Sunny Side Up: Your Peppy Vintage Music Playlist is Here!

There’s some new (old) sounds coming out of the Vintage Kitchen this weekend. Bah-da-da-dah daaaa… can you hear it?! Click on the old radio above or in the right margin and you’ll be magically transported back to the 20th century where you’ll hear a range of music from the 1920’s -1960’s via the Vintage Kitchen playlist on Spotify.

The playlist is called Sunny Side Up because it is a peppy collection – the first in a series of vintage playlists curated for different moods of the day.  Sunny Side Up features fun classics from these faces…

Clockwise starting from top left: Louis Armstrong, The DeCastro Sisters, Rosemary Clooney, Perry Como, The Chordettes, Harry James & His Orchestra, Etta James, Elvis, Frank Sinatra, The Andrews Sisters, Eddie Condon and Ella Fitzgerald.

and covers a mix from genres including ragtime, big band, blues and orchestral.  Spotify gives you two options as far as listening goes – you can sign up using their player or you can download the playlist to your device and listen wherever you like.

One of the most favorite songs in the collection includes this one recorded in 1944 by the Andrews Sisters…

More playlists will be debuting soon so stay tuned. In the meantime, if you have any favorites that would be a fun addition to Sunny Side Up please post your request in the comments below and we’ll add it to the playlist.

Happy weekend!

 

10 Vintage Kitchen Trends of 1956

Hotpoint Mobile Dishwasher, 1956

1956 was quite a year for iconic pop-culture. Elvis was singing about his blue suede shoes, Norma Jean officially changed her name to Marilyn, the Yankees won the World Series,  Bob Barker stepped out onto his first televised game show set and Grace Kelly married a real-life prince.

On the home front, the mid-1950’s kitchen was also going through some equally exciting and interesting design improvements in the convenience department. With more than 35% of women working outside the home by 1956 multi-tasking became “the” trend of new innovations promising both ease of use and the ability to conquer more than one job at a time. Some of these inventions were a bit quirky (like the oven insert that roasted meat like toast), some paved the way for modern mainstays that we use regularly today (the automatic Redi-Baker) and some (the mobile dishwasher) could totally make a comeback in our modern mini-home craze.

In today’s post we are heading back to the pastel wonderland of 1956 and all the mechanical marvels that hit the mid-century kitchen market with a flurry of magical appeal. Let’s look…

1. The Mobile Dishwasher

Hotpoint Mobile Dishwasher, 1956

Part cutting board, part dishwasher and all on rollers, this totally functional piece of kitchen equipment was meant to be wheeled around from prep counter to table and then back to the sink offering kitchen cleaner-uppers the ability to cut out some extra steps by loading dirty dishes right from the kitchen table. The new mid-1950’s concept of front loading baskets left room for a chopping board on top which was the ideal helper for any kitchen too tight on counter space. By throwing a cloth over the whole thing this handy appliance could even turn into a rolling hors d’oeuvres cart or impromptu bar area for entertaining, fulfilling three jobs in one – dishwasher, sous chef and butler. Completely functional, this seems like a piece of the vintage past that could definitely come gallivanting back into our world today, especially for city dwellers and tiny house lovers.

2. Separate Fridge and Freezer Units

Crosley Presents their Fresh and Frozen Food Centers with Shelveador Twins

About the width of a standard contemporary bookcase, the 1956 Shelvador (shelf-in-a-door!)  Fresh and Frozen Food Center Twins by Crosley had the ability to hold up to 450 lbs of food and contain fresh and frozen assorted perishables in two completely separate unattached units. One for cold products, one for frozen products. Pitched as the “most convenient food-keeping service ever designed,” owning Shelvador Twins meant less frequent trips to the supermarket thanks to their large storage capacity. It also meant more creative kitchen design.  Offering two units for room balance and a series of mix and match colors opened up  of bevy of options in the decorating department. Crosley’s were a matter of  convenience and creativity.

3. Ultra-Organized Food Bins

Crosley was the company that first pioneered the idea of installing functional storage compartments in the doors of refrigerators and freezers back in the 1930’s, but their idea was so practical that all the major food storage manufacturers immediately began incorporating the compartment concept into their own designs as well.

In order to set everyone apart, individuality came to the design teams of all these manufacturers in the form of  unique arrangements within the compartmentalized cold cabinet. When the 1956 version of the Fabulous Foodarama by Kelvinator was unveiled it was the ultimate organizer’s dream. Offering a bevy of bins, boxes, trays and baskets it was like the Taj-Mahal of efficient food-keeping systems focusing on the nitty gritty details of good design.

Bacon, eggs and juice went into the Breakfast Bar section on the upper right side of the door. Waxed papers went into a non-refrigerated dispenser located in the freezer, ice cream got its own gallon-sized compartment specially regulated to keep it at the ideal consistency and bananas flew off the counter and into a room temperature bin just below the freezer papers. Separate spaces for vegetables, cheese, canned fruit and ice cube trays were all designated as well making the Foodarama distinct in its ability to put that there and this here.

4. Toaster-Like Cooking Devices

Gibson, who manufactured air conditioners, refrigerators freezers and electric ranges had a wonderful marketing team (or perhaps it was the design team) that came up with all sorts of colorful names to call the unique details of their stove-tops and ovens. The Thermatic Kookall, the Tel-O-Matic Light Source and the Verti-Broiler are just three examples that dazzled potential range buyers but mostly they were glitzy names for ordinary features that other popular ranges came with too.  Until the exclusive Gibson Verti-Brolier was born.

Inspired by the close heating elements of the common, everyday toaster the Verti-Broiler turned the meat industry on its side (literally) buy taking the same directional cooking concept as a slice of bread but exchanging it with a slice of beef. With the pronounced ability “to seal in savory juices in seconds” this proposed method was supposed to cut cooking time in half making it a helpful necessity for busy working men and women. In a future post we are going to experiment with this cooking method (steak on the vertical)  to see what happens. Stay tuned for more on that this summer.

5. Linen-Like Paper Napkins

It may seem a bit difficult nowadays to get excited about a paper napkin – but in 1956 they were indeed a source of novelty among meal planners. By giving women a plausible, non-guilty excuse for setting aside their traditional cloth napkins, these paper cousins eliminated the need for excess laundering and large linen closets. Thanks to the 1956 invention of the Scotkin – Scott Paper Company’s introduction of the super strong and absorbent 2-ply paper napkin, these elegant yet disposable damask designed napkins boosted all the beauty of linen without all the upkeep.  No more washing, starching, and ironing needed with a Scotkin – just use and toss out. They were available in two sizes – dinner and family and were destined to become an ever-useful staple paving the way for similar products still on the market today.

6. Washable Wall Canvas

Wall-Tex Washable Wall Canvas

The Columbus Coated Fabrics Corporation began introducing washable wall canvases in the early 1950’s but by 1956 they were hitting their stride and gaining such popularity that dozens of new designs were being unveiled each year under the Wall-Tex brand. Prized for their easy ability to wipe off grease, dirt and drawings (as seen above!) this durable wallpaper-like covering sped up housecleaning and allowed for a somewhat more relaxed atmosphere when it came to looking after the messy effects of energetic kids, pets and cooks.  Hung with paste just like traditional wallpaper, Wall-Tex canvases were baked with a layer of plasti-chrome that produced smooth, easy-to-clean surfaces ideal for kitchens,  bathrooms and play areas. Columbus Coated Fabrics Corporation and the Wall-Tex brand went out of business in 2001 but recently peel and stick wallpaper has come back into fashion again so perhaps we will head down the highway of washable wall canvases yet again.

8. Under the Sink Storage

Kitchen cabinetry first debuted in the 1930’s, and was improving by functionality and appearance with each decade. If you wanted to keep pace with all the latest interior design trends in 1956 you would have most definitely upgraded your kitchen sink. Out went the old leggy farmhouse trough style…

…and in came the organized cabinets and drawers…

Popular Youngstown brand (the leader in mid-century cabinetry) hid the plumbing, added sleek steel drainboards, a garbage disposal and pull out drawers and shelving. Deluxe models even included two sinks, pull out cutting boards and a cutlery drawer transforming the ordinary sink into an extraordinary piece of furniture.

