Traditional Old Country Soups to Warm You Up

Dowager enjoys soup

I just found out that January is National Soup Month. I don’t know how I missed that before but maybe this is the perfect timing to talk about soup as folks are still digging themselves out from Winter Storm Jonas and it’s still so cold over much of the country. As we are into the final season of Downton Abbey too, let’s take inspiration from The Dowager Countess of Grantham (played by the awesome Maggie Smith) who is a big fan of soups.

Dowager enjoys soup

She was the one who said, “‘Every good lady’s maid should know how to make a restorative broth.” I don’t have a lady’s maid (I went wrong somewhere…) and probably you don’t either, so here are some traditional Old Country soups from Europe that you can make yourself to get warmed up!

We’ll start with an English Barley Soup creation from Pamela Foster, author of the Abbey Cooks Entertain books. Beef and barley soup is a very old English dish – you’ll find a version of it in Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management book published in 1861, but it goes back long before that.  On her blog, Pamela offers two variations: cream of barley for the posh family upstairs and a more rustic beef and barley soup for the servants downstairs. I’m with the servants – it looks delicious!

Cock a Leekie soup MSFarther north, Scotland is famous for its Cock-A-Leekie soup, which was first written about in the 1500s. It is often served on Burns Night at the end of January in celebration of the Scottish poet Robert Burns, but it is a year-round warming treat.

The soup is made of leeks and chicken, usually thickened with rice but sometimes with barley. Prunes are traditionally added for extra seasoning or as a garnish.

Try the recipe by Martha Stewart or go direct to the source with the Cock-A-Leekie recipe in The Scotsman newspaper!

French Onion Soup If you’ve been to France, you might have fond memories of luscious French onion soup. It’s a wonderful comfort food, served with croutons or slices of French bread on top, covered with melted cheese and traditionally served in a chunky round bowl with one or two handles. There are many versions of this simple but satisfying soup that dates back to Roman times, but the longer you leave the onions to caramelize, the richer the flavor! Here’s one recipe from Real SImple magazine.

Waterzooi soupWe import quite a lot of antique Flemish furniture and lighting  to our store, so I went looking for a traditional Flemish soup.

This recipe for Waterzooi soup is a great one to try if you want something a little different. The thick stewy soup is traditionally made with fish, although you can substitute chicken. It has egg yolks, cream and potatoes in it, so you won’t go hungry!

Do you have any favorite traditional soups, perhaps from old family recipes? Make our mouths water and tell us about it in the comments!

AimeeAvatarAimee owns with her husband and best friend, Greg. Aimee sources amazing antique furniture, vintage lighting, & high-quality reproduction furniture to help her customers decorate their homes in a unique way. She loves her 9 (you read that right) fuzzy children and is renovating a 1920s bungalow in South Carolina. Find us on Facebook or connect with EuroLux on Google+. Or you can sign up here to receive this blog in your inbox.

A Traditional English Christmas

Downton Abbey Christmas

Downton Abbey fans will already know that the popular English TV show is back for its sixth and final season soon, starting on January 3, 2016 on MASTERPIECE on PBS. The very last show in the series will be a Christmas special! But if you want your Downton Abbey Christmas fix now, I’ve also heard that PBS is re-airing the Christmas special finale from Season 5 on December 27, 2015. Downton Abbey Christmas

There’s something nostalgic about an old-time English Christmas. I guess it must be all those Masterpiece Theatre shows as well as holiday stories like A Christmas Carol. Here are some of the English Christmas traditions that stand out to me.

Christmas crackers children

An English Christmas dinner table is always set with Christmas crackers – NOT a food but the novelties that pull apart with a bang. They’re ‘cracked’ before Christmas dinner and the person who “wins” by keeping hold of the longest piece gets the prizes inside. They put on the paper crown and tell the (usually terrible) joke. Once everybody has a paper crown, the feast can commence! This illustration of two children tugging on a cracker dates back to 1878.

Yorkshire PuddingThe English Christmas meal is very similar to our own, except redcurrant jelly might replace cranberry sauce and roast parsnips are traditional too. Turkey is a favorite although in medieval England a roast peacock or wild boar might have been on the menu! King Henry VIII was the first English King to tuck into turkey for Christmas. Many families add a Yorkshire Pudding to the meal. This is not a dessert but a savory dish between an American biscuit and a savory pancake. If you want to try this tasty treat, here’s a recipe for Yorkshire Pudding.

