Sex, Lies, and the Wireless: Downton Abbey Season 5


Have you all been enjoying Season 5?  Here at the Penovich house we think the show may have jumped the shark.  Or hopped over the hedgerow.  Or broke the cricket bat.  The plotlines have been a bit far-fetched and perhaps a little silly and slapstick.

Nonetheless, I am still tuning in for the great costumes, jewelry and interiors.  And the melodrama.


How cute is little Marigold!
Credit: Nick Bragg/ITV/Carnival Film & Television

Some things have stayed the same.  Poor Edith’s plight, for example.  In last Sunday’s episode she grabs up her child and prepares to set out as a single mother in 1930s London, facing great peril to her reputation and way of life (not to mention putting the family’s reputation at risk.)  Yet, all anyone can talk about is MARY’s NEW HAIRCUT.

Edith almost burns down the Abbey, and instead of saying she’s grateful her sister is alive; Mary gets a dig in that Edith must have tried to do it on purpose.


Credit: Nick Bragg/ITV/Carnival Film & Television

Meanwhile boys (plural) pursue Mary, Mary gets boys (plural), has sex with boy (singular), dumps boy, pursues other boy.

lady mary hunting season 5

They look good in hunting clothes, though.
Credit: Nick Bragg/ITV/Carnival Film & Television.

And Tom has a ragged relationship with the god-awful Miss Bunting whose shrill and judgmental attitudes toward the aristocracy doesn’t prevent  Rose (dim, dim Rose) from inviting her to insult the Earl at every private dinner party and family celebration.

This photograph is (C) Carnival Film & Television Ltd and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with Downton Abbey, Carnival Film & Television Ltd or ITV plc. Once made available by ITV plc Picture Desk, this photograph can

Bye, bye Miss Bunting. Good riddance!
Credit: Nick Bragg/ITV/Carnival Film & Television

Things are getting frisky with older members of the Crawley family.  The Dowager has an old flame back in her life.  Isobel Crawley gets a very endearing proposal of marriage.  And Cora practically gets accosted by the smarmy, infatuated art critic.

Crikey!  What will happen next?

Tune in February 17, 9 pm ET for the next episode.  Hopefully we’ll have more Mrs. Patmore scenes.


"Sympathy butters no parsnips."  Mrs. Patmore Nick Bragg/ITV/Carnival Film & Television

“Sympathy butters no parsnips.” Mrs. Patmore
Nick Bragg/ITV/Carnival Film & Television



Costumes of Downton Abbey at Winterthur, Season 5 premieres tonight at 9pE

Downton Abbey

My friend Alyson posing in front of photo of Highclere Castle, the shooting location for Downton Abbey

One snowy morning in December my favorite gals and I took a road trip to Wilmington, Delaware to see the Costumes of Downton Abbey exhibit at the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library.

We are all fans of the show (and especially the sumptuous gowns, hats, and jewelry and fashions of the 1920s), so we made plans to visit the country estate of Henry du Pont, a remarkable American house built in 1837 comprising almost 1,000 acres (60 of which are dedicated to the botanical gardens.)

The estate (and its 165 rooms) were decked out for Christmas so we also secured tickets for Winterthur’s annual Yuletide tour which this year featured trees, decorations, flowers, and vignettes that would have been displayed by the family in the period from 1920s – 1940s.

Remember Lady Sybil’s shockingly modern Parisian harem pants in Season 1?  They were there.  Beautiful in teal and turquoise silk chiffon.

Lady Sybil's harem pants

Shocker! A Lady wearing pants! Even silk chiffon, flowy pants that look like a dress.

Mary and Matthew

Really, Matthew? What took you so long?!

Lady Mary and Matthew’s romantic marriage proposal in the snow in front of the Abbey was also highlight.  We loved that the museum not only had a floor-to-ceiling film clip with dialogue and music from of the proposal scene behind the costumes, but also had a visual light effect of snow falling so you felt you were there with them.

