Our Favorites: Five Wonderfully Whimsical Things about Julia Child (And A Recipe!)

Her old cookbooks teach us new tricks. Her methodical approach to food never fails us. Her infectious joie de vivre still inspires us. She may have passed away 13 years ago but the spirit of Julia Child is still very much alive and well here in the Vintage Kitchen.  Yesterday marked Julia Child’s 105th birthday.  In celebration, we’ve compiled a list of five whimsical things that we absolutely adore about this great lady.

1. The Photograph – December 1968, France

This is my most favorite picture of Julia Child. It was taken in December 1968 while she was staying at her summer house, La Pitchoune, in Plascassier, France. I love that she is laughing so hard she’s practically tumbling off the counter. I wonder what the situation was at the moment this image was captured. Was her husband, Paul, standing just out of frame telling a joke? Or maybe one of those crab claws just reached up and started playing tug-of-war with her fork. Or maybe it was Julia herself just hamming it up for the camera. Spontineanity ran wild in Julia’s kitchen and I have feeling there were many days in many kitchens around the world that witnessed a moment like this with the engaging lady laugher.

2. The TV Appearance – David Letterman

On December 22, 1986 Julia Child was scheduled to demonstrate how to cook with a blowtorch on the Late Night with David Letterman show. The segment starts out as planned but quickly goes awry and both Julia and David wring all the humor they can out of this unexpected situation. It’s a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants funny piece – both of them cleverly improvising with the comedy at hand.  Julia is famous for saying “No matter what happens in the kitchen, – never apologize.” You can see her sticking to that advice with aplomb here.

3. The Decorating Choice – La Oubliette

In Julia Child’s memoir, My Life in France, she describes moving into a French apartment that was already furnished.  It was full of old antiques that were musty, broken down and too small for her tall stature.  The shabby scene depressed her so much that she rounded up everything that she disliked in the apartment,  put them into a closet, and shut the door tight, never to encounter that stuff again. She named that closet La Oubliette or the Forgettery. Anything that displeased her from that point forward for the duration of the time that she and Paul lived there went into that closet.  Out of sight, out of mind.

After reading that passage years ago and falling in love with that idea, I established my own Forgettery in whatever place we’ve lived in. Not all of our spaces have had the luxury of spare closets, but a cupboard or a drawer or a hidden shelf works just fine too.  Sometimes we use it not only for physical objects but also for words. There is something very gratifying about walking into your own Oubliette, saying out loud whatever injustice happened to you that day, and then walking out, shutting the door and leaving all that negativity and all those bad vibes closed in there instead of in you. Julia. She was a cook and a therapist all in one!

4. The Random Cambridge, MA Kitchen Comforts

This past May, we had the exciting experience of visiting Julia Child’s kitchen at the Museum of American History. I had seen pictures of it online before so I knew that I’d see the yellow tablecloth and her big restaurant stove and the pots and pans hanging from the pegboard, but what I didn’t realize I’d see was a host of everyday items that had nothing to do with the kitchen.

You know, those other errant household objects of daily life that just seem to migrate their way into the kitchen but have nothing to do with food or cooking? Things like keys, wallets, shoes, books, tape, paint cans, bags, notebooks, etc.? Julia’s kitchen was full of that sort of stuff too. A Rubix cube, a pile of papers, jars of pens and pencils, a calculator, some sort of glowing orb-like light, bird identification books, a signal mirror from World War II.   Julia was all about keeping things close by that she loved. She even had a junk drawer packed full of odds and ends. And a slew of giant, oversized cooking tool props that appeared in funny stories on her cooking show.  She wasn’t into staged or professionally decorated or aesthetically styled perfection. She was into comfort and function and fun entertaining in a casual environment. Even though Julia and Paul hired architect Robert Woods Kennedy to redesign the kitchen after they purchased the house,  all the decorating of their most favorite room was left up to them.  And it shows in the eclectic menagerie of items they collected and colors they loved.

5. The Book – Jessie Hartland

I recently discovered this fantastic children’s book Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child, at a local book sale. Written and illustrated by Jessie Hartland and published in 2012 it is technically considered a children’s book but really anyone of any age could easily appreciate and enjoy it. Jessie tells Julia’s life story in a vivacious arrangement of words and pictures that is so enchanting you’ll want to read it out-loud while imitating Julia’s voice.  It is such a sweet, good-natured and fun-loving approach to the life of this extraordinary culinary icon, you’ll feel like you’ve met Julia Child herself by the end of it.

On the last page of the book, Jessie shares her own adaptation of French crepes inspired by Julia’s recipe. Since it is Julia’s birthday week, and she shouldn’t be cooking for her own celebrations, we made Jessie’s version instead which turned out to be delicious. Julia would definitely approve.

The only ingredient differences in Jessie’s vs. Julia’s recipe is salt and water. Julia’s has a little of both and Jessie’s has none. And to be totally honest we like Jessie’s version better.

One of the things that Julia Child liked most about French cooking was that it was “careful cooking” meaning that you had to spend time with it and keep a thoughtful eye on the procedure of it. She treated all her recipes at first like mountains that needed to be climbed and then, once conquered, like friends that needed to be nurtured and shared and appreciated.  If you have never made crepes before, it may sound a little scary when it comes to flipping these thin style pancakes, but once you’ve conquered it, you’ve mastered this multi-functional breakfast/lunch/ dinner and dessert appropriate food like a champion.

The ingredients are very simple and straight forward. I used free range organic farm eggs, organic whole milk and organic butter in this recipe. Like Julia Child always says – the better quality your ingredients, the better your food will taste.  And if you store your eggs in the refrigerator let them warm up to room temperature before you use them.

