Monday, January 30, 2012

Discovering the Black Currant...

I must confess that I am not someone who goes in for a large breakfast on a daily basis. My normal breakfast is a very simple affair to tide me over until lunch. 
But every now and again, even with my light breakfast, I do like to treat myself to something special and yummy. 
In these cases, it is hard for me to do better than a jar of Tiptree preserves which I keep on hand in the refrigerator.
Tiptree Black Currant Preserve on Toast
Tiptree was founded by Arthur Charles Wilkin in the village of Tiptree in the south eastern English countryside of Essex in 1885.

As new varieties were added the distinction between jams made with home grown fruit "conserve" and foreign produce "preserve" was made, but in America there is a preference to the term Preserve, which is found on Tiptree packaging exported here.

Tiptree's Black Currant preserve is made from sugar and black currants, as well as pectin and  sodium citrate when needed. The Black Currants come from Eastern Europe as they currently grow the best Black Currants.
Black Currants, which are typically harvested in August, have and  extraordinarily high vitamin C content content (302% of the Recommended Daily Allowance), good levels of potassium, phosphorus, iron and Vitamin B5. 

Blackcurrants were once popular in America as well, but in the early 20th century, Black Currant farming was banned  when they were identified as a vector of white pine blister rust and were considered a threat to the American logging industry.

The federal ban on growing currants was lifted in 1966, shifting jurisdiction to the individual states. Black Currant growing is now making a comeback in New York, Vermont, Connecticut and Oregon, however several states including Maine and New Hampshire still prohibit their cultivation.

Black Currants have not been entirely unknown to Americans though. The berries, with their distinctive sweet and sharp taste are the flavor found in both Cassis and Kir.

When you first enjoy Tiptree Black Currant Preserve, one of the first things that you notice is that they do in fact use whole Black Currants in the Preserve. 

What you enjoy is a rich, dark, tart Preserve, free of glucose, artificial coloring and preservatives. It is what Preserves were meant to be, and what they still are if you take some time to look.

This is without a doubt, a very yummy way to relax and enjoy a moment in the morning, or really anytime you want a little treat for yourself.

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Addiction of Pen and Ink...

I'm not sure exactly when it began, but I have always been fascinated with fountain pens. When I was still in grade school, I convinced my mother to buy me a very inexpensive fountain pen. It may have been a Sheaffer, I'm not sure, but I can still picture the large yellow plastic pen in my hand.

Fountain pens aren't as care-free or convenient as a roller-ball or ball-point pen, but they have an elegance about them. The ink flows smoothly onto the paper as each letter and word is formed, just as the pen glides smoothly across the paper.

When I was at university, I bought my second fountain pen, and the first in my adult life. There was no special thought which went into it at all. I was at an office supply company and saw a case of pens. The green marble pen seemed to call to me and without a moments hesitation I decided to buy it on the spot.

Pelikan Triari

This was a green marble Tirari model medium point pen made by Pelikan of Germany. Pelikan was founded in Hannover, Germany in 1838 as an ink and paint manufacturer and began making fountain pens in 1929. I've had it longer than any of my pens and it still holds up very well, a large portion of the pen being made of metal. But for me, it was lacking a few points, the pen itself was a pen thin to be completely comfortable and the medium nib seemed to be a bit fine for my personal tastes. But I've never fully replaced it, I simply filled it with black ink, which is not my primary ink choice and kept it for specific times I need to use black ink.

It was only a couple of years later when I was once again drawn to the pen case at the very same office supply store. This time it was the blue marble Laureat model pen made by Waterman of Paris. Waterman was founded in New York City in 1884. Waterman shut down in 1954 and what was left was absorbed by its French subsidiary. With it I also selected the Florida Blue ink from Waterman. The Laureat was introduced in the early 1990s and discontinued about 2000. The pen, being not as thin as the Pelikan seemed to fit my hand better and the medium nib seemed to be a bit wider than the same medium from Pelikan, both being much more my style. Like the Pelikan, the Waterman was composed mainly or metal and became my work horse for writing for nearly two decades.

