Hello World! The Blog Turns 10 Today

Today we are celebrating a milestone. It’s February 27th, 2022 and that means… (cue the drumrolls and kazoo horns, please)… the blog turns 10 today!

There was lots of discussion about how to celebrate. A cake? Champagne? A bouquet of balloons? And also lots of discussion about how to photograph the big day. How do you sum up ten years of writing, cooking, research, field trips, interviews, and daydreaming in one image or one post?

For the entire month of February, I thought about these questions. Yesterday, I decided on a compilation of items that would form the number we were celebrating today. If this ten-year chunk of time has taught me anything, it’s that creativity is a faithful partner and will always show up when and where you need it.

Each small element laid out to form the shape of the number 10 in the photo above offers a bit of symbolic significance of how things have played a part in this writing life from 2012 to 2022. There is a shamrock for luck, an owl for knowledge, spices for surprise. Mushrooms represent organic growth both during light and dark days. Brussels sprouts signify compact clusters of thought that grow on a single stem. Flowers call attention to the beautiful parts of history. And peas and beans represent the power of food. Berries are there for sweetness, wine and champagne corks for good cheer, eggs because they represent stories inside stories. And finally, there are hearts which represent love. It was love that started the blog and love that will continue to see it through another 10 years.

Atlanta,GA skyline. Photo: Mariana Smiley

The very first blog post was written in a hotel room in Atlanta on February 27th, 2012 during the first vacation getaway I had had in more than a handful of years. I had just opened an Etsy shop the month before, selling vintage homewares for all rooms of the house and I thought a blog would be a fun way to talk about history via the items I was selling in my shop. You might not think that blogging and vacation are two words that go together but the purpose of that long weekend in Atlanta during a frenzied start to the year, was to take some time to recognize the things I loved. And writing was one of those things.

When you first start a blog, WordPress automatically suggests the title – Hello World – for the first post as a way to not only introduce yourself to the blogging community but also as a way to launch yourself easily into a familiar and personal style of writing. The title isn’t mandatory, you can choose to keep it or change it. As I wrote my first post in February of 2012, I had intentions of keeping it. I loved the enthusiasm and the optimism of those two words – hello world. But just before I pressed the publish button on completed blog post #1, I changed the title to reflect the subject matter I was writing about.

That post was about a 1950s fiction book called Rachel Cade. In it, I shared information about the storyline of the book and the Hollywood movie that followed. Hello World got replaced with Featured Shop Item: Rachel Cade – A Glimpse into Vintage Africa and I included vintage items from other Etsy shops to paint a visual story of Africa in the 1930s, the decade in which the story was set. Even though I changed the title at the last minute on that very first blog post, my mind has not strayed far in these past ten years from that initial sense of excitement and enthusiasm at the prospect of those two suggested words – hello world. Although I wound up not using them, they set the tone unknowingly for what was about to unfold over the next decade. In the 364 posts that have been written since, each time I click publish on a finished piece there is still a wave of excitement and energy, a flutter of joy, a silent shout that sends out a big hello to the world.

Initially, I thought it would be fun in this milestone post to feature a “best of” list along the lines of most-read post, most cooked recipe, most commented story, etc. But that would break the blog down into analytical data. And there is nothing more unromantic than a series of performance metrics. This blog isn’t about numbers. It’s about love and adventure and passion all discovered and coddled and curated over the course of a decade. From day one it never set out to break records or be the best or become a job. Since 2012, it’s been a playground to learn more about life, past and present. And what a playground it has turned out to be.

Over the course of ten years, the blog has twisted and turned, narrowed and bulged, refined itself and redefined itself. It’s stayed with me through moves, deaths, excitement, bordeom, joys and tragedies. And in a world that is constantly changing it has been a reliable throughline that has kept me connected to things I love.