9. Mini Tabletop Ovens

A pre-cursor to our counter-top toaster ovens, the Knapp-Monarch Automatic Electric Redi-Baker was the mini oven you needed to bake small portions right at the kitchen table. As a cost-saving device you no longer needed to heat up the big main kitchen oven in order to enjoy single serving items like breakfast sausages or biscuits, and as a convenience measure you could tote it anywhere around the house as long as you had an available electric outlet. This essentially took baking out of the kitchen and into other rooms of your choosing or even to the patio. While a great idea at the time, the Redi-Baker was in competition with a lot of other emerging small appliances eventually becoming overshadowed by bigger, more well known brands.  It was out of the market altogether within the decade.

10. Built-in Big Pots

In the traditional place of four burners on a stove-top Frigidaire Electric Ranges introduced a new concept in cooking equipment with their 1956 unveiling of the Imperial Range… a built in Thermizer. Essentially it was like a big pot sunk into the stove that could be used to boil, roast, fry or slow-cook an assorted number of dishes from soups and sauces to pot roast, dumplings, desserts,  and even popcorn. With a removable 6 quart pot that fit inside the well of the Thermizer  you could even use it to sterilize canning jars, steam vegetables and bake small pies or individual sized desserts.  A true novelty in the productivity department, it helped cut down on the expense of heating large ovens for small projects while also giving home cooks the ability to prepare and pre-plan large meals effortlessly.

Italian designer Mossimo Vignelli (1931-2014) believed that good design was a language not a style. It is easy to forget that all the bells and whistles on what we consider to be normal kitchen equipment (fridge, freezer, stove, dishwasher, sink, cabinets, etc.) first started out as novelties and innovations. They were all experiments destined to stick or stink.

We’ve come a long way from the caveman days of cooking over open fires in the wild but in the 61 years that have passed between 1956 and today it is interesting to note that we are still requiring the the same sets of demands from our ideal kitchens – time saving shortcuts, multi-tasking equipment and maximum storage.  We are still a society juggling time. We are still a society talking about the most effective ways to produce a product and fulfill a specific need. And ultimately we are still trying to sort out our most efficient eating and cooking habits. Mossimo is right.  The good bones of functional kitchen design began to form fifty years ago but the conversation isn’t over yet and the language is still being translated.  Everyday ahead gets us one smidge closer to improving the landscape we learned about yesterday.

Would you like to see any of these vintage kitchen trends embrace our modern spaces today? If so, post a comment below!

In the meantime, cheers to past designers who  made their marks and to future innovators who sustain them!

Celebrations Big and Small and Lucky!

Happy Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Welcome to The Vintage Kitchen and the new re-design of the blog! Today is definitely a cause for celebration around here both for the festive holiday and for the bevy of changes occurring around this place.  Nothing says celebration more than a glass of sparkly champagne, so we are kicking off the first official post from The Vintage Kitchen with an old Irish cocktail featuring champagne and Guinness and we are serving up a recipe that stems from this  17th century castle in Ireland…

Adare Manor County Limerick, Ireland

Before we dive into dinner you’ll have noticed that there is a bright new look here on the blog which officially launches The Vintage Kitchen. While Ms. Jeannie is away on her extended travels (read more about that here) everything has been switched over to the Vintage Kitchen including all social media platforms, so if you have followed Ms. Jeannie in the past on pinterest, instagram and twitter you’ll still be connected to the same account – it just has a different user name now. A few more changes will be unfolding here on the blog in the weeks to come including a dedicated spot for correspondence from Ms. Jeannie while she is away. So stay tuned in that department.

The vintage Black Velvet – the spritzer for beer drinkers!

In the meantime, we are popping corks and pouring a rich dark drink that was popular on the British mid-century cocktail scene.  Named the Black Velvet, it is a half and half combination of Guinness beer and extra dry champagne.

guinness_champagnecocktail

The combination of the two flavors tastes like a smooth, creamy, light and airy molasses which is lovely if you fall into the camp of people who think that Guinness is too heavy a beverage on its own.  If you are enjoying this cocktail on the home front and therefore not having it on tap from the pub, you’ll see the fun retro artwork on the Guinness cans. This one features a toucan and is an image snippet from one of their early 20th century advertising campaigns back in the day when everyone thoroughly believed that Guinness was good for you.

This was the whole picture of the original campaign. So cute!

There is no doubt that the interior of Adare Manor has seen it’s fair share of Guinness drinkers. Perhaps visitors have even enjoyed a Black Velvet or two while strolling among the grounds. The country castle that makes up Adare Manor was originally part of the Earls of Dunraven lineage and managed to stay in the family from the 17th century through 1986. When expenses and upkeep got to be too much for family members to shoulder it was sold to a hotelier who turned the former home into a luxurious beacon of upscale tourism.

Like The Vintage Kitchen, Adare Manor is currently undergoing a transformation in the forms of upgrades and remodels, which is why a dinner menu from a former executive chef at this hallowed estate seemed so fitting for the launch of our first official Vintage Kitchen post. From way down in the belly of this beautiful building comes an outside of the box St. Patrick’s Day menu that eliminates the crock-pot and brisket and sets aside the cabbage for a light and lively springtime meal that looks at traditional Irish ingredients in a nontraditional way.

Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Roulade with Champagne-Chive Dressing

On the menu tonight it is Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Roulade with Spring Greens and a Champagne-Chive Dressing.

Capitalizing on all things seasonal, this recipe is great for this time of year because it features chives, spring lettuce and scallions all which are now in season at the farmers market.  A little note about prep time:  while this recipe is fairly easy to make and contains basic easy-to-find ingredients, the roulade requires seven hours of refrigeration time before cooking so you may want to get this recipe ready in the morning if you want to plan on having it for dinner. That being said, the finished dish is well worth the wait and all that extra fridge time.

We’ll start with the roulade recipe since that takes the most time to prepare…

Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Roulade  (serves 6)

2 tablespoons butter

2 large white skinned potatoes, peeled and very thinly sliced

4 ounces goat cheese

4 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon

In a medium saute pan heat one teaspoon butter over medium heat and saute the potatoes (turning regularly with a fork so they don’t burn) until tender but not browned (about 2-3 minutes).  Note: You’ll see as you are cooking the potatoes that they will go from white to translucent. When you can see your fork tines underneath the potato slice that is when you know they are ready to be removed from the heat.  Place cooked potatoes on a sheet of parchment paper to cool.

Cooked potato slices.

Continue working in batches adding more butter by the teaspoonful when needed until you all potatoes are cooked.

When all the potatoes have cooled to room temperature, lay them out on a new sheet of parchment paper in a square shape with slices slightly overlapping.

Cheese on top of potatoes.

Next add the goat cheese on top of the potatoes – spreading it in a layer all over the potatoes. Note: this is much easier if your goat cheese is also at room temperature. A frosting knife works well for this task or your fingers!

On top of the cheese place the layer of smoked salmon slices.

Salmon on top of cheese.

Using the edge of the parchment paper as a guide, carefully roll up the potato cheese salmon mixture to form a log. Twist the edge of the parchment and stick the whole roll in the fridge for 7 hours.

This is what the roulade roll will look like once you unwrap it from its 7 hour rest in the fridge.

While the roulade is in the fridge, make the dressing for the salad, it can sit for as long as you like before serving…

Champagne Chive Dressing

Champagne Chive Dressing

2 tablespoons champagne

3 tablespoons olive oil

Minced fresh chives to taste

1 scallion, sliced

A pinch of sugar (I used organic cane sugar )

Sea salt and fresh pepper to taste

6 handfuls of mixed baby greens

In a small bowl whisk all the ingredients together except the baby greens. Set aside the dressing and the greens until just before serving the roulades.

