Katharine’s Norah’s Cousin’s Irish Soda Bread: From the Kitchen of the Hepburn Household

If you’ve been a long-time reader of the blog, you’ll know what big fans we are of Katharine Hepburn.  Last Fall, we made her famous Lace Cookies. The ones that were in constant request at both her city house and her country house, so much so, that extra batches were kept on hand either freshly baked or on standby in the freezer. Was Katharine always the one baking away? Sometimes. But mostly it was Norah, Katharine’s longtime personal cook, domestic helper and treasured friend.

Norah Considine. Photo from the book At Home With Kate.

Norah Considine worked for Kate for 30 years, day in and day out, making the kind of food that Katharine loved best – simple, hearty and well-balanced. Sometimes though Norah would sneak-in her own recipes, a combination of food from her Irish heritage and dishes that she made up on the fly to feed her five kids. With guests continuously coming and going from the Turtle Bay city townhouse and from Fenwick, the Hepburn family compound in Connecticut, mealtimes were always eventful and Norah was always up to the task to make them as delicious as possble. Cooking for everyone with equal aplomb, making meals that were thoughtfully prepared and proven to please, Norah was accustomed to feeding an ever-evolving crowd that ranged from household staff to famous celebrities. In turn, she became a little bit famous herself, with returning guests regularly requesting her rum cake, or her beef stew, or her creamed chipped beef on toast.

Katharine Hepburn’s townhouse in the Turtle Bay neighborhood of NYC

Even though Kate liked to run a tight ship, she was generous with her friends and her staff. Every year on St. Patrick’s Day, Kate would leave New York City and head to Fenwick, so that Norah could have the townhouse to herself to entertain her friends and family for St. Patrick’s Day. This party was no small gathering, sometimes counting over 100 people or more.  But no matter what the attendance numbers were, large or small,  Kate always wanted Norah to be the star of the show for her special event, so she’d graciously leave in order to give Norah the run of the place.

For a change, Norah would cook for herself and her friends, and she would relax into the traditional celebrations of her heritage day.  At these parties, you didn’t always know who was going to be attending – friends and family flew in, drove in and walked over from all corners of the city, the country, and the world. There were homemade costumes and contests, musicians and dancers and tables full of traditional food and drinks. One of the edibles Norah always made for these parties was her cousin’s Irish Soda Bread, a recipe that traveled all the way from Ireland.

This was the soda bread recipe that was legendary in Norah’s family and in Katharine’s house. It has fed hundreds of people throughout hundreds of parties and like, Kate’s Lace Cookies, it represents wonderful memories and extraordinary experiences.  Not bad for a humble bread born out of lean economic times.  With a consistency somewhere between a fluffy cake and a crumbly cornbread, Norah’s cousin’s Irish Soda Bread is a decadent little treat both sweet and hearty in a satisfyingly nourishing way. One slice makes you understand how it fortified a country for two and half centuries.

Although technically, not really Irish in origin (the Native Americans were the first to come up with the general idea), Ireland has been proclaiming soda bread a national staple since the 1830’s. Because it contains no yeast, an expensive ingredient in times past, soda bread gets its bulk from baking soda which chemically raises the dough when combined with flour and any acidic property like sour milk, buttermilk, or in Norah’s case, sour cream.  Some people even add a touch of orange juice or lemon rind to their soda bread for an extra dose of certainty that the chemical reaction will yield a tall and fluffy loaf.

That are lots of variations on the traditional soda bread recipe, but Norah’s is interesting because it includes caraway seeds and sour cream and just a little bit more butter. Super fast and easy to put together, this recipe only takes about 15 minutes to prepare and bakes to a crunchy, golden brown within an hour. Norah recommended enjoying it warm, just minutes out of the oven, or if you want to wait a bit,  let it cool to room temperature and toast it with a little butter right before you are ready to serve it. The one drawback of Irish soda bread is that it dries out quickly – so if you are not going to serve it the day you make it, then it is best to freeze it and reheat it when the occasion arises.

