Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cookie of the Month - m&m

I know.  I just squeaked by with the March cookie of the month!  Actually, I made them on Sunday.  I've gotta move my game up.  This month I chose m&m cookies and to make them a little more in keeping with the upcoming season, I used pastel candies.

1 1/2 cups butter
2 2/3 cups packed dark brown sugar
4 eggs
1 Tbs. vanilla
4 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 cups m&ms
Beat together butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.

Blend in eggs and vanilla.
Add flour, soda and salt; mix well.
Stir in candies.
Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheet a couple inches apart.
Press extra candies into each.
Bake at 350 degrees for 9-10 minutes.  
Remove from cookie sheet and cool.  Cookies may seem a little brown due to the absence of white sugar in the recipe, but they are oh, so yummy.  Enjoy!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

New & Now & Hip & Retro

OK, I know I've been missing in action lately.  Either it's a busy stretch or I'm going to have to choose between serving on the school board and RubyLemons.  
I've got the itch big time to get sewing again and sell my stuff on Etsy.  And the word, "mod" just keeps coming up in my head.  I have the urge to sew mod clothes - kinda like Marcia Brady meets Mod Squad meets Mary Tyler Moore.
I'm collecting fabrics again... knits and those 60s and 70s prints that I shunned twenty years ago will work perfectly for these patterns.  Double knit, too... making a comeback in retro funky styles.
Oh, the ideas never stop.
Now if only I had the time to bring them to life! 
The key will be not to just sew up 70s outfits with 70s fabric.  No.  Each one will need to have a twist that says loud and clear that this piece of clothing is new and now and hip and retro.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Changing Directions

Well, it's been one controversy after another on the school board - redistricting, grinding, budget cuts... what a year. No wonder there's been a complete turnover of school board members in three year's time (except for me). But really, I don't want to talk about that. This is my happy, creative blog, right? Right.
And amidst all the school district turmoil, I've been getting really excited about a change in direction for my Etsy shop. I've been selling a lot of vintage items and I like vintage stuff, but it's not my first love. I'm glad I've gotten a chance to learn how Etsy works and all, but it's time for me to infuse some of my creativity into RubyLemons.
So, I've made some decisions... and they all have something to do with my sewing machines.  Yes, I have three of them:  one for regular sewing, one for buttonholes, and one for serging.  Except for the serger, they are vintage machines that work like a hot knife through butter (pronounced "butta").  Gotta love the power in the old rotary sewing machines.  I can sew through five layers of denim with ease.  It was 20 years ago when I got my Westinghouse Free Rotary at an antique auction.  Believe it or not, I thought I was buying just the wood cabinet for my pricey winning bid of $13.  It seemed just the right height to put my cheap "new" sewing machine on (long since donated to Goodwill.)  When I started to move the cabinet at pick up time, it was surprisingly heavy.  Opening the lid, a discovery was made -- there was an old sewing machine inside! 
When I got it home and tested it out, it sewed like BUTTA!  And it backstitched!  Whoo hoo!  And it had all the attachments to quilt, tuck, gather, hem and on and on.  I have loved my old $13 sewing machine.
What am I going to sew with my Free Westinghouse rotary?
What do you think?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Death in the Family

Say it ain't so.  But, oh my friends, it is.  Anyone who knows me much, knows my favorite candy of all time is the Brach's Fiesta Malted Milk Egg.  I have had a lifelong love affair with those little nuggets of malted milk chocolate crunchy goodness.  My hips will testify.
Yes, that's me in college - drunken with malted milk fiesta egg intoxication.
I have long been devoted to the Brach's Candy Company... afterall, they are the ones who gave me 50 grand for a cookie house...  

My sister first noticed something was "up" last summer and reported to me that the Brach's malted milk balls were completely different and not so good anymore.  I could not, I would not believe it until I bought a bag and tasted for myself.  Oooh... not nearly as good as usual.  Even my husband who was raised on cheap chocolate could taste the difference.  WHAT?  Next it was confirmed again with the purchase of chocolate covered raisins... not as good... waxy... oh no.  I waited with mounting dread for the Fiesta Eggs to come out around Valentine's day.  Would they be the same?  I shuddered to think that they, too would be tampered with. 

