there’s a chapel at the monastery and it was not what I expected, either. Parts look like the original from the 1920’s and other pieces are clearly the from the 70’s. IMG_4758

There is a long passage that’s behind the arcades where the offices, dining room, library and other rooms are located. IMG_4761

As I mentioned, it was just a gorgeous day, as you can see by these pictures. IMG_4762IMG_4771

It is always such fun to find places like this that are hidden in plain sight!

August 31, 2017

Fountain Pens

When I was first learning to write in cursive, we used fountain pens. I know, it sounds like something out of the Victorian era, but it’s true. I’ve always maintained a fondness for fountain pens, but they’re quite difficult to find in the States.image

Try going into a Staples and looking for one. Oh, you might find a nice Cross Fountain Pen, but I tend to lose things, so that’s not an option. Also, people always ask to borrow pens, and if you’re a real fountain pen person, you know that the nib adjusts to your writing, so you NEVER lend your fountain pen. EVER.

When I was in Montreal, I remembered having bought a set of disposable fountain pens and a great pad of paper there a number of years ago. Although I could neither remember the name of the store, or find it again, it gave me the tiny little push I needed to hunt for fountain pens again.

The first set I bought because I couldn’t resist the name: Platinum Preppy! The set came in seven colours of ink, which was a huge change from my childhood, black, blue-black or blue ink. They’re Japanese, as so many fun things are,and come in a fine point. The colours are great, except yellow, which you can barely see!image

Then I bought a set of Thornton's Fountain Pens which had a fine nib. Again with the yellow! If I buy these again, I think I will get a medium nib instead of fine. thorntonsBecause I have so many meetings, and need to keep track of all of the various things I do, I devised a system a number of years ago that works for me. Each conversation is written in a different colour ink. So leafing through my myriad notebooks, I can see where a new conversation beging with just a glance. These pens are perfect for that.

I am thrilled that I’ve once again discovered fountain pens and that they don’t leak and feather on the paper like in the old days.

August 21, 2017

Visiting Belmont Manor

How lucky we were that Sunday was an absolutely PERFECT day! Not a cloud in the sky, warm temperatures, a light breeze and no humidity! So it was an ideal afternoon to head about 20 minutes south of Baltimore to visit the historic Belmont Manor, another house designed, in part, by my new obsession, Pleasants Pennington. IMG_4354

You get to the house via a long and very narrow and bumpy road before you finally see the allĂ©e of trees leading to the house which sits atop a hill. IMG_4348It is completely different from the last house I wrote about, and charming in its own way. IMG_4351First, the center portion is a lot older, dating to the early 1700’s, with the hyphens and wings added a bit later. In the 1910’s and 1920’s, Pennington added a lot more space to the house, extending it to the rear and adding to one of the wings. IMG_4363xxHe also designed the charming pool house. IMG_4567

Back to the house. It’s a lot more subtle and much smaller than the last house. It’s also a lot older. This was the original ballroom, and as you can see, the corners of the room are curved, a detail that’s only on the inside of the house, but one which elevates the room. IMG_4364

The manager of Belmont mentioned to me that the newel post on the staircase at Belmont is very similar to the one at the other house. Apparently, Belmont’s staircase was relocated when the house was remodeled, so in all probability, Pennington was the one who designed it.IMG_4371

IMG_3482 2This is one of the rooms which Pennington designed, and you can see his style here when compared to the last house. IMG_4360IMG_4361

This is the original back door to the house, which they moved during the expansion and centered on the back of the house. The door is in the corner of the room inside, but centered outside. They also moved the back stairs to the gardens.IMG_4382

Belmont has added a huge tent to the gardens because the space is primarily used for weddings and other special events. It’s so popular that it’s booked through 2018! IMG_4535

There is a grove of trees set up for outdoor weddings which seats about 200 guests. IMG_4571The gardens are nice, but not great and they’re sparsely planted. Luckily, there are a lot of the original trees dotting the property. IMG_4538

The other Pennington addition is the pool house, which is fantastic, but actually a pretty simple structure. The elegance is in the perfect proportions and the details. IMG_4540IMG_4543IMG_4558 What was originally a swimming pool is now a beautiful lily pond – spectacularly painted black to show off the plantings. IMG_4553IMG_4548IMG_4561

One of the highlights for me was seeing the grave of the steeplechase/hunter/race-horse, Billy Barton, the first animal featured on the cover of Time Magazine. He was the most famous race horse of his time and was purchased at the age of five by David Bruce, former owner of Belmont. image

He is buried at Belmont, standing up, in full tack.His stable-mate, Jay-Jay, is buried next to him.IMG_4575Belmont is open to the general public four times a year, the next in December. Check their website to see the exact information. Here’s an article with some information about the acquisition and history of the house.