Lovers Who Can’t Quit: In Paris

Was all this so wonderful because it was brief and stolen?

Henry Miller wrote that line in a letter to Anais Nin on August 6th, 1932.  Janice MacLeod wrote that same line in her Paris journal on February 24th just a few years back. Eight decades ago Henry was talking about his love affair with a woman. More recently Janice was talking about her love affair with a city. Both refer to a passion that would and could never be quelled.

Janice!

Two years ago we had the pleasure of interviewing Janice here on the blog about her plans following the publication of her New York Times bestselling book Paris Letters.  When we left off with Janice back in March 2015, she was embarking on a new chapter in her life having just left Paris for Canada with her husband Christophe and a carefree sense of wild adventure in hand.  Calgary was clearly a whole different kettle of fish to tackle than France and Janice just wasn’t quite sure how it was all going to unfold now that she had left her dream city for a new frontier.

Newly arrived… A Paris Year

Fast forward two years and life in Canada for Janice produced a baby (Amelie!) and a new book (A Paris Year!).  Like a lover you can’t quit, Janice’s experiences in France ceased to be forgotten in her new surroundings.  The colors of the city, the  accordion lullabies, the memories of wine, cafes, neighborhood walks, market shopping and the speaking of a language she had almost mastered could never be set aside. Paris came to Canada in Janice’s suitcases, a secret house guest that absolutely refused to go home. Once an admirer always an admirer.

Paris Photography by Janice MacLeod

Lucky for us, Janice’s new book A Paris Year keeps the romance of her gorgeous adventure alive. Laid out like a day planner, A Paris Year tracks Janice’s whereabouts in the City of Light from January 1st to December 30th and includes her pretty paintings and feel-like-you-are-there photographs. Based on her actual journals kept while experiencing the city up-close and personal, Janice packs all sorts of interesting history, fun facts and traditions into the everyday observations that make up the charming lifestyle of French living.

Janice’s lively paintings of all things Parisian.

Part travel guide, part European history lesson, part art crawl and part early language primer, reading A Paris Year is as satisfying as hanging out with your best girl friend all afternoon. It’s interesting and vivacious and inspiring. There are funny moments like November 22nd when Janice truly thought she understood all the offerings on a French menu board only to realize it was written in English. There are sad moments (November 14th) which recognizes the anniversary of the 2015 Paris Attacks. And there are plenty of incredibly beautiful moments (February 2, March 4, May 11th, June 20th, practically the whole month of October, etc etc) that bring the heart of the city home to your doorstep.

There are new characters to meet like Antoine the Poet and Colin the ex-pat, both of whom offer intriguing little side stories that will leave you wondering and wanting.  And of course there all the famous French residents that you associate with the city – F.Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, Madame Curie, Vincent Van Gogh, Colette, Edith Piaf, Gaston LeRoux, Sylvia Beach and the ever present star of the show, Ernest Hemingway. He weaves his way in and around Janice’s storytelling as she weaves her way in and around Paris, showing up every few pages in her thoughts and his haunts. The moveable feast still very much moving.

In Janice’s first book Paris Letters, she details step by step how she made the big leap from living an unfulfilling corporate life in California to living a creative life in Paris. That book was the story of an artist’s awakening to her true self. This book, A Paris Year is the full color party she threw to celebrate it. Paris Letters showed us how to make a big change. A Paris Year shows us how to enjoy it.

During some months in A Paris Year, Janice seeks out a specific color to photograph, as an hommage to Nichole Roberston’s book Paris in Color. During the month of May the shade in mind was green.

Janice’s story in both books has an interesting way of sticking around long after you read them. As a result of marinating in the visual artistry of A Paris Year I now walk around my own city looking at the sites before me with new eyes and a running dialogue on how I might best describe a building or a season, a person or a park.

Too pretty to end, the only thing I disliked about this book was that it actually had to end. I was super excited to receive an advance copy in the mail which I read just before leaving for Seattle and then re-read on the flight to Seattle and then once again when I returned back home. I loved it that much… three times over!  Like a daily devotional it offers the unique option of reading a page a day if you are looking for a quick shot of escapism, or you can read it cover to cover, as I did  or you can just pick up and read whatever page you want at random whenever the mood strikes. Janice made it so easy for us to experience her Paris.  Its a day planner and a day dream all wrapped up in one.

If you can’t afford the expense or the time to get to Paris personally this summer, don’t fret.  Spend a few hours with Janice in her book and you’ll feel like you’ve been there yourself. It may be a brief and stolen time, but as Henry Miller implies those are the most wonderful.

You can find Janice’s new book A Paris Year here. Her previous book, Paris Letters here and if you find yourself needing even more joie de vivre, subscribe to her Paris Letters mail service and receive a Parisian note from Janice via the postal service once a month.

The April 2016 edition of Paris Letters

Next time on the blog, we are tackling the city of Seattle and the search for Great-Grandma Mabel’s doughnut shop. Did we find it? Did we find it? Stay tuned!

Evolution of a Restaurant: From Livestock to Luxury Living

There’s a neglected building downtown on 2nd Avenue that F. Scott Fitzgerald would have loved. It takes up most of one city block with a rounded corner front entrance, large paned glass windows and eyes that look out onto the street below not unlike Dr. T. J. Eckleburg’s in The Great Gatsby.  

These all knowing eyes of 2nd Avenue belong to a cow, a pig and a curly horned sheep. Animals now so out of place in an urban industrial neighborhood that they appear to be up to something unusual – something marvelous and clandestine.  The building they live on, itself, is peculiar with steep steps that spill out onto the sidewalk and armies of tall trees that hug the front facade like protective bodyguards.

It is a city block full of inherent curiosities. Stories that F. Scott would have rushed to translate as they tumbled out of the curtained glass windows, broken in places, or tangled themselves in the ivy running all over the backside of the building. You never see any activity come or go from the glass front door. Cars park alongside it carrying people to other places in the neighborhood. Exercisers walk or run down its sidewalks. Occasionally a homeless person will take a rest underneath the faded, flapping awning or dogs will stop to sniff around the bushes. But lights are never on inside and the doors are never open.

F. Scott would have imagined a grand but tortured story here. He would have hunted around in the grass grown parking lot, creating characters out of chipped fencing and rusted gates. He would have penned something poetic about the runaway garbage and the shattered beer bottles and the Parisian lamp posts missing their white light domes. Its a little more Valley of the Ashes then it is East Egg or West Egg but there’s a romance about this place that is intriguing.

If I described this building to someone out-of-town the first thing I’d mention was that it used to be a famous restaurant called The Stockyard in the 1980’s and 90’s.  When restaurateur Buddy Killen bought the building in 1985 he imagined it as the place where you could get the best steak in town along with Las Vegas style entertainment.  “The place where the stars are seen,” that was what he was aiming for.

In the restaurant days – awnings, menu offerings and the front entrance foyer. Photos via pinterest.

He pulled the property out of bankruptcy, added $400,000 worth of improvements and made it possible to seat 475 people in the 27,000 sqf building. His plans were very successful and for 30 years local residents, tourists and celebrities alike climbed the front steps, passed under the concrete eyes and stepped into a lively atmosphere serving the quality of steaks Buddy had hoped for.

