A Monumental Story of Real-Life Serendipity Told Over Many Parts: Chapter 2 – Meet Angela

{Spoiler Alert: This is a series of blog posts detailing the real-life story of a 100-year-old item that was lost 13 years ago and how it found its way home in 2021. Follow along from the beginning of this story at Chapter 1: It Arrives.}

It takes a special person with a unique spirit to rescue something from the brink of obscurity and then commit to taking on the uneasy task of finding its home again. It is not lost on me that the word angel appears in the name of the random stranger, the delightful woman, who found the mystery item that began this story in our last blog post.

In Chapter One of this series with the impossibly long name (A Monumental Story of Real-life Serendipity Told Over Many Parts) we began with a few introductory details. There was a century-old item that was lost and then found over a decade ago and recently discovered to be connected with the Vintage Kitchen. It’s a curious case of luck, timing, and careful consideration that guides this whole story from start to finish. As it unfolds over many chapters, the mystery item will be revealed and the rightful owner declared. Each chapter of this series reveals new information, so if you like to solve mysteries, or guess at scenarios this story will be your cup of tea.

In case you need a little refresh, let’s recap all the info we have learned so far about the lost item and the mysterious set of circumstances that surround it…

  1. The lost item is 100 years old.
  2. It was found by a random stranger 13 years ago.
  3. Over the course of the following 13 years, the stranger searched for the original owner of the item, but to no avail.
  4. In July 2021, the stranger read a blog post that connected the item to the Vintage Kitchen.
  5. Last week the item arrived in the Vintage Kitchen via UPS.

In today’s post, we are continuing on with new information about the 100-year-old item and the story surrounding it. I’m pleased to introduce you to the random stranger, the delightful woman, the angel, who changed the course of fate for a misplaced piece of history. One that would have been lost forever had she not intercepted it. Meet Angela…

Angela! Photo credit: Angela E.

Angela lives in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, in the same Southern town where she’s spent her entire life. It’s also the same town where she found the item thirteen years ago. At the time, she was 23 years old and working full-time at an office supply store.

There’s Angela, at work thirteen years ago, at the time she found the item! Photo credit: Angela E.

She remembers the day she found the item well. She was cleaning up an area of the store that sees a fair amount of daily traffic and she noticed that something had been left behind near a workstation. She took a closer look, and immediately sensed that the item had been left accidentally. It was valuable, important, and definitely something that someone would miss.

Angela, realizing the history that encompassed it, looked the item over for any owner identification information. Right away she did find a name on it, so Angela looked in the store’s customer database to see if it matched any work orders that had come in that day or at some point previously. Nothing matched.  Next, she googled the name, just in case by random luck she’d find some contact details online. Again nothing matched.  At this point, thinking that the person who left it would certainly realize their absentmindedness and come right back for it, Angela tucked the item away on a shelf in the back room of the store for safe-keeping. The day went by. The week by. The month went by. No one came for it.

Initially drawn to the item because of its personal value and historical significance, Angela felt a certain protectiveness over it. There was a vulnerability about it,  not only in its physical appearance but also in what it symbolized. As it sat there on the shelf in the backroom of the store, the item spoke to her.  So much so that she found that she just couldn’t treat it casually. It was not an item meant for indifference or carelessness.  This item was special and unique, in ways that few found objects often are.

For a year, the item sat there on the shelf, unclaimed. Finally, Angela decided to take it home and see if she could locate the owner herself. Confident that it might not be that hard of a task in our digital age of information, she began searching and sleuthing around the internet.

Daydreaming about reasons why no one returned to the store for the left-behind item, Angela’s imagination was alight with possibility. The two scenarios that kept recurring most in her mind were that 1) the person who left the item behind was a traveler passing through town on their way to somewhere else.  2) That the person had died unexpectedly in the days or weeks after leaving it behind in the store.  Both scenarios sensibly explained why someone might not return for their belongings. One, confusion as to where it might have been left, and two, a tragedy that would make it impossible to return to the store.

Angela’s ultimate goal for the lost item was always to try and place it back in the hands of the original owner, but should that not be possible, then to try and find someone else who may be connected to the item in some way. If tragedy had indeed struck as she supposed, then there would at least hopefully be someone else to pass the item onto. Perhaps a family member or a friend who would have some association with the name she was trying to search.

Angela’s initial confident, kind-hearted quest turned into a journey that would last more than a decade and was plagued with dead-ends and unanswerable questions.  For thirteen years, the item lived with Angela, not only physically in her home among her things, but also in her mind. It moved around her life as life moved around her. In the time between when she first found the item and now, Angela fell in love, got married, had a baby. There were dogs and laughter and love and another baby. There were busy schedules and growing years and life unfolding. There was a third baby and homeschooling and travel adventures and full-time mom life caring for a family of five.

Thirteen years later… Angela with her beautiful family. Photo credit: Angela E.

During all that time that life and love were blooming, Angela never forgot about the item. It lived for a while in a storage box near her bed, and also for a time in a closet tucked out of harm’s way. Most recently it sat by her computer, a continuous reminder of her quest to find the original owner so that she could send it home where it belonged.

Finally, in early July 2021, a lead broke free thanks to a Facebook group that Angela had recently joined. It was yet another attempt to try and track down more information about the item and the owner. In this new group, Angela found a welcoming and knowledgeable community.  Within days, thanks to their expertise, Angela was armed with new information about the item and new paths to explore. Like a light switch suddenly flipping on, the information the group shared allowed Angela to quickly find her way to the Vintage Kitchen after finding an old blog post from our archives. The blog post mentioned two very specific pieces of information that the Facebook group helped her uncover. Two weeks later, after confirming that yes, indeed there was a connection between the lost item and the Vintage Kitchen, Angela mailed the item off to ITVK knowing that although we were not the original owner of the item, we would be able to further it on to its final destination. And just like that, thirteen years of seemingly endless searching came to a close. Angela’s caretaking position that began in 2008 had finally been fulfilled in 2021.

The item arrives in the Vintage Kitchen!

I asked Angela what she felt like in that moment when she mailed off the item to the Vintage Kitchen. She admitted to tearing up a little. “I felt appreciated and blessed. To be able to provide so many people connected to this item a sense of joy and happiness makes this such a special thing to be a part of.”

It’s impossible sometimes to figure out why certain people come into your life at certain times but I really do think Angela is wrapped in the stuff of angels.  Had she not cared so deeply about the left-behind item she found so long ago, it most probably would have been tossed in the trash. An unceremonious end to a wonderfully unique aspect of history. But thanks to her kind-hearted nature, her dogged determination, and her persistence, patience, and perseverance, she carried this item from the past gallantly into a new future.

As discussed in Chapter One’s post, this item involves many more people than just Angela and the Vintage Kitchen. As the story unfolds, we will keep revealing new details that will get us closer to understanding just how pivotal Angela’s role is in all of this. In the meantime, If you would like to guess what the mystery item is that Angela found, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Join us next time as we dive deeper into the history of the lost item in Chapter 3 of A Monumental Story of Real-life Serendipity Told Over Many Parts.

A Monumental Story of Real-Life Serendipity Told Over Many Parts: Chapter 1 – It Arrives

The mystery item arrives! Personal information has been covered to respect privacy:)

In a cardboard envelope of medium thickness, a surprise arrived yesterday via UPS. This was the end result of a two week conversation that started with an inquiry into the Vintage Kitchen from a brand-new visitor to the blog. The visitor, who turned out to be a delightful woman, submitted an inquiry about an item that she had found thirteen years ago, and had hung onto ever since in the hopes of one day being able to track down its original owner. Over the years, despite many attempts she didn’t have much luck in connecting this one found object to any one person. Until recently, when a discovery altered her decade’s worth of searching.

As they say, timing is everything, and so is the case here, when one day, as if by magic or perhaps a little nudge from fate, the woman stumbled upon an old Vintage Kitchen blog post that had been roaming around the internet for several years now. Inside that blog post, she found a clue that matched some specific information regarding the item she had found so long ago. In early July, it took less than two emails back and forth between the woman and I for thirteen years of searching to come to a close. Her inquiry was validated. The information was correct. The Vintage Kitchen was indeed, strangely and uniquely connected to the object that had captured time and attention for this woman for so long.

What now unfolds is a tale so serendipitous, I can hardly wait to share the whole entire story. The woman lives in a different state unconnected to the provenance of the item. The item itself is 100 years old. The blog post is the only thing that connected us to each other. Doesn’t this sound like the start to a good movie or an even better book?

Clockwise from top left: The Hunt for the Date Accordions recipe; Charles Lindbergh; the search for the doughnut shop at Pike Place Market; the 1967 take-out window; the rare Chinese mug; the White House letter.

For anyone who has been a regular reader of the blog, you’ll know that we do love solving mysteries from history around here. Our most recent one came last Christmas when it became a community effort to hunt down an obscure Christmas cookie recipe long ago lost to a home baker and her family. But there have been other intriguing stories over the years to figure out too. Curiosity and the search for true origin stories to share on the blog has led to many fascinating discoveries… the decoding of letters written on a rare chinese mug… a west coast search for a doughnut shop… thoughtful speculation regarding civil rights and a 1967 take-out restaurant portrait… expert confirmation that proved a candid 1927 aeronautical photograph was actually Charles Lindbergh flying over Texas in the Spirit of St Louis… and the one that still captures my imagination – the mystery government staffer behind a letter written on vintage White House stationary that was found tucked inside an art book. Not everyone of these mysteries was solved (we are still searching for more info on the restaurant, the doughnut shop and the White House) but as proven in this most recent conversation sometimes it can take years (or decades!) for questions to find their way to the appropriate answer.

Because this tale of events involves more people than just the stranger and the Vintage Kitchen, and because it represents a swatch of history that occured a century ago, this is a story that will evolve over many months as more people become connected to it, and the item eventually finds its way home where it belongs. Like a good book that keeps you reading until the very end, this story takes time to be told properly, so I hope you’ll stay tuned as each new chapter unfolds.

As for the contents of the envelope… what’s inside? You’ll just have to wait and see! But please feel free to submit some guesses in the comment section if you like. We welcome all possibilities!

Here Comes the Sun(flowers): A Post From the Archives Resurfaces and Brings With It A Poem

Cheers to the official first days of summer! This week, here in the Vintage Kitchen we celebrated our own set of happy firsts too. The first volunteer sunflower of the season bloomed on the balcony just at the very same time that a sunflower re-bloomed on the blog. The balcony blossom was planted courtesy of Paul and Julia, our resident mourning doves.

