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 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 garden containers 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 gardening endeavors 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 isnt 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.