We loved that you could see up close all of the intricate detail of the clothes – the beading, embroidery, velvets, silks, crystals, and perfect stitching.  The exquisite construction of the garments blew my mind.  Since I can’t even sew a button on, I couldn’t imagine how the show’s seamstresses (there is a large team working around the clock for 6-weeks during production) construct the costumes from vintage remnants from the period and keep them maintained and preserved throughout multiple scene and costume changes.

Countess Cora

One of Lady Cora’s gowns. Dressed for dinner. Do not under any circumstances spill gravy on this.

The show’s costume designer painstakingly researches the historical accuracy of the 1920s fashions, tracks the historical fashion trends from France to England to America, and shops the vintage continent for inspiration and to find real remnants of gowns on which to base the costumes.

Shirley Maclain's fur

Shirley Maclaine as Lady Cora’s flamboyant mother loved her furs.

Of course it wouldn’t be a complete Downton Abbey experience if we didn’t see what they wore downstairs.  On display were the kitchen cook and maid’s uniforms, the butler’s uniform, the footmen’s livery and kitchen artifacts that would have been used in an aristocratic English estate in the 1920s. 

Mrs. Padmore's kitchen

Mrs. Patmore! You are looking rather invisible.


First footman

Footman’s uniform in front of the bells used in the show. Which of the named rooms do you think is Mary’s: the Stanhope or East Anglia?

Hats of Downton

And let us not neglect the hats, the gorgeous hats.

(It wasn’t long ago in America that neither lady nor gentleman would leave their home to go out in public without their fashionable hat or their gloves.  Now it seems everyone shops in public in their pajamas or their underwear.  Do I sound like the Dowager Countess?!)

Speaking of shopping, the exhibit had a cute pop-up store filled with fun things inspired by the show and the era.

Museum store

I bought one of the cast iron WC (water closet) emblems for my American-British gal pal who has a country house from the era.  Perfect!

Lady Marjorie

Lady Marjorie ready to mount her Steeplechase horse and give Lady Mary a run for her money.

We had to try on some hats in the shop.  This equestrienne topper looked marvelous on Marjorie with her black wool winter coat and turtleneck.  Truly, she could have been popped right into the hunt and traded quips with Lady Mary.

There is more to share and I’m looking forward to showing you the photos from the house tour as well.

Tune in to your PBS station tonight friends, January 4, 2015 for the premiere of Season 5 of Downton Abbey and catch up with the Granthams in 1924.

Mother’s Day 2014 – Advice Mom Gave Me

Rebecca and her dear mom, on the day.

Rebecca and her dear mom, June 1994.

I recently flipped through some old journals and I found a list I had made of my mother’s advice through the years.   She was a good mom, friend, and confidante and had given me lots of good advice.

Some I took, some I saved for later, and some I just flat-out ignored and was very sorry for it. Oy, those terrible and stupid mistakes.  I should have listened to you, Mom!

Photo:  John Penovich

Photo: John Penovich

Here, for posterity, and to remind myself, I share with you (in no particular order):

Norma’s Rules for a Happy Life

  • Don’t lie to the IRS, the police, or your mother.
  • Don’t marry someone if you think you will change him.  The things that bug you NOW are going to bug you MUCH more later.
  • Don’t say anything that you would be embarrassed or ashamed to hear repeated.
  • Treat the boys you like like the boys you don’t like, and you will have the boys you like.
  • Sex is not love.
I love tulips more than roses for Valentine's Day. Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

Photo: Rebecca Penovich

  • Treat your employees with respect, but let them know who’s boss.
  • Clean as you go. (Ha. She NEVER did this herself.)
  • When in doubt, throw it out. (Can apply to milk, food, boyfriends, miscellaneous mail.)
  • Use good quality ingredients in your cooking and don’t substitute.

Photo: Rebecca Penovich

  • Buy life insurance.
  • You will always love your family even if you don’t always like them.
  • True friends reveal themselves in times of hardship.
  • Don’t marry someone who doesn’t make you laugh.
  • Clean your room, you never know what you might find.

