And the Winner Is…

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

(drumroll please….)

….Tomi!

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Threads of India: In Sari & Spice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you ready to see what it is?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicken Bengal

Serves 4-6

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

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

2 tablespoons finely minced garlic

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups finely minced onion

1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

3 cloves

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

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon powdered turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Basmati rice for serving 

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

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

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

Add the chicken and marinating liquid.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

The magnets!

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck and happy guessing!

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

 

 

A Note from Ms. Jeannie!

At last, at last our dear Ms. Jeannie has surfaced! Yesterday found us with a quick letter and a photograph detailing where she has been spending her last few weeks. How exciting!

“As promised,” she writes…”I’ve been spending time on land and sea in worlds that Rudyard Kipling would be so very fond of. I’ve seen mountains that contain every shade of green and gold and gray that has ever been known. And sunrises!  Dawns that do indeed come up like thunder just as R.K. promised. My latest mode of transportation is this boat I met one afternoon in harbor which I have secretly named The Cormorant after the bird who floats and dips and glides so gracefully along the waterline….”

She goes on to apologize for not getting in touch sooner detailing that her schedule has been so rigorous she couldn’t find any time to stop and write. As is true to character, Ms. Jeannie doesn’t get into much specific personal information about where she is or what she’s doing except to say that she would be setting foot on more sturdy ground within the month. The postmark on her envelope came from Kashmir so there is no doubt that Ms. Jeannie has been spending time in India as well as sailing the Asian seas in that magical junk boat.  Where could she be landing next?  We’ll just have to wait until we hear from her again.  If you have any guesses of her next landing spot post them in the comment section below and we’ll start a little game of Where in the World is Ms. Jeannie?!

In the meantime, we’ll be cataloging Ms. Jeannie’s journey and following her globe-trotting adventures in the Field Notes section of the site which you will find here.  Stay tuned for more reports as she reports from here, there and everywhere.

 

Cleared For Strange Ports: Traveling Abroad with the Roosevelt’s in the 1920’s

The Roosevelt's Cleared for Strange Ports
The Roosevelt’s Cleared for Strange Ports

Nepal! Kashmir! Siberia! Kenai! Travel in the early days of the 20th century was fraught with drama, romance and the unknown. No other American family traveled with such gusto to the most magical of places quite like the Roosevelts. Pursuers of big-game hunting, scouts for museum science collections and recordings of natural history carried both male and female members of the family around the world seeking exotic experience.

Theodore & Edith Roosevelt
Theodore & Edith Roosevelt 

Following the death of Theodore Roosevelt in 1919, his wife, Edith, escaped her grief and memories wafting around their Sagamore Hill house on Long Island, NY by traveling abroad to the most exotic of destinations. A collection of her travel experiences along with the equally thrilling escapades of other family members dating between 1920 and 1926 were collected in the now rare book..

Cleared For Strange Ports published in 1927.
Cleared For Strange Ports published in 1927.

Today we are going to take an intimate look into the journal-style writings of four members of the Roosevelt family who dared to travel to the farthest of far-off places. So grab your pith helmets and your binoculars dear readers, as we head back 90 years to see first-hand what it was like to ride an elephant in India, chase a tiger in Bhadravati and travel across frozen ground in Siberia.

“There was so much to see and think about – so many impressions to seize and try to hold forever, as the minutes raced by, all crammed with new sights. I prayed that passing years would not blur the brightness of memory, and that this wayside magic would remain with me a treasure-store, vivid and keen, for the years ‘when we are old and gray and full of sleep.’ “ – Belle Willard Roosevelt, 1926

Belle Wyatt Willard and Kermit Roosevelt
Belle Wyatt Willard and Kermit Roosevelt

Heiress Belle Wyatt Willard married Theodore and Edith’s son, Kermit. In 1926, she traveled to Kashmir with Kermit, her sister-in-law Ethel and Ethel’s husband Richard Derby. She wrote Ms. Jeannie’s most favorite entry in the book entitled: The Land Where The Elephants Are

Belle Wyatt Roosevelt on her Howdah Elephant
Belle Wyatt Roosevelt on her Howdah Elephant

” The long-line of elephants in solemn procession were a source of never-failing joy. There was always their preposterous conformation to ponder over; the enormous flapping ears and the ridiculous minute inquiring eyes; the strange toothless leer of the tusk-less ones; the great loose knees which turned outward with a baggy shuffle and the delightful incredible toe-nails. The whole massive gray bulk finished off by a spindle-tail with a thorny end gave such an inconsequential air to an otherwise dignified creature. The huge lumbered beasts stepped ever so carefully, a long trunk poked and felt about investigating every propitious spot before each foot was placed gently, softly with exact precision.” – B. W. Roosevelt, 1926

Crossing the river on the way to a tiger kill.

“Silently, alert and rigid, in anticipation we started off in single file, elephant behind elephant, in long line. The giant jungle grasses in many places waved some eight to ten feet above our heads as we stood upright in the howdahs. Below was a dense mass of lineas and thicket through which the elephants mowed their way, uprooting and tearing aside with their trunks any serious obstruction.” B.W. Roosevelt, 1926

Kermit Roosevelt (1889-1943)
Kermit Roosevelt (1889-1943)

Tragically Belle’s husband Kermit committed suicide in 1943, seventeen years after they traveled by the elephant train pictured above. An explorer from the very beginning, Kermit was a passionate hunter determined to understand the natural movements and motivations of animals, the environments they existed in and the impact they had upon culture. Nowadays with conservation hot and heavy on everyone’s mind it seems almost impossible to understand how anyone could shoot a tiger or a bear, chase down a wild pig or hunt game birds but thanks to the explorations of men (and women!) like the Roosevelts our knowledge of the natural world grew far beyond our own backyards.

hunting

“We were eager to get for the Field Museum as a representative a collection of Indian fauna as the limited time of our disposal would permit….These early morning stalks, although they netted us but little for the collection, were always a delight. You never knew what you might come across, as you slipped through the underbrush to pause at the edge of some forest-glade. The dewfall was heavy and in a half-hour you were drenched to the waist. We wore shorts so that there were no soggy trousers to cling to your knees and impede your going.” – Kermit Roosevelt, Balharshah, India 1925

The Roosevelts collected specimens for the Field Museum in Chicago which were incorporated into many exhibits within the museum including dioramas, many of which can still be seen on display today.

