Friday, September 19, 2014

Carolyn Westbrook: Homemade Strawberry Preserves

When we moved out to the country, many years ago, I had dreamed of flowers, vegetable gardens, and fruit trees. It was hard to see past the dilapidated structure, with a roof that could possibly cave in on us, but I could see the potential. This place out in the middle of nowhere turned out to be perfect for raising our family. This year, we have been busy canning, as the garden as been producing all summer, and still is. I remember my grandmother canning anything and everything, from Chow-Chow to beets, which we hated, and now I kind of like again. We have made jar after jar of homemade salsa, preserves, and batch after batch of pickles, trying all different methods.

I wish that I could say that we had so many strawberry plants that I made these from our garden. The truth is, I was at the local supermarket and there was a massive abundance of fresh strawberries and they were in season and on sale. Since I was a girl, I have been a huge fan of the strawberry. I had strawberry lip gloss and a  strawberry necklace, you get the picture. So, I grabbed up a plethora of strawberries and thought that I would do strawberry preserves. You know what's funny, in a time when you think people would no longer do canning, the canning isle has been wiped out, every time that I go. So cheers to those who are in on the canning trend. I needed pectin, and I got the last few boxes.

For those who think canning is hard, its not. What you do need is a great bit pot, to boil your jars and lids, before and after you pack your jars. I boil mine and then set them out on a cookie sheet with a towel to drain. All you have to do is mash the strawberries, cover with lemon juice, then add sugar. The recipe is in the pectin package. Just follow that. You throw in the pectin, boil and put in jars. Once you have sealed the jars, with fresh boiling water, submerge the jars to get a good seal.
Take out, let cool, and the preserves will thicken up. I make preserves, because I like chunks of strawberries. It's that simple.
Here is the good news. At a time when big food companies are packing our food with high fructose corn syrup and GMO's its nice to know where your food comes from and what is in it. Strawberries, sugar, pectin, and lemon juice...that is it. Not to mention that they are absolutely delicious. We were slathering strawberry preserves on anything and everything, including some homemade biscuits.
Here's to canning!
xo Carolyn

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Live from The Oaks Plantation

Here it is just the first part of September and we actually had a cool front. Since it was just 101 degrees a couple of days ago, it feels like an Artic blast. I had to put on a sweater to go and feed the animals this morning. The chickens were all puffed up and didn't know what to think about it. For summers in Texas, this one has been a good one. We still have a garden for goodness sakes, and usually that is burnt up and dried up in August, no matter how much you water. I will be so sad to see the garden go. Everyday a heaping mess of black-eyed-peas, okra, and tomatoes are picked. Throw in a little cornbread and we have a supper that any southerner would be thrilled with. To me, it is all about the home grown tomatoes. Just slice them with a sprinkling of salt and I am good to go. I will miss my garden, but for now, it is still providing the harvest, so I will enjoy it until it quits.

Speaking of fall and cooler weather, that always means that the Roundtop Antiques Week is just around the corner. We are collaborating with Marburger Farms Antique Show and hosting a book signing there on opening day, Sept. 30,2014 from 9am-12pm. I hope that y'all can make it there! You are in for some inspiration and wonderful views. xo Carolyn

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fall Flea Market Tips

It is almost time for the most fabulous fall flea market on earth. The Roundtop/Marburger/Warrenton shows are coming up. If you are looking for treasures for your home, then this is the place. There is high end antiques and tents full of wonderful junk, all opening at different times. This show takes place only twice a year in Texas. If you want to re-do or refresh your home, this is a great place to start. Perhaps you are tired of your "big box" interior, and are craving something unique and beautiful things that speak of you, then this is the place. You want things that are not too bright and shiny, but show a little time-worn patina and wear in just the right places. Items with a history and a story that have been a part of generations of interiors. What a great time of year to grab some girlfriends and head down to the hill country for a fabulous Girls Gone Junkin (from my first book, Carolyn Westbrook Home) trip. In my first book we have an entire chapter on Girls Gone Junkin featuring shopping in Warrenton, Texas. Zapp Hall is a great place to start and they have a website at www.zapphall.com. Make sure to check out my talented friends, Debbie and Danny York, right inside the Zapp Hall building. They are saying that this is the best "junk" that they have ever had. Zapp Hall is a great place to shop and take a break with the Royer's CafĂ© where you can sit down for lunch or dinner and feast on some wonderful comfort food. Also, live bands and beer in the beer garden or a glass of champagne in the "bubble lounge." Marburger Farms is a wonderful place for inspiration and you can check them out at www.roundtop-marburger.com. Here is a list of some of the things that I look for:

  • Antique Silver Trays
  • Old Architectural Pieces such as Columns, Trims, Doors, Windows
  • Old Statuary
  • Harvest Tables for your kitchen or dining room.
  • Old Leather Bound Books
  • Antique Chandeliers with lots of beautiful prisms.
  • Transfer ware in all colors.
  • Old Mercury Glass
  • Beautiful old oil paintings.
  • Antique Rugs, especially the ones that have great colors that are a bit muted and faded from wear.
  • Glass Spooners
  • Antique (Monogrammed) Silver Plate Utensils.
Things to take along that you might need:
  • Tape Measure
  • Hat
  • Umbrella
  • Rain boots
  • Mosquito Spray
  • Ant bite stick
  • Tote bag for small items
  • Cart for bigger items
  • Tote or backpack filled with snack items and bottled water.
  • Phone for taking photos.
  • List items that you have bought and where they are located for pick-up.
  • Get receipts
Go out there and hunt down some treasures, and above all...have fun!
                                                                               xo Carolyn


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

From Flea Market to Fabulous


As I sat in Nick's room, before the make-over, I knew that I wanted this room to be very dramatic. You can see the entire new look of "Nick's Room" in the new book, Carolyn Westbrook: A Romance with French Living. Here my favorite photographer Eric Richards, captures the images for the new book. So, before Nick had the "Safari" look, which I do love, since the first book, Carolyn Westbrook Home. He had grown up with it. I remember upholstering his walls with burlap before burlap was hot. Now, it was time to create something completely different. My flea market finds often inspire an entire room. With my quest for the perfect thing at the perfect price, that often leads me to search flea market tents, tables, in garage corners, in the back of pick-up trucks, and underneath tables sifting through boxes. There is no where that I won't go for just the right thing. A grouping of faded blue globes of the world, some of which came out of an old school, are some of my favorite things. Yes, we had used them before, but NEVER get rid of fabulous.

I knew that we wanted to use a rich, dark blue, as it is always impactful and dramatic. Life is all about the details. No detail is too small. Here we have a tray that is sat atop a beautifully skirted table in blue silk. The blue top sets off this tray perfectly. I adore trays for decorating. Your art does not have to be just on the wall. You can create gorgeous vignettes on a table top, with a tray as your base. This tray is made from wood, with beautiful brass handles, and came from England originally. I actually found a stack of these at a junky flea market in Atlanta. The tray can be anything that you absolutely love, from a mirrored tray, to silver, brass or wood and the trays can be used on any surface such as a chest, a coffee table, a sofa table, to a centerpiece on the dining table.

Think outside the box when creating your "tray art." My "tray art" almost always includes antique, leather bound books. I am in love with little books, and these are magnificent. One of my sources for these magnificent books, is Kay Gilbreath, a.k.a The Book Lady, who will be at Marburger  Farms Antique Show in just a few weeks in Texas. The books shown here, came from her. Books play an amazing part of decorating. They can be stacked, used as a pedestal for a plant, a small easel with a miniature oil painting or in this case, a rest for an exquisite magnifying glass and some larger books are stacked as a base for a lamp, to give it some height.

All the small things that I love can be "showcased" on a tray.  One could add a small plant potted in an antique trophy cup, a small vase filled with one bloom, your imagination will make it your own. I do love tiny ancestor photographs, housed in small, antique silver frames. It adds a bit of your own family history, and makes the house yours. Anything from blue pottery to Mercury glass candlesticks in all shapes and sizes. I do think a "live" element is good, like I said...a small green plant or a colorful bloom works well. I have a fascination with the, hourglass sand timers. I think everybody likes to look and touch these, so a great conversation piece for a coffee table, not to mention they are a pretty detail to our "tray art."