Some of the famous clientele of the Stockyard (clockwise from top left): Andy Griffith, Vicki Lawrence, Jerry Lee Lewis, Loni Anderson and George Steinbrenner

But before the Stockyard ever became a famous restaurant it lived another life serving an entirely different purpose. The name of the restaurant and its signature menu items weren’t fly by night marketing ploys developed to envoke a theme and inspire an atmosphere.  Buddy brought things full-circle when he served steak and called his restaurant The Stockyard.

Originally, over a century ago this section of Nashville was called Butchertown for its concentration of numerous butcher shops and fresh meat availability. Long before Buddy ever set eyes on the building it served as a touchstone for an actual working stockyard – one that would become the most prominent and important livestock trading site in the Southeast.

In the mid-1910’s  there were several small trading yards around Nashville but local businessman James E. Caldwell wanted to create one central spot where all the animals, farmers, buyers and sellers could meet under one roof and get their business done fast and efficiently in a convivial atmosphere.

Caldwell found the perfect area for such an endeavor in open farmland just two blocks from the riverfront and four blocks east of the downtown business quadrant. In 1919, he hired contractors Foster & Creighton to begin working on a 10 acre mega-complex of sheds, barns and paddocks.

Nashville – Union Stockyards under construction – July 1919

Nashville-Union Stock Yard construction photographs, 1919

Local Nashville architect, Henry Closson Hibbs was selected to design an all weather building where business could be conducted year round and where stockyard management could set up offices.  H.C. came up with this rounded corner front entrance – a new trend in building design in the 1920’s – that would welcome visitors with open arms.

Nashville-Union Stock Yard building designed by H.C. (Henry Closson) Hibbs 1919-1920

These pictures below detail the lot assignment for the building and the construction as it occurred in 1919 and 1920.

The street corner allocated for the future site of the stockyard building.

Eventually all those pits and sticks and bricks formed this beautiful building, fully completed in 1920…

And you can see from this 1921 photograph how quickly the building became a popular meeting place. It even housed neighborhood amenities in the form of small retail businesses like a post office and a barber shop.

From 1921 to 1974 the Nashville-Union Stock Yards served as one of the busiest livestock markets in the region attracting farmers from Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama and Mississippi. Over 6,000 animals arrived daily for trade coming in via boat, rail car and farm truck. A long time bookkeeper for the Stock Yards said that it was not unusual to see cows walking down 2nd Avenue or an escaped hog loose from a pen.

A view of the stockyards circa 1965. Photograph by Gerald Holly.

That scene is hard to imagine now as the Stockyard sits in between government buildings and modern apartment hi-rises in what is currently one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in Nashville. Remarkably, even though 95 years have passed the building still looks almost exactly the same…

The neighborhood however no longer looks like livestock. Downtown skyscrapers are just a few blocks away and the only animals in site are of the avian kind.

Parking lots and empty brick warehouses dominate the immediate areas surrounding the Stockyard now.

The Nashville Union Stock Yards closed down in 1974 due to high property taxes. Sheds and barns were torn down, shoots dismantled and paddocks turned into parking lots. But the building remained, making way for Buddy Killen’s initial restauranteering interest in 1979.  Buddy’s restaurant, The Stockyard closed in 2015 after 36 years in business. The building and surrounding property were sold to out-of-town developers who now have plans to turn it into a 300 unit apartment complex.

Learning this recent information, I worried for the fate of the building and for the eyes of Second Avenue. Would the building be torn down and a piece of history cast aside? Would the pig and cow and sheep that have watched over the neighborhood for nine decades be replaced with something new and artistically of-the-moment? Would H.C. Hibbs turn over in his grave as his beautifully designed building gets turned over in the dirt?

As a lover of historic architecture, I am happy to say that this story stays bright.  The developers plan to incorporate the century old building into their design plans, keeping the history and heritage of both agriculture and aesthetic alive. The eyes of Second Avenue will be given a whole new century’s worth of sites to watch over. I know it is cliche to say that I wish these figureheads could talk – but I really wish they could. They’ve been witness to major history since they were set among the bricks… the Great Depression, civil rights, the rise of the automobile, the demise of farming, the destruction of their neighborhood and now the revitalization of their neighborhood. Not to mention all those famous people that walked in and out.

Construction begins soon for the apartment project. Materials and work trailers are already being assembled in a neighboring lot. We are going to be following along on the progress of the construction to see how this local landmark of stock yard turned restaurant turned apartment complex evolves.  And of course to see what the eyes of 2nd avenue will now be staring down upon. I hope it turns out to be something incredible.  Stay tuned for periodic updates!

***A special thank you…this post would not have been possible without the help of the wonderful staff at the Tennessee State Archives and the Metro Archives at the Main Branch of the Nashville Public Library. If you are keen on learning more history about Nashville and the state of Tennessee, I strongly recommend a visit to both places. They are fascinating and full of so much information, you’ll want to move-in and stay for a week researching your heart out.  

The 20th century construction photos of the Nashville Union Stockyards  included in this post are courtesy of the Metro Archives. 

 

 

 

British Occupied, India Fed: 1930’s Dinner and a Binge Watch {Summer Style}

 

There’s something to be said about dramas that unfold slowly. Whether it be of the kitchen cooking kind or the visual arts kind,  storytelling that marinates in its surroundings for awhile always proves worth the wait.  In today’s post, we are kicking off the start of lazy summer weekends with a masterpiece of both food and television… the two season BBC drama Indian Summers and the two-days-to-prepare recipe, Tandoori Chicken. Both are steeped in the colorful, cultural land of India in the 1930’s and both do a big number on your senses.

Just like the beautiful bouquet that was Downton Abbey, Indian Summers is stunning in cinematography, costumes and casting.  Taking place over several 1930’s summers in the Himalayan Mountains of British occupied India, the story centers around a brother and sister trying to navigate the political and polite terrains of affluent society.

Alice and Ralph

Alice comes with baggage to the exotic land she left long ago, escaping an unhappy marriage and an uncertain future.  Her brother, Ralph sets up house in a gorgeous mountain-side estate while pursuing a career in the British government that is vying for ultimate control over India.  Romance, mystery, intrigue, murder and scandal surround both characters as their stories intertwine with local residents and visitors.

The premise sounds simple enough, but the story gets more complicated with each new episode. A murder occurs right at the very beginning but it takes more than half a season to even begin to understand how the characters are connected to the crime and why it is significant to the broader story. It is such a subtle, sophisticated form of writing that by episode four I thought I missed something completely and had to go back to episode three to find an explanation. But as it turns I didn’t miss anything. Explanations unfold gradually as all the characters try to figure out for themselves the details and the reasonings behind the mysterious death. This leaves plenty of time for your own theories about what happened and why which makes the whole show really engaging. Plus there are plot turns and twists that you’d never see coming.

Here’s the trailer from Season 1…

Unfortunately, Indian Summers only had a 2 season run before being canceled so there are just 20 episodes in total. But this actually turns out to be the perfect amount of viewing time if you find yourself in need of a break over a long weekend. No seven season stretches that require months (or more!) here. Indian Summers is one tidy, compact easily digested show that will hook you from the opening scene and have you sailing your way straight through to the end.

To complement this marathon of mini-series viewing is the perfect, low-maintenance Indian dinner that takes two days to make and results in a  feast enough for six. Which means that you can binge-watch with friends AND feed them a fun dinner. Two days of cooking anything may not sound like it is low-maintenance to you at all, but even easier than a crock-pot recipe, all this chicken dish requires is ten minutes of preparation.

