In my twenties and thirties I collected bears. Not the sort of bear one might see in a stream wrestling a salmon, but the furry non-breathing variety. It began innocently enough with someone giving me an adorable teddy bear for my birthday. For those of you familiar with stuffed bears, this one came directly from the pages of the stories penned by Michael Bond about Paddington Brown, a bear of excellent manners from Peru. Paddington arrived wearing a blue velvet hat, red raincoat with wooden buttons, and blue goloshes. It was love at first sight.
Over the next few years word got out to my friends and loved ones I enjoyed teddy bears. From then on from one occasion to the next my collection took on a life of its own. First it was friends for Paddington cluttering my bed. Next came bear pillows, bear plates, bear knick knacks, bear bedecked ornaments for the tree, bear stockings for the mantle, bear place mats (who knew?) and bear cups from which to drink my morning coffee along with bear plates to set the cup on once I’d had my fill. At first this was charming and fun. I found places for each gifted item, bought a few new ones myself, and dusted each addition dutifully as my collection grew and grew. One day after another holiday filled with bears of every type and description, I found myself sitting in a corner clutching yet another bear throw hearing a voice in my head screaming “MAKE IT STOP!”. OMG.
My husband at the time just rolled his eyes as new bears arrived. Despite his lack of enthusiasm for the ever growing bear population taking over our home, he contributed to the madness by giving me three huge bears in full Victorian attire I’d admired in a luggage store window for Christmas one year. He actually talked the owner of the store out of the bears before the holidays were over.
Really? I mean this was an incredibly sweet, not to mention incredibly expensive gesture, but where was I to store such items when they weren’t decorating the entryway over the Christmas season? So large were they I actually considered setting them up in one of the guest rooms for the remainder of the year, at no cost to the bears naturally. Once my bear mania had passed I tried to sell them on Ebay. I’m sorry, it had to be done. The moment buyers established the published size of the bears to be accurate they ran like rats in a hammer factory. Truly they are beautiful. If anyone out there is interested send me a note. Smile.
These days you will still find a bear or two about the house. One doesn’t get the monkey off their back without an occasional relapse. For the most part they have found new homes. Don’t open the closet down stairs, however, without being prepared for three Victorian bears grinning back at you. Sigh. Since then I haven’t advertised a preference for anything in particular to avoid a repeat of the situation. Well one time I did say I liked owls and after three owl water bottles, one set of coffee cups, and by my own hand a full set of owl dinnerware showed up, I put a stop to it before the owl shower curtain with matching hand towels showed up.
While in the midst of the bear frenzy a friend of mine, a noted bear artist (naturally), asked me to help her with her business. Bear with me on this (sorry), but there is a huge bear business out there you might not be aware of. Artists create beautiful bears with outfits for purchase in stores, on-line, at bear shows, and for sale in bear magazines. I’m not lying here. For those of you interested in such goings on there is an on-line show in October. Details can be found at http://www.bearhugs4u.com/. I can’t go there. Addicts are never truly clean, only in remission.
I digress. At any rate, my friend asked if I would design outfits for her bears and sew the wee clothes. Me? Seriously? I asked first if she’d been hitting the cooking sherry, as the closest I’d come to sewing was in Home-Ec in seventh grade which hadn’t gone well, not well at all. After some convincing, and the windfall of extra cash for the upcoming holidays, I folded like a cheap tent. What can I say, apparently I do have a price.
The deal clinched, I went to the garage and located my sewing machine. I’d used it twice in ten years both times to sew a straight line for a hem on some drapes. Removing the cobwebs and general debris, I took out the instruction manual and began to read. Per our discussion a huge box of very expensive fabrics and accessories arrived via UPS at my door. A la la, what had I gotten myself into? Looking back I have to say the artist in me took over. Somehow armed with my Singer Sewing Guide for Dummies and some basic ideas on how to dress these little furry buggers, clothing materialized from the gorgeous array of fabrics at my disposal. For several years I was the couturier to the furry set and together my friend and I sold many little bears dressed in everything from diminutive sailor outfits to full on all gowns fit for a princess. What a trip. You never know what you can do until you give it a try.
These days I stick to an occasional apron or accent pillow here and there. The bear clothing led to a full on business for me for quite a few years back in the 80’s. I became a regular face at art and wine shows, and holiday extravaganzas. Sewing is a business you put hours into and never regain your time, but it was so much fun. You never know when opportunity might knock. Be sure you open the door when you year it rapping.
Keep the Victorian bears in mind. They’d be the perfect touch for the holidays. Rick says he’ll pay for shipping. Just kidding. They’re like family at this point.
While living in the south I made many versions of jambalaya. My then mother-in-law who was not only lovely but an excellent hand in the kitchen taught me this recipe. I had leftover pork loin which worked perfectly. It’s a two helping affair but I must admit a bit of a project. The perfect roux is the key to success.
Pork and Andoulle Sausage Jambalaya
1 container of cherry tomatoes, halved
6 Roma tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 large green bell pepper
3 tablespoons butter
2 onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped with leaves
3 bay leaves
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
6 cups chicken stock
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. hot paprika
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. teaspoon cumin
1/2 tsp. thyme
1 lb. cooked pork, shredded
3 Andouille sausages, sliced thick
4 cups long grain rice
Green onions, chopped
1 3 lb. chicken, cut up
1 Tbsp. Kosher salt
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 stalks celery with leaves
1 onion, quartered
6 cups water
Rub the chicken pieces lightly with Kosher salt. Heat butter to foaming over med.-high heat. in Dutch oven. Add chicken to pan and stir to coat. Cook until skin of chicken is golden but not browned Reduce heat to very low. Add celery and onion and cover pan. Cook for 25 mins. stirring several times. Add water. Bring to gentle boil. Cook slowly for 30 mins. Skim fat from surface. Strain, discarding solids.
This will make about 8 cups of broth. Save the rest for soup.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cover cookie sheet with tin foil. Spray with cooking spray. Place tomatoes in bowl and add olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Cut sides up place on prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 30 mins. Set aside.
Brown the sausage in a cast iron Dutch oven. Remove and drain on paper towels. Add the butter and then the holy trinity consisting of onion, bell pepper and celery to the same pan. Sauté on very low heat until the vegetables are tender. Add the bay leaves and tomato paste. Continue cooking until the mixture becomes slightly browned like a rich caramel color. While the tomato paste caramelizes, stir often to prevent burning.
Add the diced tomatoes and charred tomatoes. Scrape bottom of the pan often to get stuck bits for flavor. Add stock and spices. Add pork and sausage to pan and continue simmering for about 10 minutes. Add the rice slowly, stirring constantly until the rice is nearly finished cooking and has absorbed most of the liquid. Cover and cook for 10 minutes or until rice is cooked.
Serve with a dollop of sour cream and green onions. I add a spoonful of hot chunky salsa for heat.