Jessie’s Crepes

(makes 5-6 crepes, each about 6.5″ inches in diameter)

3 eggs

1 cup milk

3/4 cup flour

butter (about 1/8th cup)

In a medium sized bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk. Add the milk and whisk again. Add the flour and whisk one more time. Next Jessie recommends pouring the batter through a fine strainer into a glass measuring cup. I don’t have a strainer so I poured the mixture through cheese cloth wrapped around the fine side of a cheese grater. That worked just fine.

This step removes any large flour lumps and makes the batter silky smooth.  If you don’t have a glass measuring cup you can just strain the batter into a mixing bowl and scoop it with a soup ladle.

Melt 1 teaspoon of butter in a frying pan until it is hot (medium high temp) but not smoking. Whisk the batter one more time and then pour about 1/4 cup into the frying pan. Holding the handle twist and rotate the pan to make sure the batter evenly coats the entire bottom of the pan. Wait about 30 seconds (there should be no more loose or runny batter on the top of the crepe – if there still is cook it a little longer) and then, if you are feeling brave flip the crepe in the pan to cook the other side for about 15 seconds.

There are a couple of other options regarding flipping if you don’t want to toss your crepe up in the air.

Option #1: Carefully slide a spatula underneath the crepe and flip it to the other side.

Option #2:  My personal favorite –  use a cake frosting knife, and slide it under the pancake and quickly flip it.  The goal of all this cooking and flipping is two fold… don’t wait too long to flip it so that the bottom burns and don’t tear the crepe in the process of flipping. The first one might not make the table – and that’s okay – if it burns, or tears or winds up on the floor just start again with more butter and a new scoop of batter. Practice makes perfect. And one general rule of thumb – more butter is better than less butter when it comes to making sure the crepes don’t stick, so when in doubt add more not less. This is what your crepes should look like once they are ready…

Repeat this step until you have made all your crepes. You can keep them warm by placing each one on top of the other, stack-stile, on a plate covered with aluminum foil as each one comes out of the pan. Or covered in a dish in the oven on the lowest temperature setting.

Crepes are a foundation piece that can be served in a number of different ways for breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert. When we make ours for breakfast, we sprinkle powdered sugar on a warm crepe, roll it up and then top it with a mixture of seasonal fruit in the summer or a warm fruit compote in the fall and winter. But you can just about add anything you like to a crepe and it will be delicious.

One thing to keep in mind when serving crepes is that they contain no sugar so if you like them sweet don’t forget to add sugar or honey, maple syrup, chocolate sauce, whip cream or your own fruit medley.

French Crepes ala Jessie via Julia!

And of course, the very best companion for this festive French dish is a good book like Bon Appetit, which you can find here.

If you are a big fan of Julia, like us, please share your favorite things about her in the comment section below. We’d love to learn more about how she inspires you!

In the meantime cheers to the lady who keeps inspiring us to find the fun in the food! Happy Birthday Julia!

The Week In Review: A Date With Julia, Washington DC and Finding A Lost Bird

Like the thrill and excitement of watching those horses speed around the track during the Kentucky Derby two Saturdays ago so was my trip racing around Washington D.C.. To follow-up from the post before this one, we did make it to D.C. just in time (with about 3 minutes to spare!) to meet up with friends, watch the Derby AND drink a mint julep. Perfect timing!

Always Dreaming! Photo courtesy of thedailybeast.com

If you missed the race Always Dreaming was the big Derby winner, leading the whole entire way from start to finish on a very muddy track. It was definitely a well deserved victory although I was really rooting for Patch the whole way, who wound up coming in 14th.  It appears as if no one else was dreaming about Always Dreaming as the first-to-line finisher in our blog contest either so the festivities continue on through the Preakness (this Saturday!) and into the Belmont (on June 10th).  Stay tuned this weekend to see if Always Dreaming wins part two of the Triple Crown!

Meanwhile, back in Washington the week fell in three parts…art, Julia and Virginia. The last time I spent more than a day in Washington D.C. I was 10 years old and visiting my oldest sister who lived and worked right in the heart of downtown. This time around I was staying on the Maryland side of the metro D.C. area.

With a view that began and ended each day like this…

Morning on the Potomac!

 

Evening on the Potomac!

it was hard to go wrong from the beginning. Add in the welcome committee…

quaking their way through news of the D.C. day… and it was lovely from day one.

Staying in such close proximity to the Capitol, I had mighty plans to see about 10 different sites throughout the city on this visit which included five museums, the Botanical Gardens, the Library of Congress, the Franciscan Monastery, the National Archives and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  I realize now on my return that this was totally ambitious, but I thought in my pre-trip planning days that if I was fast on my feet and spent only an hour or two at each place I might be able to fit it all in during a three day stretch. After all Charles Dickens did nickname this metropolis the City of Magnificent Intentions. Technically I was right on track.

Of course once I stepped through my first museum and saw all the intriguing things that lay ahead of me I realized that I would never be able to keep up with such a strict and rigorous time schedule. It only took me one museum to realize that Washington D.C. is best digested slow.

There is no room for frenzied pace setting or shy glances in this historic environment. From street to sky, everything in D.C. is fascinating whether you are walking on centuries old cobblestone in Alexandria or admiring architecture on Pennsylvania Avenue time is what you need plenty of in order to ingest the experiences of our past presidents.

This is the house where Lincoln died. It’s located right across the street from Ford Theater.

