Make Life Easier. Buy an Olive Spoon.

Sometimes the simplest of gadgets can make one’s life infinitely easier. This is the case with the olive spoon, an underutilized utensil that makes adding capers or olives to a recipe an easier, less strenuous task. Yes, strenuous. Ever tried to stuff a tablespoon into a caper jar? It doesn’t work.

When it comes to flatware, I am totally pro-olive spoon.  I don’t recall where I bought mine several years ago, but you can find numerous varieties on Amazon. In fact, I just pinned one on my Pinterest “Stuff” Board because I’m that big of a supporter. And evidently, I also feel an inherent need to fervently champion a bogus cause because I have too much time on my hands today.

Consciousness-Expanding Coffee Cups

These psychedelic coffee cups were a gift from my friend Cathy. Judging from their chromatic floral brilliance, I’m guessing that they’re from the 1960s. Their kaleidoscopic beauty triggers scenarios in my head of Ken Kesey storing a set of them in his kitchen cupboard, where they were discovered by Tim Leary and Neal Cassady who merrily poured percolated coffee into them before hitting the road with Ken to perform street theater and confuse the Bay Area authorities. In any case, they’re pretty sweet.

Fire-King Turquoise Blue Relish Dish

An awesome Christmas gift from Susan! When I found it at the bottom of the sparkling silver gift bag she handed me, I squealed like a 3-year-old. This stylish relish dish is part of Fire-King’s Turquoise Blue pattern, which was made from1956-1958 (though some sources indicate 1957-1958). It features 22K gold trim, three compartments, and indisputable class. Score!

Fire-King Modern Tulips Bowl

Okay, by now, most readers know I have a weird penchant for vintage Fire-King ovenware. There’s no logic behind it, so any effort to apply it would be ineffectual. So the best thing to do when I prattle on about it is to just politely nod and allow my soliloquy to cycle through.

The awesome splash-proof bowl you’re looking at is from the Modern Tulips collection from the 1950s. It features black and red tulips designed in the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition, which, ironically, isn’t very modern. Nonetheless, this bowl is absolutely perfect for mixing up pancake batter.

The White Lightnin’ Bowl

I live in the country, which means that I don’t have garbage pick-up, so I have to drive into town and deposit my trash into bins at the local dump. So on this frigid December morning, I decided that I would make a run before taking Noah to school.

I pulled in, lifted up the hatchback, and saw my buddy, the security guard who usually helps me with the bags. Although I’ve been stopping by there for years, I don’t know his name, but he is a funny, happy elderly gentleman who knows me well enough to know that I hate the cold and jokes with me about it when it’s snowing.

While I was chatting with him, I spotted a large glass bowl–completely coated in frost–on top of the brick wall. I could barely make out the colorful shapes of birds that adorned it. Intrigued, I asked, “Is that a punch bowl?” He nodded, “Yeah, someone left it last night when I came on duty.” Inching closer, I got a better look and commented, “It’s in great shape.” He concurred, “Yeah, you wouldn’t believe the nice things people just leave off here. You can have it if you want it. Just pour some white lightnin’ into it, and you’ll be set for the holidays.” We both laughed, and I picked it up and thanked him.

When I returned to the car, Noah had his hands over his face. “Mom, what are you doing? You’re picking up trash now? Oh, my gosh. I can’t believe this.” Looking into the rearview mirror, I said, “Noah, it wasn’t in the trash, and why let something go into the landfill if it’s in perfectly good shape?” His mouth was open in genuine surprise. “Mom, I can’t believe you. You are such a cheapskate.” I sighed and countered, “It looks like a nice vintage bowl. No cracks, scratches, or chips. It’s a sweet find. Besides, birds like me.”

So here it is: the white lightnin’ bowl, which will actually be used for more pedestrian choices like salad or popcorn. I tried researching it online, but I can’t find any information about it, so I have no idea when it was made or which company manufactured it. The three birds featured beneath its gold rim are the Baltimore oriole, the scarlet tanager, and the blue bird.

Addendum: Ooooh! Scott found it online! The pattern is American Songbirds by West Virginia Glass. The trim is 22KT gold. I found one source that dates it back to the 1950s.

Vintage 1974 Proctor Silex Starflite Percolator

This magnificent percolator was a thrift shop find. When I spotted it among several inconsequential artifacts on the top shelf in the back of the store, I couldn’t believe it was in such pristine condition. On my tiptoes, I pushed my way through a couple of naked troll dolls and a used Flowbee to grab it. A couple of bucks later, it was mine.

David once told me that his beverage instructor at culinary school said that the best way to prepare coffee was in a percolator. I hadn’t used one since college, and when I did use it, I didn’t have the proper grind, so it tasted strong and gritty. I wanted to give it another try. Unfortunately, I don’t own a burr grinder, so David bought a bag of Peet’s House Blend and ran it through the one at Kroger.

After washing my new prize several times, I got ready to prepare a fresh pot of coffee. I was a bit nervous that maybe this fabulous find was just beautiful on the outside, an immaculate gadget that didn’t actually work.  I carefully poured water in the pitcher, anticipating a leak. Nope. It held. Next, I filled the basket with coffee and stationed it back inside the pitcher. Again, it held. Lastly, I unraveled the cord and plugged it in. Almost instantaneously, tiny bubbles shot upward and the gurgling started. Woo-hoo!

