Monday, August 31, 2009

Vera's Back -- Again!

I was at Macy's last weekend and, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that distinctive little ladybug drawing on a display table. I was excited to see that, sure enough, some Vera table linens were for sale. This is something new for Macy's. The Imprint collection, above, is on sale right now from $19.99 to $49.99. And the Turning Leaf collection -- leaves in gold, green and burgundy on a white background -- goes for about the same price.
During the last few years, there's been a resurgence of interest in the work of Vera Neumann (1907 - 1993), the artist and textile designer best known, perhaps, for her scarves -- and her ladybug "signature." This renewed popularity is due in part to a woman named Susan Seid who (to make a long story short) bought the Vera trademark and rescued thousands of scarves from a warehouse in Georgia in 2003. In 2005, Seid started The Vera Company. Earlier this year, the company teamed up with Anthropologie on scarves, clothing and home items under the label We [Love] Vera. And it looks like their relationship with Anthro is going to continue, as there are some Vera designs in their fall collection (see below).

Vera's iconic scarves are also available for sale on The Vera Company's website. My favorite design is Central Park ($98, below). But there are many affordable, vintage Vera scarves and linens on Etsy and eBay, where most of the scarves start at around $9.99 and napkin sets start even lower.
The Teal Boho 1970s Scarf from theluckyfish on Etsy ($46):

Old or new, Vera's cheery designs are just as fashionable now as they were 20, 30 or even 50 years ago.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Furniture Sale at Red Barn Mercantile

Through September, you can save 25% on custom sofas and chairs -- like the yummy Serena Love Seat, above ($2,025) -- at Red Barn Mercantile in Old Town Alexandria. The furniture, which is made with environmentally friendly materials, is by Cisco Brothers -- the same company that makes the furniture for John Derian. Some floor models will also be marked down. The rustic/country/French-inspired shop also sells antiques, home accessories, tableware, bedding and stuff for kids. Some of my favorites are the 15-Gallon Stoneware Crock from the early 1900s ($250):

The hooked Tricycle Pillow ($79):

And the Primitive Child's Stepback Cabinet from the late 1800s ($325).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cheap & Cheerful Window Seats

The top level of our house -- a renovated attic that serves as our guest room and office -- is starting to come together. It has four windows, two of which are dormer windows, and it has a tree-house feel. The dormers were just begging for window seats. But given all the upgrades we did to the house since moving in the spring (like replacing the windows), custom window seats were out. (We don't know how to do that work and don't have time right now to learn.) So I searched the Web for some pre-fab, storage window seats with drawers or a seat that lifts up to reveal storage. But most of what I found was either too expensive or too big for the space, which is about 42.5" wide.

Next I searched for benches with cubbies. We'd still get a seat and some storage -- it would just be exposed. In addition to a general search, I looked at kids furniture stores. You'd be surprised at what you can find at places like PB Kids and Land of Nod that works for adult spaces. What I finally settled on was the Winslow White Twin-Size Small Cubbie Bench from ($100.99 each, free shipping, 20" h x 36.25" w x 15.75" d), which, interestingly, is marketed for kids rooms.

The two cubbies arrived in about a week and were easy to put together. I did it myself and it took about 45 minutes for each one. The final product is surprisingly sturdy and they have a nice presence in the room. I topped them with pillows from Persnickety Home made with Anna Maria Horner's Sketchbook in Blue fabric ($26 for two, plus inserts), and used some woven baskets I had from Pottery Barn to store craft and office supplies. Cashy loves sitting there with me and at looking out at the big, old maple tree in our front yard. And they just help make that room feel more finished now.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Twig Pick: Anthro's Chateau Lamp

I am loving this lamp. This is not surprising, as I love most things from Anthropologie. (In some circles, I'm actually referred to as "Anthropologie girl." Is that good or bad?) Anyway, I can see this lamp on a sideboard in a funky, boho dining room or kitchen, or in a sun room for some late-night light and pretty shadows. But such charm and whimsy doesn't come cheap: $1598 at

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Alice Medrich's 'Best Cocoa Brownies'

I swear, these really are the best cocoa brownies -- ever. They are by Alice Medrich, the Queen of Chocolate, after all. The inside is so buttery and fudgy, and the top has a delicate, flaky crust. And on top of that, they're easy to make. I made this most recent batch with toasted pecans -- which tastes amazing -- but they are fantastic without nuts, too. I've made them about 10 times now, and they've been great every time. The photo I took above does not do them justice.

And, by the way, you should check out Medrich's book, Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate. The recipes and photos are wonderful, there's a lot of great info in it about chocolate, and it's neat to read about her experiences as a dessert-maker. Chris gave me this book a few years's a great gift for someone who loves chocolate and baking.

Best Cocoa Brownies
From Bittersweet by Alice Medrich

Makes 16 large or 25 smaller brownies
10 tblsp unsalted butter1
1/4 c sugar
3/4 c plus 2 tblspoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cold large eggs
1/2 c all-purpose flour
2/3 c walnut or pecan pieces (optional)

8-in square baking pan

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Line the bottom and sides of the pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.

Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot.

Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using. Spread evenly in the lined pan.

Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack.

Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Small-Space Solution: Bathroom

I love our little 1940s bathroom. A lot of the original details have been retained (and maintained) over the years by our home's previous owners, including the black-and-white tile floor and pedestal sink. And while we do have a medicine cabinet, it's just not enough to hold all of our toiletries and other bathroom necessities.

Enter Ballard Designs' Piccola Cabinet ($249). At just 10" deep, it's the perfect size for a small -- and narrow -- space. But it's wide and tall enough to hold everything we need to store (like washcloths, razors, lotion and toilet paper). We've been using it for a few months now and it seems to be well made. I also really like its vintage, built-in-cabinetry look. It comes in distressed black, distressed white (the color we have) and Italian green. It's delivered fully assembled -- you just have to install the adjustable shelf.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Twig Pick: Natural Curiosities Sale at OKL

Right now you can get a set of 14 gorgeous prints by Natural Curiosities at One Kings Lane for more than 60% off the retail price (the sale ends 8/15). Regularly $168, you can snag some vintage-style beauties for just $59. To be able to shop at OKL, you have to become a member, but it's free and easy. They have a new sale every day and feature brands like 1891 by Sferra, Ankasa and one of my absolute favorites, John Robshaw -- starting today!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Quick & Healthy Couscous Salad

I keep finding myself coming back to this Bell Pepper and Mozarella Couscous recipe from the July 2004 issue of Cooking Light. It's super-fast -- it takes me about 20 minutes for prep, cooking and clean-up -- and it's delicious. The combination of all of the bold flavors (roasted peppers, basil, kalamata olives, balsamic vinegar) is a nice complement to grilled chicken -- and it's a satisfying lunch on its own. I usually multiply the recipe by 5, add about 6 oz of garbanzo beans for extra protein and flavor, and then we use it for lunches and dinners throughout the week. I think it tastes best at room temperature.

1/2 c water
1/3 c uncooked couscous
1/8 ts salt
1/4 c chopped bottled roasted bell peppers
1/4 c canned artichoke hearts, rinsed, drained and chopped
1/4 c (1 oz) fresh mozarella
1 tb chopped fresh basil
1 tb balsamic vinegar
1 tb extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 ts freshly ground black pepper
2 kalamata olives, pitted and sliced

1. Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan; gradually stir in couscous and salt. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

2. Add bell peppers and remaining ingredients; toss gently to combine. Cover and chill.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Twig Pick: Ulysses S. Grant Poster

Chris and I are huge fans Diana Sudyka's screenprinted posters. I love her intricate, nature-inspired designs and the ink she uses -- especially the colors with a subtle, metallic sheen. We have the Jeff Tweedy and Neko Case posters (soon to be framed and hanging somewhere in our house). And I also recently bought her Ulysses S. Grant poster. Maybe I was inspired because Chris is reading Shelby Foote's The Civil War: A Narrative -- I don't know -- but this is the coolest poster I've ever seen and there's something about it that is so "right now." $20 on Etsy.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Twig Pick: Porcelain Branch Pitcher

I can picture this pretty pitcher sitting on the table on our screened porch filled with ginger-peach iced tea. I can also picture it sitting on our kitchen table in the middle of winter filled with something warm. $82 at Shoestring Home.

Monday, August 3, 2009

DC Big Flea Finds

DC Big Flea was more antiques market than flea market -- which is totally fine, it's just not what we were expecting. But there was a lot of fun stuff: vintage chocolate molds, old footballs, toys, weird medical things, jewelry and, of course, furniture. We didn't find everything we were looking for, but we did leave with some goodies. We found a great old table fan for our bedroom ($18), and Chris found a couple of baseball cards and a postcard. I found this pretty necklace ($25). It's Czech and the glass beads and phenolic plastic flowers are pre-1927. It's very Anthro, isn't it?

Here are a few things that caught my eye. The first piece was my favorite. It's an 1890 botanical print from Edinburgh:

Abe and Rikki found a few records, but Mia and John had the most luck -- they found a bunch of things, including a beautiful sideboard. It's the nature of these things, of course, to be hit or miss...we're definitely going to check out the Big Flea again.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

DC Big Flea

First off, a HUGE thanks to my good friend Rikki Campbell Ogden -- the talent behind pixiedesign -- for designing the beautiful header for Twigs and Scraps! She's also the designer-extraordinaire behind my band The Hickories' CD Lost in Pennsylvania and all of the related collateral. She is so down with my aesthetic. Am I lucky or what??

Today we are headed to
DC Big Flea at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, VA, which comes around six times a year. It's from 9 to 6 today and 11 to 5 tomorrow. We are newbies, but we'll be meeting up with our steampunk-fabulous friends, Mia and John, who are veterans. We'll also be meeting up the aforementioned Rikki, and her husband Abe and baby Harper. If you're a newbie and thinking of going, here are some tips from Mia:
  • Bring your checkbook -- smaller vendors prefer checks and cash (there is a bank machine there if you need it).
  • Credit cards are accepted when buying bigger-ticket items.
  • Bring measurements if you are looking for something in particular.
  • Don't forget a tape measure.
  • Don't forget to wear your most comfortable shoes and a cardigan -- the buildings can get cold.
I can't wait. I'll let you know what we find!