Friends, I am so sad to report that it's true --  the Brach's egg recipe that's been around as long as I have, has been compromised.  It seems to be the quality of the chocolate... very sadly lacking.  How could this happen?  Brach's, how could you let us down?  Dear blog reader, have you noticed a difference in Brach's chocolate lately?

From what I can gather on the history of Brach's, the company was sold to Farley's & Sathers in 2007.  I'd bet a million dollars they changed to an inferior chocolate since last Easter.  Emil Brach, the founder of Brach's, would turn over in his grave.
Why bother?

One less temptation in the world.

Update Easter 2018:  Thankfully, Brach's did not keep producing these inferior eggs!  After a couple years, they went back to the best ever malted milk egg to be found world wide!  Yipee!  The only trouble is how hard they are to find.  Every year I start looking after Valentine's Day and there only ever seems to be one grocery store that sells them -- and always a different one year to year.  What the heck?  Last year I hit the jackpot and found them at Target where I could order them online and my husband could just go pick them up!  (Much better than being seen with 10 bags in your cart!  Har har!) How much easier can that be?  This year looks like another Target jackpot.

Happy munching!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Mary Lester Fabrics - part 4

It's interesting to look back on the history of Mary Lester Fabrics and see how it rose and fell with the popularity of polyester double knit.  Or was double knit the last hurrah of yard goods... the last years when most women all had sewing machines... the last of the days when sewing was a Home Ec requirement for teenage girls in school...?
Here is an ad from 1970.  Polyester double knit was definitely ALL the rage - the miracle wash and wear fabric that never needed ironing great for everything from pantsuits to wedding dresses. 
Mary Lester had ambitious plans as evidenced in this 1969 ad from the Milwaukee Journal (Let's not even talk about the humor of the legality of an ad asking specifically for a "man" -- a "young" man and seeking full details of "marital status"... hmmm... more than sewing has changed since 1969).

The Capitol Court store closed in the early 80s.

My mom and I ended up with our own pattern cabinets.  She was offered a job at the Northridge store and actually tried it for a short time, but it just wasn't the same.  Pretty soon the whole chain closed down.  To quote Eugene Lewandowski, Mary Lester General Manager, in a 1977 Journal article, "The piece goods industry lost direction during a decade where greed overshadowed common sense and rapid fire retail expansion was as rational as Christmas in July."
I don't think we Mary Lester clerks realized any of this back in the day.  We just kept showing up for work, planning new outfits, and cutting fabric for customers... and occasionally chasing a thief or listening to a mallway serenade.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Mary Lester Fabrics - part 3

I didn't start working at Mary Lester Fabrics until my senior year of high school, but it was a fun job for a girl who sewed.  Every month employees got free patterns (promos) and always a discount on fabric.  A good portion of every paycheck probably went to fabric purchases.  Remember that bumper sticker... "She who dies with the most fabric, wins?"  Well, with three women working at a fabric store in our family, we were on our way to winning.  The "hold" bin at Mary Lester was always full of irresistible remnants waiting to be purchased with the next paycheck.

The women who worked together at Mary Lester were like family.  We knew each other well.  There was LuAnn, JoAnn, Bert, Sandy, Doris, Bernie, Mavis, Sylvia, Margaret, Helen, Julie, Debbie... the list goes on and on.
Mary Lester had a diverse clientele because Capitol Court was situated in the old world neighborhoods of Capitol Drive and south.  Over the span of Capitol Court's lifetime, the neighborhood deteriorated.  Many of my memories working at Mary Lester include theft.  People stole a lot of fabric.  In the 70s polyester double knit was at the height of popularity.  There was a lot of interest in the brighter colors like chartreuse and purple for men's three piece suits sporting wide lapels and bell bottom pants.  Guys would come into the store wearing big parkas and slip the double knit off the bolt, fold the heavy unwieldy load under their coat and stroll out the door with enough fabric for several pimpin' cool suits!  You could always tell when somebody was on the take - like a lone gopher sticking his head up over the fabric bolts furtively glancing in all directions.  That's when we'd casually stroll over and find the need to straighten up the fabrics at nearby tables.  It seemed to me that something like indignation rose up inside whenever I realized someone was stealing.  Clerks would take risks not otherwise attempted.  Once my mom chased a big guy out the door with a feather duster like she was shooing birds using her loudest gravelly voice.  The funny thing was - he ran!