Not as hard as biscotti and not as dense as cornbread, Irish soda bread lands somewhere in the middle as far as form. It pairs beautifully with any salty meat like ham, sausage or brisket for a savory-sweet combo, and would be marvelous with a soft creamy-textured cheese like Brie or goat cheese.  In an adventurous mood, we might even top a toasted slice with cream cheese and bacon and kale for an interesting brunch option or serve it alongside baked apples or a chopped salad of pear and fig.  In the next couple of months, we’ll be experimenting with Norah’s soda bread recipe, trying out some different food pairings. Once we’ve determined our favorites, we’ll post them here on the blog.

In the meantime, we encourage you to try this delicious holiday bread and look forward to hearing your thoughts on it.

Norah’s Cousin’s Irish Soda Bread

4 cups unbleached flour, plus more for dusting

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup granulated sugar

2 cups raisins

4 teaspoons caraway seeds

4 eggs

1 pint sour cream (2 cups)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 sticks, salted butter, plus more for pan

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, raisins and caraway seeds.

Roughly chop the butter into the flour mixture and combine to the point that the mixture looks like coarse meal. You can do this with the tines of a fork, a wooden spoon or your own two hands. Set aside.

In a small bowl combine the sour cream, eggs and baking soda.

Mix well and then slowly add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients…

Mix until combined and until the bread is no longer sticky. You might need to add as much as 1/4 cup extra flour to this process, but be careful not to overmix the dough.

Ideally, you want the dough to be just smooth enough so that you can pick up in your fingers and transfer it to a lightly floured cutting board without it sticking to your hands.

On the board, shape the dough and then transfer it to a greased 2-quart baking pan. Keep in mind – the dough expands to fit its baking container and then rises – so if are using something other than a 2-quart dish – just be aware that it will grow in size.

Bake for 1 hour. Cool on a wire rack for a few minutes before removing from the pan and slicing.

However you choose to spend St. Patrick’s Day, whether it be at a big house party like Norah’s, or at a simple celebratory supper for a few (much more Kate Hepburn style) we hope you have a wonderful holiday full of good food, good friends, and good spirits!

Cheers to Kate and to Norah and to Norah’s cousin, whose family recipe has traveled across countries and continents and kitchens and time. Happy St. Patrick’s Day with much love from In The Vintage Kitchen.

That’s Norah (wearing the polka dot blouse) in the midst of her St. Patrick’s Day merrymaking.

Reading While Eating: Nine Favorite Books from 2017

Paris, family, food writing and strong women. Complicated relationships, historical drama, and artistic personalities. That’s the scope of what we loved best in the reading department in 2017.  This past year, we explored an old city with new eyes thanks to David, Janice, Julia and Jessie. We soul searched with India and Diane, cooked with Clementine and Norah, climbed the symbolic lime tree and walked through the literal golden house.

Every year, we keep track of what we read and watch so that we can share our best-of list here on the blog in the hopes that you’ll discover something new yourself. They aren’t all necessarily new books or movies that came out this year, but they all are things that were newly introduced to us within the past 12 months and they follow a common theme of history in some form or another. The oldest one in this batch dates to the 1940’s (Clementine in the Kitchen) but remains as fresh and engaging as this morning’s breakfast.  The youngest in the batch was published just three months ago (The Golden House) but reads like an old-fashioned classic.

Let’s look…

1. Mrs. Bridge – Evan S. Connell (1959)

If you have ever wondered what the everyday inner workings of a mid-century suburban American house were like then you will love Mrs. Bridge. Told in brief vignettes, it is the story of India Bridge… wife… mother… mid-westerner… who is wanting and watching for something more, anything more, extraordinary to happen to her static, routine life.  In-between family meals, housecleaning, entertaining and her own thinly executed attempts to make life interesting, India shares her thoughts on all the details that make up her society prescribed and approved life.  No moment goes unnoticed from how she sets her table, wears her gloves, communicates with her friends, chooses her clothing and handles her family. It is an intimate look into the mind of a woman processing the boundaries of a life selected for her but necessarily by her. We loved it because it is peppered with familiar 1940s/50’s decorating trends and brand references that we come in contact with a lot in the Vintage Kitchen and because India is an interesting character – conforming whole-heartedly to her boxed-in life while questioning a large lot of it.

