Drown the Dirt Doldrums - Lick Limescale where it Lives

Dingy glassware, dull aluminum, scummy bathtubs... These things are homemaking nightmares that can depress even the most cheerful Suzy Sunshine. Banish their gloomy clouds of dirt and limescale with a simple solution made from common household ingredients!
I had a few things to clean up, so I put them all in plastic bin and filled it with a solution of hot tap water, half a bottle of white vinegar and a couple of tablespoons of cream of tarter. I let the bin sit until the water had cooled to room temperature, then pulled the items out and washed them with dish soap and a nylon scrubbie and all the offending detritus just rinsed away.
It's the perfect solution for aluminum, which can't be cleaned with ammonia because it pits. While it won't remove burnishing, it will eat through all that accumulated, dulling residue.
Crystal vases, when used regularly, can develop limescale and hard to remove bits of plant matter that cloud their clarity. This treatment will soak through all that unpleasantness and leave a crystal clear shine.

This method also works on bathtubs and other plumbing fixtures. Just fill the tub with hot water, pour in a bottle of white vinegar and some cream of tarter and let sit over night. The next morning all that hard to remove scunge will just wipe away! My friend Mike from California, who's more of a clean freak than I am suggested this to me. It's especially effective on fiberglass tubs which can't be scrubbed with abrasives. Give it a try!


Ready for Spring - You're Own Little Flower Box

Vintage craft magazines can be such great sources of inspiration! McCall's Needlework and Crafts magazine from 1967 is the source for this charming little project.
It's a trinket box, but what I like about it is the technique can be adapted to so many materials end uses. They suggest you use felt for the flowers and leaves, but you could also use different types and colors of paper, fabric, leather or even rolled fondant! Here's the template for the flowers:
Just right click, or command click on the image above and choose save to download them for your own use. You can resize them as needed in photo editing software.

I did a needlework project based in part on this idea. Instead of glue I used french knots to embroider the felt flowers to the surface. Here's the end result:

What would you do with this idea?


Blitzed for Blitzen - Holiday Cheer in the Form of Rum

'Tis the season to get snockered! When it's cold, and I'm in the market for a good snockering I like it to come with butter.

Here's a wonderful recipe for a hot buttered rum toddy from the Esquire Party Book from 1965. It's one of my go-to books for celebratory fare.

"For each drink you'll need:

3/4 Tbs. brown sugar
1 1/2 ounce rum
2 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon butter
4 oz boiling water
Ground cinnamon
Sugar cube

Into a six ounce mug put the sugar, rum and cloves. Spoon the butter into the mug and pour over it the 4 oz of boiling water. Stir the batter thoroughly with the cinnamon stick and dust with ground cinnamon. For a special touch, try a sugar cube dipped in 151 proof rum, lighted and dropped in at the height of burning with the incantation of Yo-ho-ho!"

Now if you'd like a stronger drink you can vary the ratio of water to rum slightly, but don't eliminate the water all together! 6 oz of rum can leave you wondering where you left your pants.

All my best wishes for a happy holiday!


Brini's Brownies - Peppermint Bark Edition

Ever since I was given the gift of a box of peppermint bark years ago I've been obsessed with it. So much so, that I devised a recipe for peppermint bark brownies that I make every holiday season.  
 They a delightfully decadent treat that always brings raves. Here's how to make them:
Just like my coconut brownies, this is one of those clever recipes that uses a mix as its base. I use the same mix - Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Fudge. It's the perfect foil for the peppermint.

You'll need:

1 Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Fudge brownie mix
1/3 cup of oil
1/3 cup of peppermint schnapps
1 egg
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
Buttercream icing
4 peppermint candy canes

Begin by greasing the bottom only of a brownie pan. Then put your candy canes in a plastic zip-lock bag and break them up until they're the size pictured below. The initial breaking can be done by whacking the bag against the counter. After that larger pieces can be broken up by hitting them with the back edge of a table knife.