Tandoori Chicken, 1960’s style!

Introducing effortlessly easy Tandoori Chicken… the exotic entree that captured the appetites of mid-century eaters world-wide. Straight from Craig Claiborne’s 1963 Herb and Spice Cook Book, this recipe features simple ingredients, a slow marinade and a slow bake. As you fill your head with the dramatic experience of Indian Summers you’ll fill your space with an aromatic blanket of Indian spices. It’s a well-rounded sensory experience of a most magnificent kind!

The origins of this style of slow roasted chicken have their beginnings with Kundan Lal Gujral  who experimented with tandoori (a method of clay oven cooking) in a restaurant in Peshawar, British India during the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Kundan Lal Gujral

By 1947 he perfected his methods and started serving it in his own restaurant in Delhi where it turned into a favorite signature dish. By the 1960’s it was all the rage being offered everywhere from humble houses to luxury hotels, restaurants and even on-board airplanes.  Craig Claiborne loved it for its feature of the spice coriander, which symbolizes hidden worth.

There are many variations of Tandoori chicken featuring different spice combinations – some turning the chicken a bright fiery red, others turning it a deep orangey brown. This recipe lies somewhere in the middle. Dark upon exit from the oven and infused with a tangy warmth encouraged by the citrus and vinegar, it practically falls off the bone once it is out of the  oven.  Ideally you’d have your own tandoori to cook it in, but if not, then a regular roasting dish works just fine.

Tandoori Chicken, 1960’s style!

Tandoori Chicken

Serves 6

1 5-6lb. chicken

2 cups yogurt

1 clove garlic, minced

2 teaspoons coriander

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/3 cup cider vinegar

2 table spoons fresh lime or lemon juice

2 teaspoons salt

  1. Wash the chicken and place in a close fitting bowl. In a seperate bowl, combine the yogurt, garlic, spices, vinegar, lime juice and salt. Mix well and pour over the chicken. Turn to coat well with the marinade. Place in the refrigerator and marinate at least 12 hours or overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Just about to go in the oven.

3. Remove the chicken from the mixture and place it on a rack in a shallow baking dish or roaster. Save aside the marinade mixture for future basting.

4. Bake until tender, about 3 and a half hours. During the first hour and a half baste the chicken once with the yogurt marinade (at about the 45 minute mark). At the hour and a half mark  baste again with olive oil. And then repeat the olive oil paste two more times within the remaining baking period (about every 45 minutes).  You might need to tent the chicken for the last 45 minutes with aluminum foil to keep from over browning.

Tandoori Chicken, 1960’s style!

You’ll see in the photo above that the chicken does turn out quite dark – it was not burnt, as it sort of looks here – just very brown (similiar to the color of espresso) from the spices.

Once you remove the chicken from the oven let it rest for 20-30 minutes before carving. Serve it platter-style alongside warm naan bread and a simple salad of mixed greens and you have authentic Indian cuisine to pair with your Indian entertainment.

The house where Alice and Ralph live.

I hope the flavors and the film production transport you back to another era. If you have your own way of making Tandoori Chicken please share your recipe below. It would be fun to experiment with different herb and spice combinations!

Mabel in the Market: The Search for a 1920s Doughnut Shop

Somewhere between the 1920’s and the 1930’s my great-grandmother Mabel had a doughnut shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. This has been family lore for generations but like other interesting tidbits that lurk around the ancestry closet… a New York City Rockette, an indentured servant, a lost family fortune… there isn’t a lot of information or validation to support this entrepreneurial endeavor. But in a couple of weeks I hope to change all that.

Mabel grew up in Iowa, the youngest child of an 11 member family.  She trained to be a teacher in the rural country schools surrounding her hometown…

Mabel, aged 18 pictured in her teacher’s attire about 1905

But once she met and eventually married William Earle she gave up the teaching profession all together.

Mabel’s Wedding Portrait taken in November 1907, and a photograph of William Earle, unknown date

Earl, as she called him, was a salesman for the National Biscuit Company but he suffered from some sort of health issue that was bothered by the heat of the Iowa summers. So a few years following the birth of their only child, Phillip, they packed up and headed west in a 1917 Model T Ford towards the cool climate of Seattle.

All three of them – Mabel, Earle and Phillip, plus their belongings traveled half the width of the U.S. (over 1800 miles) in this car – the  1917 Model T Ford.

This was 1922 and my grandfather Phillip remembers sitting in the back of the Model T on top of bed rolls and tents, squished between pots and pans and spare tires. It took them 8 weeks to get to Seattle where they eventually settled into the Capitol Hill neighborhood overlooking downtown. William Earle went to work as a foreman at a biscuit cookie factory.  Presumably this would be the time period that Mabel also went to work – in her doughnut shop in the bustling big city market. By 1940 Mabel and Earle would say goodbye to the city sweet treat businesses of factory and farm market to take on country life once again in a move out to the far suburbs to pursue dairy farming. That put an end to the doughnuts at least in the professional sense.

Mabel’s poem to her granddaughter on her 5th birthday written in 1947.

Mabel was a very creative lady – a clever writer, a sketch artist and a baker. We have a few of her recipes in the family cookbooks but no mention of any prized doughnuts and no mention of any experiences running a business at Pike Place Market, which makes for an interesting little mystery.

Depression era photo of Pike Place Market chicken vendors. Photo courtesy of pauldorpat.com and the Seattle Public Library.

 

What must have it been like to be a  female entrepreneur in the early decades of the 20th century? Especially as a newcomer in a much bigger, more metropolitan city and with no professional experience to bolster her confidence? How did a country school teacher become a city doughnut maker? What made her start and ultimately what made her stop? Did she do it by herself or have a partner? How big was her space? What did it look like? What were her hours and how many doughnuts did she make in a day? And maybe most importantly, why doughnuts?!

Pike Place Market first opened in 1907 and quickly became a cross-cultural beehive of people and products offering everything from fresh fish to flowers, art to textiles and practically everything inbetween.  You can feel the excitement in this 1914 ad from the Seattle Star as the market gained momentum…

Advertisement from The Seattle Star April 17, 1914. Photo courtesy of

By the 1930’s, when Mabel was making doughnuts, the market was bursting and bustling with success and sales. There was a sizzle in the air of possibility and potential that must have felt catching and all-consuming. When I head out to Seattle in the middle of June I hope to answer all the questions raised about Mabel and her doughnut endeavor. I hope to be able to walk in her shoes for a time and learn more about what must have been one of the most interesting and intriguing periods of her life. Perhaps a doughnut recipe or two will even be discovered!

Stay tuned for more on this front as I report directly from the Market mid-month. In the meantime, cheers to mysterious Mabel and her doughnuts. Happy National Doughnut Day!

Compost! An Update on the Mini Bin for the Mini Balcony

Mini Compost Bin

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl

Can you guess where my most unlikely place of  magical secrets was found this week?  In the dirt at the bottom of a plastic bin!

Lady Nature continues to impress and inspire. It’s been 28 days since the birth of the mini compost container and I’m happy to report that a tiny miracle has occurred. When I last wrote of this project it was the beginning… two bowls of kitchen scraps, two bowls of yard materials and one leftover 3lb. plastic container.