2. The Woman I Wanted To Be – Diane Von Furstenberg (2015)

Diane Von Furstenberg invented the wrap dress in the 1970’s which launched her into iconic status in the fashion industry because it is the dress, the only dress, that looks flattering on any and every female body shape regardless of height, weight, age or ethnicity. But before Diane became famous in the American fashion industry she was an everywoman, born in Belgium with artistic interests and a desire to build an authentic life. She didn’t know what she wanted to do or how to go about doing it, so she followed intuition, using her natural abilities and talents, likes and dislikes as a guide to figure out her skillset and herself.   She didn’t always get things right but every experience, good or bad led to fine-tuning and deeper understanding.

Diane (center) in 1976 in wearing her famous wrap dress.

The Woman I Wanted To Be spans seven decades of her life but pays particular attention to the years she struggled to define herself – the years before she designed the famous dress and the years after she designed the famous dress. She talks about how lifestyle choices and personal circumstances led to the actual physical creation of her famous piece of clothing, she talks about launching an American business as a foreign woman, she talks about the emptiness she felt as a creative artist following the success of the dress and she talks about being true to herself in an industry that prefers cookie-cutter beauty and constant re-invention.

3. A Paris Year – Janice Macleod (2017)

Newly arrived… A Paris Year

You can never have too much Paris or too much Janice. In her second book about the beautiful city, writer and painter Janice MacLeod takes us on a daily artistic tour of everything that makes Paris perfect from the food to the culture to the climate. Not unlike Diane Von Furstenberg, Janice followed her own inklings of intuition by leaving her unfulfilling corporate life in California and moving to Paris solely based on the hunch that she just might love it. That was the subject of her first book Paris Letters, which details how she made the big move step-by-step. The follow-up, A Paris Year shows us in pictures and words how rewarding that big move proved to be.  In June,  we wrote an in-depth post about the book, including pictures and artwork from the book.  If you are new to the blog, catch up on that post here.

4. A Taste of Paris – David Downie (2017)

Author David Downie wrote a whole entire book about the history of food in France. We featured his phenomenal work here.

We were on a real Paris kick this past year and were lucky enough to be able to review two books about the great city. After reading A Taste of Paris, we were completely blown away by its scope of content and enormous subject matter – the history of food in Paris. Such a noble undertaking! David Downie has an incredible ability to boil this big subject down into an interesting and engaging timeline that will keep you captivated from beginning to end.  Covering the cuisine, the culture and the characters that have contributed to the French food scene since the very beginning, reading this book felt like taking a master history class peppered with fascinating foodie fun facts.  Last September, we discussed our favorite parts of the book. If you missed that post, catch up here.

5. The Golden House – Salman Rushdie (2017)

We aren’t quite finished with this book yet – but we loved it so much we included it here because it is a marvelous treat for any fiction lover. Centering around a New York City neighborhood and the arrival of a mysterious foreign family – Nero Golden and his three grown sons – The Golden House begins with the neighbors’ speculation on all aspects of the newcomers’ lives.  Salman’s writing style is in incredible, particularly the way in which he describes his characters…

“He dressed expensively but there was a loud, animal quality to him which made one think of the Beast of folktale, uneasy in human finery.”

Some critics have compared the character of Nero Golden to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby as a misunderstood modern day man attempting to reinvent himself in a new environment. We’ll come back to this thought once we finish, but in the meantime, if you have a few days off and want to dive into a meaty read, beautifully told and full of layered storylines and fresh characters than this is the book for you. You’ll be enthralled from the first page, we promise!

6. Lime Tree Can’t Bear Orange – Amanda Smyth (2009)

In part due to its gorgeous title and exotic tropical setting (the Caribbean island of Tobago), Lime Tree Can’t Bear Orange is the fictional story of Celia and her entanglement with three men each of whom dramatically alter the course of her life. Poetic, lyrical and lush in detail, Amanda Smyth blends together seductive elements of nature writing with romantic storytelling for a perfect mid-winter read that will make you feel like you’ve visited the Caribbean without ever leaving home. Similiar to Love In The Time of Cholera, it is packed full of symbolism and romantic themes, so if you like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, you’ll enjoy Amanda Smyth as well.

