Sunday, June 27, 2010

Tongan Tapa Cloth

I think I mentioned that I'd recently been to Hawaii on vacation. It was so wonderful - and we got lots of wonderful pictures.  If you care to see them and drool, you can check out my travel blog.  One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center - a great place to learn a little history in a thoroughly entertaining way.  It features performers who are students at nearby Brigham Young University.  These young people work their way through college while having the opportunity to help others understand their heritage in a meaningful way.  It's a wonderful family destination, and the joy the students experience in their work is evident!  

The park is laid out as a number of villages, each from a different nation in Polynesia.  In the village representing Tonga (which I was surprised to learn has no hard "g" sound in it), we saw the most wonderful bark cloth, and learned a little about how it is made.  The amazing thing to me is that this process is still a part of daily life on Tonga.

Tonga is an island nation near Fiji and Australia.
The women are responsible for making and decorating the cloth, called Tapa Cloth.  While the cloth was made in several Polynesian countries, only Tonga still continues the practice.  The bark is stripped off the paper mulberry tree, called hiapo in Tonga, and brought back to the home, where it is stripped into the outer and inner layers.  The inner layer is what is used for the tapa.  It is dried in the sun and then placed on a large wooden anvil and beaten with wooden mallets. 

The beating spreads the bark very thin and forms a sheet of a paper-like substance.  These sheets are then overlapped to form wider sheets.  If the sheets don't stick together by themselves, some starch is added to act as an adhesive.  The sheets are then overlapped with another layer of cloth at right angles, to add strength, and beaten again to make one large piece of very strong cloth, with fibers running in each direction.  Often, all the women of a village will work together to produce a large sheet of tapa cloth.
The cloth is then trimmed with sharp pieces of shell or knives.  Now the cloth is ready to be painted.  The sheet is placed over a very large wooden drum covered with stencils made of sticks.  Brown paint is rubbed in  now with a dabber.  Where the paint is applied and where the stencils are placed will decide the final decoration.  When one strip is done, the sheet is lifted from the drum, moved and another strip is begun.  Once the entire sheet has been stenciled, the cloth is spread out on the ground, and the faint stencil marks are then gone over with more paint to accentuate the original markings.  
The "paint" is really dye made from the native plants - usually in shades of brown.  It is applied with brushes made of sticks with the ends frayed.  The end result is spectacular, and they had lots of examples for us to see.  For more on Tongan tapa cloth, check out this website.

There were also many examples of woven grass or straw material. the mat below looks like it could have been made from a cross-stitch design, doesn't it?

These pictures have certainly brought back all the wonderful memories from this holiday.  Wouldn't you love to go off to Tonga now to see how this is done in person?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pandora's Early Years

It's time we got back to Pandora Boxworth, don't you think?  We left her about to disembark from her ship to meet her fiancĂ©, James.  We know something must have happened, but we are not quite sure yet...  We scoured her journal for clues...  and while we have yet to find out what happened to James, we have discovered quite a lot about Pandora's early life, and perhaps we should put that in here...  This will help us to see why she chose to come to America in the first place...

Pandora was born in London, England, on September 9th, 1746, to Mr. Beeston Boxworth and his wife, Jane.  Beeston's family had been the gardeners to the wealthy for many years, and the enterprise made him wealthy, too, by a stroke of good luck.  He developed a new rose, the Lady Jane, which was particularly beautiful.  While he developed it for the owner of the land he was working, and therefore, the invention belonged to that man, the squire was generous in his praise (and rewards) for the gardener.  Of course, that was some years before, and now, Beeston and his wife lived a very different life - one in which they turned their backs on their humble beginnings.  

They lived in a fine town home in Bow Lane, shortly before it became the headquarters for the famous Bow Street Runners - the precursors to the London police force.  This was a lively area of town where aristocrats rubbed shoulders with actors, musicians and other reprobates!  Beeston thought it a fine area, befitting his new station in life.  Mrs. Boxworth thought it noisy, smelly, and not very safe.  The Boxworths put on airs about their fine home (it was rented), and did not realize that by naming it Boxwood Downs, they were marking themselves as rustic gardeners in the eyes of the sophisticated town set!

Into this world, Pandora was born.  The couple did not know mythology, but thought Pandora a very grand-sounding name for their daughter.  Little did they know that combining it with their surname, Boxworth, would bring startling images to any educated person who met her.  Pandora somehow managed to grow up with the tenacity and shrewd business acumen that her father possessed, an artistic, independent streak inherited from her grandmother, Tildy Boxworth, tempered with the soft and pleasing demeanor her mother demonstrated.  Quickly understanding the full import of her namesake, the quick-witted girl asked everyone to "please call me Dora" as soon as she was introduced.  While her parents wondered why she should eschew such a lovely-sounding name, they nevertheless indulged her whimsy, and Dora she became!