A few shakes, 1/4 cup of water and four weeks later we now have compost…

Well… almost! Since it has been up and down spring weather this past month with lots of rain and cooler temperatures, our compost needs maybe about another week or two of good hot sunny weather to fully break down and then it will be ready to feed the potted plants on the patio. Right now my compost looks like this…dark, moist but still a little chunky…

You’ll know when your compost is ready because you won’t be able to identify the original elements in the mixture. I can still see a little bit of egg shells and sticks in my mix, so there is still a some cooking left to be done.

If you remember from the previous post, I cut down all the elements that originally went into the compost in fairly small pieces, which helps break things down faster. I did leave some of the sticks in bigger chunks however for a little aeration but I think in my next batch they’ll get broken up into tiny pieces too.  The smaller the better in this case!

You can see the size difference in the bulk of the contents from Day 1 to Day 28 to understand just how much material was magically broken down…

The bin went from being 3/4 full to now being about 1/4 full – all entirely tended to by nature. Isn’t that amazing? The only help I offered in this month long experiment was to turn the mixture with an old camping spoon once a week which took about five seconds total. Lady Nature and her team of helpers did all the rest.

One of these helpers was a healthy batch of fruit flies (aka vinegar flies). These guys were naturally attracted to the compost bin through the air holes in the lid and made themselves at home within the first week. Tiny and fast flyers, they are tricky to photograph but the arrows point  to a few here…

Like anyone finding out about a cool new place to hang out, the fruit flies called all their friends, threw a bunch of parties and settled in for the month, which was very wonderful of them because they helped break down material too.  As the bin keeps cooking they will eventually leave when it gets too hot – a signal that the compost is ready at last. But for now they are conscientious little cleaner uppers, quiet merrymakers and very good neighbors. You’d never even know they were there. I’d take a fruit fly over a snake ANY day!

Smelling like the forest after a good, clean rain the compost mixture is earthy and rich and lies somewhere along the aromatic scale between a damp basement and a dusty book (which is what you want) not like old food or strong ammonia (which is what you don’t want).  If a particular odor smells too persistent or too strong than your bin is out of balance. But if you stick with the 50/50 method suggested in the original post then everything should be nicely evened out and pleasantly scented when it comes to kitchen and yard waste.

The forecast is scheduled to be hot and dry over the holiday weekend so that should give the bin some extra energy to breakdown the last of the chunkies. Then our compost will be ready to spread.  I’ll check back in next week with an update on the final consistency. Then it is onto batch two  and batch three and batch four and a regular routine of composting by bin and balcony.

If you missed the post on instagram, the nasturtiums started blooming this week in pretty shades of yellow and red. It’s beginning to feel a lot like like summer around here!

Cheers to finding hidden magic!

 

 

 

Meet Matilda: The Mid-Century Mixmaster

 

There’s a new gal in the Vintage Kitchen and her name is Matilda. Traveling all the way from 1957, Matilda is part of the Sunbeam Mixmaster fleet that was all the rage back in mid-century America.  Like the popularity of today’s counter-top Kitchen-Aid mixers, if you didn’t have your very own Mixmaster in the 1950’s then you definitely wanted one. This 1956 Christmas ad shows just how drool-worthy they really were…

Pronouncing lighter cakes, fluffier mashed potatoes and more velvety textures, Mixmasters were scientifically tested for proper mixing speeds and outfitted with full coverage beaters which set them apart from other leading competitors of their day. This was ingenious because early mixers often got stuck just whipping up contents in the center of the bowl, but Mixmasters special over-sized beaters worked the entire rim of the bowl as well as the center eliminating the need for home cooks to stop the mixer and scrape down the sides.  It is so easy to take this simple step for granted today but to fully understand the novelty of this ingenious appliance, we have to first travel back to the early 1900’s.

Born from sweaty bread, the first standalone mixer was invented by Herbert Johnson after he witnessed an over-exerted baker with a drippy forehead hand mix a batch of bread dough.  Clearly there was a better, more hygienic way than this, he thought and so he got to tinkering.  Eventually Herbert came up with the Hobart – the first mixer for the commercial baking industry. That was in 1914.

Hobart! Photo courtesy of kitchenaid

A speedy savior for anyone mixing large batches of anything, the Hobart came to be an important helper in commercial kitchens and rapidly shortened the time spent preparing food products for retail markets. It was so effective even the military put them to work.  A decade later home-sized versions named Kitchen-Aids were introduced and women around the country marveled at the speed and efficiency with which they could whip stuff up.

Sunbeam Mixmasters came along in the 1930’s and offered an improvement upon both the Hobart and the Kitchen-Aid varieties – interlocking yet detachable beaters. This meant even mixing and easy clean-up. Early models like this Mixmaster from the 1930’s look squat and a little primitive but they were true engineering marvels in their day.

Photo courtesy of Decodan.

Originally Mixmasters were first offered in white with jadeite mixing bowls but soon  graduated to a range of pastel colors with matching or milk glass mixing bowls. Matilda’s chrome style was introduced in the mid-1950’s and came with two bowls – large and small.

1950s sunbeam mixmaster

Inspired by both the automobile industry and the airline industry the Sunbeam design engineers created attractive models with elegant lines, fin-shaped dials and stylized lettering reminiscent of the latest design trends in transportation.

You can definitely see the car influence on the Mix-Finder dial and front end medallion…

Twelve separate mixing speeds debuted the year Matilda was born which offered the following settings…

  1. Dry Ingredients, Folding
  2. Blend Ingredients, Cookies
  3. Muffins – Quick Breads
  4. One Bowl Cakes
  5. White Sauce – Puddings
  6. Prepared Cake Mixes
  7. Cream Butter – Sugar, Salad Dressings
  8. Whipping Potatoes, Juicing
  9. Whipping Cream
  10. Desserts – Custards, Etc
  11. Icings – Candies
  12. Beat Eggs – Egg Whites, Most Attachments

On the attachment front – Mixmasters also offered a bevy of functionalities. Everything from juicing to funneling, meat grinding to nut chopping could all be accomplished with one base unit and the appropriate attachment. Depending on the design and the decade that they were introduced, some of the attachments proved invaluable and were successfully continued for future designs. Others like the glass juicer were discontinued after a short run due to fragile composition.

But when it came to the main mechanics of the Mixmaster body itself, they proved incredibly well made, thanks to the powerful motors that still hold up to the competition today. Which is exciting news for Matilda. She may be approaching the senior side at 60 years old but she’s still just as capable as ever. As a top of the line lady, she’s worked in some pretty great places but none hopefully will be more exciting or inspiring than her newly attained instructor’s position here in the Vintage Kitchen with us.

New decals coming soon!

For her birthday this year, Matilda’s going to get a little refresher in the decal department as well as a set of replacement beaters. Then she’ll not only be practically brand new but also fully capable of whipping up a whole new century’s worth of recipes here in the Vintage Kitchen. When she’s all dressed up again, I’ll snap a photo so you can see!

Looks aside, lucky for us, Matilda is chatty. In the whirl of her motor she shares the world of past baking endeavors through decades of cakes and cookies, casseroles and creams.  She can’t wait to share her favorite mixtures with you, so stay tuned for some stories.