Christmas puddingAfter the meal comes the ‘real’ pudding: Christmas pudding or plum pudding. Except that it’s not a pudding in the way we understand a pudding either! Instead of being a custardy dish, it’s more like a dense steamed cake, full of dried raisins, cherries and other dried fruit and nuts. It’s traditional to hide a silver coin (in the old days it was a silver sixpence) inside the pudding. It’s good luck for whoever finds it in their bowl. Sometimes the pudding is doused in brandy or rum and then set alight as it is carried to the table. It is served with custard, rum butter, clotted cream, or a brandy sauce of thick cream with a few spoons of brandy stirred in.

Osborne House Festive Guided ToursFor snacks between meals or to accompany a pot of tea, everyone loves mince pies! Even if you don’t have servants to bring you mince pies on a silver tray, they are easy to make if you find a jar of the mincemeat in your local grocery store. Despite the name, there is no meat involved, although when the delicacy first appeared in the 13th century it was indeed real meat, seasoned with dried fruits and spices including cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Now the meat has gone and just the sweet stuff remains, although suet is a part of the mix. If you don’t eat meat, look for products with vegetable suet rather than lard suet.

Christmas-decorations-Finally, the English take Boxing Day, December 26, as a national holiday as well as Christmas Day itself. It has nothing to do with the sport of boxing, although there are lots of sporting events on Boxing Day including horse racing. It is actually the day that people traditionally gave gifts (or boxes) to their servants and tradesmen. Nowadays most people don’t have servants but they still celebrate the day as a chance to visit friends or extended family and exchange gifts, or just relax and eat more mince pies!

This looks like a very grand and festive place to entertain visiting friends. It’s a picture of the Christmas tree at Holker Hall in Cumbria, England, the ancestral home of Lord Cavendish. Even the bust of the Greek poet Homer on the mantelpiece over the fireplace is decorated with a mistletoe wreath!

If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you might also like my post on Old World Christmas Traditions in France and Italy, or the one about Downton Abbey Kitchen Style.

Merry Christmas!

AimeeAvatarAimee owns with her husband and best friend, Greg. Aimee sources amazing antique furniture, vintage lighting, & high-quality reproduction furniture to help her customers decorate their homes in a unique way. She loves her 9 (you read that right) fuzzy children and is renovating a 1920s bungalow in South Carolina. Find us on Facebook or connect with EuroLux on Google+. Or you can sign up here to receive this blog in your inbox.

Downton Abbey Kitchen Style

Downton Abbey poster

Downton Abbey posterSo many people are counting down to Downton Abbey’s return to PBS in America in January 2014. I could do a blog post on every room in Downton Abbey! Each one offers such visual delight and tons of inspiration for home decor. But I was fascinated by this article in Antique Trader that says people are clamoring for antique kitchen wares inspired by the Downton Abbey kitchen.

It’s not surprising that the Downton Abbey kitchen is so popular. You can’t deny the visual appeal of all that comforting copper and brass. The sense of authenticity and nostalgia, of a simpler world, is a reassuring contrast to our hustle-bustle high-tech lives. (Although it’s maybe not so much fun to be a servant hard at work downstairs in the Downton Abbey kitchen, under the eagle eye of cook Mrs. Patmore!)

Downton Abbey kitchenFortunately, we can have it all in our homes in the 21st century. Labor-saving gadgets and eye-candy decor! I guess that is why Antique Trader reported that: “Downton Abbey magic continues to seed interest in a broad swath of antique kitchen utensils and artifacts.”

To capture a taste of Downton Abbey kitchen style for your own home, look for old-fashioned utensils like meat grinders and rustic old pitchers. Fill chunky salt pots or salt cellars with large grain or rock salt. The materials are important too… brass, copper, wood, clay… these all give an authentic flavor to your decor.

Vintage copper scuttleCopper creates the perfect accent for a Downton Abbey kitchen. The burnished glow and sturdiness of copper creates a unique sense of warmth. This vintage French copper scuttle in our gallery gives you an idea. It would make a terrific planter too, with the winged dragon detail on the side.

Vintage copper brass pitcher

Display a few well-loved pitchers like this vintage copper and brass pitcher on your Downton Abbey kitchen table or shelves to add yet more Old World charm. The simple Country style and warm-hued metal is timeless, and the occasional small ding is part of the authentic allure. It proves that this long-ago crafted pitcher hasn’t just dropped off a shelf in a big box store, but has a history of its own.

antique enamelware kettle You can’t have a Downton Abbey kitchen without a genuine tea kettle. Those Brits are crazy for their tea, and with all that drama going on in the house, they need all the reviving tea they can get! In any case, a kettle always adds a welcoming note to kitchen decor. We found this 1920s enamelware kettle with gold stripes at an antiques market in France. Enamelware is always a good choice for an antique-style kitchen as it is so cozy and homey.