Set them aside and place the brownie mix, oil, schnapps, egg and extract in a bowl and mix by hand until combined. Pour the mix in the pan and bake as directed on the box for your pan size. When they're done set them out to cool for a while, then frost them with the icing and sprinkle the peppermint chunks on top.

I like to put them in the refrigerator for a while before cutting them. The icing gets a little stiffer and is easier to cut without smearing.

These make a great impression at any holiday party. Be careful stacking them, however, they tend to lift the peppermint off the ones below them. I always put wax paper between the layers when I put them in a tin as a gift.

Happy Holidays!


To Sleep, Perchance to Dream Part 3 - Resting on a Cloud

With three previous posts on my sofa bed you might think I'm a trifle obsessed with it - and you'd be right. Here is number 4! The reason for my obsession is that when you live in a studio apartment, it's a very important piece of furniture. It must perform three functions, and they must be performed flawlessly. It's taken some work, but I've now gotten two of the three perfected - comfortable seating and comfortable sleeping. The latter is what I'll address today with a great product that has turned what is normally an unpleasant, lumpy sleep experience into a dream - an Air Dream, in fact.
When I was deciding what sort of sleeping situation I wanted in my new apartment I considered a day bed, but was worried about the room looking like a bedroom all the time and a murphy bed, but that would have required some major demolition and construction with the current layout of my place. A sofa bed seemed like the best option to make the place work for entertaining and still provide me a real bed. If Mary could do it, so could I.

My one concern with the whole sofa bed oeuvre was the notoriously uncomfortable sleeping experience. I set out to see if there had been any advances in sofa bed sleep technology and was pleasantly surprised to find the Air Dream mattress. Its air over coil technology easily eliminates the bar across your back that is the hallmark of a sofa bed mechanism. Simply inflate the mattress with the included air pump...
...and it becomes an 11" thick mattress that feels like a regular bed. Here it is dressed out in some of my vintage sheets.
The next morning just flip up the cap on the air chamber and it deflates quickly.
After making sure all the air is out of the ends and corners it folds up like a normal sofa bed mattress.
I had a few concerns before ordering, so I called the company to ask some questions. I spoke with Sean and he was very helpful. I was worried about what to do if there was a power failure. I couldn't inflate the mattress without power. Sean said that I could sleep on the mattress without inflating it, just like sleeping on a regular sofa bed mattress because under the air bladder is a standard flexible coil mattress. My sleep experience wouldn't be as comfortable as with the bladder inflated, but it would do in a pinch. My second question had to do with longevity. This mattress is really designed to be a guest room replacement. I wanted to know how well it would hold up to daily use. Sean told me that as long as I took care of it (making sure the air had all been expelled before folding it up, not letting the bladder get pinched in the mechanism, etc.) it would be just fine - plus, there is a three year warranty on the mattress, air chamber and valve. So I was sold, I ordered it and haven't looked back. It's been a wonderful solution for me.

You can find them on their website. They're a great solution for guests and daily use alike. Just so you know this isn't a biased review, I did pay full price for my mattress, and I do feel that it was worth it.

No more sofa bed posts. I promise! At least not until I address the third important aspect - how it looks, and get it reupholstered...


Alcohol - It's Not Just for Cocktails Anymore

As most of you know, I can be a bit obsessive. I like things nice and neat. While moving, I removed some beautiful lucite shelves from my old bedroom and found that they had taken some of the paint off the wall with them.
I tried carefully chipping it away with my nail, but it didn't do the trick. If the pieces had been anything other than plastic, I might have used acetone - my go to solvent for removing gunky build up, sticker residue and paint from most surfaces. But acetone dissolves plastic, so I would have had a frosted, marred mess on my hands. I chose rubbing alcohol. It's every bit as good as acetone, and doesn't mar the finish of Lucite, acrylic and other plastics.
It takes a bit of elbow grease, but a touch of rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball will remove all sorts of detritus. I had to use several cotton balls, and it was a messy process.
But the results are stunning. Just look how clean and clear that corner is now! If you'd like to try it yourself, here are a few tips: Be sure and test the alcohol on a small, hidden corner to be sure it doesn't mar the finish. Depending on how much paint or build-up you're trying to remove, it may take some time, and patience. Never smoke while doing this - alcohol is flamable. It's so satisfying to see things all nice and clean again!
I've just listed these shelves on eBay. Have a look!