Cheers to Herbert and Hobert for mixing it all up in the beginning. And a big welcome to Matilda  – the new master of all our mixing here in the Vintage Kitchen.

 

 

The Week In Review: A Date With Julia, Washington DC and Finding A Lost Bird

Like the thrill and excitement of watching those horses speed around the track during the Kentucky Derby two Saturdays ago so was my trip racing around Washington D.C.. To follow-up from the post before this one, we did make it to D.C. just in time (with about 3 minutes to spare!) to meet up with friends, watch the Derby AND drink a mint julep. Perfect timing!

Always Dreaming! Photo courtesy of thedailybeast.com

If you missed the race Always Dreaming was the big Derby winner, leading the whole entire way from start to finish on a very muddy track. It was definitely a well deserved victory although I was really rooting for Patch the whole way, who wound up coming in 14th.  It appears as if no one else was dreaming about Always Dreaming as the first-to-line finisher in our blog contest either so the festivities continue on through the Preakness (this Saturday!) and into the Belmont (on June 10th).  Stay tuned this weekend to see if Always Dreaming wins part two of the Triple Crown!

Meanwhile, back in Washington the week fell in three parts…art, Julia and Virginia. The last time I spent more than a day in Washington D.C. I was 10 years old and visiting my oldest sister who lived and worked right in the heart of downtown. This time around I was staying on the Maryland side of the metro D.C. area.

With a view that began and ended each day like this…

Morning on the Potomac!

 

Evening on the Potomac!

it was hard to go wrong from the beginning. Add in the welcome committee…

quaking their way through news of the D.C. day… and it was lovely from day one.

Staying in such close proximity to the Capitol, I had mighty plans to see about 10 different sites throughout the city on this visit which included five museums, the Botanical Gardens, the Library of Congress, the Franciscan Monastery, the National Archives and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  I realize now on my return that this was totally ambitious, but I thought in my pre-trip planning days that if I was fast on my feet and spent only an hour or two at each place I might be able to fit it all in during a three day stretch. After all Charles Dickens did nickname this metropolis the City of Magnificent Intentions. Technically I was right on track.

Of course once I stepped through my first museum and saw all the intriguing things that lay ahead of me I realized that I would never be able to keep up with such a strict and rigorous time schedule. It only took me one museum to realize that Washington D.C. is best digested slow.

There is no room for frenzied pace setting or shy glances in this historic environment. From street to sky, everything in D.C. is fascinating whether you are walking on centuries old cobblestone in Alexandria or admiring architecture on Pennsylvania Avenue time is what you need plenty of in order to ingest the experiences of our past presidents.

This is the house where Lincoln died. It’s located right across the street from Ford Theater.

So that’s exactly what I did. I took some time. I abandoned my wish list of seeing everything fast, and focused on seeing a few things slowly. Highlights from the three museums I managed to get through are as follows…

At the National Portrait Gallery…

This famous portrait of Benjamin Franklin painted in 1785 hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. Because I had seen this picture a zillion times in books and all over the internet I thought I’d pop by, say hi and be on my way. But Ben had other plans. He was a wise 79 years old when he sat for this painting. And you can tell Ben’s got things to say from the second you see him.

The artist, Joseph-Siffred Duplessis translated an expression in Ben’s face that reads “Hey there, I have some interesting stories for you. Stay for a minute and I’ll explain.” And so I did, lured in by a magic painting spell.  All the achievements he accomplished, the foresight he had, the contributions he made to the forming of our country, swirled around in those eyes and that smile, ready to break at any moment. He was captivating in all the right ways.

That experience with Benjamin Franklin reinforced the fact that I couldn’t zoom past everything and expect anything to have an impact. There was so much significance in the air around me that I was going to have to slow down in order to appreciate it all.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery are both connected in the same building so you can cross over long hallways from the art museum to the portrait gallery in just a few steps. On the art museum side I found these favorites in the painting department…golden framed beauties covering two centuries  including a large scale John James Audubon bird painting from 1836…

Clockwise from top left: Angel by Abbott Handerson Thayer, 1875; Washington Sea Eagle by John James Audubon 1836-1839; Round Hill Road by John Henry Twachtman 1890-1900; Our Lady of Guadalupe by Pedro Antonio Fresquis 1780-1830

Downstairs on the ground floor I discovered colorful cafeteria art of the 1940’s…

which was from a series by Gertrude Goodrich titled Scenes from American Life (Beach) and which originally hung in the cafeteria of the city’s Social Security Building. I loved the bright colors and all the commotion going on – each figure in the painting has their own personality. Here are some up close snippets..

It really is a lively improvement from the food diagrams and nutrition charts found in most cafeterias today, don’t you think?

At the National Portrait Gallery – 

Just like my time spent with Ben, I was equally captivated by an exhibit called The Face of Battle: Americans at War from 9/11 to Now which featured intimate glimpses into soldier’s lives… black and white leisure portraits taken in camp, paintings of wounded soldiers in full uniform, photographs of deceased soldiers home-based bedrooms, a creative video piece of a casket returning stateside. As you can imagine it was really moving and very sad. One of the exhibits inside the exhibit was a 5,000+ piece collection of small wallet sized pencil drawings of American servicemen and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. This installation was completely hand-drawn by the American artist, Emily Prince. It took up three walls of one gallery and from a distance looked like a big Scrabble board. This is a snippet of one wall…

And upon color inspection…

And an even closer view below. This is just one example of the thousands Emily has hand-drawn. The exhibit is titled American servicemen and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, but not including the wounded, nor the Iraqis, nor the Afghans.  Read more about Emily and the project here.

We were visiting D.C. during the start of Police Week so uniformed men and women from all over the world were everywhere. At the airport, teams of officers six or eight to a group met flights as they came in containing passengers whose family had died protecting the country. The officers stood across from each other with arms raised in salute as people walked off each flight.  The officers recognized the families they were meeting either by Hero t-shirts or by camera phones recording the walk from the plane to the gate. It was bittersweet. Sad that people had died but wonderful that the military and our protective services were still honoring their contributions.

On a cheerier note…

at the Museum of American History…

a very special face was also on display. I was definitely determined not to leave Washington until I saw this lady and her famous kitchen…

Julia Child!

In an exhibit detailing the transformation of American food from the 1950’s to the 2000’s, Julia Child’s kitchen from her house in Cambridge, Massachusetts sat front and center.

It’s a little tricky to get good photos of it because the whole kitchen itself is sealed in. Small cut-outs covered in plexi-glass serve as viewing stations, so there is a little battle to be fought with glare from the plexi-glass and the fellow visitors who squish in to see. But you can get the idea of a 360 view (in parts!) from the following…

Everything in the kitchen is as Julia left it when she donated the entire room and all its contents to the Museum in 2001. It was full of surprising  little details including lots of cat art, a fridge full of magnets (she was was a fan of the King Arthur flour brand!), family photographs, a rubix cube tucked behind a telephone and all the little odds and ends that you can find in anybody’s kitchen famous or not. She had a junk drawer. She labeled things with masking tape and handwriting. She hung onto favorite pieces of equipment outdated or not.