It was good! Certainly better than the standard coffee maker version.  Most people don’t use percolators anymore, but even if you have a nice Keurig, I recommend trying a percolator. It allows you to slow down and savor the brewing of a fine cup of stump water (as my dad calls it).

The Slow Cookin’ Tagine

This is a beautiful handmade tagine from Morocco. Embarrassingly, I have to admit I’ve never used it for anything other than an ornate decoration.

The tagine is like an Old World crock pot. It’s popular in North Africa because it needs so little water, which is scarce in that region. Ingeniously designed, its conical shaped lid circulates steam, keeping food moist while infusing it with lush oils and fragrant spices.

And in case you’re wondering, the most popular dish cooked in a tagine is. . .well, tagine or tajine, named after the vessel in which it’s heated. It’s a slow-simmered stew that often includes meat, fruit, nuts, and vegetables.

Sometime, I’d like to learn how to use one, but I will probably invest in a more utilitarian version from Of course, if I do, I will be posting it on the blog along with the vegetarian recipe that I create. In the interim, I will interrogate Chef David about everything he knows concerning tagine cooking.

Fire-King Kimberly Bowl

Often called Fire-King’s “most homely” pattern, the 1960s Kimberly collection was named after the Kimberly Diamond Mines in South Africa. Its rough hewn exterior was designed to represent raw diamond ore.

I, for one, love this pattern because it’s irregular, rather coarse, and misunderstood. Like me.

South of the Border Coffee Mug

If you’ve ever traveled along I-95 through South Carolina, you have seen South of the Border billboards. There are approximately 175 of them strategically placed along main highways in the Southeast (Virginia through Georgia) beckoning weary travelers to buy fireworks, have a meal, and shop in the gift shops.

South of the Border was established in 1949 as a beer shack, just south of the North Carolina border and its dry counties. It was later expanded into a drive-in. Over the years, restaurants, gift shops, a hotel, campgrounds, miniature golf courses, and a reptile lagoon were added, all of which are overshadowed by a 200’ high sombrero tower and a smiling 97’ high Pedro (SotB’s official mascot). This once tiny roadside stand is now a multi-million dollar a year business. It was also voted #8 in Travel + Leisure’s Kitschiest Roadside Attractions in America, which also includes the likes of Vent Haven Museum (home to 750 retired ventriloquist dummies) and Foamhenge (an exact replica of Stonehenge made entirely from Styrofoam).  

When I left home for college in 1992, I drove all the way from Florida (where I grew up) to North Carolina. Worn out, bored, and lonely from a long drive, I gave into Pedro’s black and neon signage and stopped there to stretch my legs. I’m a big fan of kitsch from way back, so I was mesmerized by all of the garish goods in the gift shop. It was at that time I bought the coffee cup along with a deck of playing cards.

This mug symbolizes both youthful independence and a weird fondness for the spectacular.  A few years ago, I accidently dropped it on tile and the handle broke. After a brief meltdown that included sobbing and expletives, I pulled myself together and fixed it with Super Glue.  Voila! Almost as good as new.

I still love tacky gift shops, by the way, and I suppose I should’ve added that to my list of idiosyncrasies on the authors page, but why provide more fodder for friends and co-workers?

Have You Seen the Beaver?

Last December, after years of dreaming, I finally visited Colorado.  I left the confines of the dead, brown landscape of Oklahoma and headed west.  Although I have done plenty of snowboarding, I had never experienced the acclaimed slopes of Colorado.  As with any journey to a vacation destination, the trip there seemed twice as long as the drive back home.  After a night in Denver, I headed out early to Beaver Creek, Colorado in hopes of beating the blizzard that was rapidly approaching. 

In my usual, extensive research of my vacation destination, I uncovered a “must see” destination in Avon, Colorado.  Beaver Liquors.  I have to admit that upon seeing the name, I began snickering uncontrollably.  My inner Beavis and Butthead emerged after ten years of dormancy.  On a side note, Beavis and Butthead are returning to the airwaves with all new episodes on October 27, 2011.  If you’re reading this Mike Judge, feel free to send me a monetary donation for the plug. 

Now, back to the Beaver.  In 1977, a slightly inebriated Rick Cuny entered a contest for “Best New Store Name” in Avon, Colorado.  Not knowing how this would change his life, he sat back amused with his submission.  To his delight, “Beaver Liquors” was selected as the winner.  This was three years before the opening of the now thriving Beaver Creek ski resort.  However, Rick immediately realized he may be on to something. He purchased the name and location where he would later open his world famous liquor store. 

During the 1980’s, Rick began to brainstorm on ways to capitalize on his brand.  Over the years, he has continued to design thousands of items touting the famous play on words after which his store is named.  Tee shirts, coffee mugs, calendars, hats, golf balls, post cards, and everything in between have been emblazoned with themes based on his store name.  The items range from a simple logo, to tongue-in-cheek, to R-rated.  Now, when you enter his multi-level liquor store, you will find a very large section is dedicated to the apparel and branded merchandise.  Conveniently located on the main road leading into Beaver Creek, it is an easy destination to find and a convenient stop for the souvenir minded traveler. 

Needless to say, I stopped by and loaded up on souvenirs to send to family and friends.  As for a matching pair of coffee mugs?  I kept them.  Now, every morning as I enjoy my coffee, I am reminded of the time I spent with the Beaver Liquors.  Cheers.