I'll have some holiday posts up soon - I promise!


Miss Know-It-All Says Hello!

Unpacking can certainly be an eye-opener! I'm finding so many things I had forgotten I had - like this charming little dictionary.
Isn't it cute? It was published by Pony Tail in 1959 and was designed for a girl's desk. It has a puffy pink vinyl cover with an illustration of a girl at a desk and is titled Miss Know-It-All. With illustrated definitions of "Goose-step" and "Papoose" it's the studious girl's best friend!

What treasures have you rediscovered in a move?


The Sensuous Kitchen - Exploring the Myra Breckinridge Cookbook

Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinridge was quite the phenomenon when it was released in 1968. The story of an irresistible transsexual bent on the destruction of the male sex was made into an infamous film in 1970. The same year the film came out, Vidal's partner, Howard Austen (along with writing partner, Beverly Pepper) released The Myra Breckinridge Cookbook.
In saucy, salacious passages, it presents recipes that relate to the golden era of Hollywood that so fascinate Myra - and so many of the rest of us. Accompanying the recipes are reproductions of film stills and promotional photographs of stars ranging from George Raft to Joan Collins. Here's one of Eddie Cantor looking every bit the glamor puss and "Glorifying the American Doughnut" in heels and a frock.
The photographs are such a delight because so many of them are obscure images from obscure films or otherwise unseen pictures of well known films and stars. Of course, what Myra is known for is her overtly sexual edge and that's on full display in this volume. The chapter devoted to her favorite recipes is a collection of double entendre puns that would make a sailor blush - Baked Hare Pie with Dill Dough Crust, Cod Pieces, Bearded Oysters...

The recipes are, for the most part, traditional fare with some novelty dishes thrown in for good measure. I'm especially taken with the Camembert Cheese Balls from the Cheesecake chapter (a counterpart to the previous Beefcake, chapter).

You'll need:

1/2 Camembert cheese
1 large block cream cheese
2 Tbs. creamed butter
2 1/4 Tbs. flour
1 Tbs. rice flour
1 cup milk
Cayenne pepper
1 egg, beaten
Bread crumbs

Rub cheese through a strainer. Add butter, flour, rice flour, milk, salt and cayenne pepper. Stir over low heat until thick. Pour onto a plate to cool. Form into small balls. Roll in flour. Brush with beaten egg. Roll in crumbs. Fry in deep fat until golden brown.

Doesn't that sound tasty?

The Myra Breckinridge cookbook can be found on and eBay. If you're lucky you'll run across a copy at a thrift shop or garage sale. It's a fun addition to your cookbook collection and a great gift for the film lover with a sense of camp. If you have it and have made any of the recipes, how did they turn out?