I preach this all the time, but with the release of my new book, I have to get back up at the podium. Get out there and hunt down your treasures for your home, that will then be uniquely yours. They will have a patina, a history, and you are actually recycling in the best way. You will never have the home that you want from an "all new" interior. Our mantra is, "Creating a Home that Reflects the Spirit of You" and that means going out and traipsing across fields and through tents to find the perfect thing. Lucky for you, one of the best flea markets around is coming up and only happens twice a year in Roundtop, Texas. More on that in the next blog....

xoxo Carolyn


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

This was today's haul from the hen house. Oh, and let's not forget the Colonel, who is the rooster that rules the roost. I have to get out there early, because of the heat. The chickens have been so hot in the afternoon, that I have to go out to the pen with the water hose and sprinkle them with a fountain of water, which they love. Otherwise, they are walking around squawking with their tongues hanging out. The Polish hens are so funny, they have what looks like a fancy hat, and they can barely see where they are going. We have always had chickens here, and I love the color of the Araucana's eggs, in their pale blues and greens. The yolks are bright gold, and of course our chickens are free roaming. They like to be petted, so whenever Grayson or Carrington come over, the first thing that they want to do is gather the eggs. What a great way to start the day...fresh eggs. xoxo Carolyn

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


So, you must have figured out by now that I am the worst blogger in the whole world. I am really going to try and be better, as anyone that knows me knows how much I love to talk, and cook, and decorate, and eat, and this sort of covers all of that. For months, I have been telling the kids that I wanted us to start eating outdoors more. Well, last Saturday night against a few protests of, "It's too hot," we finally had the chance to do it. I cook this stuff up in my head, and dreamed of wine, Italian fare and dining al fresco. Sometimes a plan comes together and sometimes it doesn't, but I was full steam ahead and had everyone plan on this outside get-together.
We used to do this all the time, when we stayed at my grandparents farm during the summer, and it was much less complicated. Of course back then there were not cell phones and I-Pads, and every kid did not have their own vehicle. I remember our cookouts with my grandparents, parents and cousins, which were filled with my grandmother's amazing ability to throw a meal together at the drop of a hat. They always had a big garden, like we do, and it supplied all of the "fixins" for the hamburgers. Of course after the cook out there were wolf calls to make, which was basically us howling at the moon, until we would get a howl back, and then came the spooky tales. Everyone would tell there scariest ghost stories, and we would scare ourselves so badly, and then have to go in and go to bed, listening to every creak of the house, and thinking that Big Foot was going to come carry us away.

Sorry for veering off course...so, this night it was a gathering of everybody, to include my kids, Victoria and Nick (Alex has sadly gone off to school) and Victoria's friend Tristan, her adorable son, Grayson, and of course, Joe (husband), Christi (sister-in-law), Carrington (niece) who is also quite adorable, my mother Charlotte, and Nick's friend Riley, who has grown up at our house.
I love this old, metal, outdoor chandelier, and use it as often as we can, to light up the night while dining outdoors. I also have to have lots and lots of candles sprinkled about. Christi is worse than I am about candles, she lit every one. I cooked the lasagna and Cesar Salad ahead of time, so not that much to do. I used linen drop cloths to cover the tables, and gathered real silverware, as I hate plastic, silver serving trays, which I collect. If you can run across silver trays at an estate or garage sale, then get them. They always make for a beautiful table. Throw in some blue Spode dishes and of course some wine, and it is a party. The kids slurped on pink lemonade and we slurped on some pretty delicious wine, and a good time was had by all. My advice...enjoy this warm weather and the evening breezes. Even if you don't have a grove of Oak trees, set up on a porch, under any tree or shelter, and you are ready for some good food and the amazing gift of slowing life down, listening to stories, and maybe even throw in a scary story at the end. Wishing you loads of end of summer fun! XOXO Carolyn

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Live from the Plantation...it's tomato season!

Oh My Gosh!! It is that time of year. This year the weather has been a total blessing here in Texas, and the garden is overloaded with red, ripe, juicy tomatoes. Because of the cooler weather, which never happens in August in our neck of the woods in Texas, we are still gathering loads of squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, black-eyed peas, green beans, and more!! I made a glorious tomato and cucumber salad that y'all would love! It is just cubed tomatoes, cucumbers, sliced red onion, fresh basil chopped, 1/2 block of Feta cheese, salt, pepper, and Italian Dressing....YUM!!! It is heaven.
And just a mention...the sale at the plantation listed on the blog is for last year...we have not set a date for this year's sale. Don't want anyone disappointed!

xoxo Carolyn