After the seven hour rest in the fridge, remove the roulade roll and unwrap it. It should feel very cold and firm. Cut the roulade into one inch thick slices . Heat a saute pan over medium high heat and add a half teaspoon of butter to coat the pan.

Warm up the roulade!

Quickly saute the slices until crisp and bubbling brown on both sides (about 3-4 minutes). Remove the pan from the heat. Toss the dressing with the spring greens and place a handful of salad on each plate. Top with roulade slices and a dash of salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Roulade with Champagne Chive Dressing

Keep the festive atmosphere going by indulging in a glass of champagne with your dinner and you’ll discover a nice savory sweet pairing of subtle spring flavors here. Both the roulade and the baby greens offer a satisfying crunch but if you’d like to include some fresh crusty bread with your meal that would also be delicious. Next time, you make this you could even experiment with other ingredients like replacing the smoked salmon with thinly shaved corned beef brisket or ham and replacing the goat cheese with blue cheese or baby swiss. The possibility for extra creativity when it comes to this Irish dinner is vast and varied, which makes it endlessly interesting.

Cheers to a most celebratory St. Patrick’s Day night, dear readers! May you laugh as much as you breathe and love as much as you live.

 

Bon Voyage Ms. Jeannie!

bonvoyage1

The passport is out. The suitcase is filling up. Ms Jeannie is getting ready to embark on an extended trip.

Caught up in a sleuthing adventure that will take her around the world Ms. Jeannie will be wearing her best detective hat as she scours big cities and small towns for clues to one giant mystery of history. It is not certain how long she’ll be gone or what exactly she is working on, but it will be a long while before she returns and depending on her location she might not always be able to stay in touch regularly.

In the interim while she is away, there will be a new (to you) name and face managing the vintage landscape and holding down the history fort that has been the world of Ms. Jeannie Ology for the past five years. Hello, dear readers, my name is Katherine! While you may not have known me by name all these years, you have known me by words as the voice behind Ms. Jeannie, the writer of this blog and the interpreter of the muse that is MJO.  As you all know by now Ms. Jeannie prides herself on  keeping a bit of anonymity regarding her identity. And in working with her for all these years now, my identity has also been somewhat mysterious too. But now that Ms. Jeannie is off on her own, an independent traveler out on the oceans of discovery, I too, am embarking on a new adventure myself.

Like Ms. Jeannie, I have a passion for all things vintage but there is one particular area that holds a high level of fascination – the kitchen.  When Ms. Jeannie was battening down the proverbial hatches, covering the furniture and boarding up the windows in preparation for her long trip aboard she left one room of her vintage house open and untouched – the kitchen. Ms. Jeannie and I have spent a lot of happy and fulfilling time in the vintage kitchen, as you have read about so many times here on the blog.  So when Ms. Jeannie announced her plans for departure, the evolution of the blog seemed to naturally reveal itself.  Our vintage world dear readers is getting  a bit more specialized.

You’ll remember in 2015, we went through a narrowing of the vintage lens once before with a focus on vintage books. That distinction led to an unexpected yet completely enthralling love of vintage cookbooks which then led to our new found specialty and the future subject of our blog. With that being said, Ms. Jeannie and I are very pleased to welcome you to our new focus…

vintagekitchen_logo

The Vintage Kitchen – where history comes to eat!  This direction, although new, will still be quite similar to the same types of writing approaches we have taken in the past.  I’ll  be discussing all the various components that make up the vintage kitchen from cooking techniques and recipes, to interior design and decoration, to music and art and all things that food has inspired. There will still be interviews and movie nights, cookbooks and countdowns, field trips and travel getaways, gardening posts and fashion pieces to work with but from here on out things will all be connected and centered around that one food-centric room in the house that everyone has loved for centuries. And there will be postcards.  Sent from any and all available ports of call, Ms. Jeannie promises to pop in and say hello from time to time with tidbits about her travels, hopefully some photographs and if time permits her possibly even some lengthy letters.

The store (coming very soon!) is being stocked as we speak with a curated collection of vintage kitchen-themed treasures including original art and handmade objects refurbished from antique materials. So while it may seem like things are changing in a big way, they really aren’t changing that much – just narrowing the focus a little bit more.

Stylistically the blog will be evolving over the next month and you’ll see changes in appearance that reflect the new theme as well as  the launch of a new storefront. There will be a special page just for Ms. Jeannie’s far-flung correspondence and there will be a much more easy to navigate recipe section that allows for simplified ingredient searches and printable pages.  There are future plans too for some really innovative and interactive components, should Ms. Jeannie’s travels extend for years, but each new element will be unveiled one at a time to ensure a smooth transition.

I hope dear readers that you’ll be as excited as we are about this new direction and that you’ll continue to keep in touch. If there are any topics that  interest you regarding the vintage kitchen  please post a message below and I will be happy to dive right into discovering some interesting stories surrounding your suggestions.

In the meantime, please join me in sending Ms. Jeannie off on her travels with best of luck wishes. Maybe she’ll be popping up in your neck of the woods on her sleuthing adventure. You never know where our mysterious Ms. Jeannie might land. Keep your eyes peeled for a woman in an orange headscarf and cat eye sunglasses.

 

Cheers to Year Five and the New Direction It’s Inspired!

flowerfive

Today spirits are soaring in the land of Ms. Jeannie as we celebrate the fifth year birthday of the blog. Can you believe it dear readers? Five years! A major accomplishment for a perpetual on-the-goer like Ms. Jeannie, it feels like both a whirlwind and also a very long, slow dance around the tree of fulfillment.

When the blog was born on February 27th, 2012 there was no clear cut plan or outline as to what would be discussed post by post, month by month, year by year other than a some-what vague determination to bring forgotten stories of the past to light once again.  There was never even any inkling of assurance that the blog would stick around and make it to a one year birthday and then a two year birthday and then a three. But now over 225 posts and over 900 readers later this blog has traveled around the world wrapping up centuries of history into one tidy bundle. There have been interviews and cooking experiments, nature walks and road trips, books and movies, art and fashion and the sale of over 1000 antiques all dissected and discussed through the lens of history here on the blog. We’ve learned a lot in five years!

In covering such a wide variety of topics a narrower focus has come into view, and a new passion has been ignited, which means a very big (BIG!) change is coming to the land of Ms. Jeannie. It’s an evolution of the most exciting proportions and a realization that would have never come about had these past five years of experience not existed. Stay tuned over the course of this next week to learn about the all-new adventures ahead!

And as always thank you (THANK YOU!) dear readers for traveling through history alongside Ms. Jeannie. Your enthusiasm and your engagement have kept the flames of curiosity fed for all these years. Cheers to you!

 

Anna Clellan and the Love Apple Soup circa 1928

Tomato Soup circa 1928

Tomato Soup circa 1928

There has been a lot of talk about recipes here on the blog as of late but so many interesting food-related topics have been popping up recently in the historic land of Ms. Jeannie, it seems a shame not to share them. So here we are back in the vintage kitchen with a newly discovered almost 100 year old recipe that came from Ms. Jeannie’s great -great Aunt.   This week’s post takes us to the heartland of America – a middle state where young newlyweds ventured via covered wagon in the the 1860’s and set up life, spreading their roots so deep in the soil they practically built up the foundation of a small township.

Albert, Martha, their children and grandchildren

Albert and Martha (pictured on each side of the flower arrangement)  in Vinton, Iowa surrounded by their children and grandchildren.

We have talked about the Edwards’ family a few times previously on the blog so if you are a regular reader you’ll remember the adventurous Albert and his wife Martha who married in Johnson County, Indiana in 1865 and then immediately (the very next day in fact!) got into a covered wagon and headed west towards a new frontier. Three months later, Albert and Martha settled in Benton County, Iowa in a small town east of Cedar Rapids.

If you are familiar with Little House on the Prairie and are up on your John Travolta movies you’ll know Vinton, Iowa for two reasons. It is where Mary Ingalls  attended the Iowa School for the Blind (also known as the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School) between 1881-1889 and it is where they filmed many scenes of the movie, Michael, (including the final courthouse scene) starring John Travolta, Andie MacDowell, William Hurt and Oliver Platt.