Knit Picking - Collecting and Wearing Vintage Knitwear

I've become sort of focused on dress knitwear from the 60's lately. It was a huge part of the fashion business in the 50's and 60's, with chic women wearing knit suits and dresses as an alternative to more restrictive woven garments. But far from the relaxed casual dressing of today, these knits were delightfully dressy and totally coordinated. I've been collecting a few for myself and also have a few for sale on eBay right now. This is one that I'll be keeping.
Isn't it charming? I love how the double breasted detail appears to be a jabot at the neck and is reflected in the pleat detail in the skirt. I plan to wear it with black patent shoes.
This one is a Butte Knit. They were an extremely popular knitwear company in the 60's and 70's. Almost every woman owned a Butte Knit outfit of some description. This one is from the early 80's. I love the chemise cut and electric blue color. The details are nice as well - self bound button holes!
The Italians were particularly adept at knits. They made some extremely beautiful suits and dresses. This is one of them. Instead of being wool, it's a linen/acetate blend. I love the little double breasted vest with the hip belt. It's such a 60's mod detail.
This one is the piece de resistance. I've had it for several years and have worn it a few times. It's also an Italian knit - very fine gauge wool and trimmed with genuine polished branch coral. I was really floored when I found this set. It's so unusual! Look at how lush the coral is.
This piece has some really beautiful hand sewn couture details. It's such a beautiful outfit.

Knitwear is a fun category to collect. Things to look out for are moth holes - they tend to be more prominent on knitwear than wovens and felting under the arms. Stains and spots can be carefully spot treated with resolve carpet cleaner applied sparingly with the blunt end of a flat toothpick before dry-cleaning and hanger marks on shoulders can usually be steamed out with an iron - especially if the garment is wool. With care, vintage knitwear can be around for several more generations!

I have a few more knitwear pieces up for auction right now, among other things. Have a look!


All Wet - Extolling the Virtues of the Wet Set

My friend Carol and I were talking about hair the other day. I was extolling the virtues of the wet set - an all too rare styling technique, now-a-days. So just the other day, she came by for a girl's day in with her DVD of the 80's miniseries I'll Take Manhattan and I gave her lovely black mane a classic wet set.
It's not difficult to do, but there are a few tricks to making it come out right. You'll need to start with wet, but towel dried hair. Because Carol likes the "That Girl" style, I used mesh rollers in the two largest sizes. They give you body and lift, but not a lot of curl.

The next requirement for a good wet set is setting lotion. Now my hair is very amenable to a wet set, so I usually just use a spray gel. It's easier to find than true setting lotion. That was a bit of a mistake with Carol's set. Her hair didn't respond as well to the gel as I would have liked. It gave us the body, but not the tight curl needed to give her that iconic flip.

One of the tricks to a good wet set has to do with the direction of the set. In order to create the full crown I wanted for Carol I rolled the hair on top of her head over the rollers, not under. That gave me lift. I also over directed the curls, which means that I held the hank of hair away from the scalp at an angle in the direction I intended on rolling it, rather than directly perpendicular to the head.
This allows the roller to work on all the hair in the hank - the hair at the front of the roller doesn't slope up to it, it wraps around.

Once her hair was rolled, it was time to go under the drier. Now you can do a wet set without a drier. Remember all those women in the supermarket with curlers under a scarf? You can, however, dry it more quickly if you use a hard or soft top drier. They can be found on eBay and in thrift shops.
I have a fun 60's drier - it's a Lady Schick, Capri Consolette in two shades of blue and it does a great job of drying your hair with 4 different settings. After you're dry, it easily collapses down for storage. Carol had fun with my vintage magazine collection while sitting under it. It took quite a while. It's important to make sure that the hair is bone dry before removing the rollers or you'll risk undoing all your hard work.

Once she was completely dry we stowed the drier and removed the curlers. Upon combing out her locks I was pleased with the body, but disappointed by the lack of curl. Next time I'll use a firmer setting lotion. I gave the back of the crown a bit of back combing for height, loaned her a pair of earrings, applied some luxurious false lashes and took some glamour shots.
Have any of you tried a wet set? Was it successful? My friend Thanos in Greece has been making quite a name for himself doing hair for fashion shoots. He's promised to do me over on his next trip to New York. I'm sure it will require some time under my hard top drier!


