A Monumental Story of Real-Life Serendipity Told Over Many Parts: Chapter 3 – The Time Period

{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 and Chapter 2: Meet Angela}

Juice joints, flapjacks, Model T’s, Kelvinators and Radiolas. Mass culture, Sinclair Lewis, giggle water and Gloria Swanson. The Harlem Rennaisance, votes for women and the woman – Edith Bolling Galt. Jazzy foxtrots, upside-down cakes, and the Great Depression. This week we are back with another installment regarding the story of the lost one-hundred-year-old item and how it is finding its way back home after a 13-year quest for answers and owners.

Welcome to Chapter Three of a Monumental Story of Real-life Serendipity Told Over Many Parts. If you are a new reader to the blog, you’ll want to start at the beginning with chapters 1 and 2. If you have been following along since the mystery package arrived, let’s do a little recap to catch up.

It’s been just over a month since the second installment was shared. This is what we know so far…

  1. The lost item is 100 years old.
  2. It was found by a random stranger named Angela, in an office supply store in a suburb of Atlanta, GA thirteen years ago.
  3. Over the course of the following thirteen years, Angela searched for the original owner of the item, but to no avail.
  4. In 2021, a Facebook group helped Angela eventually uncover some clues about the item.
  5. In July 2021, Angela read an archived blog post that connected the item to the Vintage Kitchen.
  6. A few weeks later the item arrived in the Vintage Kitchen via UPS in a cardboard mailer of medium thickness.
  7. The lost item is valuable, important and definietly something that someone would miss.
  8. The lost item is now in the care of the Vintage Kitchen where it will be couriered on to its final destination in the coming months.

The time period connected to the mystery item is the 1920s, so today I thought it would be fun to take a look at what life was like in that decade of American history to help give this piece of the past some context. Perhaps it will help all the armchair sleuths out there figure out some more clues as to what the lost item could actually be.

Known as one of the most dramatically diverse decades, the 1920s saw carefree decadence and life-altering depression. It was a dry decade due to Prohibition which lasted from 1920-1933. And it was the dawning of a new age for women as they fought for their independence thanks to the right to vote amendment passed on August 18th, 1920.

Clockwise from top left: First Lady Edith Boling Galt Wilson; 1920s fashion; Votes for Women badge; hairstyles of the 1920s; the awakening of feminism; actress Gloria Swanson.

The 1920s was the first time that a woman carried influential political power in the White House as Edith Bolling Galt assisted her husband, the 28th President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson after he suffered a stroke during the last year and half of his presidency. Edith not only cared for him physically but also became his social secretary, his press liaison, and his political interpreter shuttling information to him about problems affecting the world. In short, Edith became a critical component in his decision-making process regarding matters of the country.

During the Roaring ’20s, hairstyles were bobbed, waistlines were dropped and the more fun and carefree your attitude, the closer you were to being called a flapper. On the big screen, Gloria Swanson was dazzling movie-goers in the silent movie Something to Think About. Released in 1920, it became the top-grossing film of the decade, earning $9.16 million dollars at the box office. Book worms were buried in the pages of anything and everything written by Sinclair Lewis – who authored not one, not two, but five bestselling books in the years between 1920-1930. Can you name which five those were? If you guessed Main Street, Dodsworth, Babbitt, Arrowsmith, and Elmer Gantry then you get a gold star for your vintage fiction knowledge!

Clockwise from top left: bestselling author Sinclair Lewis; top song of 1920 goes to Dardanella; Prohibition signs posted at all bars and restaurants; black culture blooms during the Harlem Rennaisance; and everybody’s favorite automobile, the Model T.

The foxtrot song Dardanella, written in 1919 became the runaway hit of the 1920s just as the first radio stations were forming, bringing music, news, and special programming into homes across the country. Black culture was celebrated in art, literature, and jazz music, giving African Americans their first real opportunity for creative expression and social prominence during the Harlem Rennaisance. For thirteen years from 1920-1933, prohibition made it illegal to get a drink at a bar or a restaurant, but creativity reigned supreme when it came to cocktails disguised in teacups in speakeasies, juice joints, and underground nightclubs.

On the kitchen front, food favorites of the 1920s came in the form of flapjacks, pineapple upside-down cake, cod cakes, and anything served with wiggly, jiggly Jell-O. In the absence of legitimate cocktails due to Prohibition, restaurants got creative and served diced fruit in cocktail glasses, instantly coining the term “fruit cocktail” and making it a popular mainstay on menus for the next forty years. The vacuum cleaner, the washing machine, and the in-home refrigerator were all introduced as modern necessities on the domestic front and the kitchen sink and all kitchen countertops were standardized to a height of 36″ inches (which is still the standard height today too!).

1926 ad for Kelvinator refrigerators that appeared in the Home Builders Catalog.

In the 1920s, urban lifestyles were on the rise as more people fled the countryside and rural sections of America to live in fast-growing cities. Urbanization offered more opportunities in the way of advancement, both financially and career-wise. 50% of the American population traded in rural life for a city setting during this decade. As a result, a sophisticated and stylized cosmopolitan life emerged giving birth to streamlined design favored in the elegant Art Deco movement that mirrored the glitz and glam of affluent city dwellers and their cityscapes.

Throughout the 1920s, westward expansion offered new travel opportunities via railroad to parts of the country that seemed not easily accessible. It also allowed for products, produce, and consumer goods to move about the country at breakneck speeds introducing regional items to a new broader audience. And car travel, thanks to the affordable Model T, and the burgeoning automobile industry that followed, cars made road trips a new possibility, giving birth to an entirely new tourism-based marketplace that included roadside motels, diners, gas stations and repair shops. For less than $300 in 1924, you could buy a brand-new Model T (exact price: $265.00, which is equivalent to about $4,000.00 today), enjoy a turkey dinner at a nice restaurant ($1.25) and stay in a hotel for as long as you liked at $2.00 a night.

Even though the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression would close out the 1920s, overall the decade was viewed on a whole as being optimistic, creative, and progressive. With a focus on innovation and development as well as the arts, feminism, expansion, and a newfound bohemian spirit, the essence of the mystery item is wrapped up in several layers of 1920s pop culture mentioned here, especially surrounding new opportunities and new ways of looking at life. Several clues directly leading to the mystery item are hidden in this post, so keep your eyes peeled!

As discussed in Chapters One and Two, this item involves many more people than just Angela and the Vintage Kitchen. While the story continues to unfold, we will keep revealing new details about the mystery item as we get closer to reuniting it with the people and place where it belongs. In the meantime, If you would like to take a guess as to what the mystery item might be, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Join us next time for Chapter 4 as we talk travel, and set the wheels in motion for transporting the item to its final destination.

Homemade Indonesian Pickles and the Importance of Personal Possessions

A couple of years before the words covid, coronavirus, and pandemic were ever a part of our regular vernacular,  there was a school of thought that was running wild around the internet regarding personal belongings. It was a trend, at that point, to say that possessions no longer mattered. That experiences enjoyed out and about in the world were all that was important for an engaging existence. Fill your life with experiences not things. Have stories to share, not stuff to show. Do you remember this? These statements could be seen emblazoned on t-shirts and mugs, travel bags and inspirational posters, wall decals and photographs that ran all over Etsy and Pinterest. Collect moments not things.

It was an interesting, carefree idea. One that adopted a bohemian-type spirit and encouraged a minimal, slightly nomadic lifestyle cut down to the barest essence of tangible materials. Experiences not things was (and still is!) a popular catchphrase that could be hashtagged on social media (#experiencesnotthings) alongside photos of exhilerating experiences like friends gathered at a crowded restaurant laughing their way through a meal…

Photo by Kraken Images.

and snapshots taken of exotic travel to places like Iceland to see the stars or to the Maldives to snorkel or to Bali to find some inner peace. It was a mantra that valued people and places, conversations and connections, over the seemingly trivial day-to-day objects that shared the space of life in our living spaces.

Pekhri, India. Photo by Rahul Dey.

At first, it sounded like a liberating idea. Unburden yourself from the unnecessary stuff that was weighing down your life. It went beyond Marie Kondo and her idea of tidying up, of keeping only the things that brought us joy. This experiences-only viewpoint of life was a bit more enthusiastic. Devotees of this philosophy liked the idea of owning one bowl, one spoon, one plate, one cup. That’s all that was needed in the kitchen cupboard. They liked the idea of one lamp, one book, one plant, one couch. That’s all that was needed in the living room.  Two pants, three shirts, two shoes, one suitcase. Life wasn’t meant to be lived at home after all, so how many things did we actually need anyway?

Photo by Annie Spratt

 It an ambitious viewpoint. It meant a bland environment at home, but an exuberant, colorful experience out in the world. It placed meaning on an ever-changing horizon and made joy dependent on other people and other places beyond one’s own control. If you valued experiences over things it meant that you weren’t materialistic or a hoarder. It meant that you were adventurous, a thrill-seeker, a bon vivant and on the go-getter. It was exciting. The point of this school of thought was meant to propel you out into the world to live an exuberant adventure-filled life, somewhere between Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and a dogged travel journalist hunting down the next best place to visit, thing to eat, event to participate in. It meant a life that was awe-inspiring, sensational, and worthy of a beautiful Instagram feed.

Then Covid happened followed by lockdowns and a second-guessing of the safety of the outside world. Suddenly experiences weren’t happening.  Home was happening. And suddenly the things in our homes mattered, more than ever. Possessions mattered.

Overnight, our interior spaces took on a sentimental glow and objects soothed and comforted our spirits. The wildly adventurous experiences out in the world from the “before days” dimmed and seemed like far-away fantasies tempting, taunting, reminding us of what we were missing out on. Memories of those past experiences enjoyed out in the exhuberant and colorful world were not propelling us forward during Covid with joy in our hearts, they were reminding us of what had been lost. During lockdown, I wondered about the devotees of the experiences not things philosophy. How were they coping in spaces that consisted of one spoon, one bowl, one plate? How was it going with one book, one, plant, one lamp?

Life in the pandemic kitchen!

 

During the last eighteen months of pandemic life, the things that have comforted me most, apart from my friends and my family and my pets, were the things that the experience philosophy easily dismissed. It was my pots and pans and my deceased dad’s apron. It was a seasoned tomato-red dutch oven and a pair of vintage green plates that look like lily pads. It was Edith Piaf singing on Alexa from far-away France.  It was a cutting board put to work every day, a 100-year-old mixing bowl speckled with age, and my grandmother’s gold and green teacups, survivors from the Great Depression. It was fridge magnets that my neice made in the early 2000s – ones that now hold little love notes and words of encouragement sent between my husband and I. It was recipes bound in books from other cooks of decades long ago.  It was this blog, and the hunting down of stories for it. It was heirloom items collected for the shop. It was finding connections to things from the past that signaled we weren’t alone in the present.

Fill your life with experiences not things. Have stories to share, not stuff to show. My one curiousity with this philosphy was in the riddle ran around my mind. Isn’t it the stories of our stuff that we want to share? Don’t our things lead to experiences and our experiences lead to things? My grandmother’s tea cups were part of her wedding china when she married in 1933. My tomato red dutch oven saw more action on the stovetop in 2020 then it had in its entire life.  My dad’s apron was over 35 years old and contained more memories woven into its fabric than a photo album could ever hold. Each time I opened a cookbook last year, it ignited a new culinary adventure. One that led me down paths to other people and other places. Wasn’t that an experience in and of itself?

Take the pickles for example.