Vinton, Iowa is faomus for these faces and places.

Vinton, Iowa is faomus for these faces and places.

Known primarily for its burgeoning agricultural opportunities in the mid-1800’s, Martha and Albert had two goals when they moved to Vinton – farming and family. In true pioneer spirit they  got down to business right away working out their farmplace and starting a family dynasty that would eventually produce 11 children and 45 grandchildren.  Their first baby, Anna was born during the crispy days of October 1866 just 19 months after their arrival in Iowa.

As the oldest of her 10 brothers and sisters, Anna learned a  lot about farm life, babies and family relationships. By the time she was 4 she saw the birth of two brothers  and then the sad death of one those brothers who was in her life for just 7 short months. The next five years brought three new sisters and then the death of her remaining brother Cornelius. So by the time Anna was nine years old she had already witnessed the death of two of her siblings.

When Anna turned 18 in 1885 and married Selmon T. Whipple she had six sisters in total ranging in age from 2-14. Immediately following their wedding Anna and Selmon set up their own farm in Benton County and got to work on their own family. At this point  in the late 1880’s and early 1890’s, babies were coming into the family from all directions.

Anna’s mom, Martha was still having her own kids and Anna was just starting to have hers, which means mom and daughter were preganant and giving birth at the same time.  So the the first few years of Anna’s marriage went something like this… a baby boy for Anna, and then a baby brother for Anna, a baby girl for Anna and then a baby sister for Anna. It’s a whirlwind of confusion and name sharing where all the aunts and uncles are close in infantile age to their nieces and nephews but brothers and sisters have almost two decades between them. And then add in the fact that Anna’s six sisters were starting to marry and have their own families and it was just kids everywhere.

 

 

Selmon and Anna's house in Vinton Iowa, built in 1906

Selmon and Anna’s house in Vinton, Iowa.

Basically for the first twenty years of Anna’s marriage she was pregnant and raising babies. Her fifth son Frankie died the day he was born but all the other little ones made it through to adulthood.  A year and a half  after her last baby, a little girl named Nellie, was born, Anna’s husband Selmon fell off a shed and became paralyzed.  For three long months he lay immobile at home before he died  leaving Anna, aged 45, the entire responsibility of managing the farm, twelve kids and her large house.

Death notice printed in the Vinton Eagle, 1912

Selmon’s death notice printed in the Vinton Eagle, 1912

But Anna was a strong woman and she came through this tragic circumstance with courage and a loving heart still intact. In addition to all this newly placed responsibility she even managed to take on the  care and raising of her infant grandson, whose mother (Anna’s daughter-in-law) died from tuberculosis.

As the wife of a farmer with over a hundred acres in crop production and the mother of thirteen children Anna knew her way around the vegetable garden and the kitchen. In 1928 she submitted a recipe to the Vinton Cook Book which was compiled by the First Division Pastor’s Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. With a little help from the ladies at the Vinton Historical Society, Ms. Jeannie was able to acquire a copy of the recipe that Anna submitted.

cookbook

cookbook2

cookbook3

The recipe is for tomato soup. It is a very simple one with few components but it does contain one unusual ingredient – baking soda. Today in the vintage kitchen we are recreating this 89 year old recipe to see what cooking in the 1920’s tastes like and to see if it still appeals to our modern palettes.

Tomato Soup circa 1928

Tomato Soup circa 1928

Most likely Anna would have used previously canned summer tomatoes from her garden in this recipe or she would have made it fresh during the summer months and possibly canned the soup for winter consumption. Either way, it is February and Ms. Jeannie does not have any leftover summer tomatoes on hand nor does she have any fresh in the garden. So instead we are relying on fresh hot house tomatoes that were grown in Chile. Ms. Jeannie did not have high hopes for flavor with these guys even though they looked absolutely beautiful in the grocery store.

soup2

But she was very pleasantly surprised at both the sweetness and firm fleshiness of these traveling love apples. Anna served her soup topped with a sprinkle of crushed crackers, which most likely would have been soda crackers or saltines. But Ms. Jeannie wanted to pair her soup with something a little more exciting so she made rustic Caprese-style toast to partner. Look for that recipe following the soup. She also added 1/3 cup tomato paste at the end, which is not in Anna’s original recipe (as you’ll notice from the picture above) –  an explanation for that addition follows the final step. Other than that, the recipe was made as-is.

Anna’s Tomato Soup (circa 1928)

1 quart tomatoes (about 4 -5 cups)

1 pint milk (about 2 cups)

1 pint water (about 2 cups)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 pint beef broth (about 2 cups)

2 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup tomato paste

4 crackers (optional- see second recipe)

Salt & pepper to taste

soup3

  1. Remove seeds from tomato (Note: there is no mention as to whether the skins of the tomato should be on or off – most likely they would be skinless, but Ms. Jeannie left them on and they rolled themselves into thin toothpicks which added a little bit of texture to the overall soup in the end. Next time she will try making it with the skins removed. So it is your preference on this aspect.)
  2. Add the tomatoes and water to a large pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.
  3. Add the baking soda and stir – like those lava volcanoes you used to make in third grade science class, this tomato /baking soda combo does foam up quite a bit, so keep stirring it until it comes to a boil. Then add the milk, butter and beef broth and bring to a boil again.

At this point, Anna mixed in some salt and pepper, called it done and ladled the soup into bowls, topping each with some crushed crackers. But the soup at this stage was very thin and tasted rather plain and uneventful so Ms. Jeannie added 1/3 cup tomato paste and let it simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes. By adding the paste it gave the soup a much more tomato-y flavor and thickened it up a bit. The purpose of adding the baking soda was to neutralize the acid in the tomatoes, which it did beautifully. By the time it was ready to serve this soup had a gorgeous, silky consistency, bright flavor and a rusty orange hue.

soup4

Garlic, Basil Cheese Toast (makes two slices of toast)

1 clove garlic, roughly chopped

6 fresh basil leaves, chopped

2 mini mozzarella balls, sliced thin

2 slices of multi-grain braed

2 teaspoons olive oil

dash of red pepper flakes

  1. Slice bread and smother each slice with one teaspoon of olive oil.  Add the cheese  in a polka dot style fashion and intersperse the garlic. Sprinkle the basil leaves, red pepper flakes and a dash of salt on top.
  2. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 8 minutes and then broil for  1-2 minutes until edges of crust start to brown slightly.

soup5

Back in the late 19th century and early 20th century farm meals were big because family members and workers needed sustenance to get them through their chores. Apple pie was often served at breakfast alongside eggs and bacon and fried chicken and casseroles and  fresh bread. Most likely this soup would have accompanied many other dishes on the table, which is why it is not made of heartier stock. In our modern world, this makes a lovely light lunch or quick snack if you are pressed for time. And like any good foundation recipe it can be augmented with lots of other elements including onions and fresh basil, garlic, sour cream, Parmesan cheese… you get the idea. It is quite lovely on its own but Anna wouldn’t mind at all if you wanted to add your own creativity to the mix.

After Anna’s husband died in 1912, she managed the farm for another 9 years growing corn and oats and reporting regularly in the newspaper as to their qualities and quantities. She raised her kids and grandkids and kept her house bustling with love and care. Eventually she said goodbye to farm life and moved into town to live with one of her daughters.  Active in various community organizations and  her local church  she was referred to as being noble, generous and kind. When she passed away in the 1940’s at the age of 81, she left behind a family dynasty that included 10 children, 31 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and one great recipe.

Unfortunately this tiny photograph is the only identifiable image of Anna. Pictured on the far left, she is posing with her sisters in front her farmhouse when she was in her 70’s. Anna also appears in the family portrait at the top of this post but she is unidentifiable along with all the other women. One day soon hopefully we can place a name with a face!

Cheers to family cooks, the recipes they make and the love they pass on!