The blog blossom was plucked by the editor of a Canadian poetry journal who discovered the Vintage Kitchen archives through a 2012 post about growing red sunflowers. That blast from the past featured this particular homegrown delight…

From the archives – a sunflower blog post from 2012.

Both sightings added unexpected sparkle to the week, but the blog blossom brought along an extra something special. It was selected to appear alongside a beautiful poem entitled Black SunFlower written by Redgina Jean-Paul. The two were published in the Juniper Poetry Journal on Tuesday…

Black SunFlower

by Redgina Jean-Paul

I am

going over
every single
little thing
every single—
 
And I wish I could
turn it off
stop the train
in its—
 
Track my thoughts,
pull them back,
nocked-arrow’s fletching,
set them—
 
Free to choose,
I wish…
I want it to
End. I do. I want

perfect pitch
black sun
flower bed
fellow man
made   disaster.

— from Juniper Volume 5, Issue 1

With her remarkable way of illustrating longing and need, Redgina’s poem is quite a lovely collection of words. Even though there is always a sense of poetic movement and association when it comes to cooking in the Vintage Kitchen, it is not often that an actual poem comes home to roost among the pots and the pans and the foodstuffs collected on the counter. So it is with great pleasure that I have the opportunity to introduce a real-life poet who added beauty to the week with her turns of phrase.

To highlight the dramatic tone of Redgina’s poem, the editors of the poetry journal added a filter to the 2012 sunflower photograph so that when it was published in Juniper this week, the garden glory looked like this…

Side by side, picture with words, the two tell a little story…

If you are a long-time reader of the blog, you’ll have noticed that sunflowers pop up on a regular occasion around here. Idyllic companions in the kitchen garden, I love them especially for their sunny dispositions and their continuously cheerful color.

Cultivated by indigenous tribes in Arizona and New Mexico long before explorers ever set foot on North American soil, sunflowers have been brightening up our landscape for over four centuries. Not only are they a fantastic food source for bees, birds and people but they also offer lots of possibility for creative gardenscapes too.

A long-time love affair:) This was a garden photo taken in 2014.

Tall enough to offer shade to smaller plants, sturdy enough to act as borders for visual interest, and easy enough to grow in almost any type of soil, sunflowers are equally at home both in the city and the country. In our neighborhood, this city cottage grows them so tall every year they almost reach the roof…

And the birds help spread their seeds in empty city lots. Each summer, it is fun to walk around town and spot their handiwork…

The 20th century Rutgers University gardening professor, Victor Tiedjens believed that sunflowers were such a common sight and essential component in gardens, it was practically impossible to think of them as merely a decorative flower.

Every part of the plant contains additional uses. The stalks, thanks to their fibrous composition, can be used to make a wide variety of useful products like trellises, instruments and utensils. The flower heads can be sauteed or grilled with butter, olive oil, and garlic in their immature stage, where depending on preparation methods, can taste similar to artichokes or corn on the cob. And the seeds can be consumed in their natural state or processed for their oil.

Multi-clustering blooms of the Del Sol sunflower. The more the merrier!

When it comes to the red varieties, it wasn’t until I started doing my own gardening about 20 years ago, that I discovered the dynamic array of shades of the red sunflower varieties. Ranging from rust to almost-black, I became so smitten with them in 2012, that I ordered seed packages of all the red varieties that I could find online and then planted them all over the garden. Two months later a few hundred bloomed! These are some of the photos from that magical summer…

Sunflower love!
Moulin Rouge Sunflower
Autumn Beauty Sunflower
Moulin Rouge Sunflower
Rouge Royale

That was back when I lived in another state on a lovely rural farm with cows for neighbors and my favorite camera always in hand. After some time spent in this country setting, we moved to the city and sadly, my camera died an untimely death a couple of years later. Our last big photo adventure together was a trip to Seattle where I was trying to track down my great-grandmother’s doughnut shop (read about that adventure here). But I am happy to still have the sunflower photos and the memories of those colorful patches of red faces dancing on the breeze. They added quite a bit of drama to the garden in 2012, and it’s nice to see that they are now adding a little drama to the field of poetry too.

If you have some extra time this weekend, pop over to Juniper and get lost in some modern poetry. You might just discover some new favorites of your own. And if you like Redgina’s poem as much as we did, please share it with your friends and family. The poets at Juniper do not get paid for their work when it is published, so their efforts are a true labor of love and self-expression. Around here, we think the world definitely needs more poets. And sunflowers too for that matter.

If you are looking to grow your own sunflowers, I recommend seeds from Botanical Interests. They are not a sponsor of the blog or affiliated with the Vintage Kitchen in any way, other than being my most favorite seed company. That is a love affair that has been going for over 10 years now! Their seeds always have a great success rate, they offer many heirloom varieties and the packages are really pretty and informative too. Browse their sunflower collection here.

Pretty packaging!

Cheers to Redgina and to Juniper, to Paul, and to Julia for planting seeds of joy and inspiration. And to the sunflowers who remind us to keep our faces pointed towards the light each and every day. Hope your weekend is a sunny one!

A Mother’s Day Story: The Maven of Minnesota & the Gifts She Passed Down

One of the biggest travesties in discovering a vintage embroidered linen at an antique shop or an estate sale or an auction house is not knowing anything about the sewer who made it. The sewer who so beautifully executed a specific stitch or a scene. The sewer who skillfully transformed a plain piece of fabric into a stunning work of art. Who spent hours or days working towards a piece of self-expression in the same way a painter paints a canvas or a sculptor builds a statue. With the exception of antique samplers and quilts, which often carry the names of the artist who made them, embroidered linens of the past are history’s most uncredited works of art. 

“These small bits of embroidered cloth are often all that remains to testify to the otherwise unrecorded lives of their makers,” wrote Amelia Peck in a 2003 article highlighting the embroidery collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It could be easy to dismiss some old pieces of fabric until you read a statement like that.

Needless to say, Amelia’s remark has stuck with me for a long time. Whenever a new batch of vintage or antique linens comes into the shop, I always think about the woman behind the fabric, the sewer behind the stitchwork, and the circumstances in history that might have surrounded them both. In collecting and curating these items for the shop, I’m not often afforded any real-life stories that can be attached and retold about a specific linen or the life that made it. But today I’m very pleased to introduce you to a woman in Minnesota who has some stories to share about sewing. 

At this point, you might be nonchalant and think how much can I learn from an 8” inch x 8” inch piece of fabric? A napkin is a napkin afterall. But here in the land of the Vintage Kitchen a napkin, as you’ll discover in this post is much more. It’s a gateway… to stories of the past.  

When I first met DeDe, who is in her 70’s, it was over email in the beginning of February. She was looking to rehome her vintage linen collection, and in her initial inquiry as to whether or not I might be interested in it for the shop, she mentioned the fact that her mom had sewn some of the pieces. The slice of vintage life that poured out over the next several months and many emails was so interesting I knew hers was a story destined for the blog. Touching on Italian immigration, women’s history, cooking, Minnesota, entrepreneurism, family heirlooms and her mother’s zesty love of life, this interview turned out to be the perfect heartwarming story for Mother’s Day weekend. So yes, a napkin is a napkin. But it’s also a life, and a family, and a passion. 

Let’s meet DeDe, her mom Teresa, and their family…

Teresa as a baby with her parents Carmina and Salvatore.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Tell us a little bit about your mom’s parents. What brought them to America? Where were they from in Italy and how did they wind up living in Minnesota? Did they assimilate well?

 Dede: My grandparents, Carmina and Salvatore, were both from Boiano, Campobasso, Molise, Italy.

Located in central Italy, the town of Boiano in the province of Campobasso in Molise, Italy was first founded in the 7th century. It is home to the oldest chestnut trees in Italy and most well known for its mozzerella cheese produced using milk from cows that have grazed the surrounding mountainsides.

My grandparents were married in 1906 and in 1909 they came to Minnesota. Grandpa worked in the mines in Chisholm, Calumet, Stevenson and St. Paul. He was employed by the Pickands Mater Co. for over 40 years. There were many different nationalities on the Iron Range and I imagine like all immigrants today they left Italy and were looking for a better life. I never heard of anyone in the family having difficulty assimilating into the community as they were fortunate to have siblings and many Italians in their community. A sister of my Grandmother’s and a cousin and brother of my Grandfather also immigrated to Keewatin.

My mother Mary Teresa Rico was born on February 25, 1911 and was the oldest of six children. She was born in Hibbing, Minnesota and the town they lived in was Keewatin. A population of less than 2,000.

Main Street in Keewatin circa 1921. To learn more history about this midwestern mining town visit here. Photo courtesy of lakesnwoods.com

EDITORIAL NOTE: During her childhood throughout the 1920s, starting at the age of 10, Teresa was involved in 4-H, a youth development program whose mission was (and still is!) “to encourage kids to reach their fullest potential while also creating positive change within their community.” This experience turned out to be a gateway for Teresa – one in which she could showcase her natural talents and abilities. While naturally gifted in a range of extra-curricular activities including basketball, tennis and dramatics, two of Teresa’s most prized talents were baking and sewing. A consistent winner at state and county fairs, between the years 1921 and 1931, Teresa baked more than 1,000 cakes and 2,000 loaves of bread which she sold to local residents in an effort to raise money for her college tuition. Triumphantly, through those entrepreneurial endeavors, Teresa managed to raise $3000.00, which provided enough for her to enroll in the University of Minnesota.

Teresa (age 17) in 1929 – the State Champion at her baking table.

In 1931, at the age of 20, the last year she was eligible to participate in 4-H due to age caps, Teresa won the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy, competing against 490,000 other girls. This was an honor awarded by Thomas Lipton (of Lipton Tea fame) that signified overall achievement and was given to the top boy and top girl in 4-H. In addition to a trophy and significant media attention, the award also came with a scholarship, ensuring that Teresa would financially be able to put herself through college, assistance free, all on her own accord.

This local Minnesota newspaper article proudly called Teresa the “Queen of Accomplishment” and reiterated her goal of putting herself through college without any finanncial assistence.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Your mom must have felt really proud of that moment, especially winning out over so many other 4-H’ers (490,000 female candidates!). Also, this happened in 1931, during the Great Depression. The fact that she was able to pay her way through college with her baking is fantastic. That must have been a really big deal. Were her parents really proud of her too? 

Teresa and her fellow prize winner, Charles L. Brown posed for photos with their Lipton trophies in 1931. The Associated Press

DeDe: I am sure that my Grandparents were very proud of her winning the Sir Lipton Cup and also all the other accomplishments in her life, of which I refer to in the following questions. One of the newspaper clippings mentioned winning over 850,000 young women, quite a discrepancy. 