7. Clementine In The Kitchen – Samuel Chamberlain (1943)

First published in 1943 under the pen name Phineas Beck, Clementine in the Kitchen tells the true story of the Chamberlain family’s French cook, Clementine, whom the family first meets while living in a small village just outside of Paris. When the Chamberlain’s get transferred to Massachusetts, Clementine is invited to move with them – a big decision for the petite woman who has never left her birthplace. Clementine is a natural in the kitchen in France and the family cannot help but rave about her cuisine to everyone they know. In America though, she is a fish out of water, not understanding the language or the shopping style of her new country. Ingredients are different, convenience foods are popular and daily outdoor market shopping is replaced with weekly trips to that strange place called the indoor supermarket.

How does Clementine cope with all this change? We don’t want to spoil it for you, so you have to read it to find out.  But what we can say is that this book is funny and charming and filled with recipes. The surprise ending, cinematic storyline and ever engaging character of Clementine makes it seem like a perfect candidate for movie adaptation and it offers the added benefit of learning some of the basics of French cooking.  All around an engaging and highly original read that we thoroughly enjoyed. Later this year, we will be featuring a few recipes from this book, so stay tuned.

8. Bon Appetit – Jessie Hartland (2012)

Joie de vivre is a term often associated with the French culture that defines their eternal zest and enthusiasm for life. If ever a book captured that phrase, it would be this one, Bon Appetit by Jessie Hartland. At first glance, you’ll think this is a kids book meant just for the enjoyment of little ones. But don’t be fooled. It is wonderfully inspiring and whimsical for adults as well. Detailing the entire life story of Julia Child in just 45 pages of colorful illustrations and clever text, Jessie Hartland has managed to capture the enigmatic and infectious personality of America’s best-loved cook. You’ll read the whole thing in a jiffy but its infectious positivity will stick with you forever.

9. At Home With Kate – Eileen Considine-Meara (2007)

Norah Considine was Katharine Hepburn’s cook, friend and all around helper for 30 years. At Home with Kate shares, the intimate details of day-to-day life in Kate’s household as Norah prepared meals and planned parties in both her NYC residence and the Hepburn family compound in Connecticut during the last three decades of Kate’s life. Written by Norah’s daughter, Eileen, who first met Kate when she was a teenager helping her mom serve meals during Kate’s dinner parties,  At Home with Kate is an entertaining conglomeration of memoir, biographical sketch and thoughtful retrospection on three women who shared an extraordinary experience.

Norah with her celebrity crush – Robert Wagner, taken in the kitchen of Kate’s Manhattan townhouse. Photo from At Home with Kate by Eileen Considine-Meara.

For all the glamour, independence and mystery surrounding the Old Hollywood film star, Eileen shows us that Katharine Hepburn, in real-life, was a thrifty homebody with a taste for simple foods and quiet dinner parties. We loved that it contained a handful of Kate’s recipes along with the memories too. It was interesting to see that the dishes Kate enjoyed most reflected her unfussy philosophy towards food – meatloaf, brownies, stew, rum cake, steak and a variety of soups.  And it was interesting to learn that it wasn’t all about cooking for Norah – her responsibilities ran the gamut as far as tasks required of her (errands, gardening, cleaning and on-loan cook for some of Kate’s friends, as well) all while Norah was raising five kids of her own and working a minimum of 10 hours a day at Kate’s. In October, we featured Kate’s famous lace cookies, the recipe most often requested by house guests and always kept in constant supply in Kate’s kitchen. Find that recipe here.

Each of the books we listed above have nourished us in one way or another whether it be through imagination, introspection or edibles. Hope our reading while eating selections prove to be equally engaging for you as well. If you have discovered some new favorite books from last year too, please share them with us in the comments section below. We are always on the lookout for something fun to read.

In the meantime, cheers to cozy winter days and culinary creativity!

Katharine Hepburn’s Lace Cookies

 

Red meat, big salads, tea, butterscotch pudding, ice cream, meatloaf, homemade cookies… those were some of Katharine Hepburn’s most favorite foods. Whether she was staying at her Turtle Bay residence in mid-town Manhattan or at her family’s compound in Old Saybrook,  Connecticut, Katharine liked most entertaining people at home with a homecooked meal.