So that’s exactly what I did. I took some time. I abandoned my wish list of seeing everything fast, and focused on seeing a few things slowly. Highlights from the three museums I managed to get through are as follows…

At the National Portrait Gallery…

This famous portrait of Benjamin Franklin painted in 1785 hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. Because I had seen this picture a zillion times in books and all over the internet I thought I’d pop by, say hi and be on my way. But Ben had other plans. He was a wise 79 years old when he sat for this painting. And you can tell Ben’s got things to say from the second you see him.

The artist, Joseph-Siffred Duplessis translated an expression in Ben’s face that reads “Hey there, I have some interesting stories for you. Stay for a minute and I’ll explain.” And so I did, lured in by a magic painting spell.  All the achievements he accomplished, the foresight he had, the contributions he made to the forming of our country, swirled around in those eyes and that smile, ready to break at any moment. He was captivating in all the right ways.

That experience with Benjamin Franklin reinforced the fact that I couldn’t zoom past everything and expect anything to have an impact. There was so much significance in the air around me that I was going to have to slow down in order to appreciate it all.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery are both connected in the same building so you can cross over long hallways from the art museum to the portrait gallery in just a few steps. On the art museum side I found these favorites in the painting department…golden framed beauties covering two centuries  including a large scale John James Audubon bird painting from 1836…

Clockwise from top left: Angel by Abbott Handerson Thayer, 1875; Washington Sea Eagle by John James Audubon 1836-1839; Round Hill Road by John Henry Twachtman 1890-1900; Our Lady of Guadalupe by Pedro Antonio Fresquis 1780-1830

Downstairs on the ground floor I discovered colorful cafeteria art of the 1940’s…

which was from a series by Gertrude Goodrich titled Scenes from American Life (Beach) and which originally hung in the cafeteria of the city’s Social Security Building. I loved the bright colors and all the commotion going on – each figure in the painting has their own personality. Here are some up close snippets..

It really is a lively improvement from the food diagrams and nutrition charts found in most cafeterias today, don’t you think?

At the National Portrait Gallery – 

Just like my time spent with Ben, I was equally captivated by an exhibit called The Face of Battle: Americans at War from 9/11 to Now which featured intimate glimpses into soldier’s lives… black and white leisure portraits taken in camp, paintings of wounded soldiers in full uniform, photographs of deceased soldiers home-based bedrooms, a creative video piece of a casket returning stateside. As you can imagine it was really moving and very sad. One of the exhibits inside the exhibit was a 5,000+ piece collection of small wallet sized pencil drawings of American servicemen and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. This installation was completely hand-drawn by the American artist, Emily Prince. It took up three walls of one gallery and from a distance looked like a big Scrabble board. This is a snippet of one wall…

And upon color inspection…

And an even closer view below. This is just one example of the thousands Emily has hand-drawn. The exhibit is titled American servicemen and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, but not including the wounded, nor the Iraqis, nor the Afghans.  Read more about Emily and the project here.

We were visiting D.C. during the start of Police Week so uniformed men and women from all over the world were everywhere. At the airport, teams of officers six or eight to a group met flights as they came in containing passengers whose family had died protecting the country. The officers stood across from each other with arms raised in salute as people walked off each flight.  The officers recognized the families they were meeting either by Hero t-shirts or by camera phones recording the walk from the plane to the gate. It was bittersweet. Sad that people had died but wonderful that the military and our protective services were still honoring their contributions.

On a cheerier note…

at the Museum of American History…

a very special face was also on display. I was definitely determined not to leave Washington until I saw this lady and her famous kitchen…

Julia Child!

In an exhibit detailing the transformation of American food from the 1950’s to the 2000’s, Julia Child’s kitchen from her house in Cambridge, Massachusetts sat front and center.

It’s a little tricky to get good photos of it because the whole kitchen itself is sealed in. Small cut-outs covered in plexi-glass serve as viewing stations, so there is a little battle to be fought with glare from the plexi-glass and the fellow visitors who squish in to see. But you can get the idea of a 360 view (in parts!) from the following…

Everything in the kitchen is as Julia left it when she donated the entire room and all its contents to the Museum in 2001. It was full of surprising  little details including lots of cat art, a fridge full of magnets (she was was a fan of the King Arthur flour brand!), family photographs, a rubix cube tucked behind a telephone and all the little odds and ends that you can find in anybody’s kitchen famous or not. She had a junk drawer. She labeled things with masking tape and handwriting. She hung onto favorite pieces of equipment outdated or not.

As revered as Julia had become it is easy to see in this exhibit how normal and ordinary a person she actually was.  Her kitchen reflected that. It wasn’t photo-shoot ready. It wasn’t glamorous. Not everything had a place. Her cookbooks were used. Her counter tops were messy. But it was functional for the way she liked to cook. It was a fun play space for her and in turn it was a fun exhibit for me.  I think that is what still makes Julia Child so admired. She was an unpretentious lover of food and of cooking and her kitchen reiterates all that. The manner in which it is displayed there at the Smithsonian you can easily imagine that she just popped over into another room of the house, perhaps to fetch something for her husband Paul and that in any second she was going to come right back and get to cooking.  Aided by video monitors playing clips from her cooking shows around the exhibit, your imagination does not have to stretch far to picture her standing at the sink peeling potatoes or at the stove flipping omelettes.

There is a fun 5 minute video on youtube that explains how the museum staff takes care of her kitchen. It also gives you some up close behind-the-scenes info on specific items within the display.

