Can A Painting Inspire Dinner?

Can a painting inspire dinner? Absolutely! That’s exactly what happened when I found this tropical painting while out curating items for the shop. It’s a petite folk art landscape scene from Haiti with a handmade wooden frame and stretched cotton cloth instead of canvas. The colors are so vibrant…

and the brush strokes so full of energy.  The whole scene sings with the colorful island vibes that the Caribbean is known for.  Immediately it made me think of the 1960’s cookbook in the shop – The Art of Caribbean Cookery – another midcentury treasure that also sings songs of colorful island life.

The painting hails from Haiti, just one of the 28 islands that make up the Caribbean, but the cookbook, written by Carmen Aboy Valldejuli, includes all the cultural influences of all the islands… Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, etc.  Carmen is Puerto Rican herself and grew up in a traditional island household of the 1920’s, a world where servants cooked and children were not encouraged to help.

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico in the 1920s. Photography by Charles Martin courtesy of National Geographic

As Carmen explains in the introduction of her cookbook,  it was deemed improper for well-brought-up young ladies to perform menial household chores, cooking included. “Only occasionally was I ever allowed to enter the vast room where food was actually prepared, and how I regretted that.”

Carmen and her family’s house, Casa Aboy, in Puerto Rico,  including a photo of the dining room. These images were taken in the 1980’s by Felix Julian Delcampo
This is the house as it appears today, bright and pretty. Photo via pinterest.

But things changed once she met her husband, Luis, in the late 1930’s. Luis was an unashamed food zealot – an eater, a cooker, and a recipe collector.  He had a day job in engineering but on nights and weekends, he and Carmen crafted their time together around the glorious subject of food. Bolstered by one another’s support and enthusiasm,  the two indulged their culinary interests in a fun and curious way, which turned out to be the only encouragement Carmen needed to realize her life-long passion for cooking. What used to be forbidden was now a freedom.

carmen-aboy-valldejuli-and-luis-valldejuli
Carmen and Luis – the Carribean’s cooking dynamite team. Luis was always in charge of the cocktails.

Carmen took on this new interest with gusto. She and Luis dined their way through the islands, exploring offerings at family tables, fancy restaurants and everything in between. They traipsed around sugar plantations and farms and fruit groves. They listened and questioned and learned from everyone they encountered about cooking methods and techniques, about family stories and recipes passed down through generations. After each escapade, they’d return home to their own kitchen in Puerto Rico ready to dissect what they had discovered. As Carmen learned first hand, cooking in the Caribbean was a vast wonderland of food, flavor, and influence from other countries far from the tropics.

Vintage Caribbean travel posters from the 1950s and 1960s.

Floating between the Gulf Of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, with the United States, Mexico and South America acting as surrounding neighbors, the Caribbean is made up of an incredibly diverse population – an exotic tribe of people from Europe, Africa, Mexico, the Mediterranean coast, the United States and the U.K.

Vintage 1960s travel poster designed by Paul Loweree

Originally there were the first inhabitants, the Arawak Indians, but then came the British, French, Dutch, Danish, and Spanish settlers along with slaves from Africa who worked the sugar plantations and ex-pats from America looking for escapism. All these cultural influences grew diversity on the islands and greatly layered the cuisine of the Caribbean, making it not just one type of food, but a blend of many nationalities.

the-art-of-caribbean-cookery-carmen-aboy-valldejuli

In the painting, there is no sign of food, but its very essence pulls your imagination towards sandy beaches, tropical drinks, coconuts, rum, pineapple, papayas. Carmen is quick to explain that cooking in the Caribbean is not all “roast pig and ritual,” that food varies from island to island, built upon six centuries of history and the cohabitation of many cultures.  It was with that in mind that I chose, a recipe from Carmen’s cookbook that is an authentic Carribean dish marinated in generations of foreign influence. For today’s post, we are making a recipe that combines elements of Spain with two Caribbean staples – olives and capers. The dish is called Pescado Dorado or Golden Fish and it is a lovely meal to wrap up the end of summer with since it shines best with garden tomatoes fresh off the vine.

Carmen’s recipe recommended using a whole fish but I used cod filets instead since I couldn’t find a whole tropical-looking fish at our neighborhood market.  The recipe serves 8 but if you don’t want to make a big dinner out of it, simply cut all the ingredient measurements in half and you’ll wind up with a smaller serving for four.

PESCADO DORADO – GOLDEN FISH

(serves 8)

1 fish weighing 4 lbs, cleaned (or 4lbs of fish filets – I used cod)

2 large limes

2 tablespoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 medium onions, peeled and sliced

2 bay leaves

12 green olives

1 tablespoon capers

1 tablespoon liquid from jar of capers

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed

1 1/4 pounds tomatoes

2 canned pimientos

If using a whole fish, wash it inside and out. Ignore this step if using fish filets.  Cut 2 slight gashes on both sides of the fish or filets. Place the fish in a baking dish. Squeeze the juice of the limes over the fish and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Arrange the rest of the ingredients from the onions to the tomatoes on top and around the sides of the fish.

Preheat oven temperature to 550 degrees.* Bake fish for 15 minutes. Lower temperature to 425 degrees and bake for 25 minutes longer, basting fish occasionally.

Heat pimientos and serve as a garnish on top of fish.

*A note on cooking time and temp – In 1963, Carmen’s oven reached 550 degrees. In 2018, the hottest my oven gets is 525 degrees. I cooked the fish at 525 degrees for the first 15 minutes and then reduced it to 425 degrees and cooked it for the remaining time with no problems.

Carmen Aboy Valldejuli’s Pescado Dorado

What emerged from the oven, after it was done baking, was a flaky cloud of codfish that was swimming in a salty citrus sea. To say that this dish was anything but delicious would be an understatement. Sometimes fish dishes are very light and leave you still feeling hungry, but this one is robust in flavor and is filling enough on its own.  I paired this fish dish with a handful of sauteed spinach and garlic but rice would also work or a side salad. Dessert was kept equally simple with a fresh fruit board that included pineapple, mango, papaya and fresh coconut.

We also had a little musical accompaniment during dinner from Harry Belafonte, one of the most iconic singers of Caribbean folk songs in the world. About a month ago, I heard the song Cocoanut Woman for the first time…

and instantly loved it. Further discovery led to his Calypso album, a bestseller full of Caribbean folk songs that was released in 1956. In its first year, this album sold a million copies landing Harry on top music charts and making him an international superstar. If you are unfamiliar with his work, the link below is the full album of his 1976 record The King of Calypso, which packs all of his most famous hits in one album including the Jamician folk song Day-O about dock workers loading banana boats and the island love song, Jamaica Farewell.

Between the three – painting, music, and food – this dinner felt like a mini island vacation all in itself.  If you find that your summer has come and gone and left you without the chance to relax as much as you wished, try spending the evening with Carmen and Harry and Emmanuel (the painter) and see if your spirit can’t be soothed by a little slice of creative paradise. A glass of rum helps spread the cheer too.

Incidentally, I tried to find out more about my muse for this post, the artist named Emmanuel who painted the Haitian landscape that started all this to begin with. But he was elusive. As it turns out, there are LOTS of painters named Emmanuel in the Caribbean. That’s okay, though, it doesn’t matter that he can’t be tracked down further.  Muses aren’t exactly known for their easy accessibility.  Bob Dylan believed that the highest purpose of art was to inspire. In that case, Emmanuel certainly fulfilled his role, at least during dinner time in the Vintage Kitchen. As for Carmen, she went on to become an expert, the expert, of Caribbean cuisine, publishing several cookbooks throughout her life. Even though she died in 2005, she is still regarded as the classic authority on Caribbean island cuisine.

So as you can see, a painting can indeed inspire dinner and also a little more. Hope this post inspires you just as much. Cheers to soaking up the essence of the islands without ever leaving home.

Find the cookbook and the painting in the shop here and here. Find Harry Belafonte’s music on our Vintage Caribbean Vibes Spotify playlist here.

In the Kitchen with Indie: A Brief History of Dog Food and How to Make Your Own

There once was a border collie from the Scottish Highlands who ate nothing but turnip greens and lived to be over 20 years old. Dogs in the 14th century ate bones and bread, goat milk and bean broth, meat, and eggs. In the latter half of the 19th century, dogs ate wheat meal, beetroots and beef blood. In the early 20th century, they ate horsemeat. Today, dogs eat a variety of assorted things ranging from buffalo to chicken, brown rice to broccoli, fruit to fish oil.