Waterman Laureat

I initially had bought a bottle of Waterman ink, with hopes that I would use that to keep my pen at the ready, but those plans were never realized and I relied mainly on cartridges to fill my pen.

The next pen which entered my inventory was this octagonal brown marble Double Eight by Retro51 of Texas. Retro 51 was founded in 1990. They have made an attempt to capture the style of the fountain pens of yesteryear and have produced a very lovely pen. This particular model was introduced about 2005 and is made of solid bars of cellulose acetate. This material was developed in 1865 and has long been known for its strength, deep gloss, and high transparency, providing a warm, natural feel in the hand. And I must say the German made iridium nib is a pleasure with which to write. I'm not sure why, but it never made it into my daily rotation and has remained on my desk.

Retro 51 Double Eight

Last year, I bought my most recent fountain pen. It had been twenty years since I had bought my Pelikan and Waterman, so I decided to shake things up a bit, with a Parker of England. Parker was founded in Janesville, Wisconsin in 1888. In 1987, a management buyout moved the company headquarters to Newhaven, England and as of 2009 all pens are made in France. 

Parker Sonnet with Bottle of Washable Blue Quink Ink

I was intrigued with the Sonnet, which was introduced in 1993, in red lacquer. The pen writes beautifully. The nib glides over the paper and is a pleasure to hold in my hand. For the first time in 20 years, I switched from Waterman ink and moved to the Parker Quink in Washable Blue. Quink was first introduced in 1931 as an ink which would eliminate the need for blotting. And with the new ink, I have also begun to use bottled ink from which I refill my pen as needed.

And the ink from which you can choose is truly amazing, with wide variations in color and shade from manufacturer to manufacturer.

Fountain pens are not easy items to carry while traveling. they do require some extra care and consideration. On airplanes, for example, you should be sure they are pointing "nib up" in case the pressure changes cause them to leak and probably should be kept in a "zip lock" bag just to be safe. And the bottled ink will cause issue with your carry on luggage. Just another reason why i prefer to travel by train, but that is another story altogether.

Writing for many seems like a daily chore rather than a pleasure. But sitting down with a nice pen and writing a quick note or even paying bills just seems nicer with a fountain pen. You don't need a stable full of fountain pens, nor do you need to spend a fortune. Just take your time and find one which suits your personality, one which feels like an old friend in your hand. Find the nib which meets the paper to create your own line and an ink which expresses your individuality.

Fountain pens aren't for every one in every situation, but for me, they are a means to an end, relaxing and enjoying life, one day at a time.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Time to catch a Train...

On Monday, I took the train to Manhattan. I have only been to the city a few times before and never without traveling companions.

But I'm not going to write about the trip, rather I'm going to write about the Journey...

I think Paul Theroux captured the experience of rail travel best in his travel novel, "The Great Railway Bazaar." Travel isn't about the destination, but about the journey.

 Interior of Pennsylvania Station 1910-1963

Rail travel will never be what it once was in the days before the Second World War. The great Pennsylvania Station in New York, the grand corporate structure in steel, glass and sculpture designed by McKim, Mead and White, has been gone nearly 50 years and will never be again.

But as I was rocked to sleep by the gentle swing of the train as we glided through the dark and fog, I was transported back, ever so slightly to a time, not so long ago, when travel was less chaotic, less hurried. 

With each station, sometimes small and sometimes large groups of passengers would join or depart the train as we moved ever closer to our destinations.

They have added some modern conveniences to the train today. They have Wi-Fi connectivity both in the stations as well as in each train car so it is quite easy to stay in touch with the outside world, should you desire.

I've had a chance to travel by train quite a bit in America. I've been a far north as New York city, south as Orlando, south-west as Atlanta, and west as Charleston, West Virginia. Those steel rails take you through the front and back yards of America, letting you see what the Interstate highways and pale blue flight paths allow you to miss.