As revered as Julia had become it is easy to see in this exhibit how normal and ordinary a person she actually was.  Her kitchen reflected that. It wasn’t photo-shoot ready. It wasn’t glamorous. Not everything had a place. Her cookbooks were used. Her counter tops were messy. But it was functional for the way she liked to cook. It was a fun play space for her and in turn it was a fun exhibit for me.  I think that is what still makes Julia Child so admired. She was an unpretentious lover of food and of cooking and her kitchen reiterates all that. The manner in which it is displayed there at the Smithsonian you can easily imagine that she just popped over into another room of the house, perhaps to fetch something for her husband Paul and that in any second she was going to come right back and get to cooking.  Aided by video monitors playing clips from her cooking shows around the exhibit, your imagination does not have to stretch far to picture her standing at the sink peeling potatoes or at the stove flipping omelettes.

There is a fun 5 minute video on youtube that explains how the museum staff takes care of her kitchen. It also gives you some up close behind-the-scenes info on specific items within the display.

Also in the History Museum was an interesting exhibit on the clothing worn by the First Ladies (mostly during inaugural balls or welcome receptions) and the china patterns that each selected for their White House term. The oldest in the collection of both dress and dish belongs, of course, to Martha Washington…

Clockwise from top: The entire display of china starting with Martha Washington and ending with Hilary Clinton. Bottom left: A dress Martha Washington wore from the 1780’s,  and the  banquet china pieces she and George used in their presidential mansions in  New York and Philadelphia.

Most of the china patterns were variations on a theme… gold bands/eagles/jewel tone colors, etc. but Lucy Webb Hayes, wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes commissioned an artist in the 1870’s to design a set of china that incorporated the flora and fauna of the United States. To this day, Lucy’s china pattern still remains the most creative of all the administrations.

That’s Lucy on the far left!

I may not have made it to the Botanical Gardens on this trip but to serious surprise and complete excitement equal to that of seeing Julia Child’s kitchen,  I stumbled into this big beauty in the gardens of the Natural History museum next door…

the passenger pigeon sculpture by Todd McGrain from the Lost Bird Project that we wrote about in 2013! She’s tucked inside a walled garden just off the street so I almost walked right by her. In the busy world of modern day urban life, she sits surrounded in the museum’s Bird Garden by flowers and real-life bird flocks flapping their wings here and there so she’s in a great spot. If you missed the post about the Lost Bird project and Todd’s mission to memorialize extinct birds catch up here.

Moving on from museums and spending time waterside in the fresh spring air, the charmer on top of our whole trip was spending half a day in Alexandria, Virginia. We had lunch on the wharf…

and then spent the afternoon walking around town in George Washington’s footsteps.

The first tenement house George and Martha built in 1797 for investment purposes.

Every street was cuter than the last. I definitely could have picked any one of those houses to live in. I even found my ideal car…

This is where George liked to eat!

We stopped into a local pub and met a local (imagine that!) who gave us a little verbal history tour through his town.

Murphy’s Pub

and we found the house where they filmed scenes from the PBS show Mercy Street…

So pretty! You can access Alexandria by car or ferry – both just a quick trip from D.C.. Like easily imagining Julia in her kitchen it is very easy to picture George and Martha Washington or Ben Franklin or any other early colonials walking down the historic streets. Everything is all brick and cobblestone, clapboard and flower boxes. History plaques make a self guided walking tour easy and your camera won’t stop clicking for all the pretty photo opportunities.

Since I didn’t make it to all the places on my original list that still leaves so much to do on future trips back to the D.C. area. I think you could live in this section of our country for two dozen years and still not see everything! But that’s what’s marvelous about Washington – it’s a never-ending series of new (old) places to discover upon every return.

Cheers to that! Or huzzah as our noble men Ben and George liked to say!

Two Races and How Many Winners? Derby Day Is Officially Here With A Contest!

Kentucky Derby weekend is upon us! How exciting! Like every year we are giddy with anticipation about the big race but something is very different this year from all Derby posts of the past.

For the first time in over a decade we will not be hosting a Derby party which means no cooking menu to plan or drinks to mix. Like the horses just before post time, I myself will be posed to break out of a gate fast and furious.  It’s not a horse gate and I won’t be in Kentucky – instead it’s an airport gate and I’ll be in Washington D.C. It will be a mad dash to the hotel with just over an hour before post time but if luck is on my side I’ll make it with moments enough to spare in order to drop my bags, grab a julep and watch the horses go. Fingers crossed.

Last year’s contest and 2016’s Derby winner – Nyquist!

Last year, we hosted a contest to guess the Derby winner with a very special vintage-themed gift as a prize. Although we had lots of fabulous speculations and a couple of close calls, no one picked Nyquist as the first to line finisher. With the promise of carrying over the un-won prizes from last year to this year, we will be holding the contest again but this time during the Belmont Stakes on June 10th. That gives us a chance to celebrate the races in true party fashion. It also makes the second leg of the Kentucky Derby all the more exciting. The horses by that stage will be one step closer to achieving the Triple Crown and you’ll be a seasoned expert on the horse racing scene of 2017.

Churchill Downs Oark on left. Belmont Park on right.

This change in the contest also gives you a chance to pick two winners this year – one for the Kentucky Derby and one for the Belmont. Twice the fun!  It is super easy to enter this contest. All you have to do is pick  your favorite horse to win this  year’s Kentucky Derby and type the name into the comments section below. This will automatically and officially register your pick. Next month, you will do the same thing for the Belmont Stakes. If one, either or both of your horses are picked as winners in the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont then you will be a winner in the contest.

If you haven’t caught up with the field yet, this year holds a spectacular group of contenders. The numbers next to each horse correspond to their post position in the starting gate. If you are feeling especially intuitive select your winner via face, name or number value.

From top left: (2) Thunder Snow; (17) Irish War Cry; (6) State of Honor; (5) Always Dreaming; (10) Gunnevera; (1) Lookin at Lee; (16) Tapwrit; (8) Hence

Or if you’d like to read up on this year’s entrants visit kentuckyderby.com for all the latest information, statistics and industry commentary.

Clockwise from top left: (19) Practical Joke; (15) McCracken; (13) J Boys Echo; (3) Fast and Accurate

So many fun names make up the roster this year…

Clockwise from top left: (7) Girvin); (4) Untrappd; (11) Battle of Midway; (9) Irap; (12) Sonneteer; (18) Gormley; (14) Classic Empire; (20) Patch

…Always Dreaming, Irish War Cry, Sonneteer and Practical Joke are among my favorites… but Patch is the horse of my heart this season. He only has one eye and that makes him an unusual entry, but it sure doesn’t slow him down.  A tumor in his left eye caused his handicap but he was so quick to recover and return to his normal pace that it seems destiny had decided this handsome guy’s fate long before his eye ever showed signs of sickness.

I feel a special kinship to Patch because I’m legally blind in my left eye and like him I’ve gotten along just fine all these years regardless. Many trainers believe that the power of racing comes from a horse’s heart, not their legs or their physique or their genetic makeup. It comes from their love and sheer excitement to run. One eye or two, it doesn’t matter. Patch has already proved he’s a contender in more ways than one.

Share your thoughts and your guesses for this year’s Derby winner in the comment section below. Voting closes at 5:45pm (eastern time) Saturday, May 6th, so like the race itself speed is of the essence.  There is also only one vote per person allowed, so make your guess a good one! Winners will be announced next week on the blog and the vintage prize package will be mailed out thereafter. Curious to see if  I’ll win the airport race in time to watch the horse race? Stay tuned to Instagram for that update on Saturday!