Ken-L was the first canned dog food debuting in 1920 and featured horse meat. They added beef in 1921. Still, a popular ingredient through the 1960’s, both horse meat and ground horse bone can be seen in the ingredient list on the mid-century can at right.

Since dogs were first domesticated over 12,000 years ago their diets have varied depending on geographic location, activity, and ownership. As descendants of wolves who eat mostly birds, fish, deer, rabbits, and other hoofed animals, dogs appetites have evolved to include vegetables, herbs, protein and grains making food options more than abundant and diverse today.

There has never before been a time in history where there has been so much choice available in the dog food industry.  From traditional shelf-stable canned and dried foods to fresh meat patties, freeze-dried jerky, frozen bones and a bouquet of vitamin supplements, feeding your dog today involves nothing more than practical understanding and common sense.

James Spratt, the father of food for dogs, commercially speaking. Photo courtesy of chestofbooks.com

We have this guy, James Spratt to thank for first coming up with the idea to commercialize dog food in the 1860’s. He invented the world’s first dog biscuit after he observed England’s seaside dogs fighting over hardtack biscuits that were cast-aside by sailors down at the docks. This ignited James’ interest in the idea of creating a whole canine meal that came in a compact shape, just like a biscuit – something that was easy to carry, easy to dispense and easy to store. Spratt’s Meat Fiberine Dog Cakes were born shortly after.

An 1876 ad for Spratt’s Meat Fribrine Dog Cakes.

The cakes became so popular many companies started making their own versions, thus creating competition and a burgeoning marketplace. Now, pet food is a $31 billion a year industry just in the U.S. alone and feeding your dog has gone from Spratt’s biscuits in the 19th century to basic canned meats in the 20th century to gourmet ready-to-eat dinners in the 21st century. That’s quite an evolution in less than 200 years.

With all this choice, it can be tricky to navigate all the options of what to feed your dog- especially if you walk down the pet food aisle at your local grocery store and see a bamboozlement of advertising with each brand declaring their food the best, the most nutritious, the most natural or organic or beneficial. You can feed your dog like a wild wolf or a pampered princess or a farm animal. You can spend $5.00 on a giant economy bag of dry dog food or $20.00 on a petite gourmet bag of artisan-crafted pellets. There’s canned food that comes in a solid lump with ingredients that you can’t pronounce and there are ready-to-eat meals in plastic tubs that resemble the beef stew you are making for your own dinner.

So which food does Indie, the enthusiastic taste-tester of the Vintage Kitchen eat? None of the above.

Instead, every day she gets a combination of fresh foods consisting of easy to gather ingredients that are readily available.  Indie is a sociable pup and meets a lot of people in her city travels on a day to day basis. If there is one comment that she receives most often it is how soft and shiny her coat feels.  It’s been described as everything from a plush blanket to a mink coat to a thick carpet. People think that she is completely pampered with lots of regular trips to the groomer but Indie is a tom-boy at heart and could care less about her pretty fur. She’s never been to the groomer, and she’s only had three baths ever, (each of which she totally hated). We attribute her great state – her glossy coat, her bright eyes, her abundant energy level and her eager appetite all to the food she eats.

 

By making her own dog food, we have the opportunity to eliminate preservatives, fillers, by-products and known skin-allergy causing ingredients like corn, wheat, and soy from her diet. We have better control over her overall health and can feed her the nutrition she needs based on weekly changes in her activity and lifestyle levels. That means on days she is more active, she gets more protein and more carbs to fuel all her running and jumping. On days she’s less active she gets more vegetables and less carbs so that she doesn’t put on sedentary weight and get lethargic. We have been feeding Indie this way for over five years now. Needless to say, she’s been an enthusiastic eater from her first bowl forward!

You might think that making your own dog food is labor-intensive, time-consuming, and expensive, but it is actually the complete opposite. As we learned above from dogs throughout history, their diet is pretty diverse just like ours.  All her dog food ingredients come from the same place where we shop for our food – the farmers market, the grocery store, etc.. It takes about one hour to prepare a week’s worth of food (up to 14 meals)  or 15 minutes a day if we decide to cook for her each night. Cost-wise on average, we spend about $10-$12 a week on the ingredients that make up her meals.

There are three main components to a healthy dog diet – protein, vegetables, and grains. Amounts of each vary depending on your dog’s size and activity level  (for example, the more active your pup is, the more protein they should eat), but every day, in every bowl Indie’s meal consists of at least one element from each of these three categories for balanced nutrition.

PROTEIN

Indie’s main source of protein is primarily salmon. Usually, it’s canned salmon that includes the skin and bones. Sometimes she eats fresh salmon or frozen as long as its wild-caught.  Occasional additions of chicken, eggs, beans and homemade broth also round out her main protein sources. Once every few months she’ll have a little bit of beef, pork, or lamb for variety.  There is a theory about serving your dog raw proteins but we always cook Indie’s (with the exception of the canned salmon) just to be on the safe side as far as bacteria. We cook her protein in one of three ways – sauteed in olive oil on the stove, poached in broth or baked in the oven.  Eggs are usually scrambled or hard-boiled. And beans are canned.

VEGETABLES

As a true gourmand, Indie loves most vegetables. Her regular rotation includes sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, apples, potatoes, carrots, peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley, pineapple, beets, celery,  pumpkin, zucchini, butternut squash, acorn squash, bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, avocado, pears, collard greens, cabbage and okra. Her vegetables either come from the farmers market or the grocery store. She mostly eats what’s in season, except for sweet potatoes and apples which she eats pretty much year round. And while she eats all of these vegetables mentioned above, she doesn’t eat this whole list all at once. Generally, she eats 2-3 different types of vegetables in one meal.

GRAINS

Primarily her main grain is white rice but sometimes we’ll add in cooked oatmeal, barley, wild rice or quinoa for variety. White rice is better than brown rice because dogs have short digestive tracts (unlike people who have long digestive tracts) so rice passes through their system quite quickly. The main benefit of brown rice is that it acts like a scrub brush for the digestive system making it great for people but not necessary in dogs since it passes through too fast to benefit.

The part that takes the longest when in it comes to making homemade dog food is baking the potatoes (one hour in a 425-degree oven) and cooking the rice (15 minutes). While the potatoes are baking and the rice is cooking, we prepare the vegetables – by chopping them into bite-sized pieces, and either sauteeing, boiling or roasting them. We also use this time to boil the eggs, open the beans and/or cook the proteins as well.

By the time the potatoes are done – all the other dog food components are ready too. We let everything cool down to room temperature before adding all the ingredients together in one large mixing bowl and tossing it all to combine. When we make a big bach like this for the week, we divvy up the mixture into smaller, daily dose sized containers and store them in the fridge.

Indie’s dinnertime bowl consisting of 1/3 cup canned salmon, 3/4 cup cooked white rice, one sauteed carrot, one half of a hard-boiled egg, two finger-sized sweet potatoes (with skin), a handful of sauteed spinach and one small new potato (with skin).

MEASUREMENTS

Indie eats usually 1 1/2 cups of cooked rice, 2/3 cup of protein and 2-3 cups of vegetables per day. She eats twice a day – breakfast and dinner. She weighs 55 lbs and is moderately active as far as exercise.  What we feed her reflects her lifestyle and activity level so if you want to start making your own homemade dog food too, use it as a guide only and not specific measurements.  Adjustments and modifications will need to be made for your own dog’s size and energy level as well as how often you feed your dog per day and their own individual appetite preferences. Large dogs obviously need more food, small dogs less.

When we were visiting our friend’s house for the weekend, Indie let everyone know her true thoughts on the raw kale we newly introduced to her diet. No thank you!

PERSONALITY QUIRKS

One of the things that will become immediately apparent when you start making your own dog food is how quirky your buddy can be. For instance, Indie will only eat her kale if it is sauteed in a little bit of olive oil. If it’s included in her bowl raw, she’ll pick out all the pieces and lay them next to her bowl. Her not-so-subtle hint that kale is only great when it’s cooked!  She also usually likes most of her vegetables cooked unless they are finely grated like we sometimes do with raw carrots, celery, zucchini or broccoli. Usually, we just chop and boil, sautee, or oven-roast all of her vegetables until soft, but not mushy.