*** UPDATE 2/24/2017 *** One of our readers sent a question regarding measurements of pints and quarts and how many tomatoes actually made up one pint. Ms. Jeannie used all the vine-ripened tomatoes you see in the photos (12 in total) which were each roughly the size of a plum. If fresh tomatoes aren’t an option in your neck of the woods, substitute them with 4-5 cups of canned tomatoes (make sure the seeds have been removed).

Also to make things simpler, ingredients calling for pints and quarts have been measured out into cups as well (see ingredient list), since that is a more common unit of measurement in today’s world of cooking. These new updates will take out all the mathematical guess work making this recipe even easier and faster to make!

 

Suzy Snowflake and the Marshmallow World

Washington DC, 1922

Washington DC, 1922

How very exciting this week has been for snow lovers around the U.S.! With all this winter white floating and flying around the country, February is chalking itself up to be one of prettiest winter months on record. Sadly there has been no snowy weather to report from Ms. Jeannie’s city but that’s okay because today snow scenes are not hard to come by as we travel back in time to some of the biggest snowstorms of the 19th and 20th centuries.

This post is all about the beauty of the blizzard as experienced from all sides of the States, north to south, east to west. We are also introducing two new (but actually old) snow songs that every once in a while get lumped into Christmas song rotation but actually have nothing to do with the holiday itself. Instead, these two whimsical melodies express all the hap-hap-happy joy found in a good day of snow.  So grab your mug of hot chocolate, turn up the volume and enjoy the snowstorms to come…

Suzy Snowflake debuted in 1951 and quickly became a popular hit for Rosemary Clooney for the next three decades.

New York City circa 1917

New York City, 1917

 

Boston circa 1875

Boston, 1875

 

Detroit circa early 1900's

Detroit,  early 1900’s

 

snow-1950s

Possibly this is Suzy Snowflake herself circa 1963!

 

New York City, 1892

New York City, 1892

 

Minnesota, 1940's

Minnesota, 1940’s

 

Kentucky

Kentucky Mountains – early 19th century

 

Chicago 1956

Chicago, 1956

 

Eagle River, Wisconsin, 1911

Eagle River, Wisconsin, 1911

 

Belfast Maine, 1952

Belfast, Maine, 1952

 

Chicago snowplows, 1908

Chicago, 1908

 

New Jersey, 1926

New Jersey, 1926

 

snow_nyc1905

New York City, 1905

 

Seattle 1916

Seattle, 1916

 

Washington DC, 1922

Washington DC, 1922

 

Mckenzie Pass, Oregon, 1929

Mckenzie Pass, Oregon, 1929

 

Connecticut, 1888

Connecticut, 1888

 

It’s A Marshmallow World was first recorded in 1949 and was performed by Bing Crosby. This version (Ms. Jeannie’s favorite!) by Brenda Lee debuted in 1964.

Wisconsin, 1925

Wisconsin, 1925

 

Vermont, 1940

Vermont, 1940

 

Ohio 1952

Ohio 1952

 

Colorado, 1906

Colorado, 1906

 

1950's

1950’s

 

Alaska, 1910

Alaska, 1910

 

Tennessee 1918

Tennessee 1918

 

Buffalo, New York 1977

Buffalo, New York 1977

 

San Francisco, CA 1887

San Francisco, CA 1887

 

Harrisburg, PA circa early 1940's

Harrisburg, PA circa early 1940’s

Cheers to happy snowmen and winter site-seers! May your snow day, however you are experiencing it, be merry and bright!

All photos courtesy of pinterest and ebay. Click on each for more detailed info. 

Cooking While Under Construction: This Old House {Part One)

An artistic rendering of Michael and Renee's vintage house!

An artistic rendering of Michael and Renee’s vintage house on the outskirts of New York City.

Today we are announcing a very exciting multiple part series here on the blog based on real-life history-making circumstances that are facing two of our readers. You’ll remember these familiar faces, Michael and Renee as winners from our Sparta giveaway last November.  In communicating during their prize winnings and exchange of recipes they shared exciting but daunting news that they would soon be undergoing a kitchen renovation in their 1940’s New York colonial. Not new to the reconstruction game (these two have been updating their house for the past several years) this kitchen project in particular kept getting put off because it was going to take three months. Three long months for two people who are crazy about cooking.

The thought of 90 days of food preparation among tarps and tape and sawdust and drills and hammers and workbenches during cold, wet winter sounded anything but appealing. But alas with a firm “Let’s begin,” from their contractor, the project could be put off no longer. The time had come for Michael and Renee to embrace the chaos that is a historic house kitchen renovation.

In submitting finally to this process a challenge has been posed.  Can these two epicureans figure out what and how to cook when a fully functional kitchen will not be accessible for the next 270 meals? Can their sanity keep up with their ideal determination not to eat out or order in during the entire phase of construction? What will these two gourmet cooks and farmers market foodies make during this three month stretch that will keep their hearts happy and their stomachs satisfied? Can they stay true to themselves and approach food in their normal, healthy, excited-to-cook-for-you kind of way? Or will they succumb to the frustrations and inabilities of not having continuous access to the proper prep space, cooking equipment, storage facilities or clean-up stations?

Will they slip out to Starbucks for breakfast on the go? Will they develop reasons for in-city lunch meetings or after work “networking” cocktails?  Will friends and family take pity on them and invite them over to enjoy someone else’s home cooked meal? How will their enthusiasm towards healthy eating be affected? How will their culinary creativity be tested?  And most importantly, of all the challenge questions, what happens if the construction plans take longer than 12 weeks?

Over the next several months, Michael and Renee, will share in their own words how things are going. They’ll report on what they are making and how they are feeling. They’ll talk about how the construction is evolving and about how their initial hopes and aspirations have been received by the physical parameters of the construction process itself. And if everything goes south (no pun intended!) and they find themselves without the ability or the desire or the space to properly cook they’ll share those thoughts as well. It’s a food lover’s journey trekking across a bumpy pumpernickel road that stretches out over a quarter of a year. Will it sprout new innovations or will it turn their minds into toast for a dozen weeks? Let’s jump right in and see!

We begin this series with an introduction from Michael and Renee and a special, sentimental send-off  recipe from their soon-to-be-old kitchen marking the start of their culinary construction adventure…

When we moved out of the West Village and bought our house in our “micro-urban” town in southern Westchester County, NY we did so with a firm and well-defined 5-year plan.  Nine years later, we are about to embark on what should’ve been our year two project.  To quote the sage Mike Tyson, “everybody has a plan until you get punched in the face.”  Thanks, life.  

Joking aside, we really like living here and we really love our home.  We have a better commute than most people that live in the confines of the Five Boroughs, and we get all the perks of the ‘burbs…the car, the trees, the backyard, the nosy neighbors…well, maybe not everything is a perk.  So, when we recently decided that it was time to either trade-up or up-grade we came to a fairly quick decision that we would do some serious renovating and stay put.  When we say “serious renovating” we’re not kidding – we’re talking new kitchen, extension off the back of the house, new siding, new family room, and a new deck.  We got the ball rolling back in October and quickly found a contractor, got the plans in order and started looking for appliances and materials.  We figured that by late February we’d be done.  As of today, the anticipated start date on the project is February 15, with a 12-week estimated duration.  Given that we started out 7 years behind schedule, that’s not so bad.

One of the key sacrifices we’re going to have to make is being without a kitchen for a few months.  We are the type of people that have almost every single meal we eat come from our kitchen.  Breakfast at home every day.  We take lunch to work every day.  We cook dinner at home almost every night (gone are the days of restaurant hopping in the West Village, but we still get out sometimes).   

We are honored that our good and great friend Ms. Jeannie has asked us to chronicle this process for you, Dear Reader, on her amazing blog.  We hope that we can do justice to her gracious request, and we hope that we don’t scare too many of you away from the joys of home improvement.