My mother did not really talk about her accomplishments and honestly, I really did not learn about how much she really did until my parents downsized into an apartment. My mother had kept newspaper clippings, pictures, ribbons from the State Fair, etc. But my father did not keep much so he was tossing much of this into the trash barrel. I was able to rescue some of it and put it into a scrapbook for her. After that, we really did start to talk about her accomplishments in detail. 

 

Teresa with her girls explaining all about her State Fair ribbons.

Sadly, as children we are absorbed in our own lives. This is not to say that I was not aware of the bolts of fabric and the sewing she was doing when I was a young child as well as the entertaining and fabulous cooking and baking that she was always doing. When I was in junior high school my mother was no longer sewing for others and instead went to work in retail. She had an incredible style knowledge for clothing and furnishings and an eye for fashion. The perk for me were the wonderful fashionable outfits I owned. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: The Lipton Trophy newspaper article mentions that she was “boss of her household” both in the kitchen and otherwise. Can you tell us a little bit more about her family life growing up?

DeDe: My mother and her siblings all enjoyed sports and her brothers all played football in high school and the girls played whatever sports were offered for them but it sounded like choir and drama were offered to women. At home, my grandparents listened to records which were mostly opera. They all enjoyed dancing and playing cards with friends and family. Neighbors would get together and socialize. Food was always involved. The siblings all enjoyed one another which continued on for them as adults. My uncles loved to play jokes and there was always a lot of laughter and singing. Perhaps they all thought they were Enrico Caruso. 

As far as my mother’s role at home, she shared that she would often make meals for her family and certainly she made all the bread. She was also sewing her own clothes as well as making dresses for her sisters and mother. Often her family pictures indicated that she had sewn the clothing her mother or siblings were wearing. Again, my mother was the oldest and she was a very strong determined woman who knew exactly what she wanted. Not a bad trait to have.

Teresa in the center with her sisters all sporting dresses that Teresa made for a special family celebration.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Did her parents speak English?

DeDe: Yes, my Grandparents spoke English very well but when my aunts and uncles would come over to our house on weekends to see Grandma and Grandpa, they all spoke Italian. We had many family Sunday dinners at home as everyone wanted to see Grandma and Grandpa.  It was frustrating to not know what they were saying because I nor my siblings and cousins did not speak any Italian other than a few words.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Were her brothers and sisters equally as industrious?

DeDe: My uncle Pat was a chef and the others all made a decent living but no one was as driven or creative as my mother.  

In The Vintage Kitchen: Tell us a little bit about your dad. What was he studying at the University of Minnesota? 

DeDe: My father’s heritage was English and Irish not Italian. His grandfather Ward immigrated to America from Ireland as a young boy with his widowed mother and siblings. His mother’s family originated from Colonial New England.  He was a very patient and darling man with a very big heart and a great sense of humor. I always thought he was very handsome and debonair. He grew up in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. As far as my father’s culinary talents he loved to make chili and simple meals. However, he loved his desserts and there were always homemade cookies, pies, and cakes in our home.  He studied engineering at the University of Minnesota. 

Teresa and George

In The Vintage Kitchen: What did your mom study?

DeDe: She studied Home Economics. My mother was not only an accomplished baker and chef, she was also an accomplished seamstress and had her own cottage industry, Teresina. Neighborhood women sewed for my Mother and at that time she was paying them $5.00 an hour. She sewed beautiful women’s clothing, draperies, anything else you could imagine.

As a child we always went to Amluxson’s where I was able to pick out fabric for my first day of school. She made many of my clothes as well for my brother and sister. She reupholstered furniture as well and made men’s clothing too. Her industrial Singer was in our basement and I have beautiful memories of her singing while she sewed. A favorite was the Maurice Chevalier song Louise.

She also  wrote articles for the Minneapolis Star Tribune called Sewing is Simple. Over the years my mother was someone who often was featured for her sewing or entertaining. 

Teresa was featured in a magazine ad for Folgers – – It was no surprise to the neighbors of Mrs. George D. Ward of Minneapolis, Minnesota when her Orange Delight Cupcakes won First Prize at the State Fair. She’s famous for’em! Have them for dinner along with another “Famous Flavor” — Mountain Grown Folgers Coffee. Copies of this ad now hang in DeDe’s home as well as the homes of her kids.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Did your dad encourage and support your mom as she started her Teresina sewing business? 

DeDe: Definitely. My father was very supportive of whatever my mother wanted to do. And honestly if my mother wanted to do something nothing would stop her. She was a force to be reckoned with but as generous as could be.

Teresa’s Teresina ribbon labels.

My mother was color blind. Thread as you know used to be on wooden spools. My dad would write the colors of the thread on the spools for her.

In The Vintage Kitchen: We hear so much about gender discrimination regarding women in the 20th century, but it seems like your mom really defied a lot of those stereotypes (working, going to college, having her own business, etc.). Can you tell us a little bit about her motivations and about how her ideas were received within her family and her community? 

DeDe: My mother had a strong desire and a dream to make things happen. She never spoke of any obstacles being in her way that I recall.  She did mention that as a child in school they were not allowed to speak Italian, only English. There were so many nationalities on the range, that it would have been difficult for a teacher to deal with so many languages in a classroom.

Her family appreciated her and at any given time we had a relative living with us. Multigenerational homes were very common. My mother was very generous and shared whatever she had with others. She was also very involved with the Italian Community in Minneapolis. When she had her Teresina company in our home, she employed neighborhood women who she paid quite generously for that time. 

Community-wise, looking at old newspaper clippings my mother was involved with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra and one year put on an Italian Feast as a Fund Raiser. There were three children in my family and my mother was involved in all our school activities from PTA and being a Scout Leader or a Den Mother to sewing costumes and lending her living room furniture for high school drama productions. 

DeDe with her brother and sister and her parents, Teresa and George.

One of the greatest tributes to my mother and the impression she made on others became evident at her funeral. When she passed away and her obituary was in the newspaper, I received a call from a young woman who said she would like to come to my home and meet me.  When my mother lived in her Minneapolis apartment building, she befriended this young woman whose parents were divorced. With this young women’s birthday coming up she made her a German Chocolate Birthday Cake and gave her pearl earrings from her days at the U of M. She was truly touched by my mother’s friendship and she wanted to speak at her upcoming funeral. I took a leap of faith and said okay to this request. She did speak that day and it turns out that she was a speaker for Billy Graham and she was incredible. What a gift she gave us. I regret that I did not stay in contact with her and what a treasure that tribute would be too own today. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: What did she like about sewing?

I am sure it was the creativity of it all and the fact that she could make something beautiful and functional. 

Vintage 1940s/1950s era applique sailboat kitchen linens made by Teresa.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Where did she gather inspiration from in regards to her sewing projects?

DeDe: My mother had an ability to see how to improve things. It did not matter if it was a food item, a piece of furniture or a piece of fabric. She would have a vision and would make it happen. She loved to repurpose as evident in her Sewing is Simple articles for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I had mentioned to you in earlier emails that she made clothing, drapes, upholstered furniture and wrote for the newspaper but there is more. My mother also came up with an idea for an adjustable elastic waistband for women’s skirts that she made from fabrics such as drapery material and chintz. She created a patent for it but unfortunately, someone else managed to maneuver it away from her. I have one of the skirts left that I use for a Christmas Tree Skirt.

EDITORIAL NOTE: I was thrilled to welcome Teresa’s vintage linen collection into the shop. These next few questions and accompanying photographs highlight some specific pieces from her carefully curated linen collection amassed throughout her life.

 In The Vintage Kitchen: Did she sew all the linens that you sent? 

DeDe: I do not believe that she sewed all of them. I know the applique ones with boats on them and definitely the items that have lace. Honestly, they have been in a cupboard for years either with my mother or myself and my mother passed away many years ago.

In The Vintage Kitchen: In the package that you sent, there are 4 tablecloths which I think you referred to as bridge cloths. Did your mom sew those? 

DeDe: I always referred to them as bridge table cloths but others might call them a luncheon cloth. No, I believe those were purchased.

In The Vintage Kitchen: One of them, along with several other linens you sent, looks like they are made with antique fabric. Could they have belonged to your grandmother?

DeDe: Probably not. My mother also loved house sales and again had an eye for finding wonderful things to furnish a home. 

A set of colorful vintage tea towels joyfully collected by Teresa. This is just one example of her carefully curated linen collection amassed during the 20th century.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Was your grandmother, Carmina, a sewer too?

DeDe: Not that I am aware of.  I recall my grandmother having cataracts and her sight was compromised. My mother told me she had taught herself to sew as a young girl. She started off with making clothes for her dolls and as she grew older, she started to sew for herself and her sisters. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: How long did your mother maintain Teresina? 

DeDe: I believe she kept it going through the 1950s. She sewed her entire life. She would make outfits and Halloween costumes for the grandchildren. In the 1970s, she was still sewing some beautiful outfits for me

In The Vintage Kitchen: Where did you grow up? 

DeDe: I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota on one of the city lakes. It was an ideal time to live there. 

A view of Minneapolis taken during the 1950s. Photo via pinterest.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Did your mom expect you to be as industrious as she was during her childhood?

DeDe: My mother accepted us for who we were. Keewatin is a small community and Minneapolis is not, so opportunities for me were vastly different than what was available for her.  I honestly did not feel pressured to be anyone other than myself. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: Did she teach you how to cook and sew?

DeDe: Yes, my mother taught me to bake and cook. It was wonderful to be in her kitchen with all of the wonderful smells and tastes. I love to cook and entertain in our home much as my mother always did. Baking and cooking for others brings me great joy. Sewing is another story. I can sew out of desperation, but I only enjoy small projects and the older I get the less I attempt. I am not a seamstress and sewing stresses me out although I always kept trying. I expected it to be as easy for me as it was for her. Fortunately, I did inherit her love of cooking.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Thank you so much for including your mom’s sauce recipe. Was this a recipe that was handed down to her or did she make it up on her own? 

DeDe: It was probably a recipe that was given to her by Grandma Rico. It is a pretty traditional sauce. I have shared that recipe with so many friends along with my mother’s wisdom of you can always add more herbs so start off with less. Of course, when you add a meat to the sauce it definitely helps to flavor it. I adore my mother’s red sauce and often tried to make it just like hers. The last Christmas she was alive she stayed with us for a few days and we had a blast. We looked at her old slides of her travels to Italy with my dad, baked traditional foods, and just laughed a lot. I had started a red sauce and ran to the store for a few items that I needed. Later when I was stirring the sauce and tasting it, I was overjoyed at how wonderful it was. I exclaimed to my mother that I was thrilled that I could make it like hers. She just smiled and later admitted that while I was gone, she had doctored it

In The Vintage Kitchen: Was your mom’s love of sewing and cooking passed down to any of your kids? 