The Field Museum of Chicago's Ovis Poli diorama currently on display at the museum.  These specimens were  brought back by Theodore Roosevelt Jr. diorama. Photo via the Field Museum.
The Field Museum of Chicago’s Ovis Poli diorama currently on display at the museum. These specimens were brought back by Theodore Roosevelt Jr. Photo via the Field Museum.

Its important to note that all the animals hunted during these trips were killed for scientific collections and studies. Nothing was wasted or killed in vain and if hides were all that were needed to take home than meat of the animals was given to local villagers as food source.
mowgli picture

“To a student of “The Jungle Books,” the native nomenclature of the animals offered no difficulties, and we all felt at home chatting about Baloo the bear and bandars that swung through the trees ahead of the beaters; even Ming the bat was among those present.” – K. Roosevelt, India 1925

The Roosevelts were as well-read as they were well-traveled. Book references are mentioned over a dozen times within Cleared For Strange Ports showcasing how a good book can be just as thrilling an adventure as travel itself. Books even served as travel companions. Among the belongings of one Roosevelt safari was a 60 volume set of leather skinned classics that the Roosevelts were hoping would acquire a little bit of weathered patina upon their journey!

Safari camp set-up was explained by Belle…

“Our quarters were luxurious, a large double tent: two bathrooms for each couple; a dining tent, and a living-tent opening onto the great log fire, around which we sat after dinner under the stars.” – B. Roosevelt, India 1926

Ethel Carow Roosevelt & Richard Derby
Ethel Carow Roosevelt & Richard Derby

Surgeon Richard Derby married Ethel Carow Roosevelt (Kermit’s sister). When Richard traveled he not only took time to write down his thoughts on his surroundings but he also spent equal time photographing the landscape. One of the cameras he used during his travels was an Akeley motion picture camera, developed by Carl Akeley who traveled with Richard’s father-in-law Theodore Roosevelt in Africa. Richard contributed a gorgeous piece of writing in Cleared For Strange Ports about seeing Alaska in 1925…

Mountain range and moose sightings by Richard Derby
Mountain range and moose sightings by Richard Derby

“…and I saw the real Alaska – a country which lays its iron hand upon strong willed men and holds them in everlasting fealty, a country whose beauty and natural resources are so stupendous that man obeys its beckon and becomes its slave. Not a slavery of the soul, however, for Alaska only attracts the high-spirited romantic, developing his individuality and self reliance, and cultivating those traits which are only born of an eternal matching of wits with nature.” – Richard Derby, 1925 written on an Alaskan liner bound for Seward

Of course transportation wasn’t without its trials in these remote places. Kermit writes of his experience aboard the Trans-Siberian in 1925…

In Siberia
The Roosevelts in Siberia

“The wash room was frozen solid, but our porter was well used to such conditions, and came in brandishing a four-foot iron poker, with its end-heated red hot. This he rammed down the pipes and circulation was temporarily restored.” – K. Roosevelt, 1923, aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway

The weather in Siberia in the winter often times reaches in the -minus 60’s to 80′ s. Indeed it was a cold January when Kermit was there…

Edith Roosevelt in Harbin
Edith Roosevelt in Harbin

“It is true that the Russian bundles himself up well in furs, but even so it made us shiver to see the men and women sitting chattering on the benches along the streets, apparently as comfortably and unconcernedly as if they were enjoying a bock in front of Cafe de la Pain in July.” – K. Roosevelt, Harbin, 1924

In warmer climates like India it was the locals as much as the wildlife that made quite an impression…

Water Carriers in India
Water Carriers in India

“The women from near-by villages came swinging along with their brass water-bowls on their heads; when they had filled these and departed, the monkeys trooped down to drink, chasing away the lean pariah dogs who retired snarling. In the trees the gaudy peacocks screamed.” – K. Roosevelt, 1925

Paraguyan Market Posados, 1926
Paraguyan Market Posados, 1926

“And we stepped into a new life which I supposed was not to be found outside of books or cinema…” – Edith, Posados, Buenos Aires, 1927

In her passage about elephants Belle described riding through jungle as mythical, extraordinary and startling. There was no telling all at once what was scurrying, slithering or silently sitting in all that lush vegetation. The jungle unfolded around her scent by scent, step by step and sight by sight.

This is exactly what Ms. Jeannie experienced reading Cleared For Strange Ports. Endlessly fascinating her Roosevelt writers explained it all – the exotic travel experience unfolded page by page in poetic prose and incredible imagery.

book1

The Roosevelts being fellow book lovers themselves would approve of this volume in particular. It contains the best of weathered patina – loose pages, foxing, an errant ink stain, that wonderful old book smell and various smudge stained paper. It’s lived a thrilling life – just like the Roosevelts!

book2

If you are interested in reading Cleared For Strange Ports, please visit Ms. Jeannie’s shop here. And if any readers have visited the Field Museum in Chicago, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the Roosevelt collections!