For this first blog post, we are paying homage to the first meal we cooked in our home almost nine years ago – Roast Chicken and Risotto.  Our palates and our influences (and, for one of us, our cholesterol levels) have changed considerably since those bygone days, so our “updated” chicken dish is a little Israeli, a little Moroccan, a little Spanish, and a little local Farmer’s Market.  

In subsequent blog posts, I expect that our recipes will reflect the state of (or complete lack of) our kitchen, but for now happy cooking!  We encourage comments, requests, suggestions and commiserations from other renovation survivors.  

israeli

Israeli Inspired Chicken

Based on Israeli Inspired Chicken from Frankie Cooks

Ingredients:

3 – 3 ½ lb. organic free-range chicken (preferably from a farmer you know)

2 tbsp. each of za-atar, paprika and turmeric

¼ tsp. saffron

1 cinnamon stick

Salt and black pepper

2 Tbs. Olive Oil

1 cup of jasmati rice

½ bulb of fennel, sliced thin

4 cloves of garlic, smashed

1 leek, thinly sliced

2 cups of chicken stock (homemade is best)

1 small orange, sliced

Zest from one lemon (reserve the juice for serving)

Pomegranate arils (optional – we did not use, but felt that it would have added a freshness and zing at the end to the dish) and fresh chopped parsley or cilantro, for serving

mr1

For the brine:

1/3 cup kosher salt

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

1/3 raw cane or coconut sugar

4 cups of filtered water

Up to two days before, spatchcock your chicken.  Combine the first three ingredients of the brine in a large bowl and whisk well.  Add the 4 cups of water and whisk until fully combined.  Add the chicken to the bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.

mr2

The next morning, remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry.  Discard the brine.  Transfer the chicken to a rack breast side up.  Season the skin with kosher salt and black pepper and return the refrigerator, uncovered for 8 – 24 hours.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and sprinkle both sides with the za-atar, paprika and turmeric.  Set aside.

Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 325 degrees.

Heat a wide dutch oven or large sauté pan with a tightly fitting top on medium-high heat.  Heat the olive oil and add the chicken, skin side down, and brown for about 4-5 minutes without moving.

Meanwhile, warm the chicken stock in a saucepan on low, or in a microwave, and add the saffron and cinnamon stick to bloom.

Remove the chicken and reduce heat to medium low.  Add the fennel, garlic and leek and sauté until soft and translucent, about 5-8 minutes.

Add the rice and toast until fragrant, about 3-5 minutes.

Add the chicken stock and saffron mixture and citrus to the pan. Increase heat to high, and bring to a boil.  Then reduce to a simmer, add the chicken and cover.

mr7

Move the pan to the oven and cook for approximately 35 – 40 minutes, or until the rice is cooked and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reads 165 degrees.

Remove chicken from the pan to rest.  Fluff the rice and plate, garnishing with pomegranate arils, herbs and a fresh lemon juice.

mr4

Carve the chicken and plate on top of the rice.  

mr5

Such a fitting farewell meal to all the fun times Michael and Renee have enjoyed in their vintage kitchen. Cheers to another 70 years of good times to come when all the renovations are complete!

Next time we catch up with these two bravehearts we’ll learn about the specifics of their construction project and see how this whole fresh food situation is faring. In the meantime, if you missed Renee and Michael’s other recipes featuring Greek olive oil and oregano find them here. And if you have any words of advice or helpful suggestions as these two get-going, please post a comment below!

Photo credit: All photos for this post are courtesy of Michael and Renee.

Bright B(old) Things: 9 Book and Movie Suggestions for an Inspired Year Ahead

 

best of vintage 2016 list

“The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears and new eyes.” So said British author G. K. Chesterton.

Even though he spoke these words of wisdom in the first part of the 20th century, don’t you think they are still absolutely appropriate reminders for today? This new year is bursting at the seams with potential and possibility. And it is up to us to make the most of it – to get our dreams and aspirations from the inside to the outside.   In the land of Ms. Jeannie we are starting the year off with a list of fascinating books and movies that will give you those new ears and new eyes, that new backbone and new soul that Chesterton so smartly referred to. Today we are looking at the magical rewards of life from different perspectives as told by people who muddled their way through the long, wayward process of dream-building and came out the other side with wisdom and wonder to share.

Offering equal amounts of inspiration and entertainment, these books and movies were discovered in 2016 but cover a wide time period. On the older side there is a new documentary about a still-living fashion icon born in the 1920’s and an incredibly romantic 2015  movie based on a classic novel written in 1847. On the newer side, we tackle old thoughts on homekeeping in our modern 21st century environment with a book about interior decorating and we spend a year in the life of modern day archaeologist/historians as they recreate authentic farm life in rural Edwardian England.

It’s a fun, eclectic collection but you’ll notice a common thread running between them all – commitment, dedication, confidence. By drawing inspiration from this cast of characters, we can draw parallels to our own lives that will help motivate the dreams that swirl around our heads and hearts and hopefully get us thinking about what steps we can take today that will affect our desires tomorrow.  Let’s look…

In the reading department…

1.No Place Like Home – Brooke Berman (2010)

august1

Budding playwright Brooke Berman had a simple goal. To find a home that she could call her own. Not one that she purchased. A rental was just fine. Not a house. An apartment would suit. And not even necessarily one that excluded roommates. She just wanted to find a place where she could store her stuff and her self for a permanent amount of time. Longer than thirty days. In 1990’s New York City.

You’d think this would be an easy feat, but for Brooke it took 39 apartments and many years to finally figure out where and how she belonged. For anyone who has ever moved more than a few times in their lives you’ll understand the importance of Brooke’s desire to feel settled. But as much as this memoir is about finding a place of one’s own it is also a step-by-step account of one woman’s journey towards self-realization. Like Janice and her Paris Letters, Brooke tells the real story of what it is like to pursue lofty creative work while fighting through the muck-ridden minutiae of basic daily life. Friendships bloom and wither, romances come and go, jobs begin and end, family members die and tragedy strikes. Despite it all Brooke keeps moving (literally!) towards her dream of a permanent address and a professional career.

Her level of determination is inspiring. Her stay-the-course focus impressive. And if you ever wanted to know what it’s really like to live in New York City, on an artist’s salary, then this is the no-holes barred book for you:)

2. Rethink – Amanda Talbot (2015)

rethink

This book had Ms. Jeannie thinking for weeks and weeks about home design after she finished it. Part history book, part design journal, part holistic living primer, Rethink tackles a lot of issues between it’s pretty covers.  Illustrating how we have become a society of store-ers (owners of so much stuff that storage units are called into action to house the overflow) and accept-ers (of cheaply made, cheaply massed produced short-term furniture), Australian decorator and home style maven Amanda Talbot challenges us to rethink how we use our homes in today’s 21st century world.

Drawing on the nostalgic ideas of home from centuries past when big family, large-scale houses dominated  our landscape, Amanda explains how the history of interior design has affected our mental and physical state for hundreds of years.  Needless to say, times have changed significantly. Big houses are being traded in for micro ones. Traditional function rooms designed for single purposes (dining room, kitchen, bedroom, etc) have now morphed into convertible spaces where we eat, sleep, work and entertain all in the same area. But strangely our thought processes in how we approach these new room layouts has been slow to catch-up.

We require more out of our personal space than ever before in history, yet we fail more often than not to make our rooms fit our lifestyle. Amanda encourages us to break free of the nostalgic past. Beds are now workspaces, mediation zones and offices.   Kitchens are now shipping centers and compost bins and charging stations. Balconies are now vegetable patches, reading rooms and communication hubs. You get the idea!

rethink2

In touch with both the practical and spiritual sense of home, Amanda illustrates how certain textures, light sources, and furniture arrangement appeal to our modern minds and moods. She hails the use of soft warm wood and vintage furniture for its steadfast constitution and inherent ability to withstand time – something that is assuring to our psyche in the constantly changing and emotionally abrasive world of the 2010 years.  She proposes new more efficient and intuitive ways to decorate now that we are a world of citizens constantly on the go. She tackles harmony and peacefulness, blended family relationships and plugged in environments, lighting, trash disposal and greenspace with a thoughtfulness that is provoking. By the time you finish the last page, you’ll look at your home environment and understand more about it and yourself. Rethink will make you want to question and refine your style to the infinite degree so that you are paired down and using only what is necessary, what is essential and what is meaningful in order to balance your being.