Kate in her natural element… cleaning up the kitchen of her Connecticut waterfront home, Fenwick,  and dining outdoors in the courtyard of her Manhattan townhouse.

If you were lucky enough to be invited to dinner at either of Katharine Hepburn’s houses, you’d arrive promptly at 6:00pm and leave by 8:00pm so that she could be in bed by 8:15pm. A notorious early riser, Katharine lived by her own clock, bustling through the hours of her day with an admirable endurance that lasted her entire life.

But needless to say, even the most energetic of crusaders experiences a point in each day when blood sugar runs low and a brief rest is welcomed. For Lady Kate that small break in her schedule came at tea-time, her most favorite part of the afternoon, which she’d serve in antique teacups collected from her travels around the world. The saucers hardly ever matched the cups, the handles were sometimes repaired in one or two spots and there might be a chip in the rim, but none of that mattered. They were perfectly lovely serving pieces for a perfectly lovely time of day.

These are some of Katharine Hepburn’s serving pieces that she collected throughout her ninety-six years of life. In 2010 they were up for auction at Sotheby’s.

“Nice things are meant to be used,” said Kate when it came to living with antiques. The older the item the better it seemed. And because she was sentimental and somewhat thrifty she saw no harm in repairing a broken dish so that it could return to its previously useful state.

Along with a strong batch of freshly brewed tea, she would also always serve a homemade sweet treat believing that dessert tasted better in the afternoon than it did at night after a full meal. One of the dessert recipes she was most well-known for was her Lace Cookies which take their name from their paper-thin constitution and delicate web-like appearance.

This past week, the Vintage Kitchen moved to a new space and like Kate our energy was running on high as we packed and unpacked in a dizzy array of busyness. But now finally that we are settled and the moving boxes have been emptied, our own tea-time has come calling. We don’t get the luxury of having Katharine Hepburn come join us, but at least we have her recipe and a good imagination to make up the rest.  Tracy Lord (The Philadelphia Story), Ethel Thayer (On Golden Pond), Tess Harding (Woman of the Year) … if we could somehow magically invite these Hepburn characters along with Kate this surely would be a tea-time of legend. If you are unfamiliar with Kate’s movies here is a little clip from our most favorite, The Philadelphia Story, where she plays a bride-to-be whose dealing with cold feet and a complicated heart.

When Katharine was on set or on stage she was known to give helpful training and technique suggestions to less-experienced cast members who were struggling with a scene or a role. She was careful never to tell them exactly step-by-step how to get from point A to point B because she thought that would just yield a copycat performance. What she did offer instead was advice and recommendations that would help shape the parameters of a character or the foundations of a scene so that actors could confidently put their own personality into the performance. In essence, she offered helpful broad strokes and left the details up to the individual to interpret. The same can be said for her recipe sharing.

The first thing you’ll notice about her cookie recipe is how simple it is.  But we all know simple things can sometimes turn out to be most complicated. Kate’s approach to acting was often described as enigmatic, precise, contagious, controlling, all-consuming, accommodating and effortless. Her lace cookies share all those same attributes. They were absolutely delicious but they can be a little finicky, so before you whip up your own batch please note the following bits of advice from the Vintage Kitchen.

  •  Do not use anything bigger than a teaspoon to drop your dough onto the cookie sheet. (We first made tablespoon sized cookies, thinking the bigger the better,  and once heated up in the oven each separate cookie  spread out to meet up with the others and form one giant cookie that covered the entire baking sheet and never fully cooked.)
  • A disposable foil cookie sheet works better than a metal non-stick cookie sheet because of the raised perforations in the disposable sheet design.
  • Don”t forget to grease your cookie sheet in-between each batch or the cookies will stick like glue to the pan.
  • It’s best to serve these within 30 minutes after they’ve come out of the oven.  That’s when they are crispy like a potato chip. Over an extended amount of time, they relax to a more limp and chewy state (although still delicious!)

Also, Kate made her cookies with finely chopped walnuts, but we used roughly chopped peanuts because we thought the cookies would stack in a more whimsical way for the photograph. We were right – rough chopping adds a little more volume to the stack. So depending on your preference, nuts and chopping style these cookies call for a little of your own creativity as well, just like Kate would have encouraged.

