antique toast rack: the perfect family-sized napkin holder

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Right now, switching to cloth napkins is pretty low down on my green list. We’ve given it a go three different times but until life is a little less chaotic, it’s not practical for us to do every day. So after throwing in the towel yet again summer, I seplaceed in vain for something that would keep more than a handful of napkins in easy reach without taking up a ton of table space. No go. Then I was flipping through old tear sheets and saw the now-familiar toast rack used as a letter holder idea. Eureka! A seller on Etsy had an antique silver toast rack and tray for under $20. Thanks to the size, we can have 50 or so napkins on the table. And as luck would have it, the tray, which was made to hold small pots of marmalade, is the perfect size for salt and pepper or the oft-used bottle of Tabasco. You can find toast racks with trays on the usual sites — eBay, Etsy and Ruby Lane — starting for around $10. — Sarah L.

the joys of cooking with enameled cast iron

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I’ve never been one for traditional cast iron – I just don’t have the patience for keeping it in tip-top shape. But ever since I splurged on my first piece of Le Creuset (on super clearance at Macy’s, if memory serves) a few years ago, I’ve been smitten with cooking in enameled cast iron. Expensive though it is, enameled cast iron is unquestionably my cookware of choice now, for nearly everything but crepes and fried eggs. It has just enough non-stick properties to make clean-up relatively easy, browns food beautifully, heats evenly and holds onto that heat well, and is so bright and cheery, it’s a joy to look at in my cupboards. Plus, the stuff is virtually indestructible. In fact, I still have two pieces of enameled cast iron my grandmother gave me years ago, that she had gotten from her mother. While there are a few chips here and there, they still cook perfectly.

Are you a fan of enameled cast iron? Do you have a favorite line? I tend to remain partial to Le Creuset, if only because there’s an outlet 45 minutes from my house (if you have one nearby, get on their mailing list – 30-40% discount coupons are prolific!), but I’m always curious about Staub, and some of the excellent vintage enamelware out there (all perfectly fine to buy, just make sure there aren’t any chips on the cooking surface). I recently found a piece of Dansk at Goodwill, and brought it home, but it’s incredibly thin, which means it’s screaming hot in a matter of seconds. Great for stir-fry, but not much else.

Have you tried enameled cast iron? Do you have a favorite brand? And if you collect it, I’m curious – do you stick to one color, or do you go for the rainbow effect? –Becki S.

are bookshelves becoming a thing of the past?

This week I saw two stories about bookshelves suggesting they are going the way of the record player and rotary telephones. It seems that in the dawning era of electronic books (and I am the first to confess: I LOVE my Kindle) that bookshelves are becoming obsolete. Both Time.com and The Economist wrote about Ikea’s plans to remake its famous Billy bookcases to contain all sorts things besides books. The shelves are becoming deeper and they’re getting optional doors – all the better to hold things that aren’t books, like tsotchkes (and I am the first to confess: I LOVE tsotchkes).

In our house, we still have a lot of novels and other assorted paper products, like magazines, kids books, cookbooks, photography books. But it’s true that they are not the only objects that live on our shelves. When we staged our apartment to sell, in the photo above, we cleaned up the bookshelves so they contained very few books. Our realtor thought this would be more appealing.

These days, I find myself drawn more and more to old books and first editions. Is it the nagging sense that classic printed matter is becoming more precious? On our mantel is a first edition of EB White’s This is New York, a must have and read. I’m not buying fewer books now that I own a Kindle. Rather, now I am buying books that I truly treasure and want to have and hold and display. And for those, I need bookshelves.

What about your home’s future? Will bookshelves still have a place there? — Angela M.

mongolia or bust? new anthropologie catalog sparks wanderlust

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Among the pile of September catalogs ready to launch us into the fall is Anthropologie’s stunning Issue 9. We’re not entirely sure where it was shot, but a story from Stylist last year hints that creative director Trevor Lunn and his crew were heading towards Mongolia. Judging from the vibrant textiles and textures sprinkled throughout, we’re guessing that’s right. If you’ve ever seen a story about a Mongolian Yurt (like this one on Flickr) or the movie Babies you will recognize the gorgeous patterns and embroidery. We’re keeping our eyes open for more behind-the-scenes info on this catalog (let us know if you find any), but in the meantime, we’re gonna drool over this one till it gets sloppy.

antique silverware: collected or curated?

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I’m a fan of collecting and using old silverware in unmatched patterns. The idea of it, anyway. Buying a curated place setting from Anthropologie, however, seems to defeat the purpose. For $36, you get a sight-unseen assortment of two forks, two spoons and a knife. Go to eBay, and you can find mixed lots of silverware for starting bids of $9.99 for 57 pieces. As an added bonus, what you see in the picture is what you get. Anyone have tips on finding antique flatware and creating a cohesive collection? — Sarah L.