If you start making your own pup’s food, there are a few simple things to keep in mind when determining what’s good and bad for canine consumption…

A FEW FOODS NOT TO ADD

  • Never add salt or pepper to your pup’s protein while cooking.  (If you are using boneless, skinless chicken breasts or fresh fish cook them in olive oil instead of butter.)
  • Onions
  • Chocolate
  • Rhubarb
  • Spices
  • Apple seeds and cores
  • Raisins, grapes or plums
  • Lemons or Limes
  • Bones of any kind (except the ones in canned salmon are fine)

ADDITIONAL FUN THINGS TO ADD ON OCCASION IN MODERATION

  • Greek Yogurt
  • Peanut Butter
  • Olive Oil
  • Cheese
  • Applesauce
  • Bread
  • Nuts (finely chopped)

Basically, when it comes to cooking for your dog think of it like cooking for yourself. If you are making scrambled eggs for yourself for breakfast, portion some out for your pet too. If you are making steamed broccoli for your dinner, steam some extra for your pup or if you are making a traditional spinach salad for your lunch, chop up some extra spinach, bacon and egg for the dog bowl. You’ll discover how fun and creative cooking can be for both you and your pal.

If you are uncertain whether or not you want to switch your dog’s diet to a 100% homemade one – start small with baby steps and throw in a cooked egg or a few slices of apple in with their food and see how they like it and then expand little by little.

The nice thing about feeding your pup the food you make is that you can see results or benefits within a few days. Depending on how much fresh food you introduce, their coats will be shinier, their energy levels more balanced and their attention more focused (especially at mealtime!).  You will also be able to monitor their health by what’s going in and what’s coming out.  We have to pick up after Indie, since we live in the city so it’s a good opportunity to tell if everything is in balance and processing well. If her waste is runny or mucousy-looking rather then firm and solid then we know an ingredient is upsetting her stomach lining and we can quickly recall and identify which ingredients we’ve recently fed her and can adjust her fresh foods from there.

 

All in all, we hope that making your own dog food will be fun and enjoyable for both you and your pup.  If you already make your own homemade dog food, please share your story in the comments section below so that we can continue to learn together and create delicious meals for our wonderful companions. Indie is ALWAYS ready to test out a new recipe!

Cheers to our canine pals and to all the fresh dinners they inspire. Happy cooking!

Breakfast with Bette Davis and the Famous Three Minute Egg

You could assume a lot of things about Bette Davis. Perhaps you’ve watched her movies (all 100+ of them) and you know her characters… smart, complicated, dramatic… and you think, personally, she must have been like that too. Or maybe you’ve read her books and know that her life hasn’t always been charming or easy, and you might think she bravely dealt with a lot of disappointment. Or perhaps you’ve seen her past interviews on television or youtube and witnessed how funny and polished and magnetic she was even in the off hours of her professional life.

All those instances might lead you to assume things about Bette, making you define her as one thing more than another – brassy, smart, privileged, funny, vulnerable, demanding, narcissistic, intense, wise, melodramatic, sincere, even terrifying.  Thanks to Kathryn Sermak’s new book, Miss D & Me, we can put our assumptions aside and know first-hand that Bette was a little bit of all those things. And so much more.

It is always fascinating to me to read about the behind-the-scenes lives of people in the public eye. Especially those stories shared by people who worked closely with a celebrity on a daily, detailed basis. Mostly because it breaks down the perception barrier of thinking that famous lives are so much more different than our own. That somehow fame and notoriety have morphed them into other-worldly figures washed clean from weakness and frailties. We generally only get to see one side of a famous person’s life depending on which part the media chooses to focus on, but with behind-the-scenes stories, you are offered a glimpse into a much more diverse landscape than any two-minute news clip or ten-minute interview could provide.

Ordinary people that work alongside extraordinary people are witness to the three-dimensional side of stardom  – all the good and all the bad wrapped up in one experience.  Like the relationship between Katharine Hepburn and her cook Norah, or Frank Sinatra and his valet George Jacobs or Madonna and her brother Christopher we are offered the chance to understand that the lives of these seemingly mythical creatures are really just fellow human beings, both flawed and fabulous.

When Kathryn Sermak first came to work as Bette’s assistant in 1979, Kathryn was a young, carefree Californian who spelled her name the classic way – Catherine – and had just newly spelled out a dream of one day living in France. Bette was in her 70’s, still working and very much set in her ways. Kathryn thought she was taking a simple summer job that would enable her to fund her way to France – not even really aware of who Bette Davis actually was. In turn, Bette thought she was getting a competent, sophisticated assistant in Kathryn whom would be both professional and perfunctory. Both were in for a very big surprise.

In the early, uncertain days, Kathryn didn’t expect to eventually count Bette as one of her best friends and Bette absolutely never entertained the idea that Kathryn would become like a daughter to her. At first, everything was wrong for both women. On Bette’s side, Kathryn was not enough – she wasn’t cultured, she wasn’t able to anticipate needs, she wasn’t sophisticated, nor groomed for the level of lifestyle that Bette had grown into. On Kathryn’s side Bette was too much… too demanding, too overbearing and too controlling. Both thought they would never last the first week together.

The turn in their relationship from bad to better came down to one simple little thing – an egg. Bette’s breakfast most always consisted of a three-minute egg. The proper cooking of it was her litmus test as to the value of any good assistant’s worth. There’s not much to cooking a three-minute egg. It involves a pan of boiling water, an egg still in its shell and three minutes of simmering.   But Bette added a twist to this simple test. How do you cook a three-minute egg in a hotel room with no stove, no pots and pans and no kitchen? Perplexed, Kathryn had no idea until Bette motioned to the in-room coffee pot. Then hot water was brewed. The egg was placed in the glass coffee carafe and the time was monitored on a wristwatch for 3 minutes exactly. In this small test of skill, it wasn’t that Kathryn failed to quickly and cleverly assess the options of impromptu cooking in a kitchenless room, but instead, it was the trainability of her actions that caught Bette’s attention.

That was the beauty of their relationship and the bud that ultimately bonded them together. The fact that Kathryn was young, fresh and naive while Bette was experienced, opinionated and worldly proved a combination of character traits that formed a tight friendship that lasted the rest of Bette’s life. It wasn’t always easy for these two women learning about life and each other day by day, but by the end the experience was invaluable.

There were outlandish moments, like when Bette insisted Kathryn change the spelling of her name from Catherine to Kathryn so that she would be more memorable (which she did!). There were all the lessons Kathryn had to endure… etiquette, elocution, table manners,  how to walk properly, how to dress effectively, how to eat with decorum and how to hold court at a table full of strangers.

There were awkward moments, when Bette’s insistence on how to appropriately handle certain social situations was so outdated, that Kathryn would bear the brunt of the embarrassment.   This was especially apparent when Bette insisted on dressing Kathryn for a formal dance in Washington DC complete with fur coat, gloves, a designer dress, expensive jewelry and dance lessons only for Kathryn to encounter a room full of denim-clad twenty-somethings casually hanging out in a dance hall.

There were the vulnerable moments when Bette crumpled up in the face of public humiliation as her daughter wrote an unflattering tell-all book, or when Bette threw off her wig in the car one day and embarked on a temper tantrum that was heartbreakingly child-like.  There was oodles of advice about men and relationships and sticking up for oneself in the face of adversity. And there were the laughs and the conversations and the sweet letters that Bette would write to Kathryn expressing all the appreciation she felt for her darling assistant and her close friend. There were silent treatments and long work days, elegant cocktail hours and thoughtful gifts, tears and tenacity, laughter and luxury. There was life, with all its good and all its bad.

And there were eggs – lots of eggs. Bette and Kathryn traveled the world together and ate at many fine restaurants, but the food Bette would choose to make for herself or her family on days off was simple fare that harkened back to her New England roots. Homemade burgers, cucumber salad, cornish game hen, wine spritzers, clam bakes, fresh berries with cold cream… those are the foods that she liked to make. For this post, our breakfast menu inspired by Bette Davis includes the following:

A Bette Davis inspired breakfast!