Originally it started with a different name, Ms.Jeannie Ology and I wrote in the voice of a muse named Ms. Jeannie who was a history detective bent on uncovering forgotten stories of the past. Five years in, Ms. Jeannie set sail on a faraway sleuthing adventure and the blog re-launched with a definitive passion. Instead of focusing on stories surrounding all rooms in the house, one was picked, the favorite one, the heart of the home where meals and love and conversation are served up each and every day. The blog was renamed In The Vintage Kitchen in 2017 and from that day forward, an inherent love of all things culinary have come to take center stage. A shop component was added shortly after – not one that was connected with Etsy like back in 2012, this shop is its own completely independent entity, but that same symbiotic relationship first explored in the early years between blog and shop and the inspiration they both offer each other continues today.

In 2012, the blog was like a wiggly puppy full of excitement, energy and a wild desire to gain a sense of solid footing in the world. There was a lot to learn about writing, photography, storytelling. It’s humbling now to look back and see how the blog has grown naturally, at its own pace and improved with each passing of a February. It would be easy to run away from those early years, to delete them and never look back, but then the entire point of stretching and trying and playing and growing would be missed completely. A blog gives you room to grow.

It is often said that writers live lonely or solitary lives. While it is true that most, myself included, need peace and quiet to gather and produce a string of sensible words and coherent thoughts, I have found in these past ten years that blogging has not singled me out or separated me from others, it has only done the opposite. It has connected me with more people, more places, more ideas and more understanding than I ever thought possible. In 2012, I said hello to the world and miraculously over the course of ten years, the world has continued to say hello right back.

What follows are links to some of my favorite posts from the past decade. In no particular order, they are ones that continue to stand out most in my mind or hold a sentimental place in my heart. Whether they were written in the voice of my original muse, Ms. Jeannie Ology or my own, they are representative of the vibrant type of content I have endeavored to share about the people, places and objects that have inspired this corner of the world thus far.

It is with big heart-felt cheers and an enormous amount of gratitude that I say thank you to each and every person who has read, engaged, encouraged, participated, promoted, cooked, commented and/or been a part of the blog in one way or the other over the past 10 years. It has been such a journey of discovery and I hope the next ten years is just as exhilerating.

Cheers to ten and to another ten more! And cheers to Emily Dickinson who said… That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.

The Snow Day and The Simmering Stove: Ruth Reichl’s Chicken Fricassee

There is something magical that happens when your cooking and your reading and your weather all line up together. It’s 14 degrees today (for the high!) and it’s snowing big, fat flakes in every direction (for the second time this week!). With pure delight, I write this because it has been a very long time coming. Winter weather in the South is never usually this charismatic, so for an eternal snow lover like myself, these past few days have been absolutely fantastic.

I’m eighty pages into Ruth Reichl’s latest cookbook, My Kitchen Year, where it is also winter. Ruth is writing about the freezing temperatures and the snowy landscape in upstate New York and how the seductive aromas of long-simmering onions and butter and chicken and wine have the ability to both warm the stomach and the spirit.

From Ruth Reichl’s latest cookbook, My Kitchen Year, published in 2015

Today, its Ruth’s birthday, so we thought it would be fun to make one (or two) of her recipes to compliment both the winter landscape we are reading about and the winter landscape we are actually experiencing. If you are unfamiliar with Ruth Reichl,  she has been around the food scene since the 1970’s as a writer, chef, food critic, host and magazine editor in all realms of media from print to television to radio.

Ruth Reichl

I first heard of her when I was a teenager, riding up the West Side Highway with my dad and my sister. At that point, in the early 1990’s, Ruth was the food critic for the New York Times. Her restaurant reviews would air on the morning commute segment of the local classical music station favorited by my dad as he battled his way through New York City traffic. The spot, sponsored by Veuve Clicquot, contained her latest restaurant review and was, to put it politely, very honest. More often than not, she disliked a restaurant or the food or the service and she wasn’t afraid to say so. She’d sign off every review saying “I’m Ruth Reichl” and my sister and I used to mimic her voice in the car.