Photo: Rebecca Penovich

  • Lay your outfit out the night before.
  • You will never know until you try.
  • Don’t spend money you don’t have.
  • Leave your house (and desk and drawers) organized in case something happens to you but then you recover. (Meaning, so you won’t die of shame.)
Tiger lilies abound in the summer

Photo: Rebecca Penovich


  • Treat everyone as you wish to be treated.
  • Be welcoming if you want to be welcomed.
  • Laugh often, but not at other’s expense.

Photo: Rebecca Penovich


  • Don’t overfill your washer.
  • Write thank you notes.
  • Call your mother!

Happy Mother’s Day to all you hard-working, advice-giving moms out there and if you are able to, CALL YOUR MOTHER!



Peonies from the garden.

Peonies from the garden.

Rebecca’s Little Black Book: Portland, Oregon

My sister-in-law often gives me a restaurant research project when she travels for work. She likes what I like so I call upon my own experience in the city, places I’ve visited during food conferences, my knowledge of the culinary scene, the latest lists of James Beard Foundation nominees, and my contacts to help me guide her to a great dining experience. When she visited Louisville, Kentucky I was able to point her to Ed Lee’s 610 Magnolia which she loved. Last November the city was Portland, Oregon.

Iconic White Stag sign. Photo:  Wikimedia Commons.

Iconic White Stag sign. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A great food town!  I was excited to get to work and see if I could come up with some interesting places that met her perameters which were:

  • Near the Benson Hotel in the Pearl District
  • Not super-expensive (expense account allowed but no hair-raising surprises to the financial department)
  • Not too loud/crowded/noisy
  • Excellent independent chef (not a chain restaurant)
  • Thoughtful, trained servers

Here’s the list I pulled together for her.  (Jump to the end to see where she and her colleagues went and what they thought!) Starting point:  The Benson Hotel in the Pearl District,  309 Southwest Broadway

Built in 1912, The Benson is a city landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.

Built in 1912, The Benson is a city landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.  Photo courtesy of The Benson Hotel.

Irving Street Kitchen

701 Northwest 13th Avenue (.8 miles from Benson Hotel, 4-minute cab ride) Chef Sarah Schafer calls her food American cuisine with a Southern twist. She’s lauded for her classic French techniques and her dedication to her purveyors. Schafer worked in Boston and in some of the most prestigious kitchens in NYC including Gramercy Tavern under chef Tom Colicchio, where she was quickly promoted to Sous Chef, the first female Sous Chef in any Danny Meyer restaurant.  (In my opinion, anyone who has trained with or worked for Danny Meyer is worth a shot as chef.  His restaurants are like the Ivy League for chefs, sommeliers, bartenders, and servers.)

Park Kitchen 422 NW 8th Avenue (.6 miles, 3 minutes from hotel) New American-Pacific NW food ably matched by engaging service.  Park Kitchen’s Scott Dolich is twice-nominated for Best Chef Northwest by the James Beard Foundation. Some of the reviews: “36 Hours In Portland – Saturday Night – 8pm Hot Reservation – subtly superb.” – The New York Times “The meal is amazing from beginning to end, the service is first-rate, the ambience friendly and relaxed — the perfect place to sit back and enjoy an evening.” – The Oregonian: Arts & Entertainment

Park Kitchen

Photos by David Reamer for Park Kitchen 

Meriwether’s Restaurant

2601 NW Vaughn  Street 2.2 miles from Benson, 6-minute drive

Meriwether garden 043-slider-1920

Photo: Meriwether’s


Photo: Meriwether’s

Meriwether’s grows the produce it serves at its own Skyline Farm. Chef Peter Kuhlman crafts menus inspired by the Willamette Valley’s abundance, matching harvest with some of the finest raw ingredients in the world from the farmers, fishers and ranchers of the Pacific Northwest.  Beautiful outdoor garden setting in a historic building. 


2601 NW Vaughn  Street 2.2 miles, 6-minute drive

Nostrana tumblr_inline_mspwm54Mfk1qz4rgp

Photo: Nostrana

Nostrana tumblr_inline_mv8wltoWYP1qzvuj9

Photo: Nostrana

For the sixth consecutive year Chef/Owner Cathy Whims has been nominated by the James Beard Foundation for Best Chef Northwest.  Pricey but awesome pizza, great salads. From Portland Monthly: “This is Italian home cooking as it should be—stripped down, honest, powered by wood fire. No place in Portland is better suited to please a diverse crowd: foodies, kids, wine lovers, your adventure-fearing relatives.”