It’s a simple menu symbolizing all that was Bette Davis – sweet, salty, fresh, traditional, colorful, warm, cool and classic. It takes just a few minutes to make and is so easy it doesn’t even require detailed instruction. Simply boil an egg for 3 minutes.  Slice some homemade bread and slather it with jam.  Bake a potato in the oven for an hour and then finely chop it up with some scallions and salt and pepper and add the mix to a pan with some olive oil and let it cook until it turns brown and crusty. Adorn the plate with fresh fruit. Tah-dah! Breakfast, Bette Davis style, is ready!

Kathryn would be the first person to tell you that life with Bette was extraordinary for her last ten years. That the talented movie star was never far from the actual woman. That there was a glamorous side to her, a practical side, a petulant side and a vulnerable side that made her interesting and unique and ultimately endearing. That she was far from perfect but perfectly real.

“That’s me: an old kazoo with some sparklers, ” Bette once said.

The many faces of Bette Davis throughout her 55-year career.

Cheers to Bette for tackling life head-on,  with grace and style and fortitude and being 100% unique about the whole affair until the very end. Cheers to Kathryn to giving us a very real look into the life of real woman and cheers to three-minute eggs – a new breakfast favorite here in the Vintage Kitchen!

This post is part of a blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood featuring the life and film Career of Bette Davis. Read more about this incredible woman and her work in a variety of posts contributed by a dozen different film bloggers here. 

Find the vintage cookbooks that contributed recipes to this post in the shop here.

Find the recipe for homemade brown bread from a previous post here.

Find out more about Kathryn Sermack and her book, Miss D & Me here.

Gender Discrimination in the 1940’s: Why a Correspondent Turned From War to Cookbooks

Betty Wason (1912-2001)

In Sweden, in 1939, as Nazi troops began their invasion of Norway, a young American journalist staying in Stockholm began delivering eyewitness accounts of the historic event.  She was 28 years old and the only correspondent in that section of the world broadcasting live stories for CBS Radio. Her name was Betty Wason and her vantage point was intimate. Her reports were well-written, authentic and timely in the transmission of details. She was brave, dedicated and determined, eventually getting close to Nazi troops in Norway in order to tell the stories of wounded British soldiers and all that they had seen.  She was a woman alone in a war zone, a thoughtful writer in a chaotic environment and a new traveler out discovering foreign lands. But for all the things Betty was, there was one thing she wasn’t. She was not a man.

And that affected everything.

Gender discrimination runs rampant in every field throughout history, except maybe one…. radio news broadcasting in the 1930s and the 1940s. Mainly because there wasn’t any argument against the discrimination. Things were simply done and not done and there were rules to abide by.  One of those rules concerned women. Women  simply did not, were not, allowed to read the news over the air.  It was firmly believed that the feminine register could not convey the seriousness and importance of hard-hitting news stories. Instead, women’s voices were relegated only to entertainment-type shows… cooking lessons, homemaking stories, commercial ads and literature readings. Anything more serious or historically significant was left up to men to communicate on-air.  This proved a problem, for our gal Betty.

Growing up in Indiana in the 1920’s, Betty was a creative spirit from the start with interests in music, art and fashion design. After graduating from Perdue University with a degree in home economics in the early 1930’s, Betty bounced around a few jobs in her home state before realizing she wanted a more exotic life than Indiana could provide.  As a young woman full of vivaciousness and adventure and a desire to see the world, Betty went to New York and settled into a two-year job working at McCall’s magazine. But even in the exciting city of New York, her wanderlust could not be quelled. Europe was calling and Betty wanted to travel.

Vintage 1930’s travel posters to Czechoslovakia show the beauty and attraction of foreign travel. This was one of the countries Betty would visit and report from.

Not having the financial means to live abroad without working, Betty contacted TransRadio Press who was willing to pay young journalists overseas for eyewitness stories concerning World War II. A brief stint in Europe trying to make a go of it as a correspondent didn’t yield enough money for Betty to live on,  so she came back to New York only to try again less than a year later. On her second go-around though, she worked with CBS who was desperate to get any and all international news they could get their hands on in regards to the war. That’s when Betty headed to Sweden, just before Hitler arrived in Norway.

Betty’s contact at  CBS was Paul White who was in charge of news broadcasting.

There were many male war correspondents living and working overseas at this time, but they were mainly focused on print pieces suitable for newspapers and magazine readers. Radio was becoming more and more popular in terms of delivering news, but the seasoned overseas reporters, so focused on their writing, were out of the loop on the fact that radio news was rising in popularity. There was a niche market blooming in quick, short news briefs for ears instead of eyes and Betty saw an opportunity to be a part of it.

A 1940’s radio

Since Betty was the only correspondent in the Scandinavian region, she was recording and filing her own reports for CBS and being paid on a weekly basis.  But quickly, CBS determined that Betty’s voice was a problem (too light, too feminine, too high in pitch).  It was believed, even in times of war, especially in times of war, that radio listeners didn’t want to hear a delicate voice reporting on death and destruction. Her reporting content was strong though, so CBS said that she had to find a male counterpart to step-in as the voice in front of her work.

Betty was upset that she couldn’t speak the words that she was writing, but she wanted to keep her job, so she trained Winston Burdett, an American newly arrived in Stockholm, in the art of journalism for a radio audience, and he read her reports for her. Incidentally, she trained Burdett so well that she wound up working herself right out of Sweden. Burdett was after all a man and now (thanks to Betty) a good broadcaster.

Winston went on to have a lengthy career as a broadcast journalist at CBS. In 1955, he admitted to being a communist spy during the 1930s and 1940s when Betty worked with him.

Trying to find another unique vantage point like she had in Stockholm, Betty went to the Balkan Islands, and to Turkey before settling in Greece where she again sent reports home to CBS. Again, CBS said she needed a male counterpart to vocally relay her stories. And again Betty complied, this time working with a male Embassy secretary, who, at least, introduced himself on-air as “Phil Brown speaking for Betty Wason.”

Betty Wason in Greece. She made her own uniform to appear more professional since there was no dress code for correspondents. Photo courtesy of Hard News: Women in Broadcast Journalism.

As the Nazis occupied Greece, Betty’s bravery was called upon again as she reported eyewitness occurrences on a regular basis through her Embassy mouthpiece. While there, she endured house arrest under Nazi supervision for two months before the regime flew her and several other journalists to Europe for questioning. Concerned that Betty might be a spy, the Nazis detained her for an additional week by herself before eventually allowing her to fly back home to the US, where she was greeted with fanfare for having endured captivity and detainment.

Invigorated by the attention she received upon returning home and by the contributions she had made to broadcast journalism overseas, Betty naturally went to the CBS offices in New York to inquire after more work or a new assignment. Shockingly, executives at CBS refused to acknowledge that she played any significant part in the broadcasting realm overseas and denounced her requests for more story assignments. In an instant, Betty was dismissed like she had never been a part of the reporting team in the first place. Immediately, her work was marginalized even though CBS had been using her content repeatedly throughout the war, finding it valuable enough at the time to pay her for it. But upon Betty’s return, none of that seemed to matter. Had Betty been a man she would have been offered a position like Winston Burdett or handed a new assignment and sent to another corner of the globe. She would have been encouraged and supported by her colleagues and eventually been able to dispel the ridiculous notion that women couldn’t vocally report the news. But that didn’t happen.

After being turned away by CBS, Betty left New York and went on to Washinton DC, where she joined forces with other women in broadcasting, collaborating on various news shows and continuing on with her writing.  Those few years of dangerous foreign reporting and her budding career of broadcast journalism didn’t turn out the way Betty expected, but ultimately, good things came out of this redirection in her life.  Her ability to believe in her own talents and to creatively work around roadblocks with persistence and perseverance led her to a fulfilling career as a writer, on her own terms.