DeDe: Actually, all the kids are very good cooks and will try out new recipes. My oldest niece does fun sewing projects and is very creative and like my mother is great at repurposing. She also enjoys baking and shares recipes with me. My daughter will try new recipes and make lighter fare than I do. I tend to cook more old school than my kids do. My boys love to make pizza with a homemade crust. Sometimes my oldest and his wife will make pasta when time allows. Everything comes down to when time allows. The grandkids are all interested in cooking and baking which I just adore. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: Where do you draw inspiration from for your own cooking? 

DeDe: A favorite for me is to eat something out and then try to duplicate it at home. I have come up with some interesting dinners that way. I see something that looks tempting in a magazine or the newspaper and I will try it although I will often massage the recipe. My husband loves to tell me that I use them like a road map and then veer off course. I enjoy making Italian dishes for friends and family but I adored Splendid Table when Lynne Rossetto Kasper hosted it. She had a segment of what to make with a few ingredients in your refrigerator. I am a great one to try that method.

If you are unfamiliar with the engaging Lynne or The Splendid Table radio program that she co-created and hosted for 20 years here’s a quick recap. DeDe and I are both BIG fans of Lynne and the show!

Lynne came to our home for a fund-raising dinner and I along with a friend were the ones that were cooking. Cooking for a professional cook and author was very intimidating. It turned out to be a fabulous evening. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: Wow, DeDe! That’s amazing that you got to not only meet but also cook for Lynne! I’m a BIG fan of hers! What was that experience like?

DeDe: The dinner was very simple with a simple antipasto tray, roasted chicken, and delicious roasted root vegetables along with a tossed salad. I do not recall if I made homemade bread for this or purchased store-bought. My dessert was a fried Italian pastry that we called curly cues. They are fried in oil and dusted with powdered sugar or drizzled with honey. My mother always made these at Christmas and often I will too. I probably served the lemon sherbet with crème de menthe. There were six guests and Lynne that night. One was a surgeon who was kind enough to slice the chicken and arrange it on the platter and another was a woman who owns a cooking school and I believe leads trips to Italy or did back then. I consider myself a decent cook but felt a little out of my league that evening. Unfortunately, we did not take pictures of that fabulous evening but my Lynne Rossetto Kasper cookbook is signed by Lynne. This was years ago.

In 2017, Lynne retired, but thankfully, that was not the end of the program. The Splendid Table continues each week with fresh and dynamic culinary content thanks a new, equally charming host, Francis Lam. If you haven’t listened to the show before I highly recommend it. Visit the link here to learn more.

In The Vintage Kitchen: Do you have any particular favorite chefs or cookbooks that you love?

DeDe: I have many of my mother’s old cookbooks and my comfort food choice of my childhood go-to is the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook from the 1950s. Chicken A La King, Meatloaf, Pineapple Upside Down Cake, Jelly Roll Cake, and all the basics are there. 

The Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book – First Edition, 1950

With my mom’s recipes, many are from worn cookbooks, notes scribbled inside a cookbook, note cards or from what I recall her making. Many of my recipes are handed down from mom, relatives and friends and have been doctored to suit my tastes. Italian favorites are The Talisman Italian Cookbook by Ada Boni, The Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Lo Pinto and Milo Miloradovich and Leone’s Italian Cookbook by Gene Leone. I love Gourmet magazine and cooking shows on PBS but I really do not have a favorite chef.

DeDe’s favorite vintage Italian recipe resources!

In The Vintage Kitchen: Tell us a little bit about your trip to Italy? Did you feel a natural connection to the country?

DeDe: Our oldest son was studying in Florence, Italy for a semester at the same time as his friend so we traveled to see him with his parents in March.  My parents had been to Italy twice to see the sights and my mother’s family. My mother was so excited that our son was traveling there and that we were going to as well. It was our first trip to Europe and it was magical. It was so fun to see people that looked like my mother’s family and to hear all that Italian. So much history and beautiful architecture, museums and people. I soon learned why I appreciate gold, glitz, and all the pizzazz. 

Two trips to Trevi Fountain: Teresa and George (above) in Italy many decades ago and Dede and her husband Tom (below) on a more recent excursion.

Travel is all about the experiences. One such experience for me was to see two over the road drivers enjoying their lunch at a rest stop. They had a beautifully set table complete with linens and glassware. Their food looked scrumptious and I asked if I might take a picture of them. They agreed only if I would be in the picture and share their vino. I treasure that moment and the picture. The one Italian reminded me of my grandfather. 

DeDe with her “over the road drivers” in Italy!

Another story that related to my mother is the time we had to wait for a very long time for a table for our dinner. The uncle who was seating us was very friendly and attentive to our dinner choices. When we finished, he said that he had a treat for us because we had been so patient. When he brought us our dessert it was lemon sherbet drizzled with creme de menthe. Oh, how I laughed as that was a favorite of my mother’s to serve after a heavy dinner along with the traditional Carnevale Italian bow tie cookies. 

My mother passed away that May. She was so excited that we were going on this trip and I believe she stayed alive until we could share our stories with her. 

Filled with light and love and so fitting for this post, this street art was spotted on a Florentine wall. Photo: Nick Fewings

In The Vintage Kitchen: And what was it like visiting some of the places where your grandparents lived?

DeDe: My Grandparents lived in a town outside of Naples and we did not get to Naples but we did see Milan, Rome, Venice, and Florence. I hope to one day get to Naples. 

The sights that inspire DeDe in and around Minneapolis. Clockwise from top left: The Minneapolis Chain of Lakes; The Basilica of St. Mary (switchroyale); The Gutherie Theater (Mark Vandeve); The Minneapolis Institute of Art (McGhiever); The Stone Bridge Arch (Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board).

In The Vintage Kitchen: Name five places that inspire you in your city…

DeDe: The Minneapolis Chain of Lakes and our incredible parks system. The Guthrie Theater that offers classical and contemporary productions. The Minneapolis Institute of Art is an art museum that is home to more than 90,000 works of art representing 5,000 years of world history. The Basilica of St. Mary as It was the first basilica established in the United States. The Stone Arch Bridge is a former railroad bridge crossing the Mississippi River at Saint Anthony Falls in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is the only arched bridge made of stone on the entire Mississippi River.

In The Vintage Kitchen: If there is one thing that you wish could never be forgotten about your heritage, what would it be?

DeDe: The belief in the importance of family and nurturing with food and compassion. 

In The Vintage Kitchen: If you could invite six people (living or dead) to dinner, who would you invite and why?

Clockwise from top left: DeDe’s Parents Teresa & George; Pope Francis; Geraldine Ferraro, Margaret Meade, Eleanor Roosevelt

DeDe: My parents. Since I have been working on Ancestry there are so many unanswered questions that I have. Geraldine A. Ferraro, so I could ask her this question…. Would you have changed how you ran your campaign for Vice President with Walter Mondale? Margaret Meade because I have been fascinated with her since I took my first anthropology class in college. Eleanor Roosevelt because she was the woman behind the man and she is the longest-serving First Lady. Pope Francis, so that I could ask him about what changes he wants to see within the Catholic Church.

In The Vintage Kitchen: And because it’s Mother’s Day, we’ll end with a question about Teresa. What is the greatest lesson your mother taught you?

DeDe: Definitely the love of entertaining, the comfort of food and the sharing of her talents. Happy Mother’s Day Mom. I love you!!

In addition to sharing these lovely stories about Teresa, DeDe also graciously shared her mom’s “red sauce,” the recipe, she referred to her in her interview that was most likely passed down by Teresa’s mother, Carmina. I made two batches of this sauce (one using pork chops, the other using chicken legs). Both were incredible.

Teresa’s Basic Spaghetti Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 garlic cloves

1 small can tomatopaste

3-28oz cans Italian peeled tomatoes

16 oz can tomato sauce

2 cups water

Salt & Freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon sugar

6 Fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces (or dried herbs*)

3 fresh oregano sprigs, torn into pieces (or dried herbs*)

1/2 green pepper, chopped

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

2 veal chops or pork chops

*If using dried herbs, start off with 1 teaspoon each and amend from there to suit your taste.

To make the sauce, heat the oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Pat the pork/veal dry and put in the pot. Cook turning occasionally for about 15 minutes or until nicely browned. Transfer the chops to a plate.

Drain off most of the fat from the pot.  Add the garlic and onion, cook until golden brown. Add the green pepper and cook for two minutes until tender. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.

Chop up the tomatoes and add to the pot, including the liquid. Add tomato sauce, water, sugar, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the chops and bring sauce to a simmer. Partially cover the pot and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours. If the sauce is too thick, add a little more water.

Remove the meat from the sauce and set aside. The chops are great reheated with a bit of the sauce. Makes about 8 cups.

I keep salt pork and chicken fat in the freezer to use for flavoring if I do not have pork chops on hand. My Mother would also add chicken legs or wings to the sauce if she had that on hand.

Teresa’s Spaghetti Sauce

I couldnt think of a better way to wrap up a Mother’s Day post than with this delicious heritage recipe passed down through the family kitchen of three generations of Italian women. A foundation for all sorts of culinary inspiration from spaghetti to pizza, eggplant parmigiana to stuffed peppers, meatballs to casseroles, this is the recipe you’ll want to keep on hand year after year for merry memory-making in your own kitchen. Just like Teresa would have encouraged!

When we were exchanging emails back and forth, DeDe shared one of her favorite quotes by memoirist Molly Wizenberg… “When I walk into my kitchen today, I am not alone. Whether we know it or not, none of us is. We bring fathers and mothers and kitchen tables, and every meal we have ever eaten. Food is never just food. It’s also a way of getting at something else: who we are, who we have been, and who we want to be.” Well said, Molly!

Meeting DeDe and learning about her family and their lovely linen collection was such a pleasure. Had I encountered one of Teresa’s exquisite embroidered cloths in an antique shop, I would have admired its beauty but I would have never known about the full and magnanimous life that had been woven into it. I would have never known that behind those linens was a star baker with a go-getter attitude, a color-blind seamstress who clothed her community, a second-generation Italian woman from a family newly immigrated to the US. I would have never known about the husband who loyally and affectionately encouraged his wife, nor about the independent dreamer who raised money for her own education, nor about the delicious tomato sauce passed down by generations of her family. DeDe gave a voice and a spirit and a context to her mom’s linens, and in doing so, made them all the more special, all the more valuable for the love and for the life they represent. So yes, a vintage napkin is a napkin, but it is also so much more.