Also in the History Museum was an interesting exhibit on the clothing worn by the First Ladies (mostly during inaugural balls or welcome receptions) and the china patterns that each selected for their White House term. The oldest in the collection of both dress and dish belongs, of course, to Martha Washington…

Clockwise from top: The entire display of china starting with Martha Washington and ending with Hilary Clinton. Bottom left: A dress Martha Washington wore from the 1780’s,  and the  banquet china pieces she and George used in their presidential mansions in  New York and Philadelphia.

Most of the china patterns were variations on a theme… gold bands/eagles/jewel tone colors, etc. but Lucy Webb Hayes, wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes commissioned an artist in the 1870’s to design a set of china that incorporated the flora and fauna of the United States. To this day, Lucy’s china pattern still remains the most creative of all the administrations.

That’s Lucy on the far left!

I may not have made it to the Botanical Gardens on this trip but to serious surprise and complete excitement equal to that of seeing Julia Child’s kitchen,  I stumbled into this big beauty in the gardens of the Natural History museum next door…

the passenger pigeon sculpture by Todd McGrain from the Lost Bird Project that we wrote about in 2013! She’s tucked inside a walled garden just off the street so I almost walked right by her. In the busy world of modern day urban life, she sits surrounded in the museum’s Bird Garden by flowers and real-life bird flocks flapping their wings here and there so she’s in a great spot. If you missed the post about the Lost Bird project and Todd’s mission to memorialize extinct birds catch up here.

Moving on from museums and spending time waterside in the fresh spring air, the charmer on top of our whole trip was spending half a day in Alexandria, Virginia. We had lunch on the wharf…

and then spent the afternoon walking around town in George Washington’s footsteps.

The first tenement house George and Martha built in 1797 for investment purposes.

Every street was cuter than the last. I definitely could have picked any one of those houses to live in. I even found my ideal car…

This is where George liked to eat!

We stopped into a local pub and met a local (imagine that!) who gave us a little verbal history tour through his town.

Murphy’s Pub

and we found the house where they filmed scenes from the PBS show Mercy Street…

So pretty! You can access Alexandria by car or ferry – both just a quick trip from D.C.. Like easily imagining Julia in her kitchen it is very easy to picture George and Martha Washington or Ben Franklin or any other early colonials walking down the historic streets. Everything is all brick and cobblestone, clapboard and flower boxes. History plaques make a self guided walking tour easy and your camera won’t stop clicking for all the pretty photo opportunities.

Since I didn’t make it to all the places on my original list that still leaves so much to do on future trips back to the D.C. area. I think you could live in this section of our country for two dozen years and still not see everything! But that’s what’s marvelous about Washington – it’s a never-ending series of new (old) places to discover upon every return.

Cheers to that! Or huzzah as our noble men Ben and George liked to say!

The Colorful World of Collecting: A Vintage Tea Towel Interview

Martex Textile Champagne Tea Towel, 1950’s

Chances are you probably haven’t given much thought to your kitchen linens. You’ve got them tucked away in a drawer somewhere that you access only when you have a party, a holiday or a big giant spill to clean up. They sit in those drawers in an assortment of sizes from small to large. Place mats, tablecloths, towels, drink coasters, napkins, tray coverings either plain and functional or decorative and delicate. They are hand-me-downs your grandmother made back in 1920 or they are ones you bought last week on sale at Target. They are in pristine condition because you barely use them or they are spotted and shabby because that one celebration that one time was the wildest party of the year.

Kitchen Towel featuring Household Staples, 1940s

You haven’t thought about them much because they are always there – new and old and reliable. You use them to impress and inspire and make an impact on a bread basket or a tea tray or the handle of your oven. They sit under drinks and dessert plates,  line the cocktail cart and add some color to the picnic basket. You gift them and grab them in a last minute flurry of preparations and like any good coat of paint, they instantly brighten up the atmosphere, and you think to yourself… why don’t I use these more?

Main Street Table Cloth 1950s

Designed to sit pretty and decorate and then clean up afterwards,  kitchen cloths are the unsung heroes of cook spaces around the globe.  In today’s post we discuss the colorful world of mid-century kitchen linens with Cindy from Neatokeen, the internet’s best-kept vintage linen shop and discover her passion for mid-century tea towels. This is a bright and whimsical slice of the vintage kitchen that showcases the creative, quirky styles of the 1950’s and 1960’s that have evolved with charm and individuality to fit modern day appeal.

Iconic American chair designer Charles Eames  once said…”The details are not the details. They make the design.” This is particularly true of the bold graphics and jaunty sentiments of mid-century fabrics. Today, Cindy explains her favorites, what she looks for when stocking her shop and why these vintage kitchen helpers are still so compelling to our modern sense of style.

What are some common misconceptions about vintage linens? 

Linens were mass-produced in the mid-century and there is an assumption that they are plentiful and easy to find. If you look on Etsy and Ebay, that appears to be the case; however, it is extremely difficult to find them in excellent or mint condition. Most of them that saw heavy kitchen duty were relegated to the rag pile. Many linens that you see today are flawed with spots and holes. The real trick is to find those that were unused and stored away in a drawer or cupboard for 50 years. I am super picky about the linens I buy and probably pass by 99.9% of those I see. 

Do you have a favorite designer? 

It’s difficult to choose one! I will name my top three:

 

George Wright

 

Milvia

 

Tammis Keefe

I also have to give a shout-out to all of the uncredited artists and in-house designers who created amazing designs but were not able to sign their work.

Is there a type of linen or a specific company that you prize most and, if so, which and why? 