 

Katharine Hepburn’s Lace Cookies

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 egg, room temperature

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/3 cup raw sugar

2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 1/3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup finely chopped walnuts (or roughly chopped peanuts or any nut of your preference)

Beat butter, egg, and vanilla together until smooth. Add sugars and flor to egg mixture, mix thoroughly. Stir in nuts. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls on greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 7-8 minutes. Cool on baking sheet. Makes about 30 cookies.

With a consistency like very thin peanut brittle and a taste like toffee, these cookies are delicate coasters of caramelized sweetness. And because they contain so little flour, they are a crisp and light dessert alternative to something dense and gooey. Keep in mind, they don’t travel well because of their fragile nature, so these treats are best enjoyed at home with friends and family and a late afternoon pot of tea just like Kate would’ve have done.

Cheers to Kate for her delicious recipe and to finding a little sweet respite in your busy schedule!

* This post was originally intended to appear as part of the Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn blogathon hosted by In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Unfortunately, our move interrupted our ability to participate, but you can still catch up on all the fun posts featuring the great Kate here.

 

The Lady Behind The Leopard: Bringing Up Baby’s Unseen Star

Olga Celeste on set with Neissa. Photo courtesy of Click magazine, 1938.
Olga Celeste on set with Neissa. Photo courtesy of Click magazine, 1938.

Seventy-eight February’s ago (that’s 1938, if you struggle with math) Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant were lighting up the silver screen with funny situations in their second movie together, Bringing Up Baby.

bringing up baby movie poster

They shared the comedic spotlight in this movie with two more co-stars – non-traditional sidekicks that were a bit out of the ordinary even for Hollywood standards…

Olga Celeste and her leopard Neissa. Photo courtesy of Click Magazine, February 1938.
Olga Celeste and her leopard Neissa. Photo courtesy of Click Magazine, February 1938.

Meet Olga Celeste, an early Hollywood animal trainer and her favorite Indian leopard Neissa.  Olga was born in Sweden in the late 1880’s and began working with animals at the age of 11. By 1938, she had taken her talent all the way to Burbank, California where she held court as the only female leopard trainer in the world.

Ms. Jeannie loves this photo below – you can see Olga’s excitement in working with her students.

Olga at work. Photo curtesy of Click Magazine 1938
Olga at work. Photo curtesy of Click Magazine 1938

Part of the Vaudeville circuit, she was also an actress and stunt double but her true passion lied in leopards. Using the art of conversation, rather than physical brut power, Olga trained her leopards by talking to them, using the power of her confident personality to gain control of the cats instead of using fear tactics and force.

The 1920's Luna Park Zoo brochure which features Olga on the very far right. Brochure photograph courtesy of lincolnheightsla.com
The 1920’s Luna Park Zoo brochure which features Olga on the very far right. Brochure photograph courtesy of lincolnheightsla.com

Employed by the Luna Park Zoo in Los Angeles, Olga worked with and trained a handful of leopards but her favorite was Neissa, whom she considered nothing more than a large house cat. Because Neissa was such a joy to have around, Olga often took her home with her after a long day on the set. Like any person passionate about their profession, Olga’s home reflected her life with leopards in both the decor and the wall art, which was made up of signed photographs of all the actors she had worked with in Hollywood.

At home with Neissa.
At home with Neissa. Photo courtesy of Click Magazine, February 1938.

Sweet and docile for the most part Neissa did have a precocious side. As a lover of perfume (like all pretty ladies!) Neissa was soothed, comforted and drawn to anything that smelled fragrant, so Olga used perfume as her main training technique.

In Bringing Up Baby, the very first scene shot for the movie featured Katharine Hepburn walking around her bedroom and talking on the phone wearing a gorgeous floating dressing gown.

True professionals...Neissa and Katharine in action.
True professionals…Neissa and Katharine in action.

Perfume was sprinkled on the cloth near Katharine’s knee so that Neissa in the scene would rub up against Katharine’s leg in affectionate greeting.

“I must add that I didn’t have enough brains to be scared, so I did a lot of scenes with the leopard just roaming around.” – Katharine Hepburn, on interacting with her feline co-star

Neissa’s character, Baby, was portrayed as a sweet and affectionate cat with a touch of wild precociousness. Like her real-life self, Neissa was also sweet and affectionate and wildly precocious.