527 SW 12TH AVENUE .5 miles, 5-minute drive

The Gruner Burger Photo:

The Gruner Burger

Old-world comfort meets new-world sophistication at Grüner, Christopher Israel’s restaurant devoted to the warm, hearty flavors of Middle Europe. Grüner serves European “Alpine” cuisine, and was named one of the 10 best new restaurants in America by GQ magazine.   What is “alpine” cuisine?  Chef Chris Israel describes the fare as lighter and brighter than German with the influences of northern France, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary.

The Feedback 

Email from my sister-in-law:

Dear R: 1,000 thanks for my Portland little black book.  I passed your list along to A. G. and we chose Park Kitchen which was FAB.

Moreover, she passed the list to another colleague who had to take a group of people out to dinner and he used the list so I got big brownie points for that.

At Park Kitchen we shared 5 little tasting plates:

  • A paté with salad – great flavors but it should have been called salad with paté because there were only 3 slivers the diameter and thinness of a 50 cent coin.  Nonetheless, it was delish.
  • A salad of beets, toasted hazelnuts, goat cheese, and frisée—absolutely yummy, my surprise favorite dish.  Really sensational flavors.
  • “Torn corn ravioli” with pork ragu—sounded yummy and it was good. I thought it would be my favorite but it wasn’t.
  • Chick pea fries – 4-inch by ¾-inch logs with a dipping sauce—great texture, not greasy at all. So good we could have had another round.
  • Stuffed calamari – not my thing. AG. had this one to herself and liked it a lot.
  • Bread and cracker plate — to die for,  great artisan bread with home-churned salty butter and these amazing little wheat crackers.
  • We split a dessert — a slice of chocolate pie (dense and dark like a flourless torte) with a salted caramel ice cream—yum yum.

Friday night we went to Nostrano.

We had a table for nine.  Great pink prosecco.  I had strozzopretti (“prieststranglers” or “priestchokers” in Italian) with grappa, cream, and prosciutto.  Pasta spirals with great texture.  Certainly tasted the grappa but there wasn’t enough prosciutto for  a DNA test.  Still a fun evening.

We also walked around the Pearl District shops.  Some very cute places.

Thank you, darling, for the well-researched list!

Pearl District's Oven & Shaker pizza.  Photo:  Oven & Shaker

Pearl District’s Oven & Shaker pizza. Photo: Oven & Shaker


Easter Eggs to Deviled Eggs


Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich


This Easter was a bit divergent for us.  Joe’s spring break was very short (making up snow days) and we didn’t go to see my family in Florida.  Even though we were home, we didn’t host the neighborhood Easter egg hunt and picnic lunch (which we have done in years past).

We did do something new, though.  We went to the circus!


A shower of confetti at the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus show.
Photo: John Penovich


I still remember the first time my dad took me to the ‘big’ circus in St. Paul at the convention center.  The thrill of it all:  the crowd, the tightrope walkers, the clowns, the smell of popcorn and elephant poop!

Oh maybe not that.

The circus in 2014 was an exciting and updated show with live pop music, dancers, basketball-playing unicyclers, and death-defying daredevils flying through the air but the spectacle was tempered by our feelings for the elephants and the tigers knowing what we know as responsible adults and citizens of the planet.

Plus, the Ringling Brothers shot John’s wallet out of a cannon.


This is not a photo of what John’s wallet would look like if it exploded.  But close.
Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich


After the circus outing, we received an impromptu invitation from our next-door neighbors to join them for dinner and we ambled on over.

Now that Joe is almost 12 and has grown out of ‘baby-ish’ egg hunts and decorating eggs, I was missing some of the Easter traditions.  Much to my delight our host and hostess (who are both fine artists) broke out the dye, crayons, brushes, wax, and hard-boiled eggs and we went to town at their dining room table while drinking Pimm’s Cups and wine.