I began collecting all types of vintage linens: tablecloths, tea towels, napkins, handkerchiefs and table runners. Storage space for my collection was at a premium, so I had to make a difficult decision. I decided to hang onto my tea towels. I love the compact printed designs. I am particularly fond of the cheeky designs from the Dunmoy Linen Company and the detailed designs of the Ulster Company.

 

Dunmoy Linen Company, Flower Truck Delivery, 1960’s

 

Ulster Linen Company – Medieval Renaissance, 1960s

 

Tell us a little bit about caring for vintage linens. Do you have to store them differently or use special washing procedures? 

 

I learned early on that I was rubbish at removing spots in spite of the copious amount of stain removal advice and tips on the internet. This is what lead me to collect linens in near mint or perfect condition. I typically do not wash my linens and simply press them gently, if needed. I store them in a closet with open shelving covered by white cotton cloths. I know a lot of people store them in plastic bins, but I’m a bit skeptical of contact with plastic over time.

  

Which are the top three favorite items in your shop right now?

I love the London People towel – the characterization of 55 people and animals is charming. Another favorite is the “Wine & Spirits” towel by George Wright for the interesting composition and bold color choice. I really enjoy Hilary Knight’s angel towel. He was the illustrator of Eloise and I believe it’s the only towel he ever designed.

 

Wine & Spirits Series by George Wright, 1950s

 

Hilary Knight Christmas Angels, 1950

Why are vintage linens so appealing to people?

 They evoke a feeling of nostalgia and the printed designs can be gorgeous, whimsical, striking or even comical.

 

 

In your shop bio you mention that you sell to a wide variety of customers from gift-givers to celebrities to collectors. What is a fun buyer story that you can share?

 

I’m fiercely protective of my customer’s privacy, but I’ve sold linens to several movie and theater companies. They always need the items “yesterday” and have requested express shipping every time. In fact, the shipping has been a lot more expensive than the items themselves!

 

Dinner Party Scene Tea Towel, 1950s

Rare 1950’s Mid-Century Modern Tablecloth

If you could invite any person to luncheon (living or dead) and serve them on one of the tea towels currently offered in your shop which would you choose and why?

I would invite my late father and serve him dinner on the amazing Calder-esque mobile tablecloth that is in my shop. We would talk about the abstract design and then we’d discuss the act of collecting. My dad was an inveterate collector of many things and I never collected anything while he was alive. I’m fairly certain the collecting gene was transferred to me when he passed away. I now completely understand his compulsion to find the next best thing, the perpetual upgrading of a collection and the quest for a holy grail. He would get a big kick out of my passion for linens.

Cindy with her dad in 1964

Were linens a prized possession in your family growing up?

 My mother sets a beautiful table and has some lovely lace tablecloths, but printed linens were something I discovered much later in life.

 

Matching Linen Placemat/Napkin Set – Red Cherry Design, 1950s

Would you prefer to see one of your vintage tea towels in active daily use or framed behind glass?

 

When I started selling my linens on Etsy, I was taken aback at what people did with perfectly good linens; however, I have really mellowed and now enjoy learning about the creative ways my linens are used. I’ve seen pillows, children’s clothing, tote bags, quilts and even copies printed on canvas. Most people buy them to collect or use and I’m happy they are being enjoyed and not languishing in a forgotten drawer. Framed behind glass is good too!

 

Which types of linens are your bestsellers? And what makes them a bestseller – is it fabric, color, graphic appeal, size, age etc.?

 

I’ve sold 99% of my tablecloths and hankies and steer away from buying more because there are so many sellers that carry them. I specialize in vintage tea towels which is a more unusual category. Tea towels are my bestsellers. I think the colors and graphic appeal of the designs are what attract people initially.

 

Floral Linen Tea Towel, 1950’s

Other than traditional serving/entertaining purposes, framing and gift wrapping have you come across any non-traditional ways in which we could use vintage linens in our modern-day lives?

 

I mentioned a few above, but the most inventive use of linens I’ve seen is a winged armchair upholstered with vintage souvenir tea towels from London. The effect is a feast for the eyes.

 

Alternate ways to use vintage tea towels (clockwise from top left): as an apron, windows curtains, framed wall art, market bag/tote, footstool cushions.

When you are sourcing your materials for your shop do you generally find them one at a time or do you uncover treasure troves of personal collections?

 

I usually find them one at a time or occasionally in pairs. I’ve actually never found a big collection of linens which is the stuff of my dreams; hence, the hunt continues. I look high and low from estate sales to flea markets, near and far from coast to coast and I will continue to seek linens as long as it remains fun!

 

Tammis Keefe Angel Tea Towel, 1950’s

One of the things I like about vintage linens is that each and every one seems so unique. I don’t think I’ve ever come across the same design twice (matching sets not included of course!).  Have you seen a lot of repeat patterns come through your shop?

 I primarily sell duplicates of towels that I have in my own collection. Some designs are relatively easy to source e.g. the Tammis Keefe angel towel is common, but there are several designs that I’ve run across exactly one time in my 12 years of collecting. Since I’ve been collecting a relatively long time, it’s become easy for me to tell if the design is rare or fairly commonplace.

 

Are there any types of vintage linens that don’t appeal to you and if so, why?

 

I like all types of linen, but I’m partial to printed linens. I steer clear of damask, lace and embroidered linens. There are plenty of experts in those categories. Also, I think floral linens are lovely, but my eye tends toward unusual or quirky designs. Thankfully, they are often the ones left behind.

 

Mother’s Apple Pie Ingredients, 1950’s

According to the school of thought that one thing always leads to another – have you discovered any new interests or passions (or collections!) that have stemmed as a direct result from your pursuit of seeking out vintage linens? 