A sampling of Betty’s cookbooks published from the 1950’s-1980’s

Inspired by her travels and her curiosity to learn more about local cultures and customs, Betty was devoted to exploring the history and the food scene in all the countries she visited, each eventually yielding their own distinct cookbook. Through her explorations in The Art of Spanish Cooking, The Art of German Cooking… of Vegetable Cooking… of Mediterranean Cooking…  Betty wanted readers to experience the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of her favorite places.  That genuine, awestruck wonder led to over 20 beautifully written books that pull readers (and home cooks!) in from page one…

How I wish I were about to fly to Greece again, to relive once more that special thrill of seeing from the sky the ragged ochre shoreline with its-jewel-like border of turqouise merging into the royal blue of the Aegean…(from the introduction of her Greek cookbook)

In the Vintage Kitchen, we were introduced to Betty through her Greek cookbook simply titled Betty Wason’s Greek Cookbook, a stained and splattered edition worthy of it’s adventurous war correspondent author.

 

If a cookbook could ever be a travel guide, it would be Betty’s style of approaching food. Not only does she include authentic recipes, but she writes about them with the eye of a curious tourist learning a country in detail.  In her Greek Cookbook, published in 1969, in addition to 200 recipes, she also included a state-by-state reference guide on where to buy authentic Greek ingredients in the US, a glossary of Greek terms and special tips and tricks to make sure that the cooking experience remained as easily replicated as possible.

Yesterday, it was Betty’s birthday and today it is International Women’s Day. We couldn’t think of a better post to publish than this one on the forgotten lady of broadcast journalism and now the remembered author of important vintage cookbooks.  In celebration, we made her recipe for Spanakopeta from her Greek cookbook. With spinach now coming into season,  it is an ideal dish for Spring and a guaranteed crowd pleaser for upcoming holidays like Easter and Mother’s Day. If you have never had Spanakopeta before, it is similar to quiche…. a mixture of cheese and spinach and herbs stuffed between two layers of phyllo dough.

Betty Wason’s recipe for Spanakopeta, A Greek version of Spinach Pie

It’s light in texture and constitution so it can be enjoyed as a side dish or a small dinner or a brunch accompaniment. Betty suggested that it could be served hot or at room temperature, which makes picnic basketing an option too.  It reheats well and can sit in the fridge for a few days without getting soggy so if you are a make-ahead meal planner this recipe will be effortlessly easy and valuable.

Betty Wason’s SPANAKOPETA

Serves 6

12 phyllo pastry sheets

2 pounds fresh or frozen spinach (we used fresh)

1 teaspoon fresh dill, minced and chopped

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced

Salt to taste (optional)

2 eggs

1/2 lb. Gruyere-type cheese, feta cheese or dry pot cheese (* see notes)

1/2 cup melted butter or olive oil (we combined 1/4 cup of each)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

If frozen spinach is used, cook as directed on package and drain well. If fresh spinach is used, wash and clean the leaves to remove any traces of dirt and pat dry. Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Do not add any butter, oil or water to the pan. Working in batches, add as many large handfuls of spinach as will fit reasonably in the pan and toss with a wooden spoon until all spinach is wilted (about 2-3 minutes per batch). You may have to do this step in several batches depending on the size of your pan. Spread each cooked batch of spinach out on a cookie sheet to cool.

Once all the spinach is cooked, it will look like this…

At this point, you’ll need to wring as much water out of the spinach as possible. The easiest way to do this is to grab clumps in your hand and wring them out forming tightly packed meatball-like shapes. The drier the spinach the better so wring as much water out as you can.

Next, on a cutting board roughly chop each of the spinach balls. Mix in the dill, parsley, and salt to taste and toss until combined. I found there to be enough natural salt in the spinach and the cheese, so we didn’t add any extra salt to this dish at all, but season it to your preference.

Add one egg to the spinach and herbs and toss to combine. Grate the cheese. We can only find Gruyere at our grocery store occasionally, so I used Danish Fontina which is similar. Other options are Jarlsberg, Swiss or Feta.

Add the second egg to the grated cheese and mix to combine.

Butter a square 9×9 baking dish and place 6 sheets of phyllo pastry in the bottom. Brush each sheet with the olive oil and/or butter. Then add the spinach, and top with the cheese.

Cover with six more sheets of phyllo, each brushed in butter/olive oil. Don’t forget to brush the top layer.

Ready for the oven!

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes until pastry is golden. Remove from the oven, let cool until the dish can be handled,

then turn out upside down on a baking sheet and return it to the oven so that the undercrust can become crisp and golden (about 15-20 minutes).

Back into the oven!

Remove from the oven, flip back over and cut into squares. Serve while hot or wait for it to cool to room temperature. We served our spanakopeta with a glass of sauvignon blanc and a simple side salad tossed in olive oil and lemon juice. Other additional sides that would be lovely with this include hard-boiled eggs, olives, mixed nuts,  prosciutto, or roasted sweet potatoes.

Light, airy and full of subtle flavors that are a little bit nutty (the cheese), a little bit zesty (the herbs) and a little bit earthy (the spinach), Betty’s spanakopeta is packed full of good, healthy nutrients, providing a simple introduction to the lovely world of Greek food.

It’s a good-for-your-spirit food mirroring Betty’s healthy outlook on life. She cast aside all the bitterness and resentment that could have filled her up in the post-CBS days and instead stuffed her life full of light, bright joy that enriched her spirit and fed her soul. Cheers and happy birthday to Betty for continuing to inspire women around the world with your writing.

Interested in learning more about Betty and her Greek recipes? Find her cookbook in the Vintage Kitchen shop here.

Vintage Dinner and a Movie: With Moms and Daughters and Aunts, Family Style!

The last time we discussed food and film we were in Casablanca in the 1940’s with Ilsa and Rick and a batch of seasoned bar nuts.  Today’s post takes us to New York City in the 1940’s with a gal named Ilka and a platter full of chicken. It’s dinner and a movie day, and we are celebrating it family style!

On the screen is the movie Three Daring Daughters, a romantic comedy starring Jeanette MacDonald, who plays a single mom navigating the tricky waters of career, family and love. On the menu, is a vintage family recipe, Citrus Chicken with Fresh Oranges and Tarragon, which comes from the kitchen of my Aunt Patty, a self-taught gourmet cook who lived most of her life in California.

I was introduced to Three Daring Daughters thanks to an invitation to join the Singing Sweethearts blogathon, hosted by the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society this week. Not very familiar with Jeanette’s body of work, I learned a lot about this dynamic actress who was a favorite of 1930s and 1940’s movie-goers.

Jeanette MacDonald (1903-1965)

Originally a theater actress, Jeanette was born in Philadelphia and received her acting start on the stages of New York City in the early 1920s before heading west to California for screen work. A trained singer from childhood, she hit her stride in Hollywood, appearing in over two dozen musicals showcasing her operatic voice and garnering several Academy Award nominations.

A collection of rarely seen photos of Jeanette MacDonald courtesy of Click Magazine, 1938. Images include a childhood portrait, a wedding day photo with husband Gene Raymond, a glamorous headshot revealing her new red hair color (previously she was a brunette) and a bridesmaid photo with Ginger Rogers.

Three Daring Daughters, was her second to last musical (released in 1948) and showcases the singing voice not only of Jeanette but also her three on-screen daughters, as well as the musical talents of famous real-life concert pianist Jose Iturbi.

In the movie, Jeanette plays Louise, single mom to Tess, Ilka and little Alix while also trying to balance a full-time editorial job at a popular magazine. Exhausted by work and home life, Louise’s doctor advises her to take a cruise vacation to Cuba, alone, in order to get some much-needed rest. On the boat, she meets Jose Iturbi, a handsome celebrity passenger who is immediately smitten with beautiful Louise. Meanwhile, her daughters, back in New York believe that their mother is worn out because she misses the companionship of her ex-husband (their father), so they arrange to have him arrive in New York just as Louise is returning from her vacation. As you can imagine, mayhem and misunderstanding ensue. We won’t give any more away to spoil the story, only to say that things don’t go quite as anyone expected.

Humorous, engaging and good-spirited, this romantic comedy is well-written, well-acted, beautifully presented and just a fun simple break from the action-packed movies dominating the modern theater scene today. The costumes and set design are gorgeous…

One of Jeanette’s lovely dresses in the film.

and the acting is marvelous, especially when it comes to the three daughters. Professionally trained child actors from an early age,  each of them had hopes of following in the career footsteps of Shirley Temple, so they were schooled in all areas of performance from singing and dancing to elocution, stage direction and character development.

Tess, Ilka and Alix played by Jane Powell, Ann E. Todd and Elinor Donahue.