Growing up in New York, where most endeavors get scrutinized on a daily basis, I was used to reading about reviews and hearing criticisms on a variety of subjects when it came to the creative arts and emerging trends. But the way Ruth talked about food and service and presentation was elevated to a whole new level of description. Her words were candid but also sophisticated and humorous when it came to observation.  Each review was a brave, opinionated tale of her own experience that flew through the air seemingly without care as to whom it might affect at the restaurant of concern or what impression it might make of herself. The three us, my dad, my sister and I  thought she was pretty audacious. We used her name as our own descriptive tool when it came to trying out restaurants in the city…”Well it’s no Ruth Reichl…” and all of us made special note to remember the names of the restaurants she lauded because certainly, they didn’t come around often.

Fast forward a decade and a half later, I spotted Tender at the Bone, a memoir she had published in the late 1990’s, for sale at an outdoor book stall in Philadelphia.  I bought it,  took it home and immediately called my sister. “I’m Ruth Reichl”  she said and we both laughed over memories of driving with our dad on the West Side Highway. And then I actually read the book, which was marvelous and to my surprise, very vulnerable and humbling. There was no restaurant critic in her voice in these pages. It was all heart and humanity when it came to discussing family, food and growing up. And there were recipes – good ones, homey ones that everyone enjoyed – brownies, deviled eggs, pot roast, fruit tarts etc.  I loved it so much, I immediately read her other two books which followed – Comfort Me With Apples and Sapphires and Garlic. Those books covered her young adult years in food, job and relationship explorations and then those famous years as a restaurant critic when her job was no easy slice of pie.  These stories slashed through all my pre-conceived notions of who I thought Ruth was when I was a teenager and she was sponsored by a champagne company. And most importantly her books were my first introduction into reading food memoirs… not so much for the recipes but for the stories behind them.

For a long while, lots of things coming out of my kitchen stemmed from Ruth either in the form of recipes from her books or ones from her magazine, Gourmet, where she held down the fort as editor-in-chief.  The food she featured always contained simple elegant ingredients that looked pretty on a plate and satisfied all the senses in a most appealing way. Even though I’ve never met her, Ruth has been a reliable companion in my kitchen, which brings us back to this post featuring her birthday celebration on today’s cold winter’s day. I selected these two recipes because, like the lively lady herself, they are full of depth and require some care and attention in a fun and fulfilling way. Also, they make the kitchen smell like heaven.

Chicken Fricassee and Show-Off Salad

The vintage recipe, Show-Off Salad (aptly named because you prepare the whole thing at table in front of your fellow diners) is from Tender at the Bone and the classic yet modern day recipe Chicken Fricassee is from her latest cookbook My Kitchen Year.

Both recipes are a great representation of my memories of Ruth – they might seem a little fussy at first but at their core, they are just real, simple and basic dishes that have universal appeal. Hope you enjoy them just as much!

SHOW-OFF SALAD – Serves 4

2 cloves garlic

1/2 cup olive oil

1 cup cubed stale French bread

1 egg, organic, farm-raised

1 small head of romaine lettuce

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire

1/2 teaspoon salt

pepper to taste

1/2 of a large lemon

4 anchovy fillets, cut into quarters

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese or more if desired

Make the croutons. Crush one clove of garlic and add it to two tablespoons of olive oil in a medium size pan over medium heat. Add the bread cubes and saute until the bread is crisp and golden on all sides. Drain on a paper towel and set aside.

Set a small pot of water to boil on the stove. Once the water is boiling, coddle the egg by dropping the entire egg (in its shell) into the water and boiling it for 1 minute. Remove the egg from the water and set aside.

When you coddle an egg for a salad dressing like this you are heating it  (but not cooking it) really fast just below the boiling point, so it’s important to use a trusted organic farm egg as opposed to generic grocery store eggs for salmonella reasons.  Uncooked eggs are dangerous carriers of bacteria, so make sure your eggs are from clean, natural and reputable sources. Otherwise skip the egg part altogether.

Wash and dry the lettuce and then tear into bite-sized pieces.

This next step can be done in your kitchen – or in front of guests, it doesn’t matter either way. If you prepare it in front of guests, put all the salad components on a tray and carry it out to the table to make.