 

Yes! I really like the kitschy mid-century graphics found on vintage wrapping paper and novelty fabrics. I felt myself slipping down the collecting rabbit hole again but was literally saved by Pinterest. I started “pinning” items to designated boards. Pinterest feels like having an organized collection but without spending a dime…brilliant!

 

Modernist Textile Fabric, 1960s

I don’t know about you dear readers, but I’d be fine following Cindy along on her trail of discovering vintage wrapping paper and more vintage fabrics. She has a wonderful eye for the lighthearted unusual – the fun side – of finding old artistic illustrations that still seem so relevant today. Perhaps in the future we’ll be lucky to see more along those avenues. In the meantime I hope this post encourages you to take a look at your own kitchen linen drawer and march all those retro patterns out into everyday use regardless of their age. Don’t save them for a special occasion or a holiday, give your kitchen space a happy exclamation point by incorporating your tea towels and tablecloths, napkins and tray liners into everyday life.  If you have yet to own any vintage kitchen linens, I hope this post inspires a new collection.

 

Vintage Bridge Score Pads from the 1920’s

In addition to decorating your own space, vintage kitchen linens also make great gifts. As we roll through the month of May with Mother’s Day and Memorial Day just around the corner, Cindy is offering readers of the blog an additional 20% off all orders using the coupon code VINTAGEKITCHEN.  In her shop you’ll also find delightfully interesting mid-century (and earlier!) collectibles and paper ephemera with fantastic retro graphic appeal like the art deco bridge score pad above.  Keep up with Cindy on Pinterest, Instagram and in her shop. You won’t regret any moment spent learning more about vintage linens.
 If you have any additional questions or comments for Cindy or thoughts on vintage linens themselves please post a message below.

 

This was the set design for Julia Child’s kitchen for the movie Julie and Julia. Notice the proud display of kitchen linens!

Summer Reading Sale! 15% off all Vintage Book Purchases

To ring in the summer season, Ms. Jeannie is having a vintage book sale in her shop. Within her vintage library you’ll find all sorts of entertaining reads (over 40 in number!) from rare books to vintage classics, cookbooks to … Continue reading

Between Seasons with Jacques: Hominy, Cilantro and Cumin Stew

Shhh… don’t tell Julia, Ms. Jeannie’s got another favorite French chef!

Julia & Jacques

Julia & Jacques

Practically equivalent in the incredibly delicious food category, the culinary wonders of Jacques Pepin are a constant source of inspiration when it comes to time spent well in the kitchen. In a lot of ways he’s the opposite of Julia Child. She was an American that moved to France. He was a Frenchman that moved to America. Julia learned the classics of French cooking, Jacques created original recipes. She developed her interest in cooking later in life while Jacques grew up in his family’s restaurant in Lyon. But for all their opposites they shared many things in common – their passion for food and fun being two.

Claudine & Jacques in 1994.

Claudine & Jacques in 1994.

Like Julia, Jacques had his own cooking show on PBS which aired every Sunday afternoon in the late 1990’s. Jacques was not only fabulous in the kitchen but he was funny too! The whole precipice of the show was him trying to teach his adult daughter Claudine how to cook. Claudine was an everyman (everywoman?!) in the kitchen, and although she was the daughter of an FFC (famous French chef) she didn’t know much about cooking.

For her, techniques were troublesome, flavor pairings were confusing and certain preparations were downright intimidating. But In Cooking with Claudine, Jacques was there to teach and Claudine was there to learn, sort of. They were cute together. She’d make her own shortcuts, he’d quibble with her about the proper way to cut an onion or smash some garlic. Often times she’d humor him and then do it her own way. They laughed with each other and in the end they both learned from each other. Dad and daughter cooking up some fun. This camaraderie turned into quite a few television appearances over the years. If you are lucky you can still catch dad and daughter whipping up something delightful at a food festival or special event.

Here they are sharpening knives in Aspen in 2012…

Jacques maybe French by birth but his heart and home are here with us in the States.  He has surrounded himself with American culture and cuisine since he first came to the U.S. in the 1950’s. And guess where one of his first jobs were, dear readers? Before earning his masters degree at Columbia University, Jacques helped develop menus for the restaurant of this famous mid-century travel icon…

Howard Johnson's

Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge and Restaurant circa 1960’s!

Immersed in the everyday palate of the American culture, Jacques’ recipes pull from cultures around the world. They may have French foundations but they are built with a variety of different cuisines which make for unique arrangements in the flavor department.

hominy1

Hominy, Cilantro and Cumin Stew

One recipe Ms. Jeannie tried recently featured an international concoction of ingredients. Pulling from Mexican, Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern staples, this springtime stew is perfect for the hot/cold/hot/cold temperatures of March. When the weather is as indecisive as your appetite and you can’t choose between something warm, light, fresh or substantial –  Jacques’ Hominy, Cilantro and Cumin stew is the way too go.

hominy1

It utilizes three springtime ingredients – onions and herbs – yet is packed with the warm, smoky flavor that suits a sweater and a scarf. It also involved this most mysterious ingredient…

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Hominy, thought Ms. Jeannie, was the same thing as as polenta which is the same thing as grits – a Southern staple here in the South. But not so, dear readers! Hominy is actually a corn kernel plumped up to the size of a chickpea and sold in cans not at all like its flour sacked cousins.  A whole  lesson was to be had at the grocery store. Polenta and grits are the same thing. Hominy is an entirely different matter altogether. Same family, different form.