Sweet without being sappy, Three Daring Daughters is a feel-good story full of the virtues of happy relationships and good intentions. In a combination that is reminiscent of  I Love LucyLittle Women, and An Affair to Remember it’s hard to imagine anyone finding fault with this movie, but, surprisingly it was flagged for immorality due to that fact that Jeanette MacDonald’s character was a divorced woman successfully living on her own. That being said there are no deep psychological dramas to explore here and the entire theme of the movie is cheerful and upbeat.

There’s also not much cooking going on in the film, so instead of recreating a dish from the movie, we pulled one from the family archives of Aunt Patty who was herself one of three young daughters in the 1940’s.

That’s Aunt Patty – the tallest one in the back, her middle sister Phyllis and then my mom, the youngest, in front.

Like Tess (the oldest daughter) in the movie, Aunt Patty was the great big sister to her sisters and was especially connected to my mom.

Aunt Patty holding my mom circa 1943.

Even though we lived on opposite coasts and didn’t see her as frequently as we would have liked she still looms large in my memory. She was a great hugger. Her husband, Buzz called her “Babe,” which my sisters and I thought was hysterical. And like so many ladies in my family, she was a talented seamstress and would often send us presents that she made. One year she sent a pair of three-foot-tall cloth horses for my dolls to ride around on. That seemed like magic! Even though she liked to keep busy and plan lots of activities when we were all together, she always found time to read the Winnie the Pooh series to my sister and I before bed or naptime. And she was a marvel at putting together big family theme dinners complete with decorations and costumes.

Tragically, she passed away in the mid-1990’s from her second round of breast cancer, just a few months after celebrating her 62nd birthday. But she’s never far from our thoughts. Small memories pop-up in my mind about her all the time and of course, I have her hand-written recipes to keep me company in the kitchen.

Living among the fog clouds of Half Moon Bay, California, Aunt Patty was the only woman in my family, when I was growing up, that had a vegetable garden in her backyard, which to me was absolutely fantastic. She gathered much of her creativity in the kitchen from what she grew, so if there was one thing we could always count on at Aunt Patty’s house, it would be super fresh vegetables, lots of herbs and a fun time in the kitchen. She also subscribed to the Julia Child philosophy on butter – the more the better!

Aunt Patty’s Citrus Chicken

This recipe (written in her own hand) is for Citrus Chicken and features fresh oranges,  tarragon and the infamous butter. Sometimes, when I make this I cut the butter in half, but it’s really best prepared as Aunt Patty directed. If you serve it with a simple green salad on the side, the whole meal feels a bit more redemptive! It serves 3-6 people depending on portion size and keeps well in the fridge for chicken sandwiches the next day if you have left overs.

Aunt Patty’s Citrus Chicken

3 boned chicken breasts, halved skinned and slightly flattened

1/4 cup melted butter

2 slices beaten egg

2/3 cup fine dry seasoned breadcrumbs (panko works great!)

1 stick butter, cut in small bits

1-2 cups fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon tarragon

1 tsp grated orange peel

Flatten chicken breasts. Brush with melted butter.

Roll in flour – dip in beaten egg and roll in breadcrumbs. Arrange in baking dish.

Dot with Butter. Bake 15 minutes at 400 degrees. In a bowl, mix orange juice, tarragon, and orange peel. Pour over chicken. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees. Cover and bake 35 more minutes, basting if necessary. (A little note: When it is done, the chicken will be wrapped in a soft breading blanket, if you’d like it to be a little bit crispy, simply remove the lid and place the dish under the broiler at 500 degrees for a few minutes until it begins to brown on top).

Aunt Patty’s Citrus Chicken with Tarragon and Orange Juice

There are many ways to present this chicken… on a plate with other seasonal vegetables, alongside or in a salad of mixed green lettuces, or on a sandwich as mentioned above. In addition to being served hot out of the oven, it can also be served at room temperature, which makes it a great candidate for picnicking. We used to picnic with Aunt Patty on the beach, just a couple blocks from her house. I think she’d be thrilled at the idea that her recipe might be in your picnic basket one day too!

I think if Jeanette MacDonald and Aunt Patty had ever met in California, they would have been great friends. Jeanette was one of the few actresses in Hollywood who had to work hard at keeping weight on instead of worrying about taking it off. Aunt Patty could have cooked lots of great dishes for her (with lots of butter!). I’m not sure if Aunt Patty ever saw any of Jeanette’s movies, but she was a big fan of vintage and antique items just like me, so its safe to say that she probably would have would have loved Three Daring Daughters too. Afterall, she was one herself!

Cheers to families who are funny and daring and happy. And to beloved Aunts whose spirits can still be felt in the kitchen.

This is my favorite photograph of Aunt Patty, taken among the wildflowers of California sometime around the late 1980’s.

Learn more about Jeanette MacDonald and her movies by visiting the Singing Sweethearts blogathon on the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society’s blog here.

And if you find yourself in the kitchen with Aunt Patty sometime soon, send us a message and let us know how it all turned out.

Four Little-Known Faces Behind One Big American Icon: The Building of Betty Crocker

97 years ago one of the most famous women in the world was born. She wasn’t a movie star or a political figure or an artistic phenomenon. She wasn’t an athlete or a poet or a musician nor a doctor or a scientist or a spiritualist.  She didn’t even have a face in the beginning – she was just a voice and a pretty, handwritten signature. She called herself Betty and when she signed her name she wrote it out completely… Betty Crocker.

In the 1920’s, Betty came alive as a spokesperson for the Washburn-Crosby Company, a Minnesota-based milling factory that rose to fame for their Gold Medal flour brand.  Betty signed off on letters written into the company asking for baking advice which in turn naturally led to general household advice, quickly establishing herself as an authoritarian presence on all domestic issues.

By the 1930’s, Betty became even more familiar to Americans as her voice was launched into households across the country via the radio. With her program, Gold Medal Home Service Talks (which would eventually be called the Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air) she discussed various culinary tasks like how to make husband’s favorite dinner or how to whip up homemade lemon pie for 15 people. Here’s a clip from a holiday episode where she features sweet treats that the whole family will enjoy…

Because of her wise words, handwritten signature, and engaging radio personality, everybody believed in Betty. They formed a deep attachment to her as a real champion of the cause for good housekeeping and enjoyable cooking endeavors.

By 1945, Betty became the second most recognized woman in the world trailing just behind Eleanor Roosevelt, and when the  1950’s and 1960’s rolled around Betty was a regular face on television, hosting cooking shows, appearing in commercials and making guest appearances.  To millions of Americans, Betty was a real-life person just like them.

Only she wasn’t.

It was true that in the very beginning Betty was nothing more than a figment of the imagination. A creative marketing concoction whipped up by a Washburn-Crosby executive in order to sell some flour. But behind Betty’s make-believe identity stood some very remarkable real-life women who helped build an authentic character. It was their efforts and their abilities that made Betty the national treasure she became.

Back in the early hand-written signature days, Betty replied to various questions about cracked cake tops, burnt pie crusts, and budget-friendly meal planning.  The real-life woman doling out solutions on behalf of Betty was Marjorie Husted Cumming, the company’s field rep in home economics. Marjorie established the original writing voice of Betty Crocker… the tone, the phrasing, the kind counsel that made readers feel like Betty truly understood their needs.

Marjorie Husted Child (1892-1986)

Marjorie studied education in college, so she knew how to teach people. She worked as a Red Cross nurse during WWI so she knew how to treat people with an appropriate amount of kindness and compassion and she had experience in business working for a well-known pasta brand before she went to work at Washburn-Crosby, so she knew how to talk to industry consumers.  It was the trifecta of the three T’s – teach, treat and talk – all of which Marjorie creatively instilled in Betty, so that when questions were answered via mail about cracked cake tops it sounded as if Betty herself had experienced a similar issue and had just figured out a crafty yet easy solution to the problem. Soon so many letters with so many questions were coming in daily, Marjorie had to set up a staff of employees to tackle all the correspondence.  America was smitten.

When Betty spoke on the radio, her voice was at first, Marjorie’s voice. But Marjorie had a lot to do – managing the correspondence staff, writing the radio scripts and training workers in Betty’s style of communication. So company home economist and recipe tester Agnes White Tizard stepped in to portray Betty on air and stayed there for 20 years.