This pickle recipe is not the traditional refrigerated pickle recipe full of vinegar and dill and salt and sugar that gets passed around each summer when cucumbers are growing out of the garden at gangbuster speeds. This vintage pickle recipe dating to the 1970s is a touch more exotic. First off it comes from Indonesia –  the next stop on the International Vintage Recipe Tour. Secondly, the pickles were not only a food to be eaten but also a travel ticket to explore a country, a cuisine and a culture that I knew little about. That exploration led to not only discovering a unique cultural Indonesian tradition but also shed light on a powerful understanding of the importance of posessions. How they add context, inspiration and value to our daily lives and our living spaces.

The Tour has been on hiatus for much of the spring and summer due to a special surprise that has been brewing for many months. Hopefully soon, I’ll be able to share more on that front, but in the meantime, when I passed the cucumber baskets at the farmers market each Saturday this summer, and saw them overflowing with pride, I knew it was time to dive back into the Tour with a recipe that featured a mighty grower from a country that understands the value and the power of preserving an abundant life.

Indonesia is home to many interesting things including the komodo dragon, the corpse lily, over 17,000 islands and the second-longest coastline in the world. But one of the most fascinating things about it has to do not so much with its beautiful natural landscape but with its artistic attributes.

In religious sculptures and icons, in the details of interior and exterior architecture, in giftware and decor items, in functional products and even in jewelry and fashion accessories, stylish craftsmanship abounds in Indonesia. Most eye-catchingly in the form of intricately carved art ranging in a variety of mediums from stone to bamboo.

Incredibly artistic in all formats, there is one special type of Indonesian wood carving that carries signifigant meaning in the form of a posession.  In the hills of South Sulawesi, artisans make carved icons in the unique likeness of their ancestors.

A tau-tau ancestral portrait figure from the design book Tropical Houses by Tim Street-Porter

 

These icons, known as ancestral portrait figures, are part of a deeply-rooted funeral tradition that has been occurring in certain areas of Indonesia since the 1800s. Believed to protect the living, they usually stand guard at the entrance to  gravesites or tombs signifying the spirit of a deceased person and the presence of a life that once was. Carved from jackfruit, sandalwood or bamboo, depending on the financial status of the person they represent, they are called tau-taus, each one completely unique.  Many tau-taus from the past century can be seen in crowd-like fashion tucked into the nooks of cliffs in the South Sulawesi area, near where their human counterparts are buried. Tourists to this area of Indonesia have remarked that seeing all these faces poking out from the cliffs is both a strangely sobering but also comforting scene. Serving as everpresent reminders that past ancestors are always part of present day life, the tau-taus with their companding physical presence and life-like faces watch over, protect and bestow good wishes on the living.

Photo courtesy of Tropical Houses by Tim Street-Porter

In the late 20th century, looting of gravesites resulted in many tau-tau statues being illegally removed and sold on the open market where they have since become collectors items, sought after around the world for both private collections and public museums. It is a haunting notion to think that some of these spirits are now roaming the globe instead of protecting their families back home in Indonesia, but much like a treasured heirloom or an old recipe that gets passed down through generations or traded between countries and cultures, these relics of history have become valued possesions and stories in other people’s lives now. They offer a unique view on an old way of life. One that we may never have known about had they not been jockeyed about in the world. Like present day cultural ambassadors, they humbly illustrate of a way of life that is unique and specific to a particular place and person in time. These are posessions that propel us. They help us understand where we’ve been and where we come from, so that we know where to go in the future.

If we abandoned all of our posessions, all of our stuff, all the things that we identify with in the space we call home in exchange for experiences out in the world, how would we understand ourselves each time we finished an adventure and came back home? In the quiet times, when thrilling experiences are not coming at us from every angle, how would we keep true to what we valued and keep inspired to live a life that holds our interest? That’s the power of a good posession. That is the sentiment we would miss if we didn’t surround ourselves with objects, with things, with stuff that holds meaning to us. Experiences are fantastic, stories are important to share, but its the posessions that we select and care for and hold onto that glue these those two nouns together. If we didn’t have  experiences we would not have things. If we didn’t have meaningful things in our life, we wouldn’t have meaningful stories to share. If we didn’t have meaningful stories to share we wouldn’t have meaningful experiences to seek. 

This seems like a long road to get to one pickle recipe, but history emits light in unusual ways around here sometimes! And sometimes an abundance of things (whether it be cucumbers, or philosophical conversations, or ancestral artifacts) are exactly what you need to navigate the world during these pandemic times. If you agree or disagree, please send us a comment below so that we can continue the conversation. In the meantime, pickling awaits!

This recipe known as Atjar is a traditional staple in Indonesian cooking, but it is actually a popular componant of Dutch cusine as well. Dutch colonists had control and influence over Indonesia for three and a half centuries, which finally ended in the mid 1940s when Indonesia declared its independence. Up until then, Dutch influence seeped into all aspects of Indonesian life, including cooking. If you ate Atjar in the Netherlands, it would be made with cool season vegetables like carrots, cabbage and cauliflower, but those crops didn’t grow well in Indonesia’s heat and humidity, so the Indonesian version of Atjar evolved to include warm weather ingredients like cucumbers and peppers. Either way, essentially it is a pickled dish of vegetables. The Indonesian version has a simpler, more relish-like consistency while the Dutch version is more salad or chutney-like due to the inclusion of chunkier vegetables and additional spices.

A breeze to make (less than 10 minutes prep time), this recipe is best enjoyed cold from the fridge and can be modified as far as spice level based on your personal preferences. I used a purple onion to add a little additional color, but really any type of onion will do wonderfully well here. 

Atjar – Indonesian Pickles

Serves 6

1 cucumber

1 small onion ( I used a purple onion for color)

1 clove garlic, finely minced

salt to taste

1/4 cup white vinegar

4 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 small hot red pepper ( I used a serrano pepper)

Peel the cucumber and split it in half. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and cut the cucumber into thin matchlike sticks.

Peel the onion and slice it as thin as possible. Add it to the cucumber then add the garlic and remaining ingredients. Chill until ready to serve.

These pickles last in the fridge for a week or longer. If you use purple onions too, please note that they will eventually turn all the ingredients in this recipe a pretty shade of pink after a few days. The longer they marinate, the more dramatic the color change.

Just a little sweet, a little spicy and a little tangy, we loved these pickles best served on fish tacos and turkey sandwiches. Hope this recipe provides new inspiration as you celebrate the abundance of end-of-summer cucumber season!

Cheers to ancestors that protects us, posessions that inspire us, and pickles that add a little zest to life! Join us next time for Week 24 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour as we head to Israel for dinner and dessert – a special two recipe meal to make up for our long absence this summer. If you are new to the blog, catch up on our previous International Vintage Recipe Tour posts here, beginning with Week 1: Armenia.

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!

Hello and Happy New Year’s Eve and Thank You for Bringing the Joy in 2020

Hello, dear kitcheners. Hope everyone is having a cozy holiday and enjoying something delicious. I wanted to send out a little Merry Christmas post last Friday with well-wishes for the holiday and a photo of the outdoor Christmas tree we made for the city birds this year, but the December 25th bomb explosion in our city waylayed those plans. The explosion happened just a half-mile away from where my husband and I live. Fortunately, everyone we know is safe and fine, but the whole event was pretty nerve-wracking.  We lost internet service for three days, so that’s what stalled the happy holidays post, but that time offline gave me a chance to think about this post and all things that brought real joy to a year that can only be off-handly described as challenging.

The Nashville skyline as seen from mid-town. September 2018

To everyone who checked in on us over the holiday, I just wanted to say a special thank you. I don’t often write about our local home base of Nashville here on the blog, because I always like to think of the Vintage Kitchen as a universal place that defies roots in a specific city, state, or country. But on certain occasions, local events and local situations do affect the workings of the Kitchen and therefore require some recognition. Like the highs and lows that punctuated every week in this calendar year, the holiday started off lovely with a snowstorm on Christmas Eve. How rare and enchanting! Then in the morning, there was a bomb and the city was changed.

 In other years, other Christmases, this is what 2nd Avenue looked like during the holiday season…

Photo by Chris Wage. 2012

I’ve walked this street a million times on my way to the French bakery for baguettes, on my way to the library for research, on my way to dinner at some favorite downtown restaurants. With its sparkly trees and century-old brick buildings, the atmosphere on 2nd Avenue during November and December is usually a reliable guarantee.  It always hums with cocktail fueled celebrations, Christmas music pouring out of the bars, and a sense of bustling adventure as merrymakers drift from one entertaining music venue to the next.

Renowned in town as the section of the city that contains the most concentrated collection of Victorian and early 20th-century commercial warehouses, it has an enchanting aesthetic that blends the contemporary with the historic. Horse and buggy carriage rides line the street as country bands croon and tourists from all over the world traipse up and down, in and out, and all around the brick structures that have lorded over this side of the city since the 1860s. 

Unfortunately, that environment is no longer a guarantee anymore. This is what 2nd Avenue looked like this Christmas…

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

On the National Register of Historic Places since the 1970s, the buildings of 2nd avenue for the past 170 years have told stories of Southern history that date back to the steamboat days of the Victorian era. Located just one block from the riverfront, they are especially significant in regards to the role they played in the commercial trade occurring along the vital Cumberland River during the 19th and 20th centuries. 

With loading docks on the riverside and retail sales space on the 2nd avenue side, these tall, elegant and imposing warehouses were all-encompassing,  enabling entrepreneurs to handle all sides of their business including shipping, receiving, distribution, and retail sales all in one place, all in one space.

Evolving with the times for different needs and uses, most of the buildings along the waterfront have been able to retain the unique architectural details that hint at what wharf life was like in the 1800s.  Rounded doorways, intricate moldings, barely visible painted signs peek out from their facades.  Side doors, basement entrances, industrial windows, weathered wood, hand-forged hardware, rooftop terraces, even a secret garden in one stretch hint at activities that once occurred. It’s not hard to imagine different days and different eras. In a city that is constantly growing and changing, this set of buildings adds a comforting sense, a grounding blanket, to an urban landscape that grows taller, newer, every week. 

Downtown Nashville Waterfront Photo Credit: Austin Wills

But now the bombing has marked these buildings and left the fate of them hanging in a precarious state. All the damage has yet to be completely accessed, but it looks grim for several of the historic structures on 2nd Avenue.

Photo Credit: News Channel 5

It’s impossible to try and sort out the reasoning behind the whole bombing ordeal when information is still being gathered and one man’s mental state is still up to interpretation. Right now all I can do is chalk it up to a really terrible event in a year plagued with really terrible events.

It would be easy to slide into despair about everything that has gone wrong in these past 365 days, especially here in my city, but on January 1st, 2020 I wholeheartedly declared that this was going to be the year of joy and I’m determined, as the title of this blog post states, to wrap up these past 12 months by highlighting the things that did bring joy this year, no matter how big or small.  So here it goes, pandemic and bomb explosions and race riots and tornadoes aside, here are the best moments of joy that occurred in the Vintage Kitchen this year…

If you are in a hurry and you need a nutshell, the year of 2020 goes something like this – we cooked, we read, we watched fun things. We donated, we crafted, we communicated. We treasured nature. We treasured life.  We treasured any thing that grew in a positive direction. We laughed, we celebrated. We zoomed. We wrote about other times and other places. We researched. We discovered.  We cherished anything that birthed a smile or spawned a good time, no matter how silly or fleeting. And we grew. This was the year for patience and appreciation. For understanding and for finding more meaning. This was the year for the Kitchen and for the comfort it brought. 

If you have some time to spend over this holiday weekend, here’s a little bit more of an in-depth look at what made the land of the Vintage Kitchen most joyful this past year. 