Cheers and a big thank you to DeDe for sharing this wonderful glimpse of your vivacious mom and all her talents with us. Cheers to vintage linens who light the halls of history one story at a time. And cheers to all the mom’s out there who inspire us each and every day. Happy Mother’s Day!

Find more of Teresa’s linens in the shop here with new additions being added each week..

Market Bags, Mother’s Day & Some Newsy Bits

Happy May! Hope everyone’s new month is off to a lovely start. Around here, all the trees are proudly sporting their leafy greens and the city flowers are unfurling so many colorful shades each day brings a new sight of delight in the neighborhood. These long waited pops of color remind me of Janice in her book, A Paris Year, when she walked around the City of Light scouting out items of a specific color to photograph. Starting out at the onset of each journey, Janice would pick a particular color, say red or yellow or turquoise, and then look for things to photograph that were made up primarily of that hue during her walk. This past weekend, I did the same thing when I walked to the farmers market. Before I started out I decided on the color peach. This is what I saw along the way…

It’s too early for peaches at the market so there were no color-themed fruits to photograph in that department quite yet, but while we wait for summer crops and our next blog post coming out this week (a special Mother’s Day themed story and interview!) I wanted to share, in the meantime, some new changes that are occuring in the Vintage Kitchen, so that you can be kept abreast of all the latest news.

New Products

Most excitedly, the Vintage Kitchen is growing! Over the next few months, we’ll be expanding our vintage product range in the shop to include some newly made yet very classic kitchen essentials all based on historic designs or nostalgic stories that have been personally tried and tested for years. This is in an effort to introduce fun and unique finds to your space that will not only augment your love of the vintage aesthetic, but will also be of very helpful assistence in the kitchen. The first of these new products arrived in the shop this past week…

Introducing the French market bag! Imported from Europe, this is the best way I have found to tote vegetables home from the farmers market.

The bags, made of handwoven palm leaves, are light-weight yet very durable. The long leather straps rest comfortably on your shoulder and the funnel shaped design (wider at the top than it is at the base) allows for longer and more fragile items to be stowed away securely without being crushed or tossed about. No more broken baguettes or decapitated flowers with this beauty!

There are two different styles of the market bag available in the shop. One has long leather shoulder straps (pictured above) and the other has hand-held rolled leather handles (pictured below). Both are convenient for grabbing and going and they are both the same size as far as bag capacity. The preference, of course, is totally up to you, but I recommend the shoulder strap version if you generally tend to walk to your market or live in a more urban environment where you gather your groceries primarily on foot. It’s such a comfortable way to tote your items around town. The hand-held bag…

… I would recommend for shoppers who drive to their market since the bag sits up right on its own and stows away really well in the car. Tucked into the back seat or the trunk it does not topple over easily, and will keep all your market finds secure while you drive home.

In addition to being helpful, these market bags also bring a bit of Parisian style and joie de vivre to your shopping experience. Each bag holds quite a bit of items, so if you get carried away at the market, your bag will be able to handle all your whims. For example all this fits in one bag with plenty of room to spare…

I have used my market bag (the very same one with the long straps) for over 4 years now. It has become so indispensable, it adventures with me on a daily basis. At this point, it feels not only like a bag but also like a true and cherished companion! I can’t say enough wonderful things about it. I hope you will love the bags just as much too. There are limited supplies of each style and they are selling quickly, so if they strike your fancy don’t hesitate. You can find them in the shop here and here.

Email Newsletters

If you would like to be made aware of new items listed in the shop each week, along with special promotions and added seasonal content, then please sign up for our new email newsletter which will be going out once a week (starting next Friday). Unlike many of these blog posts, this newsletter is designed to be a quick read, featuring mainly photographs and a few links to some fun content. In response to many shoppers asking how they can be kept aware of new items coming to the Vintage Kitchen, and after testing out many avenues over the past few weeks, I’m excited to finally have a good solution that will help collectors find what they love quickly. Sign up for the email newsletter by clicking the subscribe now button on the left-hand side of the shop’s home page here. It looks like this…

Sold Items in the Shop

Another improvement for the shop this past week came in the form of relocating sold items to a new category all their own. This transfer, which removed all listings that were sold out from the general inventory of available items, came at the request of a few shoppers who were frustrated in not being able to easily navigate around the site to see what was actually available to purchase. But with many historians and researchers accessing the shop for informational purposes (due to all the history we include with each item’s listing) I didn’t want these sold items to be completely removed from the shop all together. In an effort to make it a pleasant experience for everyone spending time in the shop, I hope this new solution will help. From here on out, see all the sold items in this category (found in the header section) here…

Mother’s Day

I hope you’ll come back to the blog this week to read our upcoming Mother’s day inspired post about a talented seamstress in Minnesota who led a really an interesting and dynamic life. Through an interview with her daughter, who generously shared family photographs, their family linen collection, and many stories about her mom (including a recipe!) we’ll learn how one spirited woman lived a passion fueled life and defied many stereotypes that tend to be attached to women of the mid-20th century.

Until then, of you are looking for any last-minute Mother’s Day gifts, there’s still time left to find something just as unique and treasured as Mom is. From the shop, I recommend these items…

From top left: Vintage 1950s Maurice Urtillo Art Print, Antique 19th Century Steamship Chairs, Embroidered 1950s Pillowcases, Vintage Peacock Wall Pocket Planter, French Market Basket

What makes these particular items so wonderful for mom? All of the mothers in our lives deserve to spoiled on their special day. These carefully selected items will add a little dose of symbolic beauty to her every day, while also presenting her with a unique bit of history. French artist Maurice Utrillo (1883-1955) learned to appreciate the beauty of flowers from his mother, Suzanne Valadon who was also a painter. The his & hers set of antique steamship chairs signifed luxury and comfort aboard cruise liners of the late 1800s. Breakfast in bed never looked prettier in the 1950s than with a pair of embroidered pillowcases, which were often gifted as wedding presents. Peacocks throughout history have been considered the most beautiful bird in the avian kingdom and signifies power, protection and elegance. And finally, the market bag will add chic Parisian style and a little extra joie de vivre to each and every one of her days.

Find each one in the shop here print, chairs, embroidery, peacock, market bag. Hope they offer a little extra inspiration should you need it.

Until the next post… cheers to celebrating May, new growth and vintage-inspired joy! Hope you have a great rest of the weekend!

Passed Down Recipes: Audrey Hepburn & Her Favorite Pasta

The difference between a lady and flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated. That’s a quote from George Bernard Shaw’s book Pygmalion which was published in 1912. Fifty three years later that book would become the blockbuster movie, My Fair Lady, starring one of America’s most favorite actresses – Audrey Hepburn. This role as Eliza Doolittle, along with her portrayal of Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s are definitely two of Audrey’s most indelible performances, ones that made her a household name around the world.

Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, 1964

For a woman who lived in the public eye, for most of her life, I think there was a real irony in George’s “not how she behaves, but how she’s treated” statement that was fitting for his character but also fitting for the actress who played her. As a woman adored around the world, often referred to as beautiful, fragile, and delicate, there was much more to Audrey Hepburn than people gave her credit for. Thankfully, a new documentary just recently released on Netflix offers intimate insight into Audrey’s life that dispels myths not often discussed in the stratosphere surrounding her celebrity persona.  

In the fashion world Audrey was idealized for her waif-like figure, slim and youthful. She championed the pixie haircut and wearing pants and preferred a simplicity in dress that bordered art house cool. But her thinness was a result of childhood malnutrition, not a diet-riddled aesthetic that she curated throughout her life. Her personal style was a result of simplicity, comfort, and a humble nature not an innate desire to be the fashion maven she became. Her features was determined desireable by the beauty industry yet she never felt very beautiful herself – often remarking that she had insecurities over the size of her nose, her flat chest, her boyish hips, her dark hair all which felt especially apparent to her in the time of Hollywood when the ideal feminine physiques equaled hour-glass curves and blond bombshell hair. 

The documentary depicts,  through interviews with her family and friends, the other sides of Audrey that reveal tenderness balanced with tenacity, love entwined with loyalty, and a steadfast determination to make a difference using the skills she worked hard for and the favorability she gained as a result of her acting career. It shows that she deserves to be remembered for much more than her famous character’s association with a luxury jewelry brand, or for creating the iconic little black dress terminology or for being the innocent, fresh-faced ideal of romantic fantasies.

As a serious humanitarian, a creative artist and a woman trying to humbly navigate the world, Audrey was smart, sincere and authentic above all else. Like a postscript to the stunning 2003 memoir, Audrey Hepburn: An Elegant Spirit that her son Sean Hepburn Ferrer wrote almost 20 years ago, the documentary offers insight into Audrey’s personality and how she unsuspectingly became the icon that she did.  Sean’s book, all those years before, was my first glimpse into Audrey’s personal life. His story began just days after Audrey passed away at the age of 63, and is told from his own sesnsitive perspective of life with a woman who was both loved by him and by the world at the same time. 

To peek inside and read some snippets from the book, click here.

Like the documentary, Sean shares close details about his mom’s life… her thoughts, philosophies, perspectives… and tries to make sense, as an adult, of the two very different lives she lived between her public persona and her private one. If you get a chance to read the book or watch the documentary you’ll learn all the details of Audrey’s life… her hunger years, the fractured relationship with her father,  her desire to be a ballet dancer, the start of her acting career, her marriages, her emotional ups and downs, her personal triumphs and her public trials. My favorite part of Audrey’s story though does not include her movies, or her designer clothes or her glamorous Hollywood connections. My favorite part of Audrey’s life was her favorite part too –  her 18th century Swiss house…

Deemed by Audrey as the happiest place on Earth, she retreated to the small village of Tolochenaz to raise her two children and to rest in the quiet privacy that Switzerland offered. A sanctuary of a centuries old shuttered stone house with a big garden and lots of room for family and friends, the house was named La Paisible (meaning The Peaceful in French). True to its name, it is where Audrey felt most comfortable. Dogs (Jack Russels), flowers, and bright light tumbled out of every room. A highly cultivated and cared for garden dotted the landscape. Rooms stood ready to entertain and to inspire. And even though some photo journalists were invited in occasionally for publicity purposes, for the most part it was a private place where Audrey could revel in the thing that she cared for and craved most… love and affection.  