Hominy comes in two varieties – white and yellow. And as you can see from this picture – when compared to a popcorn kernal it is quite plump. The recipe calls for both colors which gives it an attractive color palette.

hominy4

Because of its distinct flavor, there is not a lot of variety when it comes to cooking with hominy. Ms. Jeannie was surprised to find just a few different types of recipes online. Jacques loves to cook with these little corn puffs, and now thanks to his delicious recipe, Ms. Jeannie does too!

Hominy, Cilantro and Cumin Stew

(serves 6)

2 tablespoons canola oil (Ms. Jeannie used olive oil)

1 medium onion

6-8 scallions – washed, trimmed and chopped

2 small zucchini – washed, trimmed and diced

5-6 medium mushrooms – washed and chopped

5-6 cloves of garlic – peeled, crushed and finely chopped

1.5 teaspoons ground cumin

.25 teaspoons crushed red pepper

1 can (15.5 oz) white hominy

1 can (15.5 oz) yellow hominy

1 medium tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped (because it is not tomato season here yet Ms. Jeannie used 7 oz. of canned diced tomatoes)

1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

hominy5

Heat the oil in a large pan. When it is hot, saute the onions and scallions for one minute. Then add zucchini, mushrooms, garlic, cumin and pepper flakes: cook for 3-4 minutes.

hominy9

Add the hominy (with liquid from can) to the pan and bring mixture to a full boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Check the consistency after 10 – you don’t want it to be soupy, nor do you want it to be dry. If it is too liquidy – let it simmer until mixture is just moist. If it is too dry add a few tablespoons of water.

Stir in tomatoes and cilantro, and let the mixture come to a boil again. Let it cook for one more minute before ladling into serving bowls.

hominy2

Jacques makes this as a side dish but you could also have it it on its own as a vegetarian lunch or dinner, which is what Ms. Jannie did here. Serving it with a few tostadas gives it a nice bit of crunch but also it would be great with poached chicken or a simple white fish. You could even serve it as a chunky dip for your Cinco de Mayo party!

Happy hominy dear readers! If you have any great recipes featuring this flavorful fella please post it in the comments below.

PS. If you are loyal to Julia Child, Ms. Jeannie has one of her vintage cookbooks for sale in her shop. Click the photo for more info!

julia_french

 

Twice the Fun: Two Derby Parties in One!

Kentucky Derby weekend is here again! Can you believe, dear readers, that a whole year has passed already? It seems like just a few months ago we watched as I’ll Have Another surprised everybody with the win (and the run!) of his lifetime.

I'll Have Another and jockey, Mario Gutierrez, win the 2012 Kentucky Derby!

I’ll Have Another and jockey, Mario Gutierrez, win the 2012 Kentucky Derby!

This year, Ms. Jeannie’s changing things up in the way of  her annual derby party. Since Mr. Jeannie has to go out of town on race day, it will be a Friday night Kentucky Oaks party instead of a traditional Saturday Derby party.  All the fun, plus the added bonus of watching the ladies run for the lilies! What could be better then two Derby parties in one?!

kentuck3

Ms. Jeannie has never really kept up with the Kentucky Oaks horses – although she’s wondering now, why she hasn’t – the stories of all the fillies are equally as captivating and exciting as the boys next door. Horses (only the girls!) have been running in the Kentucky Oaks since 1875, making it, along with the Derby, not only the oldest contested race in history but also  the only sporting events to be held in the same location since the start.  No wonder there is so much pomp and circumstance!

This year, there’s an interesting crop of horses running in the Oaks. If you want to read up on all the contestants, click here.  Ms. Jeannie has picked these three favorites to root for…

Pure Fun

Pure Fun. Ms. Jeannie’s anticipated winner!

Midnight Lucky

Midnight Lucky

Flashy Gray

Flashy Gray

There are actually three grey horses running in the Oaks this year, Midnight Lucky, Flashy Gray and Silsita. Since only 3% of thoroughbreds are grey in color, Ms. Jeannie thinks this must be a special year for the color group! There is superstition surrounding grey racehorses – some camps believe they are lucky, others believe they are unlucky. Ms. Jeannie doesn’t buy into any of that. Any horse that is talented enough to make it to the Oaks clearly has an equal chance at the big win!

Because this will be a combination party this year, Ms. Jeannie is incorporating both races into her theme…

FLOWERS

This year Ms. Jeannie’s floral bouquets for the table will be a mixture of yellow and magenta knockout roses, which have just started blooming in her garden. Rose to Gold is a horse running in the Kentucky Oaks, so this flower arrangement is a fun twist on that name.

Simple bouquets in various sized clear glass jars will be scattered about the table.

Simple bouquets in various sized clear glass jars will be scattered about the table.

If you visit Churchill Downs you’ll see knock-out roses surrounding the statue of Aristides, who was the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby in 1875.

Statue of Artistides at Churchill Downs

Statue of Artistides at Churchill Downs

The thing Ms. Jeannie likes most about using these flowers is that they constantly enhance the table with their falling flower petals. As a cut flower they usually only last a couple of days, but that’s ok – their smell and beauty make up for their short life span. And they are like the little florists of the night – a petal here, a petal there… decorate away, my dears.

Because the flowers hold such vibrant color, Ms. Jeannie is going low-key with the plates and just using a mixture of her all white dishes. Although you can see how using a little bit of an additional pattern or color palate would still work great with the theme.  These green, white and gold Royal Jackson dishes from the 1950’s compliment the flowers perfectly without seeming too matched. They are available in Ms. Jeannie’s Etsy shop here and here.

Subtle hints of color help carry the theme around the table.

Subtle hints of color help carry the theme around the table.