Beeson's mother, Tildy, was a wonderful woman in Dora's eyes - fiercely independent and comfortable with who she was, she settled in Cornwall as the young bride of a seaman, and stayed long after he was lost at sea.   She lived in Windswept Cottage in Praa Sands.  A quaint village by the sea, it's where Dora and her family spent the summers from the time she was three until the previous year.
This is a painting of Windswept Cottage by Tildy. ***

Dora's 'Grandmama Tildy' was a constant embarrassment to her son and his wife.  A free spirit who would have made a living as an artist had she been born in a different time, she plied her watercolors and pastels with abandon and her art had a freedom about it that spoke to Dora's soul!   The year before her death, she captured Dora in watercolors.  We found this lovely portrait along with the view of the cottage and another painting of the village carefully wrapped in tissue in a wardrobe that was part of the same estate sale we got her writing box from.  I think you can see Dora's independence and spirit written on her face!  Tildy changed her usual style to make a particularly fine portrait.***

Truly a woman before her time, Tildy was one of the first people in England to go up in a hot air balloon*, and she captured the way the village looked from the air!   And if it wasn't exactly like that, who would know?

Praa Sands Village and Beach***

When Beeston and his family first visited, the local people welcomed them warmly, as Tildy was a beloved local character.  They soon learned, however, that Beeston was very different from his mother!  If he ever gave a thought to how she earned a living, I'm sure he assumed she'd been left some money by her husband or his family.  After all, she wanted for nothing!  I expect he'd have been mortified to find out that rumor had it that she'd been a very successful smuggler in her youth and had been able to "retire" in comfort some years ago!  

We looked up smuggling in that part of the world, and found that along with many other Cornish seaside places, Praa Sands has a long association with smuggling. Up until the late 1700s it is reported that smugglers openly landed their cargoes on the beach. After the end of the war with France, in and around 1815, smuggling runs became more secretive as coastguards were more vigilant as there was now a reward of prize-money for capturing smuggled cargoes. Goods were landed at Praa Sands where at the west end of the beach is a tunnel that apparently led to a house at Pengersick reported to be the birthplace of the smuggler John Carter, who was also known as the King of Prussia.

Stories like that were why Dora loved the place so - in fact, she reveled in the idea that there was a haunted castle nearby!  Pengersick Castle is still thought of as one of the most haunted spots in England!  Some 30 ghosts are said to roam the castle and grounds, including several ladies and a devil dog!  Dora tried for some years to convince people she'd seen a "black cat" with the fiercest eyes and other-worldly caterwaul, swimming in the moat, but people just assumed, correctly, that she had a wonderful imagination!**

Praa Sands' history is colorful and varied - it was a favorite spot of John Wesley, who, along with his brother Charles, founded the Methodist Church.  They also wrote many religious verses, which became hymns, and have long been stitched on samplers.  John Wesley was a charitable man who later in life, worked to improve the lot of orphans. In all probability, he knew Dora well, as they were often in Praa Sands at the same time.

 In 1745, Tildy passed away, leaving Windswept Cottage and a monetary stipend to her granddaughter.  Knowing how she loved the place, Tildy was sure that Dora would make good use of the much-loved home.  But Dora's father felt the rebuke at being passed over very keenly, and he took possession of the cottage before Dora could voice an objection!  Luckily, the money was in her name, and her father didn't give it a second thought.  Beeston intended to continue to summer in Praa Sands, but the first order of business would be to change the name of his new home, from Windswept Cottage to the more grand-sounding Linhay Browse.  He and Jane had heard people use the word "Linhay" in the local dialect, and Browse certainly sounded right to them.  In fact, they had dubbed the home "Lean-to in the underbrush", and the name brought a smile to the face of every local when they heard it.  Dora, of course, never thought of the lovely spot as anything but Windswept Cottage!

Dora had been seeing James for some time - he was a handsome young man from a good, though poor, family.  He had to make his own way in the world, as there wasn't anything to inherit.  He decided to make his fortune by going to sea.  Dora knew that Tildy would understand her following her heart, especially to marry a seaman!  Dora's parents wouldn't hear of it, of course, so she and James had a secret engagement.  When Dora told her parents of their plans, they forbade her to see him again.  Dora gathered her belongings together, along with the money that Grandmama had left her, and stole away in the quiet hours one morning to board the ship that would take her to America and her one true love!  She was 17.

