Archive | March 2016

Robinson Ransbottom Pottery

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Robinson Ransbottom Pottery of Roseville, OH was in business in one form or another from 1900 to 2005. The works were founded by four Ransbottom brothers, using local clay to produce utilitarian items such as crocks for preserving food, jugs, jars, planters and kitchenware like their beloved mixing bowls.

Around 1920 the Ransbottoms acquired Robinson Pottery and added the name to their company. R.R.P.Co, as their mark distinguishes them, dabbled in art pottery with some whimsical cookie jars and lovely handpainted vases and dishware.  I am drawn to the salt glaze and the thick, substantial feel of the wares.

The brown drip covered casserole above is currently offered in my eBay online store.  It was an amazing find as it appears unused.  There is no damage, looks like it came from the pottery yesterday.  The dish is quite large, measuring nearly 10″ across at the handles.  It carries the incised RRP mark, which I believe is older than the stamped marks.rrp3

rrp6rrp7My first encounter with RRP was many years ago when my husband began bringing mugs home from a local craft shop where he delivered for his job.  He was drawn to the rugged feel of the mug.  At that time RRP was fairly inexpensive to own.  We acquired several mugs, and some heavy dishes for the pets’ water.

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Cary demonstrating the use of his RRP water bowl.  We use the big ‘DOG’ bowl because it is heavy enough to support the weight of cats who like to stand on the rim to drink.

Sadly, over the years, most of the mugs were broken and a cat knocked the water bowl with ‘KITTY’ written on the side onto the floor, shattering it.  On one awful day as I washed dishes, I manage to break the handles on two mugs.  Think I might have cried a little over that.rrp5

This pattern with the two blue stripes is called Williamsburg, sometimes Williamsburg 303 or Williamsburg III and Williamsburg Pioneer.  It is my favorite and also very popular with collectors.  The style is clean, simple and attractive.

With the closing of the pottery in 2005, the price of RRP pieces has slowly climbed.  Today it would be an expensive proposition were I to try to replace those mugs I broke.  With a little luck, I sometimes find a stray RRP item in a thrift store, such as the one pint pitcher and the ten ounce crock above.

I always keep a lookout for the RRP mark when I browse thrift stores and yard sales.  Never know when I might strike it rich!

 

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Microwave Baked Custard

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When I have milk or eggs to use up, I sometimes make this quick, easy and very yummy custard.  It says baked in the title although the dish is made in the microwave.  It really is very similar to oven baked custard without the extra work of standing the dishes in water or the bother of heating a big appliance.  The texture is creamy and delicate, very nice as a quick dessert or breakfast.

The trickiest part is knowing how long to cook the custard.  Times vary with the size and strength of the microwave oven.  The dish should be cooked on a medium power so microwaves that have only one power setting are not the best for making custard, although it can be done with care and practice.1

This recipe was adapted by me from the Amana Radarange Cookbook

Microwave Baked Custard

1 3/4 cups milk

3 large eggs, slightly whisked to mix

1/4 cup sugar

1/8 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

nutmeg and cinnamon to taste

Place the milk in a 2-cup glass measure.  Microwave on high for 1.5 to 2 minutes until hot.  While the milk is heating, break the eggs into a 4-cup measure.  Lightly whisk until the eggs are broken and mixed but not too foamy.  Gently whisk in the sugar and salt.

Slowly pour the hot milk into the eggs, whisking and using care not to pour too fast or the eggs can curdle.  Mix in the vanilla.2

Divide the custard between four 6 oz glass custard cups.  Sprinkle the tops with the spices to taste.  Space in the microwave so there is plenty of room around the cups.  Heat on medium power, Power Level 4 on my microwave oven, for 6-15 minutes.  It may be necessary to re-situate the cups half-way through cooking for best heat dispersal.

Begin checking the custard at 6 minutes so it does not over-cook and resume cooking at two minute intervals until done.  Do not stir!  The custard is finished when no liquid flows if the cup is carefully tipped.  If one cup seems more set than the others, remove it and finish cooking the rest.  The custard will still be wobbly in the center.  The heat retained will finish the cooking.  Cool the custards in the microwave with the door closed or on a counter at room temperature away from drafts.  When cooled, store in fridge.3

Over-cooked custard is hard and rubbery, not too appetizing, so use care with the cooking time.

I have also made this in a single large dish and microwaved for about 20-25 minutes.

Serve plain or with whipped cream or fruit.  Makes four 6 oz servings.

 

Surprise Snow

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Mother Nature had a surprise for us this second day of spring:  a morning snow shower with about 2.5″ of white stuff.  All the snow had melted and the ground was drying out nicely.  Looks like we’re back to mud for a bit.

The snow is hard on newly returned migratory birds.  A flock of around fifty blackbirds descended on the feeder this morning.  These animals are smart and wary.  The slightest human movement sends all the birds flapping for cover.

a4They sit in the trees, wait and watch for humans.  When the coast looks clear, one bird will fly down to the feeder and start spilling seeds on the ground.  a2Soon, all the birds hurry back to feast.  They watch the bird on the feeder, he is the lookout.  At his warning, they scatter to safety again.a1

Poor things.  They must be starving after the long flight.  There is very little for them to eat here this early, even if the ground is bare.  We go through a lot of birdseed this time of year.  Things are so tough, the red-winged blackbirds scrounge at the feeder until warmer weather provides their natural food.