After the mall was enclosed, one night late in the evening, I realized there was singing echoing throughout the mall outside the store entrance.  I was really mortified when I realized it was my boyfriend and his buddy singing at the top of their lungs in the twangiest southern accented two part harmony, "Cuz lovin' her was easier than anything I'll ever do again."  Waylon Jennings would have been proud.  Larry and Jerry found the acoustics and my embarrassment irresistible.
As I was digging through patterns the other day, I found a handwritten tribute to Mary Lester Fabrics that I had penned on a piece of broadcloth somewhere around the time I quit in 1979.  Here are some of the highlights:

Mary Lester is...
Nine cheerleaders who all want separate checks for their yard and a half of fabric.
A woman speaking no english who wants to return her scraps.
Having Mrs. Williams tell you "Ya don't know nothin'."
A customer who finds a flaw you can't see.
Finding an empty "dandy" bolt board on the floor.
Hearing, "Well, I'll just have to go to Minnesota Mills."
Finding red lipstick on $6.99 white Qiana.
Taking March promos when it's still January.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Mary Lester Fabrics - part 2

There's not a lot on the internet about Mary Lester Fabrics or about Capitol Court for that matter.  According to my pattern stamp -- apparently, Mary Lester originally had a shop on West Center Street at one time... 
Google street view shows that building is now a day care center.
The Center Street shop location was long before my time.
Remember when patterns were only 50¢???

My family didn't become acquainted with Mary Lester until it was located in Capitol Court Shopping Center between 55th and 60th and Capitol Drive.  Capitol Court was one of the first open air malls complete with some awesome promotional ideas like caged animals such as monkeys on display, the automated Kooky Cooky House with Santa, and my favorite - Funtown, a small amusement park.  As I mentioned, my mother worked there for many years, but my sister, Barb and I also worked there in the 70s.  The store was relocated within Capitol Court at least three times as the shopping center was first enclosed and then remodeled.  

There were Mary Lester Fabric stores at all the malls in the area.  As a matter of fact, people my kids age would find it hard to believe that most malls had about three fabric stores apiece:  Mary Lester, Julie Ann, and Singers.  And out there in the non-mall world there was always Minnesota Fabrics, too. That demand has changed as sewing has lost popularity with the masses.  
This Milwaukee Journal ad shows that jobs and fabric stores
were both plentiful in 1969.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Mary Lester Fabrics - part 1

That was the phone number of Mary Lester Fabrics at Capitol Court.  When I was a kid, I knew that number better than my home phone.  My mother worked there for almost 20 years and my two brothers, sister and I called her at work incessantly during the 60s and 70s... especially me.

Sales clerk:  "Fran, it's for you."
Mom:  "Hello?"
Me:  "Mom, Barb's chasing me around the house and says she's going to beat me up, so I've stretched the phone cord to the bathroom and locked the door.  Mom?   ...Mom??  ...MOM???"

Sales clerk:  "Fran, it's for you."
Mom:  "Hello?"
Barb:  "Mom, Brad won't let me watch Laugh-In."

Sales clerk:  "Fran, it's for you."
Mom:  "Hello?"
Me:  "Mom, Barb punched me in the arm and she was sitting on me."

Sales clerk:  "Fran, it's for you."
Mom:  "Hello?"
Brad:  "Mom, Dave took the car."

Sales clerk:  "Fran, it's for you."
Mom:  "Hello?"
Barb:  "Mom, Kathy and Sherry are making fun of me.  I'm gonna slam 'em."

More about Mary Lester Fabrics in my next post...
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