A photoshoot with her son Luca for Vogue UK in 1971, let fans peek inside Audrey’s bright and airy world at La Paisible. I love the painting of her house above the desk, which was painted by her second husband Andrea Dotti.

It was at La Paisible in Switzerland, that she indulged her love of food and flowers and the joyful simplicity that came with growing both. Sean was quick to point out in his memoir that Audrey was an eater despite what everybody thought about her figure and the ways in which she went about maintaining it. She had cravings too just like everyone else but her philosophy on food always returned to balance and appreciating where it came from and how it was made. A craving for something sweet yielded a square of chocolate not a whole box. Meals were made with things she could cut and clip from the garden just outside her door. Grocery shopping was never a chore, always a joy. Her table was surrounded with laughter and fun and comfortingly familiar faces. 

Her son Luca in an interview in 2013, shared that his mom was a very practical person seeking above all a normal, grateful and gracious life. Acting was her job, but living was up to her to define. In making that distinction, she knew in her core the things she valued most in her life – family, nature, love, education, kindness, and respect for one’s own insticts and motivations. Growing a garden within a fingertip’s reach was Audrey’s way of creating beauty but also securing a viable food supply for her family, so that no one at La Paisible would ever have to know the hunger she felt as a child.

Picking cherries from the garden at La Paisible. Vogue UK, 1971

One of Audrey’s most favorite foods, which she ate on a weekly basis, was a simple garden-centric dish that can be thrown together in minutes with barely any technical instruction. In today’s post, we are making Audrey’s favorite pasta recipe, Spaghetti al Pomadoro…

It’s not a recipe that she invented herself, but it is one that she made every week for decades while living at La Paisible. Like Audrey’s loyalty to it, I’ve been toting this version of classic tomato sauce around in my own makeshift recipe book for the past 18 years.

Uncomplicated cooking at its best, this recipe calls for lots of basil, Audrey’s most favorite herb, and just a few other garden vegetable staples. Interestingly, the recipe also utilizes canned tomatoes, (or tinned as they are referred to in Europe!), which is an ideal choice when tomatoes are not in season. I like to make this recipe most in spring (with canned tomatoes) in anticipation of the vibrant season about to come and then again in high summer when homegrown tomatoes, just plucked from the vine come into the kitchen, fat and heavy and still warm from the sun. I like to imagine that this is how Audrey would go about preparing this sauce too – jockeying back and forth between using cans and her own homegrowns depending on the season. In either circumstance, the best way to experience the true beauty of this simple recipe is by acquiring ingredients that have been picked at peek flavor. If you can find them fresh at your local farmers market, or even better, pull them all from your own garden, then you’ll have a true Audrey Hepburn dining experience, just like the lady herself would have enjoyed. 

Audrey Hepburn’s Spaghetti al Pomodoro

1 small onion

2 cloves garlic

2 carrots

2 stalks celery

2 large cans of diced tomatoes

1 large bunch of fresh basil, separated in two equal bundles

3 – 5 tablespoons olive oil (also known a a long drizzle!)

1 box of spaghetti

Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Salt & Pepper to taste

Peel and dice onion, carrots, garlic and celery. Put in a large pot. Add two large tins of Italian roma tomatoes and the basil. Add a long drizzle of olive oil and simmer on low for 45 minutes. Turn off heat and let sauce rest for 15 minutes. Serve over 1 box of pasta cooked al dente, with fresh parmesean and the other half of the basil cut in pieces with scissors.

I love this recipe for the way it was written. In casual, loosey goosey direction, like all good Italian food, it relies on cooking with your own instincts and offering just light suggesstions as outline for the finished end result. Sometimes I let the onion, carrot and celery mixture carmelize for few minutes in the olive oil before adding the tomatoes. Sometimes I bring the whole sauce to a boil before turning it down to simmer. Sometimes I add more garlic or a sprinkle of sugar or a dash of white wine or some oregano if the herbs are overflowing in the garden. Or sometimes I make it just as Audrey directed. Regardless, whenever I pull out this stained and spattered recipe from my makeshift book, I like to think of Audrey Hepburn, the glamorous interantional icon now turned regular, every day home cook, standing at the stove in her beloved kitchen in Switzerland, making this very same sauce in the very same way that we are making it now.

During her life, Audrey was never sensationalized as a good cook. Oftentimes, people assumed that she never ate or that she had little interest in food given her thin figure. As George Bernard Shaw wrote of his character… she was treated differently then she behaved. But her boys have set the record straight in their books and in their interviews and in the documentary just released. Audrey loved to cook and loved to eat. Most notebaly for and with her friends and family. And now, in the beautiful way of passed down recipes, she can cook for her fans too.

Cheers to Audrey for staying true to her spirit and for privately being so much more than the public ever knew. Cheers to her boys, Sean and Luca, who bravely confronted all the misconceptions that surrounded her. And to this humble pasta recipe for always reminding us that life doesn’t have to be extravagant in order to be delicious.

Five Recipes That Celebrate Ireland Throughout Your Springtime Cooking

 

A cramped pub. Green beer. A parade. A contest for the best-dressed leprechaun. A rousing time. A silly hat. A limerick, a shanty song, a poem about lads and lassies. A wistful ballad sung soft and sweet. In America, that’s a pretty traditional take on St. Patrick’s Day in pre-Covid years, back when camaraderie and celebration could and would run rampant.

This year there will be no raucous clinking of glasses with strangers, no sweaty rock bands stomping out the pace of their songs, or tables stuffed so close together that the entire room sways like one big sea of elbows and shoulders and breath and beer. But there’s more than one way to celebrate the holiday, pandemic or otherwise.

As the only cultural heritage day that has been universally acknowledged and accepted throughout the world, this love of Irish heritage celebrated every March 17th, has meant different things to different people in different parts of the globe throughout time.

In St Augustine, FL  in the year 1600, St Patrick (then known to Spanish Floridians as St. Patricio)  was celebrated with a gunpowder salute and a day of feasting to honor their belief that St. Patrick was protecting the city’s cornfields.  In Boston in 1773, St Patrick’s Day meant a quiet dinner party among a few of the city’s prominent businessmen who celebrated not the love of a country but the love of British-born St. Patrick and his contributions to the Catholic faith in Ireland.

In Ireland at the start of the last century, the national holiday was a day meant for quiet reflection spent in church.  For many local, national and international businesses throughout the 1900s and 2000s, the holiday meant and still means a massive marketing campaign that floods the retail world with all things green, lucky and legend-loving. 

Here in the Vintage Kitchen, the holiday means the kick-off to springtime cooking. In our Southern neck of the woods, mid-March welcomes strawberry season, onion season, and early leafy green season. The first signs of flowers start dotting the landscape with dancing daffodils and jonquils. The color green in an array of tender shades burst out into the world – on tree tips, on blades of grass, in fresh produce newly arrived at the farmers market.  This time of year is when our climate most resembles Ireland’s weather – cool, rainy, sometimes sunny, oftentimes cloudy. It’s the exact weather I remember from my first trip to Ireland many years ago.  March marks the month I want to celebrate the country most.

In today’s holiday post, we are featuring five unique recipes from the Emerald Isle that herald the arrival of spring and that will keep you fed, Irish style, from morning til night. Included here are foods fresh from the fields, the streams, and the sea. They are untraditional takes on traditional food gathered from Ireland’s history that I hope will help will inspire your March menus like they always do mine. There’s a stovetop jam you can make in minutes, a soup that spotlights one of the oldest green vegetables in the world, and a seafood dinner that will have you rethinking your love of pork in exchange for this new fare. However you choose to celebrate the day – whether rowdy and pub bound, quiet and thoughtful or fully outfitted in space and spirit with decorations that delight, I hope these Irish themed foods will tempt you into creating some new traditions in your kitchen not just today but for the whole new Spring season ahead as well.

Currant Scones with Strawberry Preserves

There is long-standing uncertainty in the baking world when it comes to England, Scotland, and Ireland. It seems no one can quite determine which country invented the scone first. Lucky for us, all three countries make wonderful versions. This recipe for currant scones is made even better with the inclusion of Irish butter and fresh strawberry preserves made on the stovetop from one carton of fresh berries. Since we are now entering strawberry season, this is the perfect time of year to make your own homemade jam with fruit at its most flavorful stage. If you are like me, and somewhat intimated by the home-canning process, and making your own jams and jellies seems daunting, this strawberry preserve recipe is the next best thing. Made in minutes from one carton of fresh berries and some added sugar, it is simple, quick to prepare, and gives any store-bought jam a serious run for its money. Not as shelf-stable as jarred jams and jellies, this version only lasts for about 7 days in the fridge but heaped on top of a warm scone it’s so good, you probably won’t even have it around that long. Pick the ripest, reddest, more fragrant strawberries you can find for this recipe and you can’t go wong. 

Currant Scones with Strawberry Preserves

Makes 10-12 scones

1 cup wheat bran

2 cups unbleached bread flour

1 teaspoon baking soda 

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 yteaspoon salt

1/3 cup cold Irish butter, cut ino pieces

1/3 cup dried currants

1 cup buttermilk

1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, stir the bran, flour baking soda, sugar, and salt until well blended. Using a fork mash up the butter in the flour mixture until the it resembles coarse crumbs. Mix in the currants, then quickly stir in the buttermilk and egg to form a soft dough. 

Turn the dough out onto a lighlty floured work surface and pat it to 3/4 inch thickness. Use a glass or biscuit cutter that is 2″ inches in diameter, cut dough into rounds and place on a cookie sheet.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. 

Strawberry Preserves 

Makes 1 1/2 cups

1 basket fresh strawberries

3/4 cup cane sugar

Rinse strawberries and remove green tops. Place berries in a medium saucepan and mash them coarsely (either using a potato masher or your hands). Cook the strawberries over medium heat, stirring frequently, until they begin to thicken (about 10 minutes).

Reduce the heat to low, add the suagr and stir until it dissolves. Increase heat to medium and boil, stirring frequently for 20 minutes or until the mixture thickens to thick jam-like consistency. Remove from heat and let cool. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to one week. 

Watercress and Lime Soup

Next up on the menu is Watercress and Lime Soup. Packed with nutrients, watercress is one of the oldest and healthiest leafy greens on earth dating all the way back to ancient times. Containing Calcium, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Niacin, Pantothenic Acid, Phosphorus, Potassium, Riboflavin, Selenium, Thiamin, Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamin K and Zinc, it grows wild in clear, slow-moving streams all over Ireland.