Obviously, Pandora kept the memories of her early times in Cornwall very close to her heart!

Oh know ye the county of pastie and cream -
with hay in the meadow and tin in the stream,
In the beautiful county of Cornwall
The land of pasties and cream,
The land of the miners and fisherman bold
The land of the smugglers in stories of old...

Well, imagine the courage it would take to do such a thing!  The colonies were very wild (or so most Londoners imagined), and Dora just "up and left" everything and everyone she knew for adventures unknown and unknowable!  Don't you wish you could stow away in her trunk and follow her?  Now you can - our next installment will tell about the voyage!  

*Dora, Beeston, Jane and Tildy are all fictional characters and while it would be wonderful to contemplate, Tildy couldn't possibly have gone up in a hot air balloon to make her painting of the village since the hot air balloon was not invented until the end of the 1700's!

** The first sighting of a ghost at Pengersick Castle wasn't until 1835, but we think Dora would have been very precocious!

*** These paintings are nothing like what would have been painted in the early 1700's - but we love them anyway!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Do you want to be the Queen of Hearts or the Mad Hatter?

You can host your own Mad Tea Party whenever you like - after all - "It's Always Tea Time"!  For our party, we made up some graphics, using the public domain images of Sir John Tenniel's illustrations.  We've uploaded them for you to print out and use for your Mad Tea Party!  There are Invitations, Place Cards, Menu Cards, and crowns (everyone loves to be Queen!).  Just print them out on card stock and then add your own lettering.  We've also included the Drink Me signs and the labels for the tea we gave our guests and the envelopes for the invitations. 

To set your table, you needn't do as we did and find Alice china - though you can find just about anything on eBay... You can just use your prettiest tea pots, mismatched cups and saucers, and a cute table-cloth in yellow or pink...  A centerpiece could be some stacked up pieces of broken china glued together in an impossibly precarious tower... or a top-hat left over from New Year's Eve with some flowers in it!  Use your imagination!

Here is our menu for you to use as a jumping off point for your own - have fun - you'll amaze yourself with what you'll come up with. 

Drink Me Cordial - here we used a light raspberry soda - refreshing and a little different - just something pretty to put in the bottles.
A Madly Varied Selection of Teas - we used a variety of our favorite teas, including the blend that we gave as a gift.
Scones with JabberwoKey Lime Curd, Jam and Cream  - If you can, do find some authentic clotted cream or Devonshire cream (it's not always easy to find but the difference between either of these and the whipped cream many places serve under the name of "Devonshire Cream" is astounding!  In my book - you'd be better off to do without. 

We had some nice all-fruit boysenberry jam, but any nice jam will do.  The JabberwoKey Lime Curd was home-made key lime curd.  Curd is very easy to make, and the key lime taste made it a little special. 
Lobster Quadrille Crab Puff 

White Rabbit Carrot Sandwiches - This is a lovely recipe we had first at the Empress Hotel in Vancouver, BC. - It makes a lovely, different-tasting sandwich.  We did open-faced sandwiches and cut our bread with a rabbit cookie cutter.  To add a real special touch, Becky made carrot bread. 

Mock Turtle Salad (Tastes Like Chicken) - Becky made her special chicken salad and we served it in two halves of an avocado, dressed with olives for head, feet and tail.

Hookah-Smoked Salmon Rolls - Smoked salmon sandwiches

Mad Hatter's Be-Deviled Egg Nibbles I tried a new Deviled Egg recipe.

Cheshire Cheese Hedgehogs - I thought these were inspired!  Becky made small cheese balls and then placed slivered almonds on them to make the hedgehog croquet balls!  She served them on a slice of Cheshire cheese.
Chocolate Dormousse

Eat Me Lavender Shortbread - My recipe that was featured here for the Christmas holidays - I rolled and cut them with a teapot cookie cutter and decorated with a gel pen.

Queen of Heart Tarts - Raspberry tarts - strawberry would be great, too.

Meringue Mushrooms - I found recipes and instructions online, though for mine, I deviated from the instructions a bit.  I used the sharp tip of a steak knife to carefully dig a hole in the bottom of each cap and inserted the stem.  I matched up holes and stem sizes so they would stay in place with no "glue".

White Rabbit Chocolate - a small white chocolate Easter bunny doctored up with a pocket-watch label over his Easter basket!  Since it's not always easy to find Easter bunnies, you could also get some of the foil-covered chocolate coins and put a label on those of a pocket-watch.