John's rendition of the Mona Lisa on his Easter egg.

John’s rendition of the Mona Lisa on his Easter egg.



Photo: Rebecca Penovich


Quite fun even without children!

Some things never go out of style (like the circus and Easter eggs), so here is a classic deviled egg recipe for you (with a spicy twist).



  • 1 dozen large eggs (hard boiled and peeled)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise (Hellman’s  preferred)
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon sriracha sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon bottled horseradish
  • 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt (to your taste)
  • Couple of grinds of fresh black pepper (optional)
  • Sweet paprika and/or small capers for garnish


This is the Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa) method:

  • In a medium saucepan, cover the eggs with cold water and bring to a rolling boil. Cover, remove from the heat and let stand for exactly 12 minutes. (NOTE:  Set a timer!  If you use less than the dozen eggs and thus, a smaller pan you will need to adjust the time accordingly.)
  • Immediately drain the warm water and  cover the eggs in the pan with cold water. Let stand until the eggs are cool.
  • Drain and peel the eggs; pat dry. Cut the eggs in half lengthwise.
  • Scoop out the yolks and transfer to a bowl.  Smash the yolks with a fork.
  • Add the mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, sriracha, horseradish and blend together until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper.
  • Using a pastry bag fitted with a star tip or a teaspoon, fill the egg whites with the yolk mixture.  (NOTE:  In lieu of a pastry bag I use a plastic sandwich bag and cut a small slit in one corner.)
  • Arrange the eggs on a platter, sprinkle with paprika and place a small caper on each egg half.


Classic deviled eggs (with a kick of horseradish and sriracha.)

Classic deviled eggs (with a kick of horseradish and sriracha)
Plate by Wedgwood, a reproduction of a Queensware service designed by Josiah Wedgwood in 1770.


Happy Easter! Carrot Layer Cake with Crushed Pineapple


Photo credit: Dawn Ballenger


From Corks &  Cake contributor, Dawn Ballenger:

This is an unusually moist and delicious cake I made recently.    A friend asked me to make a carrot cake for her husband’s birthday dinner.  I think I’ve made 1 or 2 carrot cakes in my life because it is not one of my favorites.

I searched my books for a recipe that seemed interesting and found it in one of John Folse’s cookbooks, The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine.    This is a four layer cake with a zippy pineapple filling between the layers. I dyed coconut shavings for the garnish on the top.  Enjoy!

From John Folse, The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine 

Ingredients for Cake:

  • 3 cups grated carrots
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1½ cups vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 T. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped pecans


Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease and flour 4 (9-inch) cake pans.  Set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, cream sugar and oil until well blended.  Add eggs, 1 at a time, whisking after each addition.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.  Add dry ingredients to egg mixture, a little at a time, blending well.  Fold in carrots, vanilla, and pecans.  Once blended, pour batter evenly into pans.  Bake 30-40 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.

Ingredients for Filling:

  • 1 (20-ounce) can crushed pineapple
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2½ T. cornstarch

In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients.  Bring to a low boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly — 5 minutes or until thickened.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Remove cakes from baking pans and spread pineapple filling between layers.

Ingredients for Icing:

  • 3½ cups powdered sugar
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 1¼ tsp pure vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and beat until smooth.   Cover cake with cream cheese icing and serve.

Optional:  add a drop of food coloring of your choice to unsweetened coconut flakes for garnish.

Happy  Easter!


Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich



Erin Go Bragh: Twists on Cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day

Ireland Castle 081

Powerscourt House outside of Dublin.  Built in 1730 by the 1st Viscount Powerscourt, it stands on the grounds where a 13th-century castle once was.  Photo credit: Connie Abbott-Foster


I am Irish (and Scottish) on my mother’s side.  My maternal grandmother, Nell Marie Taylor’s (b. 1892 – d. 1990) Protestant parents migrated from Scotland to Northern Ireland and then to America and settled in Chillicothe, Ohio where she was born in 1892. She married Frank Cullen whose grandfather and uncles emigrated from Ireland during ‘the great hunger.’  Frank’s father owned a broom straw farm in southern Illinois and he and Nell met at church supper in 1922.