The charming antique French Country copper kettle below is more than a century old! It dates to 1900, and I wonder what stories it could tell about who has enjoyed the many cups of tea it has served from that pretty spout.antique copper kettle

Again, it has the genuine old-fashioned appeal to add a distinctive touch to someone’s Downton Abbey kitchen. I can just imagine Mrs. Patmore putting that tea kettle on the hob while she teaches Daisy how to make pie crust (they call it pastry in England) or gives Thomas a piece of her mind!

Do you like the Downton Abbey kitchen style? Are you especially inspired by antique kitchen wares? Perhaps you have an heirloom piece from your grandmother handed down that you still use today? Tell us about it in the comments box below.

Aimee owns with her husband and best friend, Greg.  Aimee sources amazing antique furniture, vintage lighting, & high-quality reproduction furniture to help her customers decorate their homes in a unique way.  She loves her 8 (you read that right) fuzzy children and is renovating a 1920s bungalow in South Carolina. Connect with or you can sign up here to receive this blog in your inbox.

Add Warmth and Mood to Your Interior Design with Wood

The magnificent paneled sitting room of Bamburgh Castle --
The magnificent paneled sitting room of Bamburgh Castle --
Bamburgh Castle exhibits a classic, dark-paneled treatment common to English estates of the day. The dark wood finish confers a real warmth to the room, which is heightened by the red leather sofas.

You may not have the privilege of living in a magnificent castle, a la Downton Abbey, but you can create many home decor effects — from the warmth of a paneled Victorian drawing room to the cool of a mid-century modern lounge — by using wood throughout your interior design. Let’s look at how wood can change the mood of a room.

In general, wood adds warmth to a room. Darker wood finishes feel warmer, while lighter, blonder finishes feel cooler. But all of them help you create an inviting interior.

A recycled wood ceiling adds warmth to this modern kitchen by Jeremy Levine Design --
Jeremy Levine Design uses recycled wood to add warmth to this modern kitchen.

In this modern kitchen by Jeremy Levine Design, the medium-tone ceiling of recycled wood warms up a space that could otherwise come across cold and industrial. Note also how the wood ceiling draws the eye upward, making the ceiling feel higher. I love the play between the wood tone of the ceiling, the light wood cabinets, and the floor (is it cork?). This kitchen is a great example of balancing hot and cold design elements.


Blue and white bowls really pop when displayed on an ebonized table --
Blue and white rice bowls really pop when displayed on an ebonized table.

Beyond the generally warm feeling wood adds to a room, wooden furniture and other elements also can create a real sense of drama in your decor. Check out this shot of an ebonized table at an Asian restaurant. Doesn’t that black background really make the blue-and-white rice bowls pop? When you use richly colored wood furniture in your design scheme, you can play off that to create stunning color contrasts. Besides an ebonized table like this one, think in terms of painted wood architectural elements hung against a neutral wall, golden oak wood floors with chocolate leather furniture, or brightly painted chairs in a white dining room. When you’re working with wood, you can customize the finish to create the effect you want.

Monochromatic wood tones combine to create a warm, inviting dining area --
Our client Isabelle creates a warm, inviting space with monochromatic wood tones livened up by the plate display in the sideboard.

Our clients know a thing or two about using wood furniture to warm up a room. Here, Isabelle uses antique furniture to create a monochromatic dining area that’s anything but boring. These pieces all work in harmony (along with her gorgeous wood floor!) to create a calm, inviting dining area. And, really, shouldn’t a dining room be all about peacefulness? For contrast and color, Isabelle displays plates on her sideboard and hangs a richly colored tapestry on the wall.

These homeowners create contrast in their natural wood decor by adding a dark French antique buffet --
If you love natural wood tones in your decor, add some lighter or darker wood elements for contrast. Here, the dark buffet warms up the cooler blonde beams.

Our clients Jamie and Bill obviously love the look and feel of natural wood in their design. They purchased the beautiful French antique buffet at right from us. The darker tone of the buffet provides a nice counterpoint to the exposed blonde beams. And the red sofa adds color and drama. Well done!

As you can see, incorporating wood furniture, flooring, or paneling into your design scheme can help you create a warm environment that says, “Stay awhile.”

Aimee owns with her best friend, Greg.  Aimee sources amazing antique furniture, vintage lighting, & high-quality reproduction furniture to help her customers decorate their homes in a unique way.  She loves her 8 (you read that right) fuzzy children and is renovating a 1920s bungalow in South Carolina.  Connect with or sign up to receive this blog in your inbox!