Key Lime Curd

3 oz. (6 Tbs.) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2/3 cup fresh key lime juice
1 tsp. grated key lime zest

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar about 2 min. Slowly add the eggs and yolks. Beat for 1 min. Mix in the juice.
In a medium saucepan, cook the mixture over low heat until it looks smooth.  Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 15 min. until it is thick and reaches 170°F. Don't let the mixture boil.
Remove from heat; stir in the lemon zest and transfer to a bowl. Press plastic wrap on the surface of the curd to keep a skin from forming and chill - it will thicken further as it cools. Covered tightly, it will keep in the refrigerator for a week and in the freezer for 2 months.

Uncle Jim's Carrot Bread

Bake at 350 degrees
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon + I always just add more to my liking
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
5 eggs
3 cups shredded carrots, firmly packed
1 1/2 cups chopped nuts, I used pecans, walnuts are good too

Sift together into med. bowl, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside. In large bowl combine oil and sugar. Beat until blended, add in one egg at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture one third at a time, stirring well after each addition. Stir in shredded carrots and chopped nuts. Grease and flour two cans ( I use bread pans instead of cans). Bake 50 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. It usually takes me longer in my oven.  Cool in cans for 10 minutes on racks.

Carrot-Ginger Tea Sandwiches

2 grated carrots
2 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon sweet ginger paste (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
4 slices multi-grain bread*
4 teaspoons unsalted butter
Alfalfa sprouts

* Choose the best-quality bread  possible. Never serve end slices. Freezing the bread before cutting and then spreading makes for easier handling.

In a medium bowl, combine carrots, cream cheese, mayonnaise, and ginger paste; add salt and pepper.
Spread one side of each piece of bread lightly with butter. Top the buttered side of 2 slices of bread with carrot/ginger mixture (about 1/4-inch thick). Top with alfalfa sprouts and top with the remaining bread slices, buttered side down.

Carefully cut the crusts from each sandwich with a long, sharp knife. Cut the sandwiches in half diagonally and then cut in half again. If desired, decorative shapes can be made with cookie cutters.

Yields 2 whole sandwiches, 4 halves or 8 fourths.

Making Sandwiches Ahead of Time:

If you need to make tea sandwiches in advance and need to keep them from drying out, cover them loosely with a sheet of wax paper and then place a damp kitchen towel over the wax paper (never place a damp towel directly on top of the bread because the sandwiches will become soggy.  Refrigerate. When ready to serve, remove from refrigerator. Uncover sandwiches just before serving.
Crab Puffs

1 (6 oz.) can crabmeat, drained and flaked
1/2 c. (2 oz.) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3 chopped green onions
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 c. water
1/2 c. butter
1 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
4 eggs

Combine first 5 ingredients, stirring well, set aside.

Combine water, butter and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, add flour and stir vigorously until mixture leaves side of pan and forms a smooth ball. Remove saucepan from heat and allow mixture to cool slightly.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating with a wooden spoon after each addition, heat until batter is smooth. Add crab mixture. Stir well.  Drop batter by heaping teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake an additional 10 minutes. Serve puffs warm. 
Makes 4 1/2 dozen
To freeze before baking: Cover baking sheets with foil before dropping batter. Place unbaked puffs on baking sheets in freezer until hard. Remove from sheets and store in airtight container in freezer. To serve, remove from freezer and bake unthawed, at 375 degrees for 35 minutes.
To freeze after baking: Place puffs in airtight container in freezer. Let thaw completely and bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.

We had such fun with this party - hope you will too.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Alice and Mary and Eve on a Girls' Weekend Away!

Five of us went to Guemes Island near Anacortes Washington recently, for a stitching retreat!  What heaven - four days of fun, food, laughter and needlework!  The Red Farmhouse is a wonderful retreat in a quiet rural setting, surrounded by wild roses and featuring gorgeous sunsets! 
We packed our cars and met up in Anacortes, WA to do a little retail therapy, and then took the 3-minute ferry ride to Guemes Island and settled in to our home away from home!

Last year (this was our second annual retreat here at the Red Farmhouse), we brought way too much food, so this year, we really pared back - and still had tons left over at the end of the weekend!  I think this one was really Becky's and my fault - our lunch went on for hours.  

