Welcome to Le Beau Paon Victorien! I'm so glad you stopped by!

Here you will find a variety of things that might interest you: food, books, house decor, crafty things, random thoughts, dishes, gardening and more!

Spend some time with us and happy reading!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Painting Project Update: Final

Transforming the formal parlor from blah to Victorian splendor!

Before photos: Dark blue and light blue walls.

Mid- painting:

After painting walls new colors (Honeydew, top, and Great Green, bottom.)Stenciling Phase 1:
Border along chair rail

Stenciling Phase 2:
All-over damask pattern on wall below chair rail

Stenciling Phase 2.5:
Inverted border along molding at the ceiling

Stenciling Phase 3: Dado

Final Pictures: DONE!

Food: Halloween Cupcakes

In the spirit of the upcoming Halloween 'holiday', I made some Halloween cupcakes to take to work for a treat. These are just plain chocolate cupcakes with powdered sugar on top. I used mini stencils purchased from the Martha Stewart craft line at Michael's. Colored sugars, food coloring spray or cocoa powder could also be used.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Vintage Voice: The First Electric Christmas Tree

In 1882 the first Christmas tree with electric lights was displayed in a Victorian home in downtown New York City. The homeowner was Edward Johnson, a vice president of the Edison Electric Light Company. Mr. Johnson did not approve of the wax candle trees that were popular at that time because of how dangerous they could be and how many serious fires they caused. Electricity was new and people were just becoming acquainted with it. He figured a tree with electric lights would be a lot safer, so he decided to devise electric lights for his own tree and display it in his home.

Mr. Johnson's innovative idea was not deemed newsworthy by the media, however, despite all the letters he mailed off to every single newspaper in the city. He invited the reporters to visit his home and view the tree, but not one member of the New York press showed up. In his letter, Johnson wrote, "Wax candle trees can only be lighted for an hour per night and must be watched carefully during that time. The chances of fire are great. Our electric tree will prove to be much safer and be kept glowing for several hours without fear of causing a blaze."

Johnson had worked with Thomas Edison, who had invented the light bulb only three years earlier. Naturally, he was upset when the New York press showed no interest in his electric tree. Fortunately, one reporter did show up. He happened to be a reporter from Michigan who was in New York visiting relatives during Christmas of 1882 and his name was Thomas Croffut.

Croffut sent back a story about the tree to his newspaper, the Detroit Post and Tribune. He wrote, in part, "I walked over beyond Fifth Avenue and called at the residence of Edward H. Johnson, vice president of Edison Electric Light Co. There, at the rear of the beautiful parlor, was a large Christmas tree presenting a most picturesque and uncanny aspect. It was brilliantly lighted by many colored globes about as large as an English walnut and was turning some six times a minute on a little pin box. There were about eighty lights on the tree. I need not tell you that the scintillating tree was a pretty sight; one can hardly imagine anything prettier."

Though he was ignored by newspapers in his own town, Johnson did not give up. He placed an ad in all of them, inviting New Yorkers to visit his home during the holiday season. Hundreds did and the idea of having an electric tree, instead of a wax candle one, soon became all the rage.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Food Facts: Molasses

I thought I'd add this little bit about molasses, since it is used in my Spiced Hermit recipe below.

It's hard to imagine, but molasses was once used as commonly in cooking as sugar is today. Up until about the 1920s, it was the sweetener of choice for all sorts of dishes, from cornmeal pudding to steamed bread. The sweetest variety of molasses comes from the sugarcane juice that's simply been reduced to syrup. As the syrup is boiled further, sugar crystals form and are removed in stages, with the resulting molasses becoming darker and less sweet. The darkest and least-sweet kind of molasses is blackstrap. Though blackstrap can be used in my Spiced Hermit recipe, I recommend, for better flavor, a medium-dark variety with no sugar removed, like Grandma's Original Molasses.

Food: Spiced Hermits

What, you may ask, is a spiced hermit?? It is actually a delicious little chewy dessert bar or cookie. I found a recipe for them recently and also learned about their curious history. Apparently, in colonial times, sailor's wives made spiced hermits as a going-away treat for their husbands when they were leaving port and going out to sea. The chewy spiced treats were sealed into tins and would keep for several weeks this way. Because they were kept sealed in the tins, like their own 'home', they were nicknamed hermits.

The recipe sounded similar to molasses cookies or gingerbread, and I thought it would make a delicious autumnal treat and even a good one for the Christmas holidays as well. In some recipes they are made like cookies, in this one, they are cut into small bars. An added twist to the spiced hermit is the addition of 3/4 c of chopped candied cherries.

Spiced Hermits

2 c flour (plus a little extra)

3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp g
round cloves
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 c butter (1 stick) at room temperature
1- 1/4 c packed light brown sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
3 tblsp old fashioned molasses ( not blackstrap)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 c finely chopped walnuts
1/2 c dark raisins or currants

For egg glaze:
1 egg, beaten with 1 tsp water

Get out 1 or 2 large heavy cookie sheets. (Just one sheet will be in the oven at a time, but having two sheets will streamline the baking). Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit each cookie sheet, then cut those in half, lengthwise. You should end up with 4 rectangular pcs of parchment.
Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Sift flour, all of the spices, baking powder and baking soda into a medium-sized mixing bowl and set aside.

In a separate large bowl, use an electric mixer for a few seconds to soften the butter. Add the brown sugar to the butter roughly in thirds, beating at medium-high for 1 minute after each addition. Add the egg and the yolk and beat another minute. Add the molasses and the vanilla and beat for 1 more minute, until the batter is smooth.

Using a wooden spoon, stir in 1 cup of the dry ingredients into the creamed ingredients. Stir in the walnuts and raisins/currants. Add the remaining dry mixture a half cup at a time and stir after each addition. The dough should end up very dense and hard to stir. If it seems too soft, mix in another 1-2 tblsp of flour. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and divide into 4 equal pieces.

Here is two pieces of the divided dough. The dough smells very much like gingerbread.

Working with well floured hands, roll the first ball into a log about 12 inches long. Place the log onto one of the pieces of parchment. Place the log lengthwise onto the cookie sheet, leaving room for a second one beside it. Slightly flatten the log into a rough rectangle so the dough is about 3/4 inches thick and 1 1/4 inches wide.

Here are 2 logs on a cookie sheet, flattened and glazed with the egg glaze, ready for the oven.

Repeat the rolling steps for a second piece of dough, then use a piece of parchment to place the 2nd log on the cookie sheet (as picture above.) Also slightly flatten the second piece. Using a pastry brush, paint both bars with the egg glaze. This will give the bars a nice, shiny finish.

Bake the bars in the center oven rack for 11-12 minutes. (I baked mine for about 14 minutes since my oven seems to take longer to cook things.) While the first set are cooking, prepare the other two pieces of dough like the first ones and place them on the second cookie sheet.
When the bars are done baking, they will have flattened out somewhat. They might seem a little squishy and underdone, but that's okay. They'll continue to cook a little longer and will get firmer as they cool.

Place the baking sheet on a cooling rack and let cool for about 10 minutes. Then, lift the parchment pieces with the cooked bars and place them onto a large cutting board.

Baked bars, before cutting.

While the bars are still warm, cut them into 1 1/2 inch wide sections with a pizza cutter or a sharp, serrated knife. Cool the hermits thoroughly, then store them in an airtight container.
Makes about 32 hermits.

Spiced Hermits, cut into pieces and ready to eat!