Mixed patterns keep things fresh.

Mixed patterns keep things fresh.

Even though technically the napikins are a red stripe - they favor a pinkish hue when placed with pink flowers.

Even though technically the napikins are a red stripe – they favor a pinkish hue when placed with pink flowers.

MENU

Since it has been a busy year, Ms. Jeannie has picked the most mellow of all the horses as her choice for winner of the 2013 Kentucky Derby…Normandy Invasion!

normandyinvasion1

Normandy Invasion

Apparently he’s the one around  the stables who like naps and lunch time best. It’s cute that he’s got such a stormy name when he has a very laid-back personality, isn’t it? Owner, Rick Porter, named him after the heroism of the troops that stormed the beaches in France. It appears Normandy, like his namesake is all business when it comes to running.  He’s just casual in attitude but clearly, to make it to the Derby, not casual in ability.

Normandy Invasion watching the day go by. Photo courtesy of courier-journal.com

Normandy Invasion watching the day go by. It looks like he’s smiling 🙂  Photo courtesy of courier-journal.com

Anyway, carrying on the French theme of Normandy’s name, he’ll make quite an appearance at the party in the form of French cheeses during cocktail hour and a french themed main entree at dinner.

The cheeses being served during cocktail hour are Brie, Camamberet (from Normandy!), Chevron, Bleu de Vercors and Roquefort all accompanied along with assorted hard crackers, nuts  and fresh fruit.

For drinks, Ms. Jeannie is serving a french twist on the traditional mint juleps  – the  Champagne Julep which is sort of like a mint and champagne spritzer.

Photo courtesy of recipesart.co.uk

Since we are watching the ladies run, Ms. Jeannie thought this was a more natural elegant choice for cocktails! Hopefully the guys will approve! Photo courtesy of recipesart.co.uk

Because there is a filly running in the Oaks named Dreaming of Julia, Ms. Jeannie pulled out her Julia Child cookbook for the recipe Filets de Poisson Gratines, a la Parisienne (also known as Fish Filets Poached in White Wine  accompanied by a Cream and Egg Yolk Sauce).  Ms. Jeannie will be using sole fish – she thought this would be a clever take on the horse,  Golden Soul, who is also running in Saturday’s Derby.

If all goes well it will look like this…

Photo courtesy of croquanslavie.fr

Fish fillets poached in white wine. Photo courtesy of croquanslavie.fr

Accompanying the fish, will be crisp yellow and orange carrots sauteed in butter, honey and fresh rosemary alongside blanched asparagus for a little added crunch.  The carrots are a nod to another race runner, Goldencents, and all the colors hopefully will look nice and spring-like on the plates. This makes for four horses represented in just the main entree alone!

On the menu for dessert is Martha Stewart’s recipe for Frozen Lemon Mousse, which is like a frozen lemon ice cream cake. This recipe is a little time consuming , and takes a lot of lemons, but you can make everything up to two days ahead, so if you prepare in advance, then it is a breeze to pull out of the freezer on party day.

Frozen Lemon Mousse can be served individually via ramekins or in one big cake form and sliced into pie-shaped wedges. Photo courtesy of foodandpaper.blogspot.com. Click the photo for the recipe.

Frozen Lemon Mousse can be served individually via ramekins or in one big cake form and sliced into pie-shaped wedges. Photo courtesy of foodandpaper.blogspot.com. Click the photo for the recipe.

For the final bit of flourish after dessert, there will be a coffee tasting, which pays tribute to Derby runner, Java’s War. The tasting will be comprised of five different types of coffee including a Southern chicory blend.  Ms. Jeannie has never done a coffee tasting before and the idea came to her late in the night one night last week when she was supposed to be sleeping, so this is an experimental project. We’ll see how it goes!

The blends to be sampled are Organic French Roast (oh that the French theme!), Italian espresso with lemon rind, Starbuck’s Komodo Dragon, French Market’s Coffee & Chicory, and lastly, for anyone that wants to carry the cocktails into dessert, Irish Coffee. She’ll keep you posted on everybody’s favorite of the night.

HAT

This year, Ms. Jeannie has really fallen in love with floral crowns…

This is one example from pinterest - but they come in all shapes and sizes from thin and delicate to full and lush.

This is one example from pinterest – but they come in all shapes and sizes from thin and delicate to full and lush.

so instead of doing a traditional derby hat (and because she was too late in ordering one!), she is going to make a floral crown to compliment her yellow sundress. Floral crowns are kind of like a mix between an artistic fascinator (so popular last year) but with the broad coverage of a hat.

The confederate jasmine is just starting to bloom en-masse in her side yard…

Because confederate jasmine smells really pretty, Ms. Jeannie won't have to wear any perfume!

Because confederate jasmine smells really pretty, Ms. Jeannie won’t have to wear any perfume!

so she’ll use that as the base of her wreath and then incorporate a few roses from the garden. If you need a last minute hat, and like Ms. Jeannie’s idea, here is an easy video on how to make your own floral head crown.

http://www.shoptiques.com/the-videos/how-to-make-a-flower-crown

MUSIC

She’s got a few hours left to figure out her music for the night. For some reason this year, Ms. Jeannie’s having a tough time with this aspect. She wanted to go with a traditional bluegrass, dixieland band kind of vibe but she just couldn’t find anything that was quite right. If you have any suggestions, please post them in the comment section. Worse comes to worse, she’ll set the table outside and let the birds provide a natural soundtrack!

Ms. Jeannie hopes that you have a wonderful Derby weekend and that all your favorites come in first. Cheers to a good run and a happy party!