Kangaroo Island 

When the wildfires broke out in Australia in January, we were on Week Two of the International Vintage Recipe Tour. Featuring a cake recipe popular in the land down under, we hosted our first-ever donation drive with a percentage of shop sales for the week going to the rescue efforts at Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park via their GoFundMe page.   I’m so happy to say that the Vintage Kitchen raised over $100 for the cause. As a thank you on behalf of any and all donations, the Park  sends out regular updates on how the animals are doing and the progress that they are making to get everyone back on their feet again.  Every one of you who purchased a shop item during our drive in January, aided in this rescue effort, so I wanted to share two updates with you that really made me stop and smile this year. The first is this photo featuring a recovering koala that had been burned in the fires. 

Weigh Day! April 2020. photo courtesy of Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park

The photo was taken on weigh day in April, which is an exciting progress report both for the koalas themselves and the rescue team. I just love that the koalas get weighed on a tree pole. So cute! And this one looks so happy and ready to be back on the road to healthy.

In July, the park sent out this 2-minute video. Koalas are not bears, but when they all sit together on their tree branches they look as cuddly as a favorite teddy:) 

 

A Press Feature 

In November 2020, our very first International Vintage Recipe Tour dish (Week One: Armenian Stuffed Meatballs) was featured both in print and online with the readers of the Armenian Mirror-Spectator, a weekly newspaper based in Massachusetts. Especially exciting because the newspaper reports on all things Armenia from around the globe including news, arts, culture and cooking, the feature introduced a whole new community of home cooks to the Vintage Kitchen and helped promote not only our love of heirloom recipes but also our love of traditional heritage foods. 

Messages From You 

One of the most consistent things that helped fuel the Kitchen this year were messages from you. Feedback from shop sales, inquiries about vintage kitchenware and chats about blog posts and recipes peppered email and social media conversations throughout 2020. Here are a few fun snippets shared from within our culinary community that brought an extra dose of joy to the year…

Melissa wrote into the shop with a question about the age of her grandmother’s nut chopper, which resulted in a lovely conversation about family heirlooms. She also shared a photo of her 5-year-old kitchen helper, who is now the fourth generation family member to use (and love) this vintage grinder. How wonderful!

Viktoria, who you may recall from the Recipe Tour’s  Austrian interview, sent a note and photo to say that she finally made it to the top of the Stanser Joch mountain this year. In her interview published in late January, when asked about goals for the year she admitted that it was hard to plan given these uncertain times.  But one thing she hoped to accomplish was climbing to the top of Stanser Joch. In the fall of 2020 she sent this photo and crossed that goal off her list. How exciting! She joked that it was pretty much the only goal she was able to count on accomplishing this year, but in my book that makes it her best goal. Cheers to Viktoria! 

Photo credit: Viktoria Reiter

Blog reader Gwen, wrote in to say that she braved the flambe and made Bananas Au Rhum (featured in this Haitian post) and not only enjoyed the recipe but also was impressed by the fact that she did not burn her kitchen down in the process! Cheers to you and your bravery Gwen! 

Fellow blog reader and Vintage Kitchen shopper, Marianne, purchased the 1965 edition of Farm Journal’s Complete Pie Cookbook and then got to baking in her kitchen. She shared this photo of her first vintage Farm Journal foray… Country Apple Pie. It’s a vintage recipe that contains two unusual ingredients – heavy cream and tapioca. She wrote “It was good! You wouldn’t really think there was cream in there if you didn’t know. It makes the juices from the pie into a silky sauce.” Sounds delish! And cheers to a beautiful dessert! 

Photo credit: mariedge2033

Laura wrote into the Kitchen this month with a longshot request regarding the possibility of finding a very specific lost holiday cookie recipe that was a favorite of her 83-year-old mom. This humble inquiry opened up a world of wonder around the Vintage Kitchen for days, instigated a deep dive into vintage recipe archives, yielded two blog posts (here and here) and provoked a nationwide recipe search that connected a handful of people across a wave of different social media platforms. This 2020 search for the 1970s Date Accordions goes down as the most quickly solved (and most satisfyingly resolved) mystery of the year!  Read more about it here.

The International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020 

As you can see from some of the mentions above, the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020 influenced and instigated many of the joyful moments of this year. The goal set out in January was to cook our way through the cuisines of 45 countries over a 12 month period with recipes that were featured in the 1971 edition of the New York Times International Cook Book.  We didn’t make it all the way through the Recipe Tour this year, but I am pleased to say that we at least made it halfway.  21 countries to be exact! Not so bad considering the momentous sandwich of a year that began with a tornado, ended with a bombing and was stuffed with a global pandemic in between.

Highlights from the Recipe Tour!

I am happy to announce that the Tour will be carrying over into 2021, so that we can continue the fun of exploring heirloom foods from far off places.  The second-half of the tour will be handled a little bit differently in the new year – it will no longer be the only focus of the blog like it was primarily this year. Instead, the recipes will get peppered in with other kitchen posts throughout the next twelve months. It was a pretty enthusiastic schedule laid out for 2020, with a new country and new recipe featured every week. While those plans were industrious, they left very little room (and time!) to write about anything other than the Recipe Tour adventures.  So in 2021, I hope to open up the blog to more posts about a wider variety of subjects and recipes, most particularly bringing back some seasonality to the blog and highlighting holidays once again. 

 In January we will be kicking off the new year, and the new half of the International Vintage Recipe Tour, with a hunger for Hungary (pun intended!). So stay tuned for more adventures in the kitchen as we continue to cook our way around the globe. In the meantime, catch up on previous International Vintage Recipe Tour posts here.

The Kitchen Garden

Quirky gardening ruled the roost around here this year, thanks to the help of a flourishing experimental garden that included papayas, coconuts, avocados, grapefruit and a Liz lemon tree. Finding new things to grow, new ways to grow them, and new garden subjects to learn about meant a continuous stream of curious growing in 2020.  Getting hands in the dirt, clipping, pruning, shaping and fertilizing every week, indoors and out, added a sense of hope and purpose to the pandemic, as well as reaffirming the fact that life continues to grow and thrive regardless.

The succulent garden in particular really grew by leaps and bounds this year, and had to be re-homed to larger containers a number of different times. Two of the homes included repurposed containers – a hollowed-out half coconut shell and a broken vintage Japanese sugar  bowl. The coconut was a leftover cooking component of the  Ceylon blog post. The sugar bowl was destined for the shop but suffered an unfortunate fall before it ever got there.  Now they are both quirky containers that bring joy to the kitchen each day along with reminders that life isn’t perfect and home is what you make it.

The Wormholes of History

The reliable saving grace of 2020 was the research. Whether we were traveling down the wormholes of history for the Recipe Tour, learning about the backstory of shop items or discovering the biographies of true adventurers from the past, it was these curious moments that lent an air of much-needed escapism when the pandemic loomed too large or the political world seemed too crazy. This year I was totally enthralled with these past lives…

Clockwise from top left: Pamela Harlech, Harriet Risley Foote , Adelle Davis and Charlotte Bartholdi

and these old objects…

Clockwise from top left: The work of novelist Rumer Godden, the art of French painter Maurice Utrillo, demitasse spoons from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and a vintage Portmeirion fruit strainer.

The Bird Seed Christmas Tree

Julia and Paul, our resident city mourning doves visited the balcony every day throughout 2020 offering their consistent, reassuring, and calming presence in exchange for a seed tray and a lump of suet or two.

They turned out to be quite the ambassadors for the neighborhood, inviting a host of other feathered friends to dine with them as well. Throughout each day of 2020, we had visits from chickadees, wrens, cardinals, cowbirds, titmice, blackbirds, mockingbirds and an occasional brown thrasher. We loved all these visitors so much that my husband and I  made them an outdoor Christmas tree for them on the balcony, complete with white fairy lights, homemade birdseed ornaments, orange slices, dried fruit cups and cranberry swags.

The ornaments were fun to make – requiring nothing more than birdseed, unflavored gelatin and some cookie cutters. I wasn’t sure if the birds who had been used to a full seed tray every day would be interested in these ornaments at all. If this year taught me anything it was to keep my expectations low. But to my surprise, after day two of the decorated tree, Julia and Paul got to pecking away at the ornaments and encouraged the other birds to do so too. 

This whole birdseed ornament Christmas tree project was an unexpected reassuring wrap-up to a climatic year. Once you mix the birdseed with a mixture of gelatin and water it sets over the course of a few hours and eventually, the ornaments harden – petrifying into whatever shape they form to. This process kind of reminded me of the year of joy. In the beginning of 2020, I was determined to focus on joy, find the joy, feel the joy. Then one catastrophe after another happened and joy felt harder to proclaim. Harder to find. Somehow though joy found its way. Present in the little nooks and crannies that formed the year. Luckily, those moments, like the birdseed ornaments, petrified and have turned hard and lasting in my memory of 2020.  For that I’m grateful. For the joy I’m grateful. And for you and the Vintage Kitchen,  in this weird and wonky year, I am grateful. For anyone who bought a teacup or a towel from the shop, shared a story or a recipe, left a note of kindness or support on a post or a story I’m grateful. In the nicest way, you are the glue of joy that stuck this year together.

Now, with just hours left in 2020, I would like to say cheers to this New Year’s Eve. Cheers to the strength that made this year liveable, to the micro-moments of joy and happiness that carried us through from January to December. Cheers to a more calm, peaceful year ahead. Thank you for being a part of the Vintage Kitchen.  Onwards and upwards in 2021.  

 

How A Lost Recipe Gets Found: The Search for the Date Accordion {Part Two}

{This is a follow-up post from The Search for the Date Accordion. If you missed that post, catch up here}.

In our last post, we left off with a plea for help in finding a lost cookie recipe for a woman named Laura and her 83-year-old mom, Betty. To quickly recap, the challenge was in finding a specific recipe called Date Accordions that was thought to have originated in a 1950s/1960s era women’s magazine. In her inquiry, Laura provided some details. The cookies contained a date and nut filling and a frosted top. They were baked in a long rectangular dish, cut on a diagonal, and enhanced with a decorative green gel.

Laura knew this whole cookie-finding endeavor was a long-shot. Betty was heartbroken over the fact that her recipe was accidentally thrown out last year, as it was a family favorite. One that they especially enjoyed during the holiday season. But the moment I read Laura’s initial email request, I was hopeful that we would be able to reunite Betty with her baking bliss.

If you do a general search for cookie recipes online, Google will return over 1 trillion of them in less than a second. Narrow down the search to 1950s cookies and Google provides over 2 billion options. Narrow that down again to 1950s date cookies and there are just under 3 million recipes to sort through. Match that with the vast number of cookbooks that have been written over the past century, and all the recipes that have been printed in a newspaper, magazine, circular, pamphlet, or advertisement since the 1950s and you can see how daunting this finding mission could easily become.

Searching through online resources and in my archive of recipes, I came up empty-handed, so the challenge was opened up here on the blog and on social media last week. Could the vintage kitchen community help find this recipe and make Betty’s  Christmas wish come true?

Well, dear readers, I have a surprise for you. Of all the recipes in all the world and all the ways to discover them, I am so amazed and so happy to share with you the news that in less than 36 hours of the call going out for help, the recipe for the cherished Date Accordions was sought, found and confirmed.  What a true feat of seemingly impossible proportions. Like a grand dollop of holiday magic delivered just days before the Christmas of this horrendously difficult year, the tracking down of this elusive cookie recipe was made possible (effortlessly it seemed!) by two very special people.