Good luck and Happy Derby Day!

 

The Colorful World of Collecting: A Vintage Tea Towel Interview

Martex Textile Champagne Tea Towel, 1950’s

Chances are you probably haven’t given much thought to your kitchen linens. You’ve got them tucked away in a drawer somewhere that you access only when you have a party, a holiday or a big giant spill to clean up. They sit in those drawers in an assortment of sizes from small to large. Place mats, tablecloths, towels, drink coasters, napkins, tray coverings either plain and functional or decorative and delicate. They are hand-me-downs your grandmother made back in 1920 or they are ones you bought last week on sale at Target. They are in pristine condition because you barely use them or they are spotted and shabby because that one celebration that one time was the wildest party of the year.

Kitchen Towel featuring Household Staples, 1940s

You haven’t thought about them much because they are always there – new and old and reliable. You use them to impress and inspire and make an impact on a bread basket or a tea tray or the handle of your oven. They sit under drinks and dessert plates,  line the cocktail cart and add some color to the picnic basket. You gift them and grab them in a last minute flurry of preparations and like any good coat of paint, they instantly brighten up the atmosphere, and you think to yourself… why don’t I use these more?

Main Street Table Cloth 1950s

Designed to sit pretty and decorate and then clean up afterwards,  kitchen cloths are the unsung heroes of cook spaces around the globe.  In today’s post we discuss the colorful world of mid-century kitchen linens with Cindy from Neatokeen, the internet’s best-kept vintage linen shop and discover her passion for mid-century tea towels. This is a bright and whimsical slice of the vintage kitchen that showcases the creative, quirky styles of the 1950’s and 1960’s that have evolved with charm and individuality to fit modern day appeal.

Iconic American chair designer Charles Eames  once said…”The details are not the details. They make the design.” This is particularly true of the bold graphics and jaunty sentiments of mid-century fabrics. Today, Cindy explains her favorites, what she looks for when stocking her shop and why these vintage kitchen helpers are still so compelling to our modern sense of style.

What are some common misconceptions about vintage linens? 

Linens were mass-produced in the mid-century and there is an assumption that they are plentiful and easy to find. If you look on Etsy and Ebay, that appears to be the case; however, it is extremely difficult to find them in excellent or mint condition. Most of them that saw heavy kitchen duty were relegated to the rag pile. Many linens that you see today are flawed with spots and holes. The real trick is to find those that were unused and stored away in a drawer or cupboard for 50 years. I am super picky about the linens I buy and probably pass by 99.9% of those I see. 

Do you have a favorite designer? 

It’s difficult to choose one! I will name my top three:

 

George Wright

 

Milvia

 

Tammis Keefe

I also have to give a shout-out to all of the uncredited artists and in-house designers who created amazing designs but were not able to sign their work.

Is there a type of linen or a specific company that you prize most and, if so, which and why? 

I began collecting all types of vintage linens: tablecloths, tea towels, napkins, handkerchiefs and table runners. Storage space for my collection was at a premium, so I had to make a difficult decision. I decided to hang onto my tea towels. I love the compact printed designs. I am particularly fond of the cheeky designs from the Dunmoy Linen Company and the detailed designs of the Ulster Company.

 

Dunmoy Linen Company, Flower Truck Delivery, 1960’s

 

Ulster Linen Company – Medieval Renaissance, 1960s

 

Tell us a little bit about caring for vintage linens. Do you have to store them differently or use special washing procedures? 

 

I learned early on that I was rubbish at removing spots in spite of the copious amount of stain removal advice and tips on the internet. This is what lead me to collect linens in near mint or perfect condition. I typically do not wash my linens and simply press them gently, if needed. I store them in a closet with open shelving covered by white cotton cloths. I know a lot of people store them in plastic bins, but I’m a bit skeptical of contact with plastic over time.

  

Which are the top three favorite items in your shop right now?

I love the London People towel – the characterization of 55 people and animals is charming. Another favorite is the “Wine & Spirits” towel by George Wright for the interesting composition and bold color choice. I really enjoy Hilary Knight’s angel towel. He was the illustrator of Eloise and I believe it’s the only towel he ever designed.

 

Wine & Spirits Series by George Wright, 1950s

 

Hilary Knight Christmas Angels, 1950

Why are vintage linens so appealing to people?

 They evoke a feeling of nostalgia and the printed designs can be gorgeous, whimsical, striking or even comical.

 

 

In your shop bio you mention that you sell to a wide variety of customers from gift-givers to celebrities to collectors. What is a fun buyer story that you can share?

 

I’m fiercely protective of my customer’s privacy, but I’ve sold linens to several movie and theater companies. They always need the items “yesterday” and have requested express shipping every time. In fact, the shipping has been a lot more expensive than the items themselves!

 

Dinner Party Scene Tea Towel, 1950s

Rare 1950’s Mid-Century Modern Tablecloth

If you could invite any person to luncheon (living or dead) and serve them on one of the tea towels currently offered in your shop which would you choose and why?

I would invite my late father and serve him dinner on the amazing Calder-esque mobile tablecloth that is in my shop. We would talk about the abstract design and then we’d discuss the act of collecting. My dad was an inveterate collector of many things and I never collected anything while he was alive. I’m fairly certain the collecting gene was transferred to me when he passed away. I now completely understand his compulsion to find the next best thing, the perpetual upgrading of a collection and the quest for a holy grail. He would get a big kick out of my passion for linens.

Cindy with her dad in 1964

Were linens a prized possession in your family growing up?

 My mother sets a beautiful table and has some lovely lace tablecloths, but printed linens were something I discovered much later in life.

 

Matching Linen Placemat/Napkin Set – Red Cherry Design, 1950s

Would you prefer to see one of your vintage tea towels in active daily use or framed behind glass?

 

When I started selling my linens on Etsy, I was taken aback at what people did with perfectly good linens; however, I have really mellowed and now enjoy learning about the creative ways my linens are used. I’ve seen pillows, children’s clothing, tote bags, quilts and even copies printed on canvas. Most people buy them to collect or use and I’m happy they are being enjoyed and not languishing in a forgotten drawer. Framed behind glass is good too!

 

Which types of linens are your bestsellers? And what makes them a bestseller – is it fabric, color, graphic appeal, size, age etc.?

 

I’ve sold 99% of my tablecloths and hankies and steer away from buying more because there are so many sellers that carry them. I specialize in vintage tea towels which is a more unusual category. Tea towels are my bestsellers. I think the colors and graphic appeal of the designs are what attract people initially.

 

Floral Linen Tea Towel, 1950’s

Other than traditional serving/entertaining purposes, framing and gift wrapping have you come across any non-traditional ways in which we could use vintage linens in our modern-day lives?

 

I mentioned a few above, but the most inventive use of linens I’ve seen is a winged armchair upholstered with vintage souvenir tea towels from London. The effect is a feast for the eyes.

 

Alternate ways to use vintage tea towels (clockwise from top left): as an apron, windows curtains, framed wall art, market bag/tote, footstool cushions.

When you are sourcing your materials for your shop do you generally find them one at a time or do you uncover treasure troves of personal collections?

 

I usually find them one at a time or occasionally in pairs. I’ve actually never found a big collection of linens which is the stuff of my dreams; hence, the hunt continues. I look high and low from estate sales to flea markets, near and far from coast to coast and I will continue to seek linens as long as it remains fun!