I suppose if we did not feed them, the migrating birds would return to more southerly areas to wait for spring.  I hate to take away the food because the cardinals and other winter birds that count on us would go hungry.  So, in spring we lay out a smorgasbord for the ravening flocks of grackles and blackbirds.

Ides of March and an Early Spring

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This 15th of March brings a very early spring for us.  The robins and red-winged blackbirds returned last week, a sure sign of warm weather.  Yesterday I heard a killdeer.  Those water birds return to nest near our farm pond.  Most years if the killdeer arrived this early, they would be dealing with ice and snow.  This year the pond is nearly iced out.  The next three days of forecast rain should finish off the ice lingering in one corner.

Wild ducks have been flocking inland from the ocean for a couple weeks.  Any day I expect to hear the aerial acrobatics of the woodcocks’ mating rituals.  Once that starts, spring peeper frogs and mosquitoes are not far behind.  Maple syrup season is finishing up as the trees bud.  The sap began flowing in early February.  Most years March 15 is right in the middle of sap season.  An early spring for us, indeed!

The Ides of March are famously associated with the assassination of Julius Caesar.  He was killed on March 15, 44 BC by members of the Roman senate who feared his power as a dictator. Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, features a soothsayer warning Caesar to beware the Ides.  This bit of fiction led to the date becoming part of our culture.

In ancient Rome, the ides of a month were the middle of the period.  The word connoted divide.  It was traditionally a time to settle debts.  Depending on the length of the month, the ides fell on either the 13th or the 15th.  Perhaps Caesar’s killers chose the ides because they symbolically wished to settle their debt with the ruler.  The Ides of March are a reminder of the bloody fate of a tyrant, and a warning for all over-reaching politicians.

 

Cheap Entertainment

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Kai, Cary and Chloe

A big cardboard box is cheap entertainment for cats and humans alike.  I taped shut the top and bottom of this box and cut a bunch of holes in varying sizes, shapes and locations.  I threw in a plastic ball and stood back.

Kai and Cary were ready to play.  Even Chloe got in on the fun.  The cats like the different ways to get in and out of the box.  The little holes for reaching through are great!  Climbing on top of the box allows a kitten to bop the head of whoever is inside.

This human can watch the activity for hours.  Much better than tv, movies or video games.  Humans may play too, but watch out for claws!a6

Leeds Castle, Maidstone, UK

a1Another gloomy day of snow and freezing rain sets me to dreaming of warmer, more pleasant places such as the lovely estate of Leeds Castle in Maidstone, Kent in England.  I have visited at least three times, possibly more, and could easily go there again.  Beautiful grounds with ponds, a moat and streams, plentiful gardens, wild wooded places and open grazing lands surround a jewel of a stone castle right out of an old romance.

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White peacock employed as greeter at the castle

The castle is fairly easy to reach by road or train.  A path leads from the parking lot and follows a large brook through a wildflower wood and across a vast field to the buildings.  Peacocks and other tame and wild birds roam the grounds.  A couple peacocks are always on hand to greet visitors.  The entrance to the main building is through a gate house and over a bridge.

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Spring flowers and sheep along the path to the castle

Leeds Castle was built over 900 years ago on an island in the river Len, so it is surrounded by a large natural moat.  A Norman structure was erected by a baron of Henry I, William the Conqueror’s son.  The land was originally the site of a manor belonging to Saxon royalty that was taken by the Normans.

The castle became a royal residence of queens for several hundred years before returning to private ownership.  During WWII it served as a hospital and site for development of secret weapons.  The castle continued as a home and became a center for lavish entertainment of important personages until the 1970s when the estate was made into a charitable trust.  Over the centuries the land and buildings have been re-organized and updated, but the outward appearance of a Tudor stronghold remains.

The Culpeper and Fairfax families owned the castle during the seventeeth and eighteenth centuries.  A lord born at the castle emigrated to Virginia in the mid-1700s to assume governance of his family’s huge estates in America.

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Wild waterfowl gather beneath a stately conifer on the grounds

Open year-round, Leeds is one of the most visited castles in England.  In addition to delightful walks in wooded parklands, or a picnic by the river, a visitor may enjoy various activities such as strolling the gardens, greenhouses and vineyards, navigating the large maze and grotto, boating on the moat, viewing the falconry, or touring the Gatehouse castle history exhibits or the unlikely Dog Collar Museum.  The present collection contains over 130 rare and valuable examples of canine neck attire.

Of course there is a restaurant and gift shop and a guided tour of the sumptuous interior of the castle. Two modern castle-themed playgrounds have also been built to entertain children.

I have been to Leeds Castle with my mum and her husband and my daughter.  One day I hope to take my grandkids to see this wonderful English sight.

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Black swans and duck breeding houses