I grew up in St. Paul which has a large Irish contingent and I remember the St. Patrick’s Day Parade downtown was a big deal.  No where near as big as Chicago or NYC’s celebrations, but a big deal nonetheless.

Old men would wear the green top hats emblazoned with ‘Erin go Bragh’ in gold or silver glitter and I remember asking my mom what that meant.  She said it means “Ireland forever.”

Photo credit:  Connie Abbott-Foster

If I were a Celtic person 800 years ago standing on this same spot, I would be thinking of heaven and eternity too.
Photo credit: Connie Abbott-Foster


My sister recently honeymooned in Ireland, traveling all over the island, and she shared some of her favorite photos and places with me for this post.  She had a grand time and fell in love with the country, the scenery, the people, their history, and the food. Must be in the blood I say!

Lovely profusion of flowers. Photo credit:  Connie Abbott-Foster

Lovely profusion of flowers.
Photo credit: Connie Abbott-Foster


I don’t recall that we made a big deal of the holiday at home and don’t have any memories of Irish food in particular that my mother would make.  If she made cabbage, I’m sure I didn’t eat it because at the time I was very, very picky.

These days I like cabbage and this recipe from Food 52 for  Suspiciously Delicious Cabbage is wonderful.  Shredded green cabbage caramelizes slowly in butter and the grated fresh ginger melts into the creamy sauce.  Fabulous with a roast chicken or pork loin.  One of my favorite bloggers, Five and Spice, developed the recipe and her husband provided the moniker ‘suspiciously delicious’ because he couldn’t believe there was no meat involved, it had so much rich, umami flavor.

Try it!

Ireland 467

Kylemore Abbey, a Benedictine monastery founded on the grounds of Kylemore Castle in Connemara, County Galway.
Photo credit: Connie Abbott-Foster


A fun take on corned beef and cabbage is this recipe for Reuben Dip from Closet Cooking.  I have made this before for a catering gig (graduation party) and it was a big hit. Keep it hot in a chafing dish or small crock pot or fondue pot.

Many recipes will tell you to use bottled Thousand Island dressing which I find too sweet. Closet Cooking’s recipe above makes his own Russian Dressing.  I don’t bother to make the corned beef homemade as he does (it just makes too much), so I buy 1/4 – 1/2 pound sliced corned beef from our favorite deli depending on how much dip I need to make.



Tea and pastry shop in Ireland. Photo credit:  Connie Abbott-Foster

Tea and pastry shop in Ireland.
Photo credit: Connie Abbott-Foster


Thank you Connie Abbott-Foster for the pictures!

NOTE:  From Wikipedia on translation of ‘Erin go Bragh.’  ”The term brách is equivalent to “eternity” or “end of time”, meaning the phrase may be translated literally as “Ireland until eternity” or “Ireland until the end (of time).”


Lovely shamrock plant from my good friend, Adrienne, who is from Ireland.  Photo credit:  Rebecca Penovich



Cemetery where my favorite Irish poet, W.B. Yeats, is buried. Photo credit:  Connie Abbott-Foster

Cemetery where my favorite Irish poet, W.B. Yeats, is buried.
Photo credit: Connie Abbott-Foster


Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  Now should I go make a green cake?

National Pi Day: My Aunt Jeanine’s Blue-Ribbon-Winning Pecan Pie


Pecan pie with caramel and chocolate smear
Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich

Happy National Pi Day!

I can’t say that I completely understand pi.  I know it’s an infinite number and it holds the key to some of the magical, mathematical mysteries of our universe, but don’t ask me to explain it to our 11-year-old.

What I do know is pie!  The kind you eat with a fork and sometimes a la mode.

When the folks behind the book, Modernist Cuisine at Home invited me to celebrate National Pi Day with a post of my favorite pie, I knew exactly which one I would choose.