Ceramic Isn't Just For Dishes Anymore - Textured Ceramic Buttons

Sometimes when companies give you product they want to promote, the product is really not to your liking. This wasn't the case for me when I stopped by the Blumenthal Lansing booth at the CHA show last January. I admired their line of ceramic buttons and lo, and behold they sent me some! I thought I'd share them with you.
I think they look particularly sophisticated. They have different patterns embossed on the surface and are glazed in different colors. I was especially enchanted by these three. I love the 70's mod quality they have. They're very Jonathan Adler, aren't they? The herringbone pattern is especially chic. I'm going to use them on a coat I think. The size and scale of them are perfect for that. To see the other styles, or if you'd like to use them in a project they can be found at What would you use them for?


The Apple - Symbol of Fall

Yesterday was my yearly apple picking trip to Warwick, New York's Och's Orchards with my mother.
It was a rainy one, but beautiful, none-the-less. The hills were misty and the apples were crisp. It reminded me of one of my favorite videos. It's our Strudel video from a few years ago. We shot lots of beautiful footage on that trip. Here it is again. Have a look! 


Gowns of the Past - My History as a Couturier

When I was younger, I used to go to a formal affair every year. This was also around the time I was in school studying fashion design, so I would make a new dress for myself for the events. Now that I'm doing a grand purge of all my belongings I've come across all those dresses again and have decided to get rid of them. Some of them were really beautiful and I thought I'd share them with you here.
This one of the first ones I made. It's white silk taffeta and it's trimmed at the bust and back waist with artificial flowers of every color and description.
This one is a big wedding cake of a dress. The bodice is pastel plaid silk taffeta and the skirt is a huge 6 layers of different colored pink netting and tulle. It was not easy to maneuver in, but was stunning to look at!
This one is quite dramatic. It was made as an homage to Charles James, who I was quite taken with at the time. It's made of red silk taffeta and features a midnight blue tulle skirt. I love the asymmetrical bodice and taffeta drape at the waist. It's trimmed with rich red roses.
This one was made from a vintage 1960's pattern and features a bell shaped silhouette. It's made of a really lovely pink and gold lamé fabric with a floral print - lots of metal in that lame, it's very heavy.
This one, though not a gown, was my final project at FIT. It's a wedding suit with very curvy 50's styling to the waist and hips. The top of the jacket stands away from the body and is filled in with peach and pale yellow roses - giving the effect of the bride being the centerpiece of her own bridal bouquet.

I hope this little trip down my memory lane was fun. If you're interested in any of these little numbers they're all available this week on eBay. Have a look!


Faded Faux Finery - Vintage Artificial Flowers

I've always been enchanted by vintage artificial flowers. They have a subtle, faded beauty to them that has a very nostalgic quality.
These beautiful roses are made of cotton tinted pink. They have fuzzy chenille stems! These and the other that I have are called millinery flowers. They're made of paper or fabric, have flexible stems that were wire or bias tubing and were sold in dime stores for use in hat making and other crafts.

I was very lucky to run across a large stash of them years ago at a thrift shop. I snatched them up and stored them away for future use and we found the perfect opportunity for them in the Shower episode of my show.
We used them to create a charming party room for the fictional guest of honor for our shower.
The art department created a nosegays like these... use for trimming the banquet table and decorating gifts.
They also trimmed up some darling decorative umbrella frames I had found at a thrift shop as well to use as a centerpiece.

These lovely little decorative objects can be found on eBay and Etsy. Search for "millinery flowers" and all sorts of options come up. Right after the war they were made in occupied Japan and some of the ones I have still bear that label. They're not outrageously expensive and are perfect for little accents in your craft projects. You can even find them new at floral supply houses, though I don't think they're quite as charming. Do you use artificial flowers in your crafting? If so, how do you use them? I'd love to see some pictures!