Agnes White Tizard portrayed the on-air voice of Betty Crocker for 20 years.

In 1936, celebrated illustrator Neysa McMein gave Betty her first-time face…

The first portrait of Betty Crocker was achieved by combining features of female employees working for General Mills at the time the portrait was commissioned.

From the very beginning, it was decided that Betty was going to be an everywoman – a typical reflection of the values and traditions held in regard by most American women. Betty was friendly and helpful. She was a comforting and reassuring presence in the kitchen and a trusted role model with attainable skills that all women could assimilate if they followed her lead. In order to achieve this everywoman persona visually, Neysa studied the faces of the female employees working at Washburn-Crosby’s newly renamed corporation, General Mills. Combining their features just like you would combine ingredients in a cake, Neysa adapted a little bit of this skin color, a little bit of that eye shape, a pinch of this hairstyle and a smidge of that cheekbone, etc, etc. until the “official” first portrait of Betty Crocker emerged.

Ironically, as the artist commissioned to paint Betty’s portrait, Neysa McMein, was anything but typical. She lived a life far removed from the traditional role that most women possessed in the early years of the 20th century.

She was a bohemian in all ways – changing her name from the practical Marjorie Frances to the exotic Neysa, attending art school,  establishing a sought-after creative career, traveling internationally in support of war efforts and women’s rights, developing friendships that swam in prominent literary circles, and  participating in an open marriage with lovers on the side that included Irving Berlin and Charlie Chaplin.

Samplings of Neysa’s cover art for various women’s magazines.

Neysa was a lively conversationalist, a natural gatherer of people and a free spirit known for hosting fun parties with an eclectic mix of guests in her art studio. She was also one of the most well-regarded female illustrators of her generation, working prolifically for her entire career. Neysa was an “it” girl in the art world while Betty was an “it ” girl on the home front. Together the two made an indelible mark.

For 19 years Neysa’s depiction of Betty loomed large over the General Mills brand and was the image that came to mind when people around the world discussed their culinary pal, Betty Crocker. Outliving Neysa by six years, Betty’s image didn’t get an update until 1955 when she was modified by artist Hilda Grossman Taylor (1891-1967)  to reflect the style, attitude and values of a typical mid-century woman…

This was Betty’s official 1955 portrait. Note that her eye color has changed from brown to blue here – a color that would remain with Betty for all her successive portraits up until the latest one in 1996 where her eye color becomes brown again.

But by the time this new image of Betty was introduced, more people knew the face of Adelaide Hawley Cumming than Betty’s updated portrait. Adelaide played television Betty in commercials, featured guests appearances and as a cooking show host from 1949-1964. Here is Adelaide as Betty in a 1950’s cake mix commercial…

Adelaide came from the Vaudeville singing scene and was a popular radio show host before she became the on-screen presence of Betty Crocker. For 15 years, General Mills kept Adelaide and Betty busy, introducing special cooking segments on popular nighttime comedy shows as well as hosting her own cooking programs, The Betty Crocker Show, Bride and Groom and Betty Crocker Star Matinee.

Adelaide Hawley Cumming (1905-1998)

Originally inspired to be an opera singer, Adelaide worked in broadcasting for 35 years focusing particularly on stories surrounding women’s issues and strong female figures of history. Like Marjorie, Neysa and Agnes, Adelaide was an educated career woman who championed female empowerment and education. After she was let go from General Mills in the mid-1960’s, considered no longer a sophisticated enough image to portray Betty, Adelaide went back to school to teach English as a Second Language and continued that career path up until just days before her death at the age of 93.

What is interesting about these four women and their formation of the character that became the famous Betty Crocker, is that they were all incredible, independent role models in their own right before they had a chance to make their mark on an indelible kitchen icon. By the time the opportunity of building Betty came about, their seasoned professionalism enabled them to mold this fictitious character of Betty Crocker just like a wise mentor guides a young protegee. By securing a valid connection between Betty Crocker and her customers they managed a relationship that lived not only through their present generations but then continued into our present generation today. That’s pretty spectacular!

None of these four women were the typical stay-at-home example of happy housewife and perfect domesticity that Betty represented. They were all career women reaching their own dreams and aspirations independent from family, home and husbands. Marjorie and Agnes added their real-life sense of competence and confidence to the voice of Betty, Neysa lent her glamour and sophistication and Adelaide brought professionalism, conviviality, and validity to a spokesperson who could have easily felt outdated as the years progressed.  Betty herself may have been a fantasy but she was built by real people for real products. In the 1940s, when rumors first started to spread that Betty wasn’t a real person, some people felt hoodwinked by the Betty Crocker brand, but most people didn’t care. They loved Betty for what she represented and for the undisputed help she gave them in the kitchen. It’s not important that Betty wasn’t real.  She was raised by real women and that’s really all that matters.

Cheers to our four ladies, Marjorie, Agnes, Neysa and Adelaide for their efforts in building one of the most prolific brands in the history of the American food industry. And to Betty, who continues what these women started.

Betty Crocker – through the years…beginning in the top left corner with Neysa’s portrait  – 1936, 1955, 1965, 1969. Bottom left…1972, 1980, 1986 and 1996.

Interested in learning more about the recipes of Betty Crocker? Find some of her vintage cookbooks, like this one here, in the shop

The 1972 Edition of Betty Crocker’s world famous Picture Cook Book published in 1950.

Around the World with Paola, By Heart

She was born in Columbia and raised in New Jersey before she moved to the Netherlands where she now writes about France. Meet Paola Westbeek, the international adventurer who followed her heart halfway around the globe to find a lifestyle that fit her perfectly from the inside out.

Meet Paola and her adorable pup, Pastis!

Diving into a European culture and lifestyle as an American isn’t easy but Paola makes it look like a piece of cake, two times over. She not only moved abroad but fell in love, went to school, had a baby, learned two new languages and started a journalism career steeped in the history of her foreign country. Living and working in the Netherlands and France, Paola’s journey through the past twenty years is an inspiring example of letting your instincts lead you to the people and places that will ultimately define you best. In today’s interview, we learn the courageous story of how Paola discovered life in the Netherlands and then discovered herself in France. She also offers some travel suggestions for anyone interested in exploring the cities beyond Paris and shares a recipe for one of her most favorite wintertime soups. It’s a bon vivant adventure of the most bright and beautiful sort as Paola lovingly discusses her “heart’s home,” how she got there, and how she plans to stay creatively wrapped up in her world of intuition.

In The Vintage Kitchen: So you live in the Netherlands but you write about France. How did all this come about?

Paola: Well, first of all, I married a Dutchman! In 1997, I left New Jersey as a nineteen-year-old girl and moved to the Netherlands to be with my then boyfriend. A year later, we were married and I knew I wanted to stay here. I fell in love with the European way of life. Everything just seemed more laid-back. And I became fascinated with the culture and history of the Netherlands. So much so, that I studied Dutch language and culture at the University of Leiden, one of the top universities in the country (very proud I got accepted!). In four years’ time, I had read almost every significant piece of Dutch literature (even 17th-century writers such as Vondel and P.C. Hooft), I was a regular at almost every major museum, and in 2007 I received my specialization in Dutch art history of the Golden Age. I had always imagined I would end up working at the Rijksmuseum, but instead, I followed my heart and started writing.

The lovely city of Leiden.

As a child, my biggest dream was to become a writer. I remember putting together little books and magazines, and making the covers out of cracker boxes. At the beginning of my writing career, I mostly wrote about food in Dutch art and culture, but also about travel, lifestyle and even wine. After a few years of writing for the magazine, DUTCH (published in Canada and the U.S.)…

I was offered the job of editor-in-chief a wonderful opportunity to use all the knowledge I had acquired during my studies in Leiden. And I even worked as a recipe writer and contributed more than 350 recipes for the top women’s Dutch weekly, Vriendin.

Though I briefly studied at the Journalism School in Utrecht (Hogeschool voor de Journakistiek), my writing career developed mostly through passion and motivation. In the last two years or so, I’ve started to really focus my writings on one of my other passions France!

Recently Paola launched her own website devoted entirely to her love of France. Visit her here.

What is it about France that makes you love it so much?

What do I love about France? Everything! I feel like more of myself when I’m there. Quieter. Centered. More relaxed. I also love French food and wine, of course. And the music (I am beyond madly in love with Charles Aznavour and will be seeing him in March excited!). 