As I finished up my packing for the weekend, it became pretty clear how ridiculous this was going to be!
We had let Barbara, Jan and Beth know that we were going to do Friday's lunch, and that it was a surprise, but nothing more than that.  For months before the retreat, we could be found whispering and planning, giggling and finding "just the right thing"!  Now it was here - A Mad Tea Party!  If you read the blog, you know in March, Becky and I went to a fun tea based on the Alice in Wonderland Mad Tea Party.  We thought it was marvelous, and were so sorry our friends couldn't join us - so we decided to hold our own!  Oh what fun we had - we made special invitations and menus and found or made up recipes based on the wonderful book!  We found all kinds of Alice things...
It's Always Tea Time....

One of the best things I found was this gorgeous wreath made from a vintage copy of the book.   Isn't it wonderful?  You can find more of this wonderful artist's things here and here.
Even the back of this wreath is beautiful - and to make it even better, the inscription that had been on the book was saved - "for Julia Xmas Dec. 1954  from Aunt (and here I can't read the writing - could be Connie or Corrinne)  I feel like it was made just for me!

We hung the gorgeous wreath over the table - and she smiled down on all our other decorations!

Notice the Alice in Wonderland plates...  We made the Drink Me tags and the menus, and had fun using a lot of our prettiest china.

The table is large enough for at least 8 people, but setting it for five for a Mad Tea Party definitely crowded things!  We had to set the food on the sideboard.

We had crowns for everyone to wear, as they came in to ooh and ah.
Finding your place was simple.

Barbara and Becky "partaking"...

And Beth - I mean, the Queen of Diamonds!

Some of the food...
We had Drink Me Cordial in the blue bottles (Raspberry Soda), a Mad selection of teas (I think we had about five different teas - got to put all our teapots on the table!), scones with Devonshire Cream, jam, and JaberwoKey Lime Curd, 
Lobster Quadrille Crab Puffs, White Rabbit Carrot Sandwiches, Hookah-Smoked Salmon Rolls, Turkish Delight,

 Mock Turtle Salad (Tastes Like Chicken)

Mad Hatter's Be-Devilled Egg Nibbles, Cheshire Cheese Hedgehogs (that's him in the middle above - terrible picture of him, but for some reason it's the only one I got.  Isn't he cute?),  Chocolate Dormousse,

Eat Me Lavender Shortbread, Meringue Mushrooms

  Queen of Heart Tarts, Flamingo Croquet Fruits

and White Rabbit Chocolate (here, we found some small white chocolate Easter bunnies and saved them!)

 As we talked about our plans and arrangements for the tea, Becky kept calling the "Eat Me" cookies, the "Bite Me" cookies.  So of course....

This wonderful group of friends always exchanges gifts at these get-togethers, and this was no exception.  Becky and I gave everyone a Mad Tea Party Box filled with a few little stitching goodies...

 And the most important stitching tool - delicious tea to enjoy!
We had a wonderful afternoon "playing tea party"!

As we drifted back into the stitching room, some of the gifts began to come out... much to our surprise
Beth stitched everyone a beautiful necklace in a little frame, and gave us a gorgeous, turned needlecase - so pretty!  Jan made everyone a lovely glass paperweight with a different scene of the Red Farmhouse on it!  Barbara was crafty - she held her gifts back a bit - but when we finally turned in that night, we found a commemorative t-shirt on our beds!  Nothing would do but we had to put them on the next day and take our picture wearing them!  This picture is courtesy of Barbara, since I haven't figured out how to take a timed picture with my little camera.  (I did, however, find out that my camera will take a picture of you automatically when you smile - I have lots of those...)

Not to be satisfied with this, however - Barbara also gave us each a hand-made necklace - you can see Becky front and center wearing hers.  Barbara had also made each of us gorgeous embroidered needlebook and had fashioned some thread holders out of Fimo  - I got a Jack O'lantern, which I love... and a heart with the alphabet...  So cool!

We first came to the Red Farmhouse a year ago and at that time, we all started a new project together.  We meant to stitch on it whenever we were all together and for the most part, we've done that.  It's the Mary Wigham sampler that so many are stitching - here are four of our versions.

Mine is not among these as I worked exclusively on an upcoming free chart from the blog - Adam and Eve from Elizabeth Buck's sampler.  Here's Elizabeth's version... You'll remember that we promised something special when we got 100 followers, and we hope you'll find this piece as special as we do.

So that's how we spent the weekend with Alice and Mary and Eve!  The time was passed in friendship and joy, and I will always cherish the mementos I brought back from these few days.

We had one of those gorgeous sunsets every night!
I hope you have many chances to connect with your friends and enjoy their company.  When you do get the chance - jump at it!

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