 

I’m a big believer in Christmas angels. I always like to credit them when something extraordinary happens during the month of December. And I love the whimsical ways in which they work. Mostly around for fun stuff, for things that make you feel merry and bright, I have found that Christmas angels tend to revel in mystery and prefer to work in ways that can never be predicted, anticipated, or even expected. Of course in this pandemic year, everything has been wonky and nothing has gone the way anybody thought it would. I think it must have been unusual for the angels too. This year, they visited the land of the Vintage Kitchen in a much more apparent way. This Christmastime, the angels came with names, Ken and Cindy, and they came with real-life identities.

Ken, who runs the Instagram account @housestories_ is a fellow researcher at heart. He was the one who found the initial lead via a brief mention in a Google books snippet. He sent this image to me over Instagram…

 

As you can see in the page 7 block – there is a mention of a recipe called Date Accordions. How exciting! This was the first reference that displayed both the word “date” and the word “accordion” side by side. This image also cited a source –  Family Circle and the year 1972.

The Family Circle Thanksgiving Issue – 1935

Family Circle was a very popular women’s magazine that was published between 1932 and 2019. Originally offered for free at Piggly Wiggly grocery stores in the 1930s, the magazine grew to a readership of millions and was delivered to stores and mailboxes across the country for more than seven decades. One of the most favored parts of the magazine was always the recipe section which kept up with food trends, meal planning, evolving kitchen equipment, and festive holiday treats.

Ideas for Easter – a Family Circle article from the April 1st, 1938 issue

In 1972, Family Circle magazine published a 16 volume series called the Family Circle Illustrated Library of Cooking. This expansive set of cookbooks was intended as a ready reference guide on all things food, containing recipes that had been featured in past issues of Family Circle magazine as well as ones shared by readers from all parts of the United States.

I researched every angle online pertaining to this specific cookbook series and the Date Accordions, but nothing popped up that would yield the complete recipe. The next best thing was to track down the physical books themselves. Fortunately, I found this set on Etsy…

Available at OftenForgotten

This is where I met Cindy. The entire FC Illustrated Library of Cooking was available in her shop, OftenForgotten. So I sent her a message explaining the situation including the personal mission we were on for Laura and Betty, and the speculation that the recipe might be found inside her book series.

More than happy to help, Cindy sent this photo less than an hour later…

And there it was. The Date Accordions. Green decorating gel and all! So excited to have an actual recipe to send, off it went to Laura with fingers crossed in hopes that indeed this was the one Betty remembered. Meanwhile, the blog post was making its rounds.  Readers were sending in recipes featuring all sorts of date-related possibilities. So many of them were close to what Laura initially described but none of them were exact, and none mentioned the lynchpin – the green gel.

On Saturday afternoon, Laura emailed back…

OMG!!! Katherine!!

I just spoke with my mother and that’s it!!!!  She is in tears! She wants me to tell you thank you from the bottom of her heart.

She wants you to know how grateful she is for all the hard work you did and to all your readers out there that helped in this effort!
I also, would like to thank you and all the people who helped with this.  Our moms are so special, they sacrifice so much for their family throughout the years. Now being able to make my mother this recipe for Christmas is a small thing I can do for her thanks to you and your site.
Thank you for making our Christmas Miracle come true!

And that my dear readers, is how the Christmas angels work their magic. Or in this case how our Christmas kitchen angels, Ken and Cindy, brought surprise, delight and holiday cheer to an 83-year-old woman named Betty and her family this December.

This has been a rough year for the entire world, full of all sorts of terrible tragedies and sadness and seemingly endless feelings of being stunted, confined, and immobile. Here in the Vintage Kitchen, we are not curing Covid, eradicating hate, or righting all the world’s wrongs, but we did find a lost cookie, which instigated joy. Somehow that feels like a small step forward in the right direction towards a sweeter year ahead.

Cheers to happy endings, to Ken and Cindy who couldn’t have made this post happen without their selfless contributions,  and to the rest of the kind-hearted gang (Diane, Corine, Mitchell, Agba, Flo, Marianne, Jorge, Jett, Sofia, Bradley, Pane, Karen, Constantine, Viv and Amy) for your all your efforts in helping to get this lost recipe found.

Most sincerely too, a very special cheers goes out to Betty and Laura and their family. Thank you for making us a part of your holiday season.  Hope your date accordions turn out just as you remembered!

 

The Historic Side of Haiti in Houses and Dessert

 

Warm and bloomy. That’s been the theme of our September days around here. The nighttimes though, they are a different story. Cool, breezy, decidedly leaning towards Fall, change is definitely amiss once the sun goes down and the stars come out. Literally caught between two seasons, where it is hot during the day but chilly at night, eating during this time of year, when the temperatures are flip-flopping back and forth can tend to be a bit tricky for everybody no matter what part of the country you live in.

Since the start of this global culinary adventure back in January, not all of the foods on the Recipe Tour have matched up ideally with the time of year in which they were prepared. But I am excited to say that this stop in Haiti for Week 20 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour, has lined up perfectly with the current season. This week, we are making a dessert that is quick, and easy, and a bit out of the ordinary. It involves a handful of simple ingredients, the oven, some bravery and a taste for two seasons.  It has a lighter than air consistency like the best of summer eating yet also happens to be blanketed in layers of cozy Fall flavors.  And there is a special way to present it. That brings its own sense of magic too. In the form of a little flourish of fire at the end of the production, it both has the ability to dazzle your senses and delight your spirit. Like that familiar friend named nostalgia- just returned from last year, this sweet treat immediately welcomes the idea of logs and kindling and wood smoke and sweaters. It’s a dessert for the in-between times when your world isn’t quite what it used to be but also isn’t quite yet what it’s going to be. Yes indeed, this is the best time of year for this type of dessert.

On the menu today we are making Bananas Au Rhum, a Caribbean flambe that has influences in French, American and Haitian culture. But before we dive into the recipe and the making of it, I just wanted to acknowledge that this post has been on hold for most of the month due to the West Coast wildfires.  It didn’t seem like an appropriate time to feature a recipe that involved a voluntary fire in one kitchen while part of the country was battling involuntary fires in many numbers of neighborhoods. Having said that, for any readers who are sensitive to open flames at the moment, you may want to skip this post and join us again next week when we travel to a new (non-fire related) international destination that specializes in hearty foods for hungry appetites.

If you are sticking with us today, then hello, hello! Welcome to Haiti! Sharing the island of Hispaniola with its neighbor, the Dominican Republic, Haiti is a world all onto itself.

To learn about the history of this island nation means to learn about a country that has been battling ill-intentioned governments, poverty, corruption, slavery, and natural disasters pretty much since it was first discovered by Christopher Columbus in the 15th century.

As one of the poorest nations in the world, much of the news that gets relayed and recorded about this country, both in the past and the present, has mostly focused on Haiti’s challenges.  This, of course, is ideal when change needs to be made or special aid is required for situations like hurricane cleanup and economic assistance, but those types of immediate crises can tend to easily overshadow the elements that make Haiti unique, vibrant, and culturally important.  In today’s post, we are setting tragedies aside and drawing inspiration from the sweet side of Haiti’s history in the form of food, drink, architecture, and design aesthetics, all of which were shaped by French, Spanish, African, and indigenous influences. Like this vintage travel poster declares, there is plenty of joie de vivre to be found in Haiti. Today, we are here to highlight it!

Nicknamed the Pearl of the Antilles, Haiti’s most celebrated attribute is its natural beauty. There the sea shines clear and turquoise, beaches are powdery white like sugar, and palm trees, tall and regal, ruffle out the landscape.

In the historic districts, Haiti is home to the Gingerbread house, a colorful style of architecture that has defined the island and defied almost every single weather event since inception. First introduced by three architects over a century ago, this specific style of colorful house with its exquisitely detailed trim work, tall windows, and airy interiors may look delicate among the more solid buildings of the Haitian landscape, but their strength and ability to withstand storm after storm has landed them on the preservation and conversation list of the World Monuments Fund where they are being renovated, rehabilitated, and appreciated for their craftsmanship and their historical significance.

Like the old cars and weathered residences of Havana, the gingerbread houses of Haiti create a cinematic aesthetic. With about 300,000 of them scattered throughout the island, they offer a peek inside the past to a time when Haiti’s wealthy built breezy beauties to defy island heat and humidity. Inspired by French architecture and New Orleans ornamentation, these houses were made primarily of wood, swathed in shutters, painted bright colors, and dotted with symbolism to reflect the mysteries and curiosities of a unique heritage not often discussed.

Outside, gingerbread houses feature gabled roofs, interesting angles, and strategically placed porches that offer picturesque views of the garden, the city or the sea. Inside, they are a menagerie of doorways and tile floors, louvres and alcoves,  with sky-high ceilings and arched doorframes all creatively arranged to encourage the heat to rise and the humidity to stay outside. Detailed interior trims and mouldings include ornamental designs of local patterns, emblems and shapes including voodoo symbols, all of which reflect the artistic creativity and spirituality of Haitian culture.

To capture this unique island aesthetic of the gingerbreads, which is at once, elegant, quirky, artistic and visually engaging, several unifying hallmarks help create a replicable effect…

  • Handmade Baskets: It is the ladies who do all do the selling at the market in Haiti. They tend to transport most of their offerings balanced on their head in large baskets, which have come to represent bounty and entrepreneurial spirit.
  • French Details: The French government ruled Haiti for 300 years, ending in 1803. Even though two hundred years have passed since then, French culture is still very much present around the country, particularly when it comes to design, language, food and antique style housewares.
  • Wood Shutters: A house in Haiti without air conditioning depends on wooden shutters to help cool interior spaces. Tall and elegant, these shutters take the place of drapes and bring a little bit of the outdoors in.
  • Folk Art: One of the most vibrant art forms on the island besides music, is folk art paintings which capture the passion, spirit and history of Haiti in vibrant colors. Some newly discovered favorite artists include Hector Hyppolite (1894-1948)  Andrew LaMar HopkinsJean Yvone Casenueve, and this one in the shop.
  • Unique Flooring: Many floors in the houses of Haiti’s historic districts are painted with patterns or contain geometric tiles that help keep the interior spaces cool and also looking beautiful.
  • Gingerbread Details: Gingerbread trim, victorian millwork and scroll saw designs are staples both indoors and out and can be seen all over Haiti, but most predominately in the historic districts. Unique architectural elements reflect the island vibe.
  • Tropical Plants: Haiti is home to over 25,00 different species of native flora and fauna. Nothing adds an instant dose of the exotic quite like growing a tropical plant indoors or out.
  • Voodoo Symbolism – With ties to the country’s African roots and the Roman Catholic religion, the practice of voodoo in Haiti offers a connection to the spirit world through many different manifestations including connections with patron saints and ancestral spirits . This symbol represents Papa Legba who acts as the mediator between the spirit world and the living world.
  • Vibrant Colors – The colors of the national flag of Haiti are blue, red and white but the country as a whole is awash in vibrant hues.  Inspiration can be found all over the country from the beautiful beaches to brightly painted buildings, textiles, handicrafts, art and even the famous tap tap buses. The gingerbread houses seem to reflect them all!

A gingerbread house in Port-au-Prince. Photo courtesy of Experience Haiti.

A few decades before the gingerbread bread houses started popping up around the island, a  man named Dupre came from France to Port-au-Prince in the 1860s. He started a rum distillery and gave it his family’s name – Barbancourt. One hundred and fifty years later, Barbancourt is recognized as one of the best rum brands in the world and is still operating as a family run business, now in its 5th generation.