The trip took about two and a half hours each way and we were on time both ways.

While some may disagree and not every experience may be as pleasant as mine, I find the train to be relaxing and more civilized way to travel, void of the chaos of the outside world. And for a trip to and from Manhattan, I cannot think of a simpler, less expensive and more civilized way to travel than by train, even today.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Chasing the cold away...

Those who know me, know that I am a creature of habit. I find something I like and then stick to it religiously.

That also includes beverages. But last year I decided to be a bit experimental. And in the process, I found two beverages with which I have fallen in love.

The first is sloe gin. Now this is NOT that sickeningly sweet stuff with which most Americans are familiar. I am talking about real English sloe gin. The real stuff is gin, into which sloes, also known as blackthorn berries, have been infused, with the addition of some sugar to assist in that process. American sloe gin is made from grain neutral spirits, corn syrup, and artificial flavoring and coloring. If you didn't notice, American sloe gin lacks every single ingredient of real sloe gin. Perhaps now the reason for the difference is apparent.

Luckily for me, Plymouth, the gin maker, has been importing their sloe gin, made with sloes from Dartmoor, into America, using an 1883 recipe from their archives. According to master distiller Sean Harrison, "It’s a winter warmer, the type of thing you tuck in your pocket flask when you go shooting on the Glorious Twelfth,” as the opening day of hunting season is known in England.

Plymouth sloe gin is a ruby red liquor with the tart snap of sour cherries and a sly finish of bitter almond from the leaching of the sloe pits. It has a great jamminess, it smells like sloes and tastes like sloes. It really is a entirely different creation than an Alabama Slammer.

My other new find was Grant's Morella Cherry Brandy, which dates from 1774 when it was first produced in Kent. It is mentioned in the Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens and was a favorite with Queen Victoria.

It is light on the tongue, almost silky, with cherries in great evidence before the more maraschino notes emerge. It has a very ripe and authentic fruit character with the sweetness an afterthought.

And I know it might sound horrifying to some, but you can mix it 50/50 with scotch to create Chisky. Other than straight, this would be my only choice for mixing. But, unfortunately, Grant's is not imported into America.

And now with winter weather approaching, I know exactly how I'll be staying warm from now through the point-to-points.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Knocking off a little dust...

In my day to day life, I tend to take many things for granted. I move through my day to day activities, doing what I have always done without much thought to what i do or why I do many of those things.

Every so often, I have a chance to step back and examine those routines and ask myself, "Is this really the best way to do 'this,' or were things better done in an earlier simpler way?"

This happened to me about a year ago when I was introduced to a very not so new product, the clothes brush by Kent.

The Kent CS1B Clothes Brush

Now if you are like I was for many years, you probably have never seen or heard of a clothes brush.

It takes less than a minute to brush your clothes clean after each wearing. This is important because this action will remove dirt and food which have accumulated on the outer layers of your clothes before they have a chance to settle into the fabric. It is the accumulation of these bits which will cause damage to your clothes and shorten their lifespan.

Doing this will double and triple the time needed between dry cleaning, which is in itself damaging to clothing.

When you pull the clothing from the closet, give it a quick brush to remove any dust which may have settled upon it while in the closet to look your best.

Mr Stanley Ager, butler to the second and third Lords of St. Levan, with his wife Fiona St. Aubyn, former head parlor maid, wrote an excellent book, "The Butler's Guide to Clothes Care, Managing the Table, Running the Home & Other Graces, which contains very good instructions on using a clothes brush.

Perhaps the most important step is selecting a good clothes brush. Trying to save a few pennies here can actually cause damage to your clothing and I recommend getting a quality brush. 

My personal choice is the small rectangular travel size clothes brush made by G.B. Kent & Sons. It is made of cherry wood and pure black bristle.

The Kent CC2 Travel Clothes Brush

Kent sources its boar bristle from China and India, where is it a by-product. And the wood comes from sustainable forests around the world.