Oh, and by the way, France has some pretty amazing beauty products. Walk into any random French pharmacy and you will find the best creams, lotions and potions to look beautiful without ever even having to think about Botox! 

On your website, you mention that you were born in Colombia and were raised in the U.S. How very cool! Where did you live in the States? Do you still feel connected to Colombia in any way?

My parents emigrated to New Jersey when I was a baby, and I only visited Colombia once when I was six years old. However, my parents were very much Colombians and never forgot their roots. I feel more American than Colombian though, even though I am now Dutch but my heart is French! Sorry to confuse you! Haha!

{Side note: In a very strange case of coincidence, through this interview, Paola and I discovered that we lived in the very same town (a small hamlet, really) in New Jersey. At the same time Paola was moving to the Netherlands to be with her love, I was moving to New Jersey to be with my love. New Jersey never gets recognized as a conduit of romance, but maybe it really is!}

Tell us a little bit about life in the Netherlands. In what ways does it make you feel different than when you are spending time in France?

I love the sense of freedom in the Netherlands and that the Dutch are so down-to-earth. Life is pretty good here, but the only thing I don’t like that much is that the country is small and crowded. As soon as I cross the border into France, I feel like I can breathe!

Paola’s gorgeous French vistas.

What keeps you in the Netherlands as opposed to living in France full-time?

My daughter is still in high school and a move isn’t really smart at this point. Plus, my husband has a great job and it would be foolish to leave that behind. For now, we’re just going with the flow and seeing where life takes us. Perhaps there will be a permanent move in the future or perhaps we will divide our time between the Netherlands and France. In the meantime, I’m there every chance I get whether with the family on vacation or for work.

For first-time travelers to France, what top 5 places (sites, cities, attractions, etc) would you recommend they experience first?

The Cote Chalonnaise region of France. Photo courtesy of mlc-vins.fr

As much as I love Paris, Paris isn’t all there is to France. If you really want to experience France, head to the countryside where life is good and lunch (complete with a glass of wine and dessert!) lasts two hours and costs very little! I would recommend you visit the Côte Chalonnaise’s vineyards (they produce pretty fantastic wines at a fraction of the price of the bigger Bourgogne wines from the Côte-d’Or)…

Read more about Paola’s excursions to Bergerac, France over on her website here. Photo courtesy of Paola Westbeek.

the beautiful city of Bergerac for a meal of magret de canard (duck breast) with a glass of Pécharmant,

The coastal town of Arachon, France

Arcachon for some oysters or…

Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, a gorgeous getaway town for Londoners and Parisians. Read about Paola’s favorite restaurants here.

Le Touquet-Paris-Plage (a ritzy coastal town in the north) and…

The medieval village of St. Marten located in the Ardeche region of Southwestern France.

the Ardèche’s picturesque villages.

If you could pick one city in which to live fulltime, which would you choose and why?

The gorgeous village of Duras – Paola’s ideal place.

Easy. Not a city, but the village of Duras in the Lot-et-Garonne. I was smitten by Duras when we first visited a decade ago, and we have spent our summers there every year since. It almost feels like I’ve lived there in a past life. It’s my heart’s home.

Does Pastis accompany you on all your travels?

Pastis!

Absolutely! He’s my second ‘child’ and I wouldn’t dream of leaving him anywhere. He gets a lot of attention in France because of his good looks, and because of his BIG mouth! Doxies are LOUD barkers!

Tell us a little bit about En Route magazine.

Paola writes a culinary column for En Route magazine . Her latest piece was this article about cheese from the Loire Valley.

En Route is one of the top magazines about France in the Netherlands. The magazine covers everything from French culture to travel and food and wine. I had been reading the magazine for quite a while and had even been interviewed by them before a meeting with editor Andy Arnts in 2015 resulted in getting my own culinary column.

I was over the moon! In my column Question de Goût, which I write in Dutch, I explore the history of French food and drink. I have written about the history of Bresse chicken, quiche, Agen prunes, salted caramel, kir, Brillat Savarin cheese and much more. Each column requires extensive research, which I love because I have always been a bit of a nerd. I learn so much! Recently, I also started writing travel articles for the magazine.

Last September, Paola focused her culinary column on Sainte-Maure de Touraine cheese.

What do you think are some common misconceptions about French food?

That it’s difficult to cook, too complicated and time-consuming, and too rich and heavy. Granted, it does take some skill to produce perfect sauces for example, and there’s nothing light about cassoulet or choucroute, but you have to remember that French cuisine is extremely varied. Whereas in the north they love their butter, cream and more substantial dishes, in the south (Provence, for example) they give preference to olive oil, sunny vegetables and seafood (the Mediterranean diet). If you want to cook like the French, it’s not so much about the traditional dishes, but about the style of cooking and eating. For the French, food is almost a religion. They are very picky about choosing the best products (they have amazing markets where you can find the freshest produce, beautiful meats and cheeses and fragrantly fresh herbs and spices), they prefer to eat according to the seasons and food is something which is fully enjoyed, meaning that you sit down at the table and savor every bite preferably with a glass of wine. I love that.

Paola’s French Onion Soup. Find the recipe on her site here.

Recently you posted a few photos on Instagram of your homemade French Onion soup. I know there are two versions – the brothy kind and the thicker, creamy kind that looks more like a potato soup. Tell us about your preference and why you make your soup the way you do.

Mine is somewhat in between. I have tasted my share of onion soups in France and I created this recipe based on my memories of the best ones. The key, as you can read in the recipe, is to cook the onions slowly so they release all their natural sweetness and infuse the broth with flavor. And my secret? A shot of Armagnac! I adore Armagnac and often drink it in France with an espresso after a dinner out.

If you could have a lengthy several course dinner in your beloved France with five famous people (living or dead) who would you choose and why?

Paola’s dream dinner companions: (clockwise from top left: Edith Piaf, Thomas Jefferson, John Lennon, Charles Aznavour, and Rembrandt

Charles Aznavour, bien sûr! His music touches my heart deeply. I could be having the most terrible day, and if I put on one of his records (yes, I prefer records!), it’s like instant happiness. The man is 93 years old and just as vital and beautiful as ever. Then in no particular order, Thomas Jefferson because he was such a HUGE Francophile and food and wine lover (see my blog post!), Edith Piaf because her life fascinates me and I love her music, Rembrandt because his work always moves me to tears (not joking, it’s pretty embarrassing to stand in front of one of his masterpieces the tears just start to flow!) and John Lennon because he’s my favorite Beatle and I am a major Beatles fan.

What is your most favorite French wine? Which types do you prefer to use in cooking and what would you recommend for an everyday table wine?

Grapes on the vine in a Cotes de Duras vineyard

The wines from Côtes de Duras are my favorite. The appellation produces quality wines which are somewhat similar to Bordeaux wines but much more affordable. There are reds, whites, rosés and sweet wines made by more than 200 passionate wine growers. Of course, the wines are especially dear to me because they come from ‘my heart’s home’.

One of Paola’s favorites.

Every time I sip a wine from Duras, I feel as though I’m back there. I serve them with weekday meals but also fancier dinners. As far as cooking with wine use good wine, it doesn’t have to be expensive, but it has to be good enough to drink! And never use special ‘cooking wine’ that is not meant for drinking!

ITVK: If you could write one article for En Route and you could choose whichever topic you liked, what would write about and why?

For my food columns, I pretty much have free reign, which is fantastic. One of my career dreams is to interview Charles Aznavour, for any publication interested! Although I wonder how I would ever keep it together!

ITVK: How has living in multiple foreign countries changed your viewpoint about the definition of the word home?

I consider myself a cosmopolitan woman. I often say that France (Duras) is my ‘heart’s home’… but my real home is with my family.

Paola, at home in her favorite place – Duras.

A very big thank you to Paola for sharing her passions and her kitchen stories with us. You can keep up with her daily adventures on instagram here as well as her French lifestyle blog, here.

Inspired to begin your own culinary exploration of France? Pop over to the Vintage Kitchen shop where you’ll find French treasures like these ready for new adventures…

From top left: Vintage 1970’s French cookbook, Vintage European Linen Napkins, Haviland Family Dishware and Antique Paris Street Maps