The grounds of Barbencourt Distillery located in Port-Au Prince

By utilizing pure sugar cane juice instead of the more common molasses,  Barbancourt’s method of distilling rum has won awards around the world and is by far the best known and best-loved rum in Haiti. Ideally, we would have been using Barbancourt in our recipe today too, but after a lengthy discussion with a spirits expert at my local liquor store, it was decided that a 151 blend of rum would be the most appropriate in order to ensure that the bananas would catch fire and truly become a flambe. Several companies make a version of 151, which is essentially just rum with a really high alcohol content (75% by volume) but sadly, Barbancourt does not. Their highest alcohol content is 43%. So  I went with Goslings for this recipe. Goslings, like Barbancourt, has been around since the 1800s, and since it is made in Bermuda, it still lends an island vibe to this week’s cooking endeavor.

I should also note that the recipe never specified how high of an alcohol content was needed, but 151 is the standard go-to in the flambe world, so it’s a safe bet to rely upon, if this is your first time lighting foods on fire, like it was mine.

Grandpa Herbert’s 1960s Anchor Hocking casserole dish – protector of all fire-related cooking endeavors.

I’ll admit I was a little nervous about this step myself.  Before I bit the bullet and lit the match, I made sure to have our under-the-sink fire extinguisher out on the counter along with a dry towel for tamping, just in case the flames got a little too overzealous. I also used a special baking dish that has magical protective powers. My grandpa Herbert’s 1960s Anchor Hocking Fire King casserole dish. If you recall from previous posts, Herbert was a fireman in Chicago for forty years and I like to think that his baking dish holds special powers and would protect anyone who cooks with it from any unwanted fiery encounters.

Thanks to Grandpa, the dish, and the careful precautions, I’m happy to say that the kitchen is still intact, no one suffered singed eyebrows or burnt hair and the counter didn’t catch on fire. The flames, about 5 inches in height, lasted for about a minute before dying out. It was fun to watch them dance around the dish in that same mesmerizing way as lighting sparklers on the Fourth of July, or staring at a bonfire on the beach.  All in all, this was a recipe that was exciting to make and delicious to taste.

If you are new to the world of flambeed desserts, which have been around since the 1800s, than you are in for a treat. Lots of foods can be doused with alcohol and set aflame including crepes, oranges, pears, puddings, cakes, and cocktails but bananas are one of the most favorite.  In the oven, the bananas briefly swim in a sea of hot butter, sugar, and rum until the point where they all join together and start to turn brown and sticky. Once the caramelization begins to happen, then the dish gets doused in rum, the match gets lit and the rum catches fire creating a rich, warm flavor and an entertaining spectacle. Forget dinner and a show. With this recipe, we are going straight to dessert. And a show.

Bananas au Rhum

serves 4

4 firm ripe bananas

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup brown sugar

lemon juice

1/2 cup rum

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Peel the bananas and cut them in half lengthwise.

Melt the butter in an ovenproof baking dish and add the banana halves.

Sprinkle with sugar…

and bake for about 10 minutes or until the bananas are thoroughly hot and the sugar is melted. (Note: At this stage, they will look a little bit like half-cooked sausages.) Sprinkle with lemon juice and baste briefly. Return to the oven for two minutes.

Warm the rum ( I put mine in a cup in the microwave for 15 seconds) and pour it over the bananas. Ignite the rum…

and when the flame dies, serve immediately.

Besides the fire component, what makes this dessert especially interesting is that the bananas retain their shape. It sort of turns into a little game with your brain, because you’d think upon initial appearance – post oven – that the first bite would be relatively firm like a brownie or a soft-boiled egg but in actuality, the bananas have the consistency of something more like mousse or a marshmallow or even whipped cream. The first bite is an unexpected yet delightfully delicious surprise. In actuality, these cooked bananas are not unlike the gingerbread houses of Haiti – their looks are a little deceiving when it comes to the integrity of their composition.

 

Serve this dessert outdoors with a cup of coffee and you have the makings of a magical early Autumn night that is just right for this time of year. Since Bananas au Rhum is not one of those desserts that likes to hang around, go ahead and enjoy the whole dish right to the very last bite. You won’t regret it in the least!

Cheers to deliciously dramatic bananas, to the happy side of Haiti and their beautiful historic gingerbreads, and cheers to our brand new season. I hope you fall in love with each and all:)

Join us next time for Week 21 as we head to Hungary for colorful comfort food and officially mark the halfway point in the International Vintage Recipe Tour. Until then, happy cooking!

Corfu For You: A Taste of Greece in Sights, Sounds and Grape Leaves

If you sat down and had a glass of wine with him during these last summer weeks of  August,  he’d tell you a story. It would be slim but impactful – a snippet of colorful life that was mostly true and partially painted with imagination. He’d tell you about his pet pelican, about his distaste for rules, about the lunchtime hospitality of his toothless neighbor. He’d tell you about a splendidly shabby house that overlooks the sea, and about the sounds of an orchard buzzing with bees. He’d tell you about a turtle and a magpie and his devoted dearheart Roger – the scrappy canine co-conspirator that was twin in both spirit and scouting.  He’d share stories about his sister Margo, vain and funny, about his brothers Larry and Leslie, who were the hunters of words and birds, and he’d tell you about his mother, Louisa, after his father died.  There would be mention of the houseguests that came to stay, the disapproving aunt that refused to leave, and the naturalist that taught him to care above all for every creature great and small. He’d tell you about the heat-haze, the green sea, the drunken olives, the magic garden, the flower-scented air. He’d tell you how he fell in love. How he came to know himself. If you sat down and had a  glass of wine with him he’d tell you his name was Gerald, and then he would tell you a captivating story. He’d tell you about Corfu.

Situated in the Ionian Sea, the small Greek island of Corfu shimmers like an emerald gem.

Welcome to the Vacation Edition of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020. Whose ready for an international adventure that involves a relaxing getaway, a Greek island, and all the stuffed grape leaves you can eat? Pull out your market bags dear kitcheners, this week we are taking a restorative trip to the Greek island of Corfu courtesy of Gerald Durrell and his entertaining, enigmatic English family.

Here we are in mid-August, just five weeks away from the first day of Autumn. This summer our passports aren’t stamped. Our road trips aren’t long. Our hotel rooms aren’t booked.  We may not be filling up our suitcases and hopping on airplanes this pandemic year but that doesn’t mean that we can’t explore the world in other ways that are equally engaging, and equally satisfying. Through a book, a television show and a cooking adventure, this post highlights a travel trip to an exotic destination that can be enjoyed without ever leaving home. Thanks to the captivating real-life story of Gerald Durrell who lived with his family on the Greek island of Corfu from 1935-1939, we are traveling to a beautiful location fit for summer fun. Like any good vacation, this story contains all the great hallmarks of an exciting new experience. There’s an exotic destination, a foreign language, a bevy of interesting people, a sense of escapism and authentic traditional food. It may not be an actual real-life trip to Greece but this experience offers the next best thing – a true mental break from the state of our current affairs.

Before Gerald became an influential 20th-century British conservationist, naturalist, author and zookeeper he was a small boy called Gerry, living on a remote island in the Ionian Sea with his mother, sister and two brothers. Having, on a whim, moved from England to escape a dreary, uninspired existence following the death of his father, Gerry and his family entered into a colorful world where the sea shines turquoise, the landscape is kissed by the sun and the air is clean, clear and curious. There his family discovers life, love and importance.

Gerald Durrell (1925-1995)

A Robinson Crusoe type experience, life on Corfu was rudimentary, wild, and sensational. Seducing the entire family, the spell of the island during those five years, comes to profoundly affect and mean something different to each member. To Gerald its the start of his wildlife career and it is through his eyes that we discover the magic of an island. In 1956, Gerald chose to publish his account of that pivotal time in a book titled My Family and Other Animals. In 2016, PBS released a televised version of the book called the Durrells in Corfu. The show aired for four seasons, finishing in May of 2019 and now all the episodes are available on Amazon Prime and PBS Masterpiece. Here’s a trailer from Season 1…

This show happened to not only be my introduction to the Durrell family but also to the island of Corfu. Located just off the west coast of Greece, Corfu sits close to the mainland in the Ionian Sea. It is nicknamed the Emerald Island because it has a large amount of green olive trees and lush vegetation. It is also home to the an array of interesting architecture. In the very first episode, I fell in love with the Durrells new (old) house…

which is perched on top of a ledge overlooking the sea.  I won’t share any details here about the storyline, so as not to spoil the characters and their adventures. But I will say the entire series is so beautifully produced and whimsically told that it is truly a vacation on its own. Pair it with the book and then an authentic Greek recipe and this becomes a break from the modern-day world that truly feels like a trip away.

The definition of the word vacation means a period of time spent in leisure and recreation, a temporary vacating of one’s mind and familiar surroundings. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to pack a bag, physically go somewhere else and stay away from your familiar comforts.  Each episode of the Durrells in Corfu is roughly 45 minutes long. With four seasons and 26 episodes in the entire series, that translates to roughly 20 hours of visual splendor set in Greece. If you were committed you could watch it all in a weekend. If you paired it with the book, which is 275 pages long, then you could stretch this Greek affair into an entire week. Add the recipe and you’d have a 10-day sojourn into Corfu life lived long ago and far away. Altogether this time spent with the Durrells is a trifecta  – a perfect cacophony – for a vacation state of mind.

The book follows a similar trajectory of the show, but there are descriptions that Gerry writes about that a camera could never convey with the same amount of vivacity…

“The goats poured out among the olives, uttering stammering cries to each other, the leader’s bell clonking rhythmically. The chaffinches tinkled excitedly. A robin puffed out his chest like a tangerine among the myrtles and gave a trickle of song. The island was drenched with dew, radiant with early morning sun, full of stirring life. Be happy. How could one be anything else in such a season.”

I can’t even begin to describe what it meant to read words like this during our unusual pandemic summer. In Corfu, it’s the 1930s, and there are no mentions of viruses or masks or political upset. There is no terrible, tragic news, no copious deaths, no bleak day to day uncertainty to digest. Instead, there is light, hope, optimism. There is a rambunctious family, a humble island, a wild world, all appreciated. Spending time with Gerald, in his childhood state, with his expressive descriptions and his curious words,  felt indeed like a true vacation. A flight of fancy flown far away from the state of struggles that currently enshrouds the world.

Food features quite a bit in the book and the show, with both Louisa showcasing her cooking skills and Gerry always searching to satisfy his belly. Seeing and reading about both the culture and the landscape of the area really offered up a unique appreciation when it came to the preparation of this week’s recipe.  On the menu we are making stuffed grape leaves also known as dolmadakias, a traditional lemon, onion and herb-infused rice wrapped inside a simmered grape leaf.

I struggled with scouting the main ingredient – the grape leaves – for close to a month.  I searched as far away as Sparta, Greece where the lovely Jehny of The Spartan Table, relayed the unfortunate improbability of getting fresh Greek grape leaves to the US in a timely fashion. I searched locally through two different friends that have vineyards in two different states, but the time of the year here (high summer) makes for a tougher, less tender leaf (FYI: spring is the ideal season for cooking leaves like this). I searched the grocery stores (four in my city) for a brined version that the recipe recommended. My only luck were tins, in the international aisles, of already made and stuffed grape leaves – the finished end result of this homecooked project. My last resort was to order them on Amazon where they were always available but never with an interesting story.  Luckily just before resigning to a mail-order shipment, I discovered a Greek market that was just a thirty minute drive away.  Here I found the prized treasure! Grape leaves, sitting pretty on shelves – all brined in a line in jars of mass consumption. Success at last!

Like both the book and the movie, shopping at the Greek grocer was a bit of an adventure. Most of the packaging was in other languages – Arabic, Greek, Turkish. There was an entire aisle devoted to rice, goat heads in the freezer, big blocks of feta cheese in the fridge, bulk quantities of spices, an array of dried citrus, and towards the back of the store, there were bags of homemade bread still warm and soft from the oven. I came home with bread, a box of chocolate cream-filled cookies (made in Croatia!), a jar of olives brined in olive oil,  and the prized grape leaves. Next time, I’ll shop for coffee, spices and rice.