Put a Little Spring in your Sleep - Restoring a Sofa Bed

Don't get me wrong, I love my new vintage sofa bed. The problem with buying a used sleeper sofa is that the bed is frequently pretty uncomfortable. This was the case with mine. The middle of the bed sagged horribly - so much so that I had to be creative about sleeping positions, lest the bar in my back cut me in half. I've started to take steps to rectify that, however. The first one is to replace the springs that hold the mattress deck taut.
The spring on the right is one of the old ones. You can see how stretched out it is. On the left is a new spring, all shiny and ready for service. I found the new springs at Planet Bed. Count the turns in your springs and then find the match in their catalog. Over the years these springs can become sprung, allowing the deck to sag in all the wrong places. Replacing them isn't a complicated procedure. It does take a bit of muscle and some ingenuity, however.
I had intended to use pliers to pull the springs into position. The tension is too much for the pliers, however, and they kept slipping from the grips. I ended up using the sturdy hook on a good quality wooden hanger to pull them tight. The first hanger broke after I was about half done, but the second one survived to finish the job.

So did it help? Yes, indeed! It's revived the bed beautifully, actually. The deck doesn't sag anymore and sleeping in it is much more pleasant. Taking the time and effort to revitalize something old instead of throwing it out and buying something new is a good step to take to combat the disposable nature of our consumer economy. My reasons for doing it really had to do with how the sofa looked, but it's been a lesson in sustainability as well. Why not try and upgrade something you've been thinking of replacing? If you do, I'd love to hear about it.


$25 and a Dream - My New Credenza

Hi people! I've just added a new credenza to my furniture collection. I was very luck to find this for the amazing low, low price of $25 on Craigslist.
Here it is surrounded by yet to be unpacked boxes and furniture that I still need to get rid of. It's lacquered and probably dates back to somewhere between 1975 - 1981, which is perfect for the decorating scheme I'm going for.
I love the drawer handles...
...and door handles. They're rounded rectangles and are beveled in, then lined with a brass plate. Some of the plates have a bit of corrosion on them, but replating them won't be a difficulty if I decide to do it. They're small and shouldn't cost that much.
The base is interesting too. It features an inner block and an outer leg structure that sits below the body of the piece, which gives it the effect of floating above the legs - a lot going on there.

All in all, I'm very pleased with it. There's a boat load of storage in it and it has just the right look to it - modern with just a slight touch of Chinoiserie. So the moral of the story is if you live in a big city and are willing to travel to the hinterlands of it, you can take advantage of some remarkable bargains on Craigslist. I spent a month or so going through the listings for credenzas before I found this one, so it takes patience, but it can pay off. This is also how I found my sofa earlier this year.

What have you found on Craigslist? What are you going to start looking for?


Feminine Hygene & Fabulous Fashion - The Kotex Box of the (Past) Future

While I was rooting around in storage a few days ago, I ran across this delightful little item.
It was a gift from a friend - Cator Sparks. He found it in a general store out in the country somewhere. It had been on the shelf since 1969 when it was new and he just had to have it. I don't blame him, it's quite the deadstock item.

I'm really enamored of the graphics on the box and it's contents just make it all that much better. That the Kimberly Clark corporation thought using space age imagery and avant garde fashion to sell feminine hygene products was a good idea is a real testament to the time. There's so much to talk about here.
This is the main face of the box. The windblown model is wearing such a festive cape. I love the double zipper that allows you to zip it open up to the collar. What makes it absurd, however is the space helmet in the lower right hand corner. I suppose even fashionable lady astronauts need protection at that time of the month.
This is the box top, and I'm loving the sequined hood. Just look at that eye makeup too.
The last image resides on the sides of the box and it's probably my favorite. I love the Whiting and Davis metal mesh dress and head piece and the head set with the antenna on it. Again, the makeup is truly remarkable.

Collecting vintage packaging is quite an interesting hobby. There are so many different styles, periods and eras to collect, and finding an unopened box of something consumable is always such a delight. Things like these can be found on eBay and occasionally at yard sales, and they make such a delightful addition to a retro home.

While you're shopping, check out the Brini Maxwell auctions on eBay. There are lots of fun things up this week.