Ruth Reichl’s Show-off Salad

Peel the remaining clove of a garlic, cut it in half and crush one half in the bottom of a big salad bowl. Add lettuce leaves and remaining olive oil. Toss thoroughly until each leaf is coated. Add the Worcestershire,  and then the salt and pepper to taste. Break the egg over the lettuce and toss until leaves glisten. Stick a fork into the lemon half and squeeze the juice over the salad. Toss the leaves until the dressing begins to look creamy. Then toss in the anchovies and mix again. Adjust the seasonings (salt, pepper, lemon juice) if need be before adding the cheese and croutons.

Now that the salad is ready, consider serving it on individual salad plates rather than next to the Chicken Fricassee which is saucy and is more suited for the crunchy bread as far as plate companions go. In addition to a dinner side, this salad also makes a lovely meal just on its own too.

CHICKEN FRICASSEE – Serves 4

(A small note: I varied this recipe a little bit just because of what we had on hand as far as ingredients in the Vintage Kitchen. Find our modifications in italics)

1 whole organic, free-range chicken, cut into 10 pieces or 1 package organic, free-range skinless boneless chicken cutlets 

1 medium carrot, diced

1 celery stalk, diced

1 cup white wine

1/2 pound mushrooms, quartered

salt

pepper

5 tablespoons butter or 1 tablespoon butter + 4 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, diced

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups chicken broth

fresh parsley

1 bay leaf

2 egg yolks

1/4 cup heavy cream

1 lemon

Shower the chicken with salt and pepper. If using a cut-up whole chicken: Melt two tablespoons of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil in a large casserole over medium-high heat. Place the chicken skin-side down and brown for five minutes on each side. Remove to a plate. (If using boneless skinless chicken cutlets… melt one tablespoon butter and two tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken and brown about 3 minutes on each side. Remove to a plate.)

If you choose the skinless boneless cutlet version, this is what your chicken will look like after the quick saute.

In the same pan where you cooked the chicken, add the onion, carrots, and celery and cook until vegetables are fragrant and soft- about 10 minutes – stirring occasionally.

Add two tablespoons of flour and cook, stirring continuously until all the fat has been absorbed. Add the white wine and stir until the liquid has thickened slightly. Return the chicken to the pan. Add the broth. Add a few sprigs of parsley, salt and pepper and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Partially cover and cook for about 30 minutes – 45 minutes until chicken yields when you pierce it with a fork.

In a separate pan, melt two tablespoons of butter (or two tablespoons of olive oil) and saute the mushrooms. Salt to taste and set aside.

When the chicken is ready, remove the lid and remove the chicken to a separate plate. Discard the herbs. Let the sauce mixture simmer for few more minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks and cream together. Slowly add a small amount (about 1/2 cup) of the hot liquid to the eggs and cream and whisk quickly to temper it. Stir the egg mixture into the pan mixture, stirring constantly for about a minute. Add the mushrooms and the chicken. Add the juice of the lemon. Add one tablespoon of butter (or one tablespoon of olive oil).

Ruth Reichl’s Chicken Fricassee

Remove from heat and serve in a large bowl for the table or plate individually. Pool extra sauce around the chicken. Garnish with fresh parsley sprigs. We served this with warm crunchy French bread, the show-off salad and chilled  Pinot Grigio.

In My Kitchen Year, Ruth said this recipe reminded her of when she was living on an island (Ile d’Oleron) off the coast of France in the 1960’s. This recipe will forever now remind us of the back-to-back snow days that finally arrived after many years of anticipation. Cheers to good memories, good cookbooks, and long acquaintances. Happy birthday Ruth Reichl!

Merry Christmas!

 

Dear beloved readers…

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas day full of delicious adventures and fun-filled cheer! You are our joy and our happiness throughout the entire year. Thank you so much for indulging in this gigantic, passion-fueled world of culinary curiosity. Cheers to you!

With much love from,

In The Vintage Kitchen