In Corfu, the Durrells remark often about the languid air and the slower, more sleepy pace. This recipe felt very much the same. Nothing is rushed in preparation. The hands-on wrapping of the grape leaves can be done at whatever pace you choose. It also makes enough for a feast. But it’s one of those dishes that you don’t have to devour all in one sitting, as it can last for days in the fridge. I’m including the exact recipe here as it appeared in the New York Times International Cook Book, but I will forwarn you – this makes ALOT of grape leaves. I had half of the rice mixture leftover (which I wound up adding to a chicken soup later on) so you could still make two dozen grape leaves, as the recipe states, while cutting the rice mixture in half. Other than that, everything came together easily and with a sense of fun.

When the brine gets rinsed off the leaves once they are removed from the jar, they become cool and slippery to the touch yielding a fun tactile experience of folding, and rolling and wrapping. Over on Instagram, I demonstrate in a featured stories video how to wrap a grape leave, so if this is your first time too, visit this link (it will be the clip all the way at the end – Week 19!).

how to make homemade stuffed grape leaves dolmadakia

Dolmadakia (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

Makes about 2 dozen

1 cup olive oil

3 large onions, chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup uncooked rice

2 tablespoons fresh snipped dill

1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley

2 tablespoons pignoli (pine nuts)

6 green onions, finely chopped

1 cup lemon juice

3 cups water

1 8oz jar grape leaves in brine

Parsley and lemon wedges for garnish

Heat 1/2 cup oil in  a skillet and saute the onions and garlic until tender but not browned. Add the salt, pepper, and rice and cook slowly for 10 minutes, stirring often.

Add the dill, parsley, nuts, green onions, 1/2 cup of the lemon juice, and 1/2 cup of the water.

Stir to mix, cover and simmer gently until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 minutes.

Rinse the grape leaves under running water, separate and place shiny side down (aka backside of the leaf up) on a board. If the leaves are small, put two together. (Note: It’s easier to roll and wrap the leaves if they are wet. They’ll dry out fairly quickly, so if you want to go about this project leisurely I recommend stacking the leaves one on top of each other to keep them moist.) 

Place one teaspoon of the rice filling near the stem end of the leaves and roll up jelly-roll fashion, toward the tip, tucking in the edges to make a neat roll.

Place the remaining oil, lemon juice and one cup of water in a large skillet. Arrange the rolls in the pan.

Place a heavy plate or weight (I used the lid of my dutch oven) on top and simmer for 25 minutes.

Add the remaining water and cook about 10 minutes longer or until the rice is tender.

Cool and serve at room temperature with lemon wedges.

Tender, lemony and bright these stuffed grape leaves are like little gifts from the Greek gods. Delicious and surprisingly filling, they are light yet full of flavor, hitting all the taste bud notes between sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. It is a refreshing, well-balanced dish that is ideally paired for this time of year. Traditionally, dolmadakias would be served with a whole table full of other Greek dishes, but I think it makes a lovely choice for a late afternoon snack with a glass of chilled white wine.

In the show, there’s a great tradition that the Durrells start in the heat of the summer. They carry their dining room table out into the shallow water of the sea and set up their mealtimes – a la ocean – with their feet swirling around in the water. I love this idea! If you don’t have access to a waterway like them, then perhaps you’ll enjoy these stuffed grape leaves with Gerry’s book as a companion or the show as your meal mate. All three options are festive and support the ideal vacation state of mind. After being immersed in Corfu for a few weeks, I came away from the whole experience feeling rested, relaxed and inspired by the aesthetic of Corfu and the interesting experiences of this fascinating family. If you are struggling with your summer vacation plans (or lack thereof ) too then I hope this post and its recommended activities cast a little spell over you as well.

Cheers to the Durrells, to Corfu and to the Greek grocery for making this staycation feel like an actual vacation. Fingers crossed, that by next year, the pandemic will be behind us and we’ll be able to hop that plane to Corfu where we can experience first-hand the heat-haze of summer, the drunken olives, the sunbleached landscape and that magnificent beauty of a turquoise sea.

In the meantime, catch up next time for Week 20 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour when we head to Haiti, via the kitchen, to make an attention-grabbing dessert and to discuss kitchen designs in the tropics. See you then!

Lucy & Herbert Go to Paris: A 1970’s Travel Adventure and a Recipe

Bonjour and bon appetit dear kitcheners! This week the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020 takes us to France via the kitchen.

This is one of the countries I know best in the Recipe Tour since I spent so much time there as a little girl. Originally, for this post, I was going to write about a child’s perspective of Paris and fill it full of all the things my sister and I loved most about the city when we were small explorers.  But since a little bit of that was already touched on in the Parisian hot chocolate post last December, this time I thought it would be fun to introduce some new tour guides to the blog. I’m so pleased to present my grandparents and your travel escorts for the day, Lucy and Herbert…

Unlike me, who first visited Paris when I was six months old, Lucy and Herbert were in their 60’s when they first set sights on the City of Light. They were both born in the first decade of the 20th century and both had a hard start to life. Had you asked either one of them when they were young if they would ever be walking around the streets of Paris one day they wouldn’t have guessed it.

Lucy grew up in Buffalo, New York, the daughter of German immigrants who worked in the garment industry.  Her childhood was defined by a family tragedy. When she was 7, her mom burned to death in a house fire while cooking dinner in the kitchen. Lucy’s dad in a complete state of grief and guilt put Lucy and her seven brothers and sisters in a local city orphanage.

Immaculate Heart of Mary. Photo courtesy of poloniatrail.com

It was meant to be just a temporary course of action. The orphanage was run by Catholic nuns and her dad told everyone, nuns and kids included, that he would be right back for his family. That he just needed a little bit of time to figure things out. That was the Spring of 1918. The kids didn’t know exactly what temporary meant. A few days passed, a few weeks passed and then a  few months. They waited in the orphanage for their dad to return. Five months in, the Spanish Influenza blanketed the city in fear and death and anxiety. A pandemic ensued but her dad did not come to collect his kids. Thanksgiving and Christmas came. There was no big family meal and no Christmas gifts. There was no sign of dad. A year passed. A second year passed. Lucy remained in the care of the nuns.  The third, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth year passed. By that point, Lucy was 13. The orphanage only educated girls up until the 8th grade, so school was over for her. No dreams of high school. No college.  During year seven of life in the orphanage, her dad got remarried, yet he still didn’t come to collect his kids.

There are fuzzy family stories that the children were retrieved one by one in order of age, (the oldest ones first) and placed with various members of the family. The boys were taken out first because they could earn a living and contribute financially to whatever household they ended up in. Lucy was 5th in line, a girl, with limited education and an inability to earn an income in the same way as her brothers. Lucy remained in the orphanage until she was 16 years old. That’s when her aunt Martha in Chicago sent for her so that Lucy could help take care of Martha’s two kids. At last, after nine years, Lucy left the orphanage, taking her two younger sisters and brother with her to Illinois.

Herbert’s dad, Joseph, working in his teamster days delivery hay and coal. This photo was taken around 1905.

Herbert grew up in a working class family in the city of Chicago. His parents were both natives of the city  and his grandparents  were both immigrants from Germany. His dad was a teamster for hay and coal in the city when Herbert was born. Money was always tight and there were days when food was scarce or even non-existent. The family never had enough to eat. There were nights when Herbert went to bed with a rumbly belly and no idea when it would be filled again. When Herbert was 10, his  dad landed a job as a fireman for the City of Chicago. It was a much more dangerous line of work than being a teamster, but it offered a steady paycheck and a future pension upon retirement – both very attractive incentives for someone who struggled to feed their family.

Herbert’s parents, Joseph (in his fireman uniform!) and Mary Katharine.

Herbert had a younger brother, Charles, who died when he was a baby, a sad event in his family that that no one ever talked about. Herbert didn’t believe in rehashing stuff, especially the difficult, hardscrabble years of his growing up. Herbert liked to say that the important part of life began when he met Lucy.

Sparks flew for the two of them when they met at a party in Chicago, just a few years after Lucy had moved to the city. They were both in their late teens/early 20’s at that point. Herbert took one look at Lucy and was dazzled by her pretty smile. Lucy fell in love with Herbert’s kind eyes, a distinguishing feature that everyone responded to.

Before Herbert became a fireman  he worked at the Chicago Tribune in the circulation department. This was where he worked at the time he met Lucy.

On a summer Saturday in 1933, just before my grandfather’s 25th birthday, Lucy and Herbert were married in a Catholic church in Chicago.

Herbert left his newspaper job and became a fireman like his father.  This was during the Great Depression, and like his father experienced, the firehouse offered  a steady paycheck, and a pension for retirement.  Haunted by his hunger years as a child, all Herbert wanted was to provide a safe, satiated and comfortable life for his new bride, full to the brim with happiness and adoration that she deserved.

Because she grew up in the orphanage without any guidance or training in the domestic arts, Lucy was not a typical, traditional wife of the 1930’s. As an adult, she loved clothes and fashion and following the latest trends. She loved to socialize and play cards and spend time with her sisters.  No one taught her how to cook, care for a home or drive a car. But all this was okay with Herbert because he loved to cook, was fine with housecleaning and loved to drive.  All he wanted to do was to protect his family, make sure there was always enough food on the table  and enough money left over at the end of the day to afford a few small niceties. For eight years, Herbert and Lucy tried to have a baby. After several miscarriages, my dad was finally born alive and healthy just after they celebrated their 9th wedding anniversary. Finally their family felt complete.

When my dad was a few years into his airline executive career, he arranged a four week European tour for his parents that would take them to England, France, Italy  and Germany. This was the Autumn of 1970, and it was an extravagant trip to say the least. My grandparents had never traveled outside of the United States before, and Europe at that time was a cosmopolitan wonderland of glamour and sophistication.

My dad used all of his perks and called in all sorts of favors so that it would feel like a trip of lifetime for Herbert and Lucy. He wanted to give them all the bells and whistles he could manage – a taste of luxury and decadence that they had never known before. It was his way of spoiling them – a thank you  of sorts for all the wonderful love and affection they spoiled him with as a child.

The plan was to spend a week in each country with home base stays in London, Paris, Rome and Munich. In London, Herb and Lucy stayed at the Lancaster Hotel, had dinner with the royal tailor to Prince Phillip and went sightseeing all around town.

Meet family friend and royal tailor to Prince Phillip, Edward “Teddy” Watson, who charmed the socks off my grandmother:)

The French portion of their trip involved side excursions to Nice and Monte Carlo, but the bulk of their time was spent in Paris where Herbert fell in love with the food and the history and Lucy fell in love with the shopping and the culture. They both really enjoyed walking around the city too and did almost all sightseeing on foot,  even though my dad had arranged a car and driver for them each day.

Thanks to their collection of travel photographs we can head back in time and take a little sightseeing trip right along with them as we all discover what Paris looked like in 1970.

The view from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

The tour starts with a bird’s eye view of the city as seen from the top of the most iconic structure in all of France – the Eiffel Tower.  I’m not sure who the photographer was on this trip, Herb or Lucy, but some shots had a little Vivian Maier-esque quality to them. That’s the Tower’s shadow reaching towards the bridge there in the photo. Vivian style photography makes a return at the flower market one morning too…

In addition to first time sky views of the city, another great vantage point and an interesting perspective of Paris are the views from the River Seine. From there, Lucy and Herbert marveled at a whole host of  buildings steeped in history.