Why use a real bristle brush? Synthetic bristles have less give, and because the are hard, they can scratch fabric. Also, real bristle will last much longer than a synthetic bristle, which tend to wear out much faster. A quality brush may very well last a lifetime.

Be sure to use the right type of brush with the right clothing. Some items, like cashmere, will require a more delicate bristle than a tweed coat will require.

The Kent CP6 "Cashmere" Brush

And now, with a little "old technology," you too can look sharper, help your clothes last longer, save money and help the environment, all with one simple little change to your regular routine.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Keeping track of the year to come...

With the beginning of this blog, and a new year, I thought I'd begin with keeping track of the events of the coming year.

Today, we have so many different ways to plan our schedules with electronic devices.

I don't know about the rest of the world, but I prefer to do this with paper. Now granted, I make my entries in ink, rather than pencil, but I like doing this with good old fashioned paper. How old fashioned you ask?

Smythson Panama Diary

For this year, I've decided to keep track of my life with the iconic portable Panama diary from Smythson. Their most famous innovation, it was first introduced by Frank Smythson in 1908, and remains virtually unchanged today
. Called the ‘Panama hat’ of books, the distinctive, durable, flexible, floppy Featherweight Panama can be rolled up and squashed and will improve with age. The binding of traditional grained lambskin is handmade in Hertfordshire, England with stitched spines and gilt-edged pages.

1908 Featherweight Diary - From the Smythson Archive

Originally called the Featherweight Diary, its creation was a bold move and revolutionised the way in which people used their diaries. Using a navy blue, supple leather binding and a lightweight, pale blue paper, half the thickness and weight as normally used, this new pocket-sized diary was specifically designed to fit into the inside pocket of a gentleman’s jacket. And this it does quite well.

This Featherweight paper is half the thickness and weight of normal paper so many more pages can be contained in a very slim, light book. Normally such thin paper is not appropriate for use with a fountain pen, which is my preferred type of pen, but Featherweight paper is tested rigorously to ensure that it is strong and opaque enough to be used with fountain pens without bleeding through the paper. And I can assure you that this paper lives up to its reputation.

Featherweight is made in the trademark Smythson pale blue color and watermarked with a distinctive globe and feather design, which appears at least once on each page and can be used to ensure the book is not an imitation. Creating a watermark in a paper this light is difficult, so the paper has to be made at a specialist mill in England that produces international security and bank note paper.

In 1924, Smythson designed the elegant Wafer Diary for women. It is identical in content and layout to the Featherweight Diary but is designed as a much smaller version for ladies, small enough to fit inside their handbag. With added details such as a miniature pencil and tuck fastening, this little diary was the height of fashionable sophistication.

1924 Wafer Diary in Leather Wallet - From the Smythson Archive

And one might say like the Panama diary, it still is the height of style and sophistication. The rest of the world can have their electronic organizers. I'll make mine a Panama.

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Monday, January 16, 2012

And so we shall begin...

With the beginning of another year I feel the urge to somehow make resolutions to somehow improve myself over my previous, well no need to say how many previous years, lets just say previous years...
If we are to believe the Mayan calendar and those who have somehow deciphered those images, this is either to be our last year, or it's going to be time to buy a new calendar. They sure don't makes things last like they used to do they?
For that past year I have endeavored to to not make Facebook my personal soapbox, and I do hope that I have succeeded in doing that. To those who have felt I have failed in that one task, I'm glad I didn't give myself more tasks for the past year...
So what shall I endeavor to accomplish this year?
This year I am going to try to live with some style and grace which we may have lost in our attempts to reach the moon and destroy the Deathstar. A loss of personality and sincerity in the quest to save trees by sending everything as a series of zeros and ones through cyberspace. A loss of our own economy by buying five for the price of one from China. A loss of so much for so little.
If the Mayan's are right, I'm going to live this year in style, with elegance and grace and enjoy every last day.
And if they are wrong, it's still going to be my best year yet!

And so begins, not only this new year, but this blog as well...

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