3. The Year of Reading Dangerously – Andy Miller (2014)

andymiller2

In The Year of Reading Dangerously, Andy Miller had one goal: to read the books on his bookshelf that he thought were important. The ones that he eluded to loving at cocktail parties (Jane Austen? Yes of course! I love all her books!)  or at dinner tables (Tolstoy”s work is amazing!) but secretly had never actually read before.

Andy’s book collection was quite diverse and spanned a multitude of genres and time periods.  Some were classic literature, some popular fiction, some the mark of an intellectual mind and some just complete whimsies of a fun-time book lover. He narrowed his list down to 50 books to be read in 365 days. And he stuck to it, whether he liked or not.

Throughout his year, he juggles his reading list and his job, alongside his enthusiasm, his family, his friends and his small son. He battles his pre-conceived notions, and his fortitude, his sanity and his propensity to weasel out of the ones he doesn’t like (which are a few!). He evens battles the point of the whole project. Who would care what a middle-aged British man read or not read? The truth is, you will. You’ll fall in love with Andy and his funny, honest, highly relate-able book-loving life. As Andy steamrolls his way through the shelf, you’ll begin to think about your own bookshelf, your own sheepish list of good reads you claim to love but have never cracked open. And he’ll inspire you to get started.

4. Love In The Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1988)

august7

Like Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast which was set in 1930’s Paris, Love in the Time of Cholera transports you to another era. This time, you are in exotic 19th century Columbia – a landscape filled with colorful birds, fragrant flowers and one of the biggest romantics in all of literature.  The goal of the novel’s flawed hero,  Florentino Ariza is to win the heart of  Fermina Daza, a girl he is instantly drawn to in an unexpected moment.

The story winds through 53 years of these two characters lives despite other lovers, other passions and other pursuits, while also dealing with conflicting temperaments and grim possibilities.  Readers fly high on a captivating whirlwind of passion as Florentino boldly and consistently declares his love for Fermina with no assured possibility that it will ever be equally reciprocated. He can’t help himself. Once he sets eyes on the love of his life (literally!) there is no going back. So he marches forward day after day, year after year, on a road that wraps in circles around Fermina’s landscape. It’s a delirious concept. Delicious in its intensity and honorable in its day after day dedication.  “There is no greater glory than to die for love,” pronounces Florentino early on. With that mindset firmly established, nothing can stop Florentino from fighting for his heart’s desire.

5. Stories I Only Tell My Friends – Rob Lowe (2011)

august10

If you ever wanted to learn the inside story on how an actor makes it in Hollywood, this is the book. From his childhood in Ohio to his first movie (The Outsiders, 1983) to the established and extensive career he enjoys now in California, Rob Lowe like Brook Berman is the ultimate soldier in the battle field of staying true to your chosen calling. Sure he’s handsome, and he’s talented, and he’s a major A-List actor but it wasn’t always that way and Rob had to learn about his strengths and weaknesses, one micro-experience at a time, just like everybody else.

In Stories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob candidly talks about the long-road to fulfillment: how he struggled to find friends, find self-worth and find balance in an industry that doesn’t authentically nurture any of these. He talks about his 20+ year marriage, the raising of his two sons and the hopes and dreams he still aspires to in this middle section of his life. And he talks about Hollywood. The interesting stories of celebrity friends, behind-the-scenes movie making and project collaborations on super successful pop-culture productions like The West Wing, Parks and Rec and St. Elmo’s Fire. Alongside all that achievement are stories about embarrassing missteps, awkward associations and risky gambles.  There are setbacks and uncertainties, self-doubt and insecurity, but through it all there is Rob.  For over 40 years holding tight to his acting profession and  thoughtfully digesting all the successes and failures that a creative life consumes. He never gives up on acting. He never gives up on himself.

In the watching department…

6. Edwardian Farm (2010)

Edwardian Farm was a BBC television series which first aired in 2010 in the U.K. It is a fascinating look at the modern viability of living a handmade, handspun life void of 21st century technology as experienced by three history loving professionals – one historian and two archaeologists. For one complete calendar year, this trio set up farm in England’s beautiful Devon countryside and experienced what rural life would have been like in the early 1900’s. Their mission was to answer questions about the efficiencies and possibilities and practicalities of our modern mindsets. Knowing what we know now in 2017, could we successfully return to 1900 and survive?

The trio was tasked with not only daily living activities but also business ventures as well. So moneymaking crops had to be planted, chickens had to be raised and cows had to be milked in order to keep the farm and themselves afloat physically and financially through four seasons.  What was really interesting about this reality experience is that it was thankfully short on relationship drama and heavy on information. You don’t watch people complaining, bickering or tearing each other down. You watch instead about people utilizing their strengths and their ideas to propel the farm and each other forward.

In the 365 days of the project a lot of interesting endeavors were tackled including making their own cheese, chicken houses and lime ash. They plow fields with horses and attempt to spawn fish in a nearby creek. They smoke meat, make their own ice cream and bake traditional food all without the use of electricity. They wash and mend and reuse and recycle and re-purpose so much so that you’ll be inspired by how little equipment one really needs in order to get a good job done. And you’ll be inspired to try out some of their projects like smoking your own meat or planting your own market flower garden. It is fun entertainment that also happens to be highly informative. And like Amanda Talbot’s book, it will make you rethink the purpose of all that stuff in your life. Is it necessary? Is it needed? Is it functional?

7. Iris (2015)

Color, confidence and a little dose of charisma (okay a big dose) are what make 96 year old design maven and style icon, Iris Apfel one of the most shining examples of how to live life on your own terms.  By courageously and unapologetically letting her natural instincts and interests guide her throughout nine decades of her artistic life Iris has followed her heart all around the creative industry.  From fashion publishing to textile design, antique collecting, to clothing scout, interior designer to museum exhibit stylist Iris circumnavigated the globe while exploring everything and anything that appealed to her.

Inspiration came calling in all forms from tiny details like the quality of a certain type of thread, or the line of an unusual sculpture or the buoyancy of a puffed sleeve. Wherever she went, Iris found the unusual, and then packed it up, and shipped it home only for it to trigger a new opportunity later down the road.  An antique turns into an accessories line, a satin fabric spawns a textile company, a thrift store outfit propels a show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is how Iris’s life has gone. By sticking to her gut instincts on everything and always saying yes to opportunities that presented themselves Iris was able to enjoy a diverse and fulfilling life that consistently kept her engaged and excited. It is hard to argue with reason when it comes to things you inherently love. Iris never argued in that department. She just listened. And if this documentary teaches you anything, if Iris teaches you anything,  it is just to travel through life as yourself. Just be yourself. Listen to your gut. And above all else, cherish your individuality.

8. Far From the Madding Crowd (2015)

Thomas Hardy wrote this book in 1847 which seems incredible now because his main heroine Bathsheba Everdene is as thoroughly modern as any woman today. In the 1960’s Hardy’s book was made into a movie starring Julie Christie but this recent version starring Carey Mulligan is by far better.  If you are unfamiliar with the story-line, Carey Mulligan plays Bathsheba –  a headstrong, independent woman who inherits a farm of her own in rural England. Determined to run the farm and her life, in her own way, Bathsheba struggles with the balance between independence and vulnerability.  She doesn’t want to be governed by anyone yet she doesn’t want to be alone either. Love in Bathsheba’s eyes is balanced yet also wild, mutual yet individualistic, and supportive without being smothering.  Three very different  men converge on her life and a relationship with each unfolds. Without giving away the ending if you have not yet seen it, Ms. Jeannie will just say that Bathsheba’s choices throughout her life are as bohemian as any 1920’s flapper or any 1980’s career woman or any 2017 independent spirit. Which makes this 150 year old character quite remarkable. She’ll inspire you to forge your own way, to mold a life dependent on personal viewpoint and to reject the notions of other people’s ideas for your happiness.