Often used in Irish cooking like spinach,  it appears in all sorts of hot and cold dishes as well as fresh salads, and on sandwiches. Watercress Soup is a traditional heritage food that usually involves potatoes, but this recipe, adapted from the kitchen of Adare Manor in County Limerick changes things up a bit by adding lime juice and removing the potatoes. 

Adare Manor is a 13th century Tudor Revival-style castle that has a long and storied history of family ownership. Now it serves as a luxury hotel and golf resort.

The result is a creamy soup with a lot of depth, thanks to the peppery watercress and the tangy lime juice. Like the optimal seasonal timing of the strawberry preserves, this is a lovely springtime soup that blends flavorful watercress with cream and butter. Thin but nourishing, it is ideal fare for the rainy weather March and April often bring and shows off the bright bouquet of spring onion sets that are now coming into season.

Watercress & Lime Soup

Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 leek, white part only, chopped

3 celery stalks, chopped

1/2 cup diced celery root (if you can’t find celery root substitute 1 small white potato (peeled) and chopped and one extra stalk of celery, chopped)

6 cups vegetable broth

2 lbs. watercress

1 cup heavy whipping cream

Juice of 4 fresh limes

Salt & Pepper to taste

Freshly shaved parmesan cheese to taste 

In a large soup pot over medium-low, heat the oil and saute the onion, leek, celery and celery root (or potato/celery stalk substitute)  until tender but not browned, about 12 minutes. Stir in the vegetable broth and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the watercress, raise the heat to high ad bring to a boil. Remove from heat and puree. 

In a deep bowl, whip the cream until soft peak form. Add the lime juice to the soup puree and mix thoroughly. Then gently fold in the whipped cream until well blended. Season with salt and pepper. Serve in bowls with shaved parmesan cheese and a sprig of watercress for garnish. 

This recipe, like most soups gets better the longer it sits. The lime retains its flavor and helps keep the color of the soup bright and green even after a few days in the fridge. For a heavier meal, a nice companion is a baked potato or a few slices of rustic country bread. 

Seafood Sausages with Chive Sauce 

The last two spotlights on Irish cooking for the springtime kitchen feature two recipes in one, although they can both operate independently as well. Fish based in one and sauce based in the other, both feature go-to ingrediants (seafood and chives) favored by Irish eaters all over the country.  Salmon and cod are the two most commonly enjoyed fish in Ireland. This recipe contains both, along with the addition of scallops, turning it into a trifecta of seafood-loving delight.

Originating from the kitchen of Caragh Lodge, an ideal nature lover’s getaway that has sat on the shores of Caragh Lake in County Kerry since 1875, the former house now turned hotel has been associated with good fishing and good cooking for more than a century.

The recipe, Seafood Sausages with Chive Sauce is similar to crab cakes but in a sausage shape. Protein-laden, it is an extravagant dish that you might reserve for special occasions or jubilant merrymaking holidays like today when you want to surprise your dinner mates with something out of the ordinary.  Rich, filling, and full of flavor, the sausages are fun to make, and they involve a unique technique. Like a fleet of canoes bobbing on the Irish Sea, the sausages are simmered in plastic wrap where they steam and plump their way into shape before being rolled in bread crumbs and sauteed in butter. Once plated, they are drizzled with more butter in the form of a silky chive sauce. The result is a totally decadent dining experience that sits on the same  level of other indulgent foods like lobster with drawn butter, Eggs Benedict, and Beef Wellington. Colorful and unique, this is a recipe that offers much in the way of interest and would be lovely for other spring-time holidays like Mother’s Day or Easter in addition to St. Pat’s.

Seafood Sausages with Chive Sauce

Serves 4-6

12 oz salmon

1 tablespoon butter

4 oz. cod filet, finely diced

4 oz. scallops, finely diced

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

2 teaspoons fresh chives, minced

2 egg whites 

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1 cup fine fresh bread crumbs

2 tablespoons butter

Finely dice 4 oz. of the salmon. In a large saute pan or skillet,melt the unsalted butter over medium heat and saute the cod, diced salmon, and scallops for 5 minutes or until opaque. Remove from heat and season with salt, pepper, and chives. Set aside.

In a blender or food processor, puree the remaining 8 oz of uncooked salmon. Add the egg whites, salt, and pepper and process until smooth. Place the pureed fish mixture in a bowl set inside a bowl of ice and slowly whisk in the cream.

Add the sauteed fish and mix to combine. Refrigerate mixture for one hour. 

Remove fish mixture from fridge. Place one soup spoon size dollop of fish mixture onto a piece of plastic wrap and shape into a sausage.

Roll it up and tie a knot at each end with kitchen string. Repeat with the rest of the mixture.

Bring a large pot of water to a simmer and poach the sausages for 10-20 minutes depending on size and thickness.

When the sausages are done look for the plastic wrap to take on an air bubble shape. The sausages should be plumped up like hotdogs get when boiled in water, and the sausages should be firm to the touch. (The firmer the sausages are the easier they will be to roll in the bread crumbs and saute in the pan without breaking apart). While the sausages are cooling make the Chive Sauce.

Once the sausages have fully cooked in the water remove them to a baking rack and let them cool completely (about 30 minutes).

Roll the sausages in bread crumbs. Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat and fry them until golden brown on each side.

Chive Sauce

3 tablespoons dry white wine

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon minced shallots

One pinch of pepper

1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream

3/4 cup butter, cut into pieces

1 tablespoon fresh chives, minced

In a small saucepan combine the wine, vinegar, shallots, and pepper and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil until the liquid reduces to about 1/2 tablespoon. Add the cream and boil again until it begins to thicken. Whisk in the butter, a few pieces at a time keeping the sauce just warm enough to absorb the butter as you whisk. Add the chives. (If your sausages are not ready to serve at this point keep the sauce on low heat and stir occasionally until the sausages are cooked. Drizzle the sauce over the sausages and serve. 

As mentioned earlier, both the sausages and the sauce are lovely together but also lend themselves to enjoyment with other foods. The chive sauce would be delicious drizzled over baked potatoes, eggs or tossed with pasta. The seafood sausages would be wonderful crumbled on top of a salad, stuffed inside a summer tomato or spread out on toast points. Kitchen creativity rules the day when it comes to these two recipes, including experimenting with different blends of fish for the sausage and different types of herbs for the sauce.   

The thing I love about Irish cooking most, is the country’s ability to blend fresh ingredients with comfort foods. Cream and cheese and butter are rife in so many recipes but when balanced with fresh vegetables they don’t feel overwhelming in the gastronomy department. And I love how there’s a little bit of everything for everyone in Ireland – whether you prefer humble provincial food or fancy fare, there’s something to please every palate.

If you are interested in learning about more Irish recipes, some favorites we’ve highlghted previously here on the blog include… a recipe from Katharine Hepburn’s Irish cook, how corned beef brisket came to America, and a recipe for a Guinness-infused Irish cocktail.  

Cheers to Ireland and to Spring and to new foods and flavors on this happy St Patrick’s Day! Hope your day (and your season!) are the most delicious one yet! 

Photo Credits: Ross Sneddon, Father Ted

 

 

 

 

And the Winner Is…

So excited to announce that we have a winner for our handmade gift giveaway! The Happy Scarf mentioned in the previous blog post will be heading out in the mail to…

(drumroll please….)

….Tomi!

Congratulations! You are the new storyteller and caretaker of this vintage sari table runner – a piece of fabric that intimately ties together at least the lives of five women, two continents, and a journey that spans over 8,300 miles.

How fun!  I hope it brings many years of happiness and joy to your table.

Thank you so much to everyone who participated in this giveaway. Guesses as to the contents of the mystery box were incredibly creative and ran the gamut of possibility. My most favorite ones included a set of decorated bowls, a spice grinder, napkins, a set of bracelets, a henna kit, a mini mortar and pestle, spice seeds, a Ganesha statue, a travel guide book, a piece of Indian art, an Indian stamp set and a collection of powdered dyes.  How fun would any one of those prizes be?!

In a marvelous feat of guesswork though, there were two entrants – Christine and Karen – who both suggested that the box could contain a scarf. Christine even went so far as to say a small sari for use as table decoration! If the giveaway was about guessing the exact contents of the box these two ladies would have tied as winners for sure.  But alas, the contest was open to anyone who submitted a guess. From there, all names were then written down on paper and pooled together in a box. Tomi’s name was selected from a random draw, and I like to think, a little bit of fate from India:)

Cheers and congratulations to Tomi for the win and to the Happy Scarf who now has a happy new home!

 

The Threads of India: In Sari & Spice

Invisible threads are the strongest ties. That’s what the 20th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) believed. He wrote those words over 100 years ago, and since then, this statement of his has come to take on many different meanings to many different people. Depending on context, mood and circumstance, for some, it suggests spirituality or a sense of place. For others, it describes personal relationships or attachments, affinities to particular objects, or even an inner knowledge of one’s own self. But here in the Vintage Kitchen, this quote always reminds me of history and how we are tied to the past in subtle yet powerful ways.

Today we are embarking on Week 22 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour which takes us to India via the kitchen to discuss fabric, second chances, and a savory chicken dish that is slathered in spice.  Welcome to Week 22 of the Tour! Welcome to India…

It’s impossible to look at photographs of this amazing landscape and not notice all the color. From flower gardens like this cascade of hibiscus tumbling over a brick wall in Utter Pradash…

…to the spice markets of Mapusa where all the shades of the rainbow greet you around every corner…

…to the splendid architecture  of buildings like the Mysore Palace in Karnataka and the Taj Mahal in Agra, which seem to magically change color throughout the day depending on the direction of the sun… 

…pops of color bloom throughout India every minute in delightfully unexpected ways.

In a country that is over 250,000 years old, there is no shortage of source material when it comes to tying in a cultural companion, but ever since the Recipe Tour started I had a definite idea in mind about this particular post and the focal point of it.

Whether you are talking food, fashion, flora or fauna (or all four!) one of the dazzling componants to life in India that float around the landscape like jewels come alive are the traditional saris worn by women of all ages throughout the country. Seen in all shades and patterns, girls typically start wearing saris in their teenage years as a symbol of femininity, independence and equality among all women regardless of social status. 

Made of just one uncut length of fabric (usually 9 yards in total) with the ability to be styled in over 100 different ways depending on folds and drape, the sari has been a part of India’s history for over 5000 years.

Each region throughout the country has its own style and customs surrounding saris and the wearing of them, but Indian women as a whole, view saris as an important part of their national identity. They are even passed down through generations as a source of pride, nostalgia and honor.

Today, they also symbolize strength, resourcefulness, and female empowerment in a new, exciting and creative way that previous generations never knew. 