The Belle Jardiniere is the oldest clothing store in Paris, dating to 1824. They were the first to offer ready made clothes off the rack, ushering in a whole new way to conveniently build up your wardrobe.

Another historic gem on the river is the Palais Bourbon, designed in 1722 for the daughter of King Louis the XIV, who was the longest reigning monarch (72 years!) in all of French history. It was designed in country house fashion with gardens modeled from particular sections at Versailles. The site for the house was found by the lover of the King’s daughter who built his own palace next door (how convenient!). Like most of the old buildings of Paris, as it passed through time, many inhabitants and influencers including Napolean,  added their own enhancements or improvements to the building. In the late 1700’s, the exterior facade of Palais Bourbon was changed to reflect ancient Greek architecture. By the time the French Revolution occurred the residence left private hands and served as a government building, which it still remains to this day as you can see from this 2019 photo…

50 years later, and it still looks exactly the same!

Even though he lived centuries ago, there are nods to King Louis XIV all over town. At Versailles, he’s depicted in an equestrian statue which was completed in 1838, which also happened to be seventy years before Herbert was born.

Herbert especially loved admiring all the statues around Paris. The city boasts over 1000,  so he didn’t have to look far for something exciting to see. They turned out to be his gateway into learning more about French history, which in turn led to learning more about other country’s histories too.

The Luxor Obelisk statue (located in the Place de la Concorde) for example spurned a whole new curiosity for him in ancient Egypt, which is where this statue came from. It was an exchange of gifts between France and Egypt in the 1800’s. France gave Egypt a clock and Egypt gave France the Obelisk. In 1936, just three years after Lucy and Herbert were married, the Obelisk was given historic monument status in France. Herbert loved little fun facts like that.

Lucy liked the statues too and learning all about their history from Herbert, but when it came to street sights, what really turned her head were things more at eye – level (a.k.a. the shops). While in London, she purchased a classic trench coat, which looked very chic on the streets of Paris. In France, she purchased a batch of silk scarves. She wore the scarves and the trench continuously for the rest of her life back in the States, reminders of her fun glamour days spent in Europe.

Other iconic sights and sounds topped their best memories list too. There was the famed Paris Opera House which first opened in 1875…

The gardens at Versailles…

It was such an elegant place, Herbert wore a suit!

The domed roof of Sacre-Coeur (also known as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart), is the second most visited site in Paris. It was a must-see for Herbert and Lucy too, who were devoted to the Catholic faith their whole lives. It stands in the Montmarte section of Paris where all the famous artists and writers lived in the 19th and 20th century.

Likewise, the Cathedral of Notre Dame (or what I thought it was) held equal charm.

But upon closer inspection via window shapes and entry doors I think this is another church in Paris altogether. Can anyone identify it? Whether you are religious or not, everyone can appreciate a Parisian church for all their architectural details and built-in statues. Herbert and Lucy visited a new Catholic church every Sunday while they were in Europe, which was a true testament to their faith since most masses were said in Latin and lasted hours.

The beautiful angles and proportions of the Pantheon hover over part of the city and tell quite a story of architectural design. The dome, which fascinated Lucy in particular is actually three domes in one and made entirely of stone. Originally it was going to be topped with a statue of Saint Genevieve but a cross was selected instead. Genevieve was the patron saint of Paris,  and also happened to be Lucy’s middle name. Genevieve is also known as one of the patron saints of generosity, a characteristic Lucy herself contained, and is often depicted carrying a loaf of bread. Followers of Genevieve’s work created an institution in her name in the 1600’s  to care for the infirm and to educate young women. I wonder now if Lucy felt a special kinship to Genevieve because of all she went through at the orphanage.

When Herbert and Lucy passed by and under the Arc de Triomph they were viewing it in all it’s glory, as it had just been thoroughly cleaned and bleached five years before from a century’s worth of soot and grime. Herbert gave it a thumbs up in the cleaning department!

In between all those photos of grand buildings and popular sites I was hoping to find a cafe shot of Herbert and Lucy dining street-side with a glass of wine or a coffee. The only one I found among the mix though was this one very blurry photo of my dad (who met up with his parents at various points in the trip while on break from business meetings) and Lucy.

Even though it’s blurry, I still like the charm of this scene, with the cafe’s egg yolk yellow awning and shutters and the tomato red chairs.  I suspect this was taken in a little country town near Nice on their drive from Paris to Monte Carlo for Part Two of the French adventure.   I like to imagine that they ate something simple yet delicious that day at that cafe. Something not unlike the French recipe we are making to accompany this post today.

Like the cafe, this is a sunny, simple dish that is easy to make and requires little time to prepare. It is called Eggs in Sauce Gribiche.  Like some of the buildings in this post and even our tour guides themselves, this sauce aspect of this recipe dates all the way back to the early 1900’s when famous French chef Auguste Escoffier deemed it an important and versatile companion to hard-boiled eggs.  Age-old yet timeless, it is a new favorite in my kitchen and I hope it will be one in yours too.

The French section of the New York Times International Cook Book which we are following for this Recipe Tour, was one of the largest chapters in the book containing over 113 pages of traditional dishes from France. I chose this one because it is so representative of Herbert and Lucy. It’s simple and accessible, peppered with fresh goodness, and easily enjoyable in a bevy of dining situations. At their core, Lucy and Herbert were ideal characters. Ones who despite early hardships and traumatic events, chose to nourish relationships and radiate nothing but love and affection. At the same time, they also knew how to add a little splash to life to make it colorful and interesting. In the case of this recipe, they are both the comforting, reliable hard-boiled eggs and also the attractive and inventive sauce that is drizzled over.

So many French recipes combine rich, buttery flavors that simmer or saute for lengthy amounts of time. This one is lighter and brighter on the palate and works for several kinds of meals from brunch to lunch to appetizers, or even serves purpose as an afternoon snack or a light dinner.  When making it, I recommend sourcing the freshest ingredients possible, which might mean avoiding the grocery store altogether if you can help it. Home grown garden herbs, farmers market tomatoes, and local eggs will by far surpass anything you could find at the regular grocery store when it comes to bringing out the beautiful flavors of this dish.

Eggs with Sauce Gribiche

Serves 6

1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley

1 teaspoon finely chopped onion

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme

1 clove garlic

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 egg yolk

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons wine vinegar

1 1/2 cups olive oil

3/4 cup seeded, peeled, diced tomatoes

6 hard boiled eggs, peeled and halved

2 tablespoons finely chopped chives or scallion greens

Chop the parsley, onion, thyme and garlic. Add the chopped mixture to a small mixing bowl along the mustard, vinegar , egg yolk, salt and pepper.

Begin beating all ingrediants together with a whisk and gradually start adding the oil. Add it a little at a time, beating rapidly until the sauce begins to thicken. When mixture is thickened and smooth it is ready.

Crack and peel the hard-boiled eggs and cut them length-wise in half.

When you are ready to serve, stir the tomatoes into the sauce and then spoon the sauce over the egg halves. Sprinkle with chives or finely sliced scallions.

Served at room temperature, this a great dish for a hot summer day or an impromptu picnic, as it can be whipped up in a matter of minutes. It is also a lovely alternative to deviled eggs, lemon vinaigrette dressing or its close cousin – Hollandaise Sauce.

My most favorite photo of my grandparents first time-time trip to France is this one taken on two park chairs with the Eiffel Tower in back. My grandmother reminds me of Julia Child here…  smiling, carefree, lighthearted. And I love my grandfather’s hand on her knee. They were married for 37 years when this photo was taken. It’s really nice to see that things hadn’t changed that much since the day they met. Lucy was still flashing that pretty smile and Herbert was still protecting her with kindness and affection.

Ten years and two months later, Lucy died unexpectedly in a hospital in Florida. Her cause of death was an enlarged heart. That seems pretty fitting.  Her and Herbert shared a big love.  For a life that started out with so much neglect and abandonment I’m glad that Lucy got to finish it with so much joy and comfort. And I’m glad she got to experience Paris and all the magic the city holds.

Cheers to love that lasts through thick and thin. And cheers to France for playing such a big, wonderful, important role in the life and love of my family. And cheers to Grandma Lucy and Grandpa Herbert. It’s been a tough week in the world these past few days. I hope we can carry forth, in the true spirit of Herbert and Lucy, with nothing but kindness and generosity for all.

Join me next time for Week 18 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020 as we head to Germany to make the biggest meal of the Tour so far! It’s three days of preparation for this cooking adventure, so rest up! See you soon.

 

Hungry Ghosts, Floating Lights, Chinese Fishes: Symbolism and Life in a Tornado

There’s an old Chinese proverb that says don’t curse the darkness – light a candle. I had no idea how appropriate that quote would come to be when I began pulling the threads together for the 9th week of the International Vintage Recipe Tour. If life had gone according to plan, this post should have gone out on Wednesday, March 4th. Our 10th country in the Recipe Tour would have been published four days ago, and I would’ve, as of today, been cooking and photographing the recipe for Week 11’s culinary destination.  Unfortunately, Lady Nature had other plans.

If you are just catching up on events of the past couple of weeks, shortly after midnight on Tuesday morning, March 3rd, a tornado blew through town and in three short minutes spun my city neighborhood around. These are some photos I took just after sunrise on the morning of the storm…

One of my favorite things about my neighborhood is its mix of modern apartment buildings, historic cottages and pocket-sized parks. All of my loves are within walking distance… the farmers market, the grocery store, the fish market, the library, the garden center, the waterfront, the history museum, not to mention fun shops and a unique collection of wonderful restaurants.

Fantastically walkable, it is entirely possible to live car-free here and still have all your daily needs met. It’s quiet during the week, lively on the weekends and just a 15 minute walk to Music City night-life and all sorts of cultural activities. There’s a fox that lives near the yoga studio, plenty of squirrels to keep the pup entertained on her daily walks and so many blooming trees that it snows with flower petals every Spring.

A great mix of young blending with old as far as architecture, demographics and ideas, it’s a hot spot for food enthusiasts and bar hoppers and a proving ground for new concepts and good ideas. It is one of those neighborhoods that used to be industrial, but now is referred to as trendy, up and coming, and re-energized. To me and my husband, it is home, it is work and it is wonderful.

The day before the tornado, I was at the art store buying specialty papers for a craft project for Week 9 of the Cooking Tour.  It had taken almost the entire week prior to figure out an appropriate cultural tie-in to that week’s featured destination – China.

I wanted to write about something that focused on the beauty of the country and the culture, a topic that easily gets overlooked these days now that the coronavirus has captured everyone’s attention.  After days of searching and muddling all this over, inspiration finally came in the form of a folded paper project.

In the month of September in China, there is a celebration called the Hungry Ghost Festival. Similar to the Day of the Dead in Mexico, it is a celebration of family members who have passed away. Places are set at the table, complete with food offerings and empty seats, to acknowledge the presence of these past lives and the impact they had upon the family.  One of the components of the festival includes making and releasing floating paper lanterns on the water. These floating papers, each carrying a small candle, act as a directional signal for lost souls. The lighted paper lanterns help guide their way. When the candle burns out after the lanterns have been set afloat, it signifies that the lost spirit is no longer in need of direction. It has found its way home.

As soon as the tornado touched down, our power went out. Most of the neighborhood was sleeping at the time the storm occurred but woke up to one of three experiences – 1) their roof was blown off 2) all the glass in all their windows were shattered and blown, not out, but into their living space or 3) terrific gusts of wind could be heard rattling around outside. My experience was the third one – lots of wind, no broken glass, roof still intact. That night, the temperature had been warm enough to sleep with the windows open. It was also the night, Liz Lemon and Grace the Grapefruit spent their first time since last summer overnight outdoors on the balcony.