 

Tammis Keefe Angel Tea Towel, 1950’s

One of the things I like about vintage linens is that each and every one seems so unique. I don’t think I’ve ever come across the same design twice (matching sets not included of course!).  Have you seen a lot of repeat patterns come through your shop?

 I primarily sell duplicates of towels that I have in my own collection. Some designs are relatively easy to source e.g. the Tammis Keefe angel towel is common, but there are several designs that I’ve run across exactly one time in my 12 years of collecting. Since I’ve been collecting a relatively long time, it’s become easy for me to tell if the design is rare or fairly commonplace.

 

Are there any types of vintage linens that don’t appeal to you and if so, why?

 

I like all types of linen, but I’m partial to printed linens. I steer clear of damask, lace and embroidered linens. There are plenty of experts in those categories. Also, I think floral linens are lovely, but my eye tends toward unusual or quirky designs. Thankfully, they are often the ones left behind.

 

Mother’s Apple Pie Ingredients, 1950’s

According to the school of thought that one thing always leads to another – have you discovered any new interests or passions (or collections!) that have stemmed as a direct result from your pursuit of seeking out vintage linens? 

 

Yes! I really like the kitschy mid-century graphics found on vintage wrapping paper and novelty fabrics. I felt myself slipping down the collecting rabbit hole again but was literally saved by Pinterest. I started “pinning” items to designated boards. Pinterest feels like having an organized collection but without spending a dime…brilliant!

 

Modernist Textile Fabric, 1960s

I don’t know about you dear readers, but I’d be fine following Cindy along on her trail of discovering vintage wrapping paper and more vintage fabrics. She has a wonderful eye for the lighthearted unusual – the fun side – of finding old artistic illustrations that still seem so relevant today. Perhaps in the future we’ll be lucky to see more along those avenues. In the meantime I hope this post encourages you to take a look at your own kitchen linen drawer and march all those retro patterns out into everyday use regardless of their age. Don’t save them for a special occasion or a holiday, give your kitchen space a happy exclamation point by incorporating your tea towels and tablecloths, napkins and tray liners into everyday life.  If you have yet to own any vintage kitchen linens, I hope this post inspires a new collection.

 

Vintage Bridge Score Pads from the 1920’s

In addition to decorating your own space, vintage kitchen linens also make great gifts. As we roll through the month of May with Mother’s Day and Memorial Day just around the corner, Cindy is offering readers of the blog an additional 20% off all orders using the coupon code VINTAGEKITCHEN.  In her shop you’ll also find delightfully interesting mid-century (and earlier!) collectibles and paper ephemera with fantastic retro graphic appeal like the art deco bridge score pad above.  Keep up with Cindy on Pinterest, Instagram and in her shop. You won’t regret any moment spent learning more about vintage linens.
 If you have any additional questions or comments for Cindy or thoughts on vintage linens themselves please post a message below.

 

This was the set design for Julia Child’s kitchen for the movie Julie and Julia. Notice the proud display of kitchen linens!

Cooking Up A Compost Container: A Mini Bin for A Mini Balcony

Nasturtiums, basil, parsley, succulents, impatiens, rosemary, mint, aloe, avocado – that’s the start to the summer balcony garden. It is a petite space so there is not much room for tall dramas or extravagant experiments which means this summer should be pretty tame in the greenspace department. Since I live so close to the farmers market the vegetable growing is going to be left up to the farmers this year giving me the opportunity to grow herbs to augment summer cooking and flowers to add a little fancy.

I have my heart set on three things in particular this season- a citrus tree, a trail of climbing roses and pots bubbling over with greenery. The first two will be available shortly at our market garden store and the third will be accomplished with a homemade compost container, mighty but mini.

Sir Albert Howard (1873-1947)

We have Sir Albert Howard to thank for our modern day love of organic gardening and make-no-waste composting methods. Of course people have been using compost since the dawn of time but in the early part of the 20th century when chemical fertilizers became all the interest,  Albert was the guy to remind everyone of the common-sense simplicity of nature.

A British botanist born during the last quarter of the 19th century, Albert was a forever student of agricultural science. During a 30 year stay in India, he studied soil effects on garden outcomes and determined that natural compost was the ideal and most beneficial way to create healthy, happy plants in a supportive environment. Healthy people, healthy animals and healthy food all benefited from the effects of recycling earth based materials.

Documenting his research and his observations Albert wrote several books published between the 1920’s and 1940’s helping to draw attention away from manufactured soil amendments and back to the logical evolution of the land. A big fan of the forest floor, Albert marveled at how forests were like one giant compost heap in and of themselves. Materials fell from the trees, layered themselves in seasons and decomposed through the aid of bugs, worms and microorganisms in the dirt. Essentially when we build our modern day compost bins we do the same thing. We act as the trees providing material and shelter and the natural decomposition process contained in our incubated environment breaks down as it normally would.

Compost bins to me have always been a little intimidating. When I lived in the country they meant snakes and red ants, weird bugs and an occasional long-tailed critter.  The  always giant, always garbage can style bin either got too much water or not enough water. Half the time I’d forget to turn it with any sort of regular routine. This year though I’m on a different trajectory.  I’m starting small with kitchen scraps, traditional yard waste and a 3lb container. This snack- size bin will give the balcony plants a little extra nutrition boost mid-season and hopefully, if all goes well,  will be in continual use throughout the fall and winter.

Making a mini compost bin is easy. The trick is finding something that is a good size for your space, so creativity is king here. I used a  leftover  plastic container that once held 3lbs of trail mix and the lid of a plastic takeout soup container.

After poking 4 holes in the bottom for drainage and about 8 holes in the lid for air, I gathered all the compost materials needed for a 50/50 mix between kitchen scraps and yard waste.

Materials on the yard side included: sticks, dead leaves, a paper egg carton, pine straw, a brown paper bag, dead-headed flowers and pine cones. On the kitchen scrap side I used limp spinach, garlic skins, coffee grounds, a month’s worth of crushed up egg shells, lime rind,  some old blueberries and a small bag of pistachio shells. Because my bin is petite, I chopped everything up pretty fine with kitchen scissors so that it would not only fit more easily in the container but also break down faster.

To make sure I had enough of a balance of both sets of materials I filled the same bowl twice with each mixture. I added each bowl to the bin and mixed it up using an old camping spoon (no shovel needed for this little project!). Once it was all stirred the last element to go in was a little bit of water so that the overall consistency was moist but not drippy.

At last, the mighty, mini compost bin was ready and done! With a weekly turn of the ingredients and a little extra water now and then, this compost batch should be ready in about one month.

This size bin will produce a few cupfuls of compost. Just the right amount to replenish soil in the tops of all my pots. Unlike compost bins of the past, this one fits neat and tidy on my mid-century rolling cart and will wait out the month among it’s potted pals.

I’m happy to say that I do not have to worry about snake sightings with this bin. That might just be the very best thing about balcony gardening, no surprise sightings of the slithering kind! Cheers to that! And cheers to Albert, his simple solutions and the important reminder that mother nature knows how to best take care of herself!

More to come on the gardening front all summer long. Interested in learning more about other gardening crusaders like Albert? Read about Hilda Leyel here and Edgar T. Wherry here.