Last Thursday, I announced a giveaway here on the blog of a special prize tucked inside the white box above that would be awarded to one lucky winner. It’s a gift that was handmade in India and clues hinted at color, purpose, and longevity of use. Tonight, I’m excited to reveal the contents of the box.

Are you ready to see what it is?

Tah-dah! It’s a five-foot-long Happy Scarf (ie table runner) made of two recycled cotton saris.  Repaired, pieced together, and hand-quilted to form a completely new and functional item for the table, this type of Indian handicraft is changing the fate of women all over the country.  Reversible, with a different pattern and color arrangement on each side, this Happy Scarf holds up to its name in more ways than one.  Suitable for all four seasons of display and use, it features colors bright and sunny on both sides. One side contains shades of spring and summer in pink, yellow, peach, white and raspberry…

…while the other side features a warm wash of autumn and winter hues in butternut, marigold, black, white, beige, pink and yellow…

Made in Calcutta by a woman from an impoverished village who was given the opportunity to learn the textile trade, this Happy Scarf represents a new kind of freedom for women in India. By learning skills within the textile and handlooming industry, working with fabric offers women a chance to gain independence and improve the quality of their lives by earning fair wages, receiving health benefits, job training and education, and also by being a part of a community of artisans striving for a future bright with possibility, potential and a fulfilling career. 

Typically it takes a sewer about two days to make a table runner of this size. Like a homemade quilt, distinct signs of each sewer’s handiwork can be seen throughout. In this case, unique touches are found not only in the selection of sari fabrics that she chose to combine but also in her vertical hand stitching of the fabrics as they were joined together and her repair work , which we can see in three different places on the light pink side…

These patches cover over holes made in the fabric that occurred through normal use and wear when the sari was once part of a woman’s wardrobe. The ancient Indian art of textile repair is known as rafoogari and represents a powerful philosophy that sums up the beauty and integrity of the Indian culture. Instead of simply throwing a piece of good fabric away because it is slightly flawed with a hole or worn thin by a frayed area, each garment gets repaired, patched up, so that its life and purpose can be extended for years to come. Some garments in India carry examples of over 200 years of rafoogari repairs. This was not thriftiness at work for the sake of reusing fabric, although that was a beneficial attribute, but instead it was a gesture of respect and honor towards the fabric and the memories it held for all the people that it came in contact with. 

This type of fabric work utilizing recycled saris can be seen in all sorts of Indian handicrafts. Kantha is the type of stitch work featured in the Happy Scarf, which involves sewing together five layers of fabric and highlighting the running stitch that pieced them all together by using brightly colored thread. I first fell in love with this type of Indian textile art when my sister gave me this tote bag for my birthday a few years ago…

Like the Happy Scarf, my tote bag is made from five layers of two different saris, contains patchwork repairs and features lots of bright color. The front and the back both contain different imagery and the fabrics are super soft. 

It even features the name of the sewer inside (which I love!). 

Although the bag and the Happy Scarf are made by women employed by two different companies in India, they both contain similar stories and similiar missions – to help women get out of poverty. Like the curator of the Happy Scarf, the maker of this bag, Arati, experienced a tragic side of life. Involved in human trafficking within the commercial sex trade, Arati through the help of a female empowerment company, Sari Bari was able to escape her cruel circumstance and change her life completely. Through education and training in the textile industry, Arati was able to gain support and financial independence as well as create beautiful works of art that promote a sense of pride and fulfillment within herself and her community by carrying on a centuries-old art form.

Whenever I go on a trip via plane or car, my Indian art bag joins me.  By taking it on as many adventures as possible, I like to think that the spirit of Arati herself is out there traveling the world too via her talent and creativity. It’s always fun to imagine stories about her.  I like to think about the possibility of one day traveling to India and running into Arati on the street. If that happened we would only know each other solely by her recognition of the bag.  Wouldn’t it be fun to stop and chat with her for a bit!  To find out more about what her life was like when she made this bag and to see how it differs now. Wouldn’t it be fun to thank her in person for making a piece of art I absolutely adore and to share with her all the adventures we have had together so far?  

The visual beauty of each of these recycled sari creations, whether they are transformed into blankets or bags or table runners or napkins or, is that each one is one-of-a-kind. True works of art based on each sewer’s skill, fabric selection, and choice of color arrangement.  The emotional beauty of these creations is that they helped improve one particular person’s life, one piece at a time. 

In the Hindu religion, to which 95% of India’s population belongs, the color yellow symbolizes learning and knowledge. That makes the Happy scarf an ideal companion for a table full of diners ready to engage in interesting conversation. Sized at 5′ feet in length x 15.75″ inches in width, it fits practically every table shape from long to short and is ready for a wide variety of styling fun. Here, I paired it with antique serving platters and flatware, vintage hotelware plates and midcentury napkins. The change in color palette from side to side adds a nice change in mood and aesthetic too…

Tonight’s recipe is as equally colorful in sight and history as our table setting. The previous stop on the International Vintage Recipe Tour took us to Hungary, via the kitchen, where we explored the bright red world of paprika, but this time in India we are diving into the sunshine shades in all areas of the culinary experience. 

On the menu tonight it’s Chicken Bengal, a warm and saucy stewed chicken featuring five distinct spices – coriander,  cumin, cloves, ginger, and turmeric. But before any of those flavors are introduced, the chicken marinates in a yogurt and garlic bath in the fridge for a few hours. After that point, the whole marinade,  yogurt and all, slips into a sizzling pan of spices where it cooks for some additional hours over a low simmer until it reaches the point of falling-of-the-bone tenderness.

Easy to make, low maintenance, and wholly satisfying, the end result is a saucy blend of spice and chicken that can be adjusted to your liking for heat or enjoyed mild but nuanced in a pool of sweet, savory and salty flavor. Total cook time including prep work and marinating is 4 1/2 hours, so make this on a cozy day when you have some time to spend at home.  Pair it with our favorite historical BBC drama, Indian Summers, and you have a theme night all wrapped up in one fun package. 

Chicken Bengal

Serves 4-6

1 large chicken (4-6 lbs), cut in eight pieces

1 cup yogurt ( I used 2% milkfat Greek yogurt)

2 tablespoons finely minced garlic

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups finely minced onion

1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

3 cloves

1 hot red pepper – optional ( I did not use)

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon powdered turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Basmati rice for serving 

Toss the chicken in a large mixing bowl with the yogurt, salt, and pepper, and half the garlic. Toss until the chicken is well coated…

and then transfer to a Ziploc bag and refrigerate for two hours. 

Melt the butter in a heavy casserole and add the oil and onion. Cook until the onion starts to brown, add the remaining garlic and spices, and cook over low heat stirring frequently (about 2 minutes). 

Add the chicken and marinating liquid.

Cover and simmer until the chicken is fork-tender (approximately 2 hours). About thirty minutes before the chicken is done make the rice and set it aside, but keep it covered so that it stays warm. When the chicken is fork-tender and falling off the bone, remove it from the heat and let it rest for several minutes before serving it atop a bed of rice along with whatever juices are leftover in the pan. 

Not quite as creamy/saucy as the Hungarian Shrimp Paprika recipe, the basmati rice in this dish acts as more of an aromatic companion than a vehicle to soak up juices. The main stars of the show here in this recipe are the turmeric, which gives the whole dish that bright yellow color, and the coriander, which adds a foundation of flavor.

Coriander, according to the language of flowers, symbolizes hidden worth. The Bengali region of India from which our recipe is named is where the ancient art of Kantha originated. The predominant color yellow in the saris symbolizes learning.  The woman who sewed the Happy Scarf together, escaped an unhappy environment and discovered her own self-worth through learning an ancient art. When you think about all that goes into making a meal, from the food to the place settings to the company that sits around the table with you, it is mind-boggling how much connects us to other people in other parts of the world in other eras of history in a myriad of unsuspecting ways. This post started out as just a simple Indian dinner. But the more I dug into the history of India, the more transparent the relationships between fabric, food, color, country and symbolism all seemed to go hand in hand. Completely unexpected, all the elements of this post practically connected themselves. It formed a perfect symbiotic relationship.  It formed the words that Nietzsche wrote. Invisible threads truly are the strongest ties.

On Monday, the winner of the Happy Scarf will be announced on the blog. My fingers are crossed for everyone that entered. In the meantime, cheers to India. Cheers to all their beautifully artistic ways of carrying on the color of their culture with the memories of their past. Cheers to strong women and to bright futures.

 Join us next time for Week 23 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour as we head to Indonesia via the kitchen!

 

India photos courtesy of Lewis J. Goetz, Varnan Guba, Aditya Joshi, Claudette Bleijenberg, Bhim Chauhan, Vivek Dashi, Hari Nandakumar, Tiago Rosado, Joshuva Daniel, Akhil Chandran, Ashim D’Silva

Celebrating India: Enter To Win A Giveaway of Happy Surprise!

Hello dear kitcheners! I’m so excited to announce a new giveaway to celebrate our next stop on the International Vintage Recipe Tour. We are long overdue for such festivities since our last giveaway was in August of 2018. If you’ve been following the blog since then, you might remember the trio of beautiful handmade refrigerator magnets made by California artist, Heather Dean, from Jane Dean Designs. Those sparkly little beauties were made from vintage costume jewelry and added an instant dash of glamour to lucky winner Kris and her Florida fridge.

The magnets!

This time around, our giveaway involves another beautiful kitchen-centric item that is full of unique and colorful style.  Tucked inside the white box is a special present handmade in India that will be awarded to one lucky winner. This gift ties in our next culinary post, when we will be traveling to India via the kitchen to make a recipe fit for a feast. 

Like the magnets, this gift is a beautiful reflection of handmade artistry, is steeped in history and is synonymous with India’s culture and traditions.  What could it be? What could it be? Here are a few hints…

  1. It will last a lifetime. 
  2. It is handmade.
  3. It is very colorful.
  4. It can be used in a number of different ways.
  5. It symbolizes happiness and positivity.

Submit a guess as to what is inside the box anytime between now and noon (11:59am) on Sunday, March 7th using the private contact form below,  and you’ll be automatically entered for your chance to win this magical prize. And please note, you do not have to correctly guess the contents in order to win. A winner will be selected at random from the entire pool of entrants. 

The contents of the box will be revealed in the International Vintage Recipe Tour post this Sunday, and a winner will be announced Monday on the blog, as well as on Instagram and Facebook.

Good luck and happy guessing!

P.S. If you are new to the blog, giveaways here in the land of the Vintage Kitchen are always history and kitchen-themed in one way or another. See what fun items we have given away in the past here,  here, and here.