When I heard the high winds, I woke up to my pup sitting in the bathtub and discovered that the power had gone out. I didn’t know about a tornado. I didn’t know that a block away, buildings were falling down and people were scrambling to safety in their pajamas. I just heard the wind, much like in a hurricane, and thought simply that it might too strong for my plants outside. That’s how weird a tornado can be.  By some stroke of sheer luck, the tornado hit one block away. It left my street relatively unharmed except for scattered debris and power and internet outages. Two, three and four blocks away from my building was an entirely different story.

Shaken, saddened and shocked, my husband and I spent the morning in touch with family and friends, trying to make sense of everything. Immediately we were thrown back into feelings of life post 9/11 in New York City – a time when tragedy and sorrow hung around us like a heavy blanket for almost a year.  Just like 9/11, destruction was all around us. It was our environment. It was our view. It was where we lived. And now here we were again, experiencing a similar devastation.

The weather was beautiful the entire week following the storm – sunny, in the mid-60’s, and blooming. Spring had sprung in the neighborhood and the birds were excited to sing about it. Living without power and internet access for a week, in a disaster zone, while nature carried on in such a pretty way, was surreal and jarring to the senses.  On one hand there was so much destruction and on the other there were daffodils that danced in the breeze.

One of the things that helped distract from the scariness of the scene in front of me was the building of the paper lantern and all that it symbolized. The lantern, which gets folded and shaped into a lotus flower, only took less then 30 minutes to make but everything that it stood for carried me the whole entire week. For four nights we walked around by candlelight and flashlight until the power finally came back on on day five. Each day, I imagined that each flame and each beam of light was like a Chinese lantern floating on the water, guiding us in the dark towards something bright. It was a comforting reminder that it was okay to feel a little bit lost. That eventually we would find our way home again.

It’s been almost two weeks since the storm, and already our neighborhood is on the mend. Some of the buildings have been condemned and will be torn down, some of the restaurants are closed with hopes of reopening soon, and a good batch of broken windows have been boarded up. It’s not the same neighborhood as it was a month ago, but spirits are resilient around this place and I can only hope it will be a even better place to live and work sometime soon.

There are so many things to be thankful for in these past two weeks. We are alive. Our friends and neighbors are alive. Miraculously and inexplicably, no one died in our four block radius despite the chaotic scenes. People have been so kind and helpful and willing to lend support in any way they can. More volunteers showed up to help clean up then were actually needed. And donations of all kinds poured into town to the point where city managers eventually said thank you, we have enough now.

I’ll forever be grateful to the Recipe Tour and to China and to the Hungry Ghost Festival for helping me through this difficult, unexpected life event. The tornado was a scary thing. The coronavirus is a scary thing. But the Chinese lanterns taught me that in darkness there is also light. If you are struggling during these days of uncertainty and quarantine, I hope making your own paper lantern will help guide you through these dark and disturbing times. I hope this paper project, will offer you just as much comfort as it did for me during these past ten days.

It was my original intention to photo each step of the lantern making process, but somehow, in my addled storm state, I didn’t quite capture enough photos of the steps to make sense of the process.  You can find a step by step tutorial from the Chinese American Family blog here, which is the one I followed to make the lantern for this post. The only thing that I did differently was that I used two different colors of handmade paper – red to represent China and beige to represent calmness. Also, just an fyi, this project makes one floating lantern that is 8″ inches in diameter.

Whether it is September or not, whether you live near a body of water or not, whether you are going through a tough situation or not, a floating paper lantern has a place at your table always. I love the idea of floating one or two in a shallow dish of water as a centerpiece in place of a floral bouquet or a collection of candles. I love the idea that it symbolizes someone you hold dear. So much of cooking and eating and gathering together involves long-term memories, fleeting moments, passed down stories, and centuries worth of techniques and innovations all created by people who came before us. The paper lanterns are such a lovely way to honor those individuals, especially as they relate to the kitchen and to cooking and to the enjoyment of food.

Pretty, hopeful, and easily accessible, it is a fun craft project that takes little time and few materials. China has been known for their folded paper crafts, called zhezhi, for centuries and shares similar styles with Japan’s paper folding craft, origami. China’s paper making grew out of frugality and remembrance and is often burned during celebrations and festivals, like the Hungry Ghost. If you are concerned about open flames inside your floating flowers, you can always use a flame-less tea light for a similar effect. If you plan to make a fun night at home with your family, friends or roommates while you are self-quarantining, this paper project not only offers a fun activity but also offers an easily made decoration for your Chinese dinner party incorporating this week’s menu items.

Like exquisite Chinese paper crafts, traditional Chinese food also has its own creatively packaged presentation. The accompanying recipe for China’s post is one that features artfully cut foods that are cooked in an interesting and unusual manner. Like the paper lantern, this fish dish is a literal present, individually wrapped up in paper, fried in oil and then served to each diner like a gift.  In Belgium, we learned how to fry cheese into fondue but in China we are wrapping food in paper and then quickly submerging it in oil, where it steams instead of fries.  A wonderful recipe for anyone who likes to decorate their food with flair and flourish, this recipe is delicious, interesting and pretty to look at. On the menu, I’m pleased to present Fried Fish Wrapped in Paper served alongside a bed of Ginger and Pork Fried Rice.

Since this is two recipes in one, I’ll start with the easiest one first since it can sit in a warming state for a little bit while you make the second recipe. Ginger and Pork Fried Rice, is another one of those foundation recipes where you can add your own spin once you get the general hang of preparing it. If you wanted to make this vegetarian, you could swap the pork for mushrooms or add in additional vegetables like snow peas, carrots or broccoli. Because the fish in the accompanying recipe is very lean, the pork fried rice adds a satisfying bit of fat that is complimentary to the overall flavor. So if you are a meat-eater, I’d recommend making these two recipes as-is.

Ginger and Pork Fried Rice

(serves 4)

6 tablespoons peanut oil

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/3 lb (about 1 cup) ground pork (I used grass-fed, pasture-raised pork)

2 cups cooked rice (I used jasmine rice)

1/4 cup chopped green onion

Drizzle of sesame oil

12 lettuce leaves or 1 head of butter lettuce

Heat two tablespoons of oil, add the eggs and scramble to the soft stage, then set aside.

In a wok or large skillet, heat two additional tablespoons of oil and add the pork. Cook, stirring until the meat is thoroughly browned and cooked through. Add the ginger and stir, Add the rice, salt and pepper and cook, stirring rapidly to blend all the ingredients. When the rice is piping hot, mix-in the remaining oil, the green onion and the egg, broken up roughly. Drizzle a little sesame oil over the rice and toss quickly.

Keep the rice warm while you make and cook the fried fish recipe. Once you are ready to serve both the fish and the rice there are several suggestions on ways to present the rice. The first, simply scoop it into a bowl and serve as is. The second, scoop small portions onto individual lettuce leaves and roll them up. Or the third way, scoop out the center of a head of butter lettuce and fill it with rice so that it makes, essentially, a lettuce bowl that can be shared among your fellow eaters. I opted for number three, since our farmer’s market lettuce has been so beautiful lately.

The fried fish recipe is really easy to make. The most complicated part of it is wrapping the fish in the parchment paper. But if you think of treating it like how you would wrap a homemade empanada then you’ll be a pro in no-time. The trick to wrapping the fish in paper is to fold the edges over on themselves so that no steam can escape and so that no oil can seep inside. Although this recipe is called Fried Fish, the fish never comes in contact with the oil. The hot temperature of the oil simply steams the fish inside the wrapped package in just 3 minutes. You can actually hear the steam bubbling up against the paper as it bobs around in the oil. It is a nice auditory detail:)  And have no fear, if your packages don’t seal all the way, it is not the end of the world. The oil will fry the fish instead of steam it, but it will be delicious regardless.

Fried Fish Wrapped in Paper

(4-6 servings)

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1/2 lb boneless fresh fish fillet such as striped bass, flounder or sea bass (I used cod)

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sake or dry sherry (I used sake)

12 thin slices fresh ginger

12 small snow peas

12 small strips of green onion

12 slices fresh mushrooms

Cut twelve 6″ inch squares out of parchment paper. Set aside. Cut the fish filet into 12 pieces of equal size. (Note: I cut the fish into rectangles which were about 1″x 1.5″inches  in length). Slice all the vegetable ingredients and place each in individual bowls so that they can be quickly accessed when you are ready to assemble the packages.

Brush one side of each square of the parchment paper with sesame oil. Next place a piece of fish on the oiled parchment (step 1), followed by a sprinkle of sake, salt & pepper (step 2). Place a snow pea (step 3) on top of the fish, then a piece of ginger on top of the snow pea (step 4). Place a sliced mushroom on top of the ginger (step 5) and then finish with a slice of green onion on top of the mushroom (step 6).

Next, scoot the layered fish tower down to the bottom third of the parchment paper square.

Bring the top  edge of the parchment paper down to meet up with the bottom edge, like you were folding an envelope, and then crease the middle section of the paper. Beginning on the left hand side start to fold over the edges of the paper like an empanada. Work your way around the package so that you end up on the right side with a small flap that you can then tuck inside the crease of your final fold. This makes much more sense once you actually do it. Here’s a little step by step to help illustrate it…

Repeat each step until you have all 12 packages assembled and wrapped…

In a medium sized pot, heat the oil to 180 degrees. Working in batches so as not to crowd the pot, drop the packages in the oil for 3 minutes or until the parchment paper is lightly browned. At this step, you’ll here a wonderful bubbling noise as the fish and vegetables steam inside the paper.

Remove each batch to drain on paper towels for a few seconds before serving.

The recipe recommends serving the fish in the package, which is fun for the novelty of opening up the paper…

but it looks much prettier if you unwrap them and serve them on a plate or on a bed of rice.

This is such stylish and bite-sized food, it would be a fun appetizer for a sake party or as an accompaniment alongside other traditional dishes for a mix and match Chinese feast. Served just as-is, with a scoop of rice and two or three pieces of fish, you’ll be surprised how filling and satisfying this meal can be, even with its petite portions. The fish and vegetables cook to perfection inside the paper pouch. The ginger adds a nice hint of spice. And both dishes retain all their flavors even if they sit at room temperature for a little bit.

I went on the search for Chinese sake for this post, but I couldn’t find any locally, so I paired these two dishes with a glass of room temperature Tozai, which is a Japanese sake from the Kyoto region. I’m not much of a rice wine connoisseur so I picked this one for its beautiful label featuring painted koi fish, and it’s suggestion of light flavor notes that included lemon, grapes and banana.

Again, like the paper lantern project, this was a fortuitous choice for this post, our most dramatic week of the Recipe Tour so far. Known as living jewels because of their shimmering scales and vibrant colors, koi fish represent luck and good fortune. A day after making these two Chinese recipes and toasting them with a glass of sake, the tornado arrived and somehow miraculously, thankfully, luckily left the Vintage Kitchen intact. Unrecognized by be at the time, I went into that difficult weak with symbols of luck, good fortune and bright light on my side. If I have learned anything from this culinary time spent in the kitchen with China, it is that symbols swirl around us all the time. Sometimes they even save the day.

My heart goes out to everyone impacted by the coronavirus. I wish you all the koi fish in all the world and all the bright light for in which to see them. Join me this Wednesday, for Week 10 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour, as I attempt to catch up to our regular culinary travel schedule again. This week, culinary escapades take us to Columbia where I’ll be discussing nothing but sunshine and happiness and comfort food. Until then, be well and safe.