9. The Age of Adaline (2015)

Ms.Jeannie was so in love with this movie she watched it twice back to back. Stunning in its cinematography, wardrobe and set design it is also posses interesting questions about mortality, relationships and familiar connections. Adaline has a secret and because of her elusiveness few people know how to understand her which leads to a loneliness that seems inescapable. Again, without giving away too much of the story for those of you who have not yet seen it, you follow Adaline’s life through decades of history and important milestones. Like Iris and Bathsheba she forges her own life, and in doing so discovers later on the impact she had on other people.  It is an interesting viewpoint on how one person can affect many without ever knowing it.

On a technical side, this movie is flawless. The acting is marvelous and the attention to detail incredible.  The camera follows Adaline through all the changing style trends of 20th century America which makes the visual appearance of this film fascinating in a time capsule sort of way. Years of pre-production added an authenticity to the layers of storytelling that added multiple layers of depth to every scene and set.  An added bonus not to be missed is a fascinating step-by-step behind the scenes documentary on how the cast and crew accomplished such visually impactful storytelling.  So this selection is two fold when it comes to inspiration. The script is one magical piece of writing and the mesmerizing production value is another. No bit of scene or set was thrown together, no character half-realized, no string of dialogue awkwardly phrased. All aspects of this movie-making process were thoughtfully executed making the end result seamless in regards to complete storytelling.

As you can see from this list a little inspiration goes a long, long way. In the land of Ms. Jeannie we are challenging ourselves  to find a moment of new inspiration in each and every day. Some days this a tricky feat. Looking for small pockets of wonder requires an open mindset and eyes that are constantly aware of the environment around us.  The fun is in the search for the small details like a falling leaf or a patch of graffiti or an almond crusted cookie.  And it’s in the big obvious things too like fireworks or flower beds or snow fields.  It’s in music we hear, food we eat and conversation we start. Sometimes it is in an interesting article, or a pesky problem and sometimes it is even in the frustrations that fog up up our brains. The trick in this tricky project is to be able to take the time to notice and then process what it is that we are seeing, hearing and thinking.  Life moves fast. In an instant a moment of magic is upon us. Our imaginations quickly carry us away. If it captures our attention long enough a dream or a desire begins to form. Then we have to make choices. Do we sit on that dream or do we we do something with that dream? Ms. Jeannie hopes this batch of books and movies will help you get going, get noticing and ultimately get started down that road to realization.

Cheers and good luck to a new year and to new eyes.  And to new ears and to new feet and to new souls and backbones and all those wonderful new (old) words by G.K. Chesterton!

For more book and movie suggestions see 2015’s best of list here.

 

 

 

Culinary Creativity: Recipes From Our Prize Winner!

By day they are executives in New York City but by night (and most weekends too) they are culinary wizards adventuring their way around the inventive kitchen. Meet blog reader Michael, one of the winners in last month’s Spartan Souvenir giveaway and his lovely wife Renee.

reneemichael

As soon as their prize of Greek olive oil and wild mountain oregano hit their mailbox they started day dreaming about what they could make. Possibilities abounded of course, but it didn’t take very long before they settled on two Mediterranean style dishes that highlighted their new winnings and captured the simple fresh flavors of their farmers market palates.  In a lovely spirit of community, these two home chefs not only sent back a follow-up note on their gift receipt but also included recipes and photos of everything they made with their Sparta samplings. Fantastic! Here is what they made…

greekdishes2

“The olive oil has such a nice  fruitiness and the oregano is slightly floral and delicate,” shared Renee. “We love it!”

Long-time connoisseurs of make-it-yourself pizza they first prepared a Mediterranean style Greek pizza with homemade dough and an inventive brussels sprout topping. Next, (just in time for Fish Friday) they made a simple Greek style baked cod using local fish and an array of herbs.

Michael and Renee’s recipes couldn’t have come at a better time in our calendar year. If you are still entertaining holiday house guests the Greek Pizza makes for a fun party pleaser and can be doubled or tripled in size to fit all appetites.  Or if you find yourself ready to put the heavy plates of the holiday season behind you then the Greek Baked Cod would be just the ticket for a light and refreshing meal. Both recipes highlight the unique flavor of the olive oil and oregano from Sparta, Greece which you can find at thespartantable.com All other ingredients can be locally sourced from your grocery or market.

pizza3

Greek Pizza

Note: Michael and Renee followed Jim Lahey’s lead on the pizza dough preparation. You can find a step by step guide here which includes a casual video on the making of it all. If you have never made homemade pizza dough before don’t feel intimidated, it’s very easy and this is a no-knead recipe which makes it even easier. If you can’t sacrifice the time for the dough, start out simple with a pre-raised dough ball from Trader Joe’s or the fresh bakery department at most supermarkets.

(for the dough)

3.5 cups all-purpose flour ( M&R veered slightly from the dough recipe and incorporated some whole wheat flour as well. This recipe reflects their version.)

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast

2 teaspoons fine sea salt

1 1/2 cups water

(for the topping)

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced and placed in a bowl, covered with water for at least 30 minutes, then drained and dried

1 Serrano chili pepper, thinly sliced (remove the seeds and veins if you are adverse to heat or if your chili is super strong)

8-10 raw brussels sprouts, shaved

1/4- 1/3 cup (plus more for topping) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

1/2 teaspoon Spartan Table wild mountain Greek Oregano

5 ounces Spartan Table Extra Virgin Greek olive oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

Prepare dough as directed. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Add pizza stone about one hour prior to baking. Mold the dough into a circle on a pizza peel lined with semolina flour to prevent sticking and for easy sliding.

Place all topping ingredients together in a bowl and mix in olive oil and salt and pepper to coat.

pizza2

Scatter your toppings evenly on top of the dough. Bake until bubbly and slightly browned about 10-12 minutes. Depending on your oven, this could take more or less time. Finish with olive oil,  sea salt and extra Parmesan cheese.

pizza1

 

Greek Baked Cod (serves 2)

Fresh, local cod  (enough for two portions)

1/2 teaspoon Spartan Table Greek oregano

5 ounces Spartan Table Greek olive oil for drizzling and finishing

1  quarter of a large organic lemon, thinly sliced

1 half of a medium shallot, thinly sliced

1/4 quarter cup of thinly sliced fresh fennel (from the bulb)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely minced, for finishing

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Add cod to two pieces of foil paper (doubled so that it doesn’t leak) placed on a baking sheet. Drizzle fish with the olive oil, oregano and salt and pepper. Arrange the shallot slices on the bottom of the foil, place the cod filet on top with the fennel and lemon slices.

fish1
Close the foil (like a packet) and bake for about 20-25 minutes, depending on your oven and size of the cod. Ours took about 20 minutes to cook. Finish with an extra drizzle of the oil, sea salt and parsley.
fish3

In the land of Ms. Jeannie it is very exciting to have such an enthusiastic (and delicious!) response to a blog post. Hopefully Michael and Renee’s recipes will help pave the way for more culinary adventures discovered by our readers. Having come full circle with an interview that originated months ago in the faraway, mystical olive groves of Greece and ended up finally on the kitchen table of two New York foodies, this post feels a bit like magic. Even though a zillion miles separates us from Sparta and  Nashville and New York we now share a commonality in the history of a food. And our cross-culture community feels a bit more close-knit.  As Homer said “the journey is the thing.”

Again, a big thank you to Jehny and George for carrying on the family tradition of olive-growing in Greece and to Michael and Renee in New York for inspiring us with two new recipes fit for a feast.

If you missed the interview with Jehny and George from The Spartan Table find it here.  If you have any questions regarding Michael and Renee’s recipes post them in the comment box and we’ll get them answered ASAP.

Cheers or opa, as they say in Greece, to the final days of 2016. May they be both merry and bright.

kitchen prep