My favorite vintage transferware pie plate with a recipe for pecan pie.  Very close to my Aunt's but not quite. Photo credit:   Rebecca Penovich

My favorite vintage transferware pie plate with a recipe for pecan pie. Very close to my Aunt Jeanine’s but not quite.
Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich


My mother’s sister, Aunt Jeanine, was a fabulous Midwestern baker of pies, cakes, bars, fudge and sweets and she loved to share them.  She and my mom would often compete (informally and with sisterly love) with each other to see who could best each other on the flakiest crust, the most crowd-pleasing taste combination, the fluffiest meringue, the most tender crumb.  Sometimes my mom won, sometimes Jeanine.  And they kept up the competition until my mother died in 2001.

Aunt Jeanine’s pecan pie always was a hit.  She even entered it in the pie contest sponsored by the local bank in her town in southern Illinois and took home the blue ribbon.  Believe it when I tell you that Midwestern ladies and gents are SERIOUS about their baking.

I treasure this splattered index card with Aunt Jeanine's recipe in her handwriting.  It continues on the back. Photo credit:  Rebecca Penovich

I treasure this splattered index card with Aunt Jeanine’s recipe in her handwriting. It continues on the back.
Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich


Every Christmas after my mom died, my Aunt Jeanine (in her late 70s and into her 80s) would make my husband 2 (count ‘em, 2!) homemade pecan pies at Christmastime because he was crazy about them and pecan pie was his absolute favorite.  He lavished her with praise and honest gratitude and she just loved that.

She would package the pies in small pizza boxes that she made a special trip to the pizza parlor to get (yes, she still called it the pizza parlor).  Then she would carefully wrap the pies in newspaper, place the pies in the boxes with more paper, wrap the boxes in brown paper and ship them across the country to us via the U.S. Post Office.

This was an incredible effort for an elderly lady!  It would be an incredible effort for anybody (god, how I hate packing and shipping at Christmas; let Amazon Prime take care of it.)


Wish I had pictures to show you, but no, we gobbled up those pies all those years.  We always brought one to share with friends at parties and kept the other greedily for ourselves.  All of our friends who got a slice would wax poetic over ‘Aunt Jeanine’s Pecan Pie’ – not too sweet, not too thick, lots of pecans, and a damn good flaky crust, homemade.

Aunt Jeanine passed away this January.  I wrote about the pies for her eulogy and I thanked her for all the love and work she put into them and how grateful we were to receive them as a present.  It was her way of showing us how much she loved us and we knew it.

The funniest thing about her handwritten recipe for pecan pie is on the flip side of the index card for the crust, she writes on the top, “I don’t use a recipe!  Hope this is it, ha!”

She gives me approximations and feel – no measures.  Typical!  Okay, she and my mom are having a laugh.

For those of you who are searching for the perfect flaky pie crust and its many permutations, Modernist Cuisine at Home and their e-publisher, Inkling, have tested and re-tested classic pie crusts and custard fillings.

Their master pie crust is modernist in that it calls for the eggs to be cooked sous vide, a technique usually relegated to the kitchens of professional chefs.

I’m likely to try it, because I am in search of more pie crust instruction (since mom and Aunt Jeanine have left me wanting.)  But I must say that Aunt Jeanine swore her flaky, not-too-sweet-crust was due to vegetable shortening (i.e. Crisco in the blue can) and a light touch of the hand with your fingers dipped in ice water.

I loved what the Modernist Cuisine at Home had to say about National Pi Day: pie and filling possibilities are as “endless as pi’s digits.”


There is an end to pecan pie, as evidenced by this empty plate. But Pi (3.14…) is forever.
Photo credit: Rebecca Penovich


Cheers!  The world needs pie don’t you think?!

NOTE:   I just love pie and wanted to tell you this story about my Aunt Jeanine (1928-2013). Modernist Cuisine at Home publishers reached out to remind me it was National Pi Day and provided me with a link to their perfect pie crust test results.

Handy Dandy Resource: Kitchen Cheat Sheet

Hello friends!  I found this handy dandy resource on the internet courtesy of Everest Kitchens and it was so chockful of cooking information I had to share it with you.

  • Ever wonder how to convert a recipe from metric (hello BBC Food, I’m talking to you).
  • Wonder the best way to cook different kinds of meat or which part of the animal they come from?
  • How about how long can something be frozen safely?

This infographic has your answer.  And much more.  Keep a copy handy in your Joy of Cooking (or other kitchen reference book.)

Thank you Everest Kitchens!

This is the  printable. 



Until Next Time: Downton Abbey


Presentation at the Palace.  "Presented, photographed, done." Says Lady Grantham with relief. Photo credit:  ITV for MASTERPIECE

Presentation at the Palace. “Presented, photographed, done.” Says Lady Grantham with relief.
Photo credit: ITV for MASTERPIECE

It’s hard to believe that Season 4 is over.  PBS decided to start and end the season with 120-minute episodes which in effect made the season only 8 episodes long.

The finale offered us plenty of the eye candy that we love about Downton Abbey:

  • Gorgeous 1920s costumes, replete with feathers, furs, beading, elaborate embroidery, fanciful hats, gloves, beaded bags, diamond tiaras, diamond headbands

Lady Dudley-Ward is absolutely gorgeous and naughty (by not-so-secretly dating the Prince of Wales.)
Photo credit: ITV for MASTERPIECE

  • New interiors and London locations, including our first look at the Grantham’s London town home
Sumptious interiors at Grantham House in London (actually Blynford..) Photo credit:  Vanity Fair

Sumptuous interiors at Grantham House in London (actual location: Basildon Park.)
Photo credit: Vanity Fair


The interiors for Grantham House were actually shot one hour outside of London at Basildon Park, a Georgian mansion surrounded by acres of parkland in Berkshire. The house was built from 1776-83 and was rescued by Lord and Lady Iliffe in the mid 1950s. The house today is a re-creation and restoration of the 18th-century mansion.

Aunt Rosamund’s London town house interiors were shot at West Wycombe Park, a country house near the village of West Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, England, built between 1740 and 1800. It was conceived as a pleasure palace for the 18th-century Sir Francis Dashwood, 2nd Baronet.

West Wycombe Park

Many conversations take place in Aunt Rosamund’s London drawing room (actual location: West Wycombe Park)


Exteriors were shot in London and much care was taken by the production company to choose locations that didn’t show any signs of modernity (paved streets, advertisements, modern lighting etc.)  Read this excellent article from behind the scenes at the London locations “Downton Abbey: London is the Star of the Show” for some more scoop.

  •  And let’s not forget the pomp and circumstance!  The debutante ball at the palace, Lord Grantham in court uniform, the processional, the King and Queen, and all of Rose’s parties, dances, balls, and club outings.
Rose, whatever you do, don't trip! Photo credit:  ITV for MASTERPIECE

Darling, this is costing us a fortune.  You should be kind to marry very well.
Photo credit: ITV for MASTERPIECE


Hello your Royal Highnesses.  Photo credit: ITV for MASTERPIECE


Read more about the London debutante season in this great article by Dawn Aiello. Young aristocratic ladies were brought into London from their country estates and presented to society at court.  The season lasted for months and the girls were feted all about town with luncheons, dances, balls, parties, formal dinners, and approved cultural outings so they might meet marriageable young men.

Mrs. Patmore would have been tasked with keeping up a long stream of goodies for guest breakfasts, luncheons, teas, formal dinners, and the ‘at homes’ where the presiding lady of the house would entertain guests with late-night buffet suppers, music and dancing.


Here are some of our Downton-inspired Corks & Cakes posts for your review:



And some heartier fare:

When you talk like that, I'm tempted to ring for Nanny and put you to bed with no supper. Photo credit:  ITV for MASTERPIECE

“When you talk like that, I’m tempted to ring for Nanny and put you to bed with no supper.”
Photo credit: ITV for MASTERPIECE


I’ve enjoyed chronicling the season and the era for you.  In fact, I might just keep up these Sunday Downton posts because there’s so much more to write about.

Let me ask you:  which character will you miss the most until next season?  (The Dowager Countess is everyone’s favorite, my guess!)

You can follow her on Twitter @theLady Grantham

Here’s a fun You Tube video:  Sh!t the Dowager Countess Says

What other Downton Abbey-related posts would you be interested in reading on Corks & Cake?