Promotional still for Bringing Up Baby featuring Katharine and Neissa.
Promotional still for Bringing Up Baby featuring Katharine and Neissa.

Katharine worked with Neissa at ease up until the point the innocent clinking of wardrobe weights on one particular skirt irritated Neissa so much so that she spontaneously lunged for Katharine’s hemline. Luckily Olga stepped in at just the right moment before anything unfortunate happened but it did cause fearless Kate to readjust her casual relationship with Neissa.

Olga, always quick on her feet had the strength and ability to lift up to 200 pounds, so she was capable of protecting all actors on-set should something go awry but Cary Grant wasn’t reassured by Olga’s presence just off-camera. He was so terrified of Neissa that the director Howard Hawkes had to come up with creative shots so that Cary and Neissa never actually acted together in any one scene.

This was one of the scenes that had to be patched together so that Neissa and Cary Grant didn't have to act together.
This was one of the scenes that had to be patched together so that Neissa and Cary Grant didn’t have to be in the car at the same time together.

Olga understood that leopards weren’t for everyone but hoped through training demonstrations and film performances that people would come to understand how truly intelligent and extraordinary these exotic creatures were. Working well into her 60’s, Olga’s last film with her leopards was the 1950’s blockbuster The Ten Commandments, but a lover never truly stops loving, so she continued to stay engaged,  interested and informed with all matters animal throughout her retirement.   After more than seven decades in the film and animal training industries, Olga passed away at the age of 81 in Burbank.

leo5
Olga and Neissa, pals for life. Photo courtesy of Click Magazine. February 1938.

Olga is a fantastic role model for the month of February… this follow-your-heart time of year that is synonymous with love, passion, romance and taking chances.  Olga made a lifetime career out of pursuing her interests, living fearlessly and having fun in the process. She fell in love with leopards at a young age and managed to stretch that interest across two continents, eight decades, one wild kingdom and millions of people.

Although initially under-appreciated, Bringing Up Baby is now regarded as one of the best comedic movies of all-time and consistently lands on the ten best list of Katharine Hepburn’s greatest performances. If there was never an Olga, there would never have been a Neissa. And if there was never a Neissa there might never have been a comfortable Kate and if there was never a comfortable Kate there would never have been a successfully comedic Baby. And if there was never a Baby there would be a few less laughs in the world. And the thought of that dear readers is an absolute tragedy.

Cheers to Olga and to living life with a heart full of love!

 

clickmagazine

{A little side note: Photographs for this blog post came from a feature article in the debut issue of Click Magazine published in February 1938, which was recently for sale in Ms. Jeannie’s shop. As so happens sometimes with almost antique paper, this vintage magazine is starting to show signs of wear and tear so in order to preserve its contents Ms. Jeannie will be framing it behind glass and featuring it in an upcoming blog post on decorating. Stay tuned!}

 

 

 

Classic Style – A Glamorous Conversation with The Vintage Hat Shop

Funny enough, this is Ms. Jeannie’s second post dedicated to hats and her fifth mention of them in previous fashion related posts. You see, dear readers, Ms. Jeannie has a great love affair with hats, which she is just now realizing.

She only owns three herself: a bright green celery colored garden hat, a wide brim, floppy, shoulder to shoulder straw beach hat and a fancy derby hat which she recycles every year through the magic of ebay – hardly the dynamic collection of a hat lover!

But what Ms. Jeannie has come to realize is that the thing she might just love most about a hat is the ability to subtly express oneself through a color, an adornment, a slight placement of angle. Whether you want to hide from the sun under your big brim or show off your flamboyant style in an eye-catching fascinator  – a hat can speak volumes about its wearer without her having to say anything at all. Magical!   So when Ms. Jeannie came upon this quote by Martha Sliter – she could completely relate:

“A hat is a flag, a shield, a bit of armor, and the badge of femininity. A hat is the difference between wearing clothing and wearing a costume; it’s the difference between being dressed and being dressed up; it’s the difference between looking adequate and looking your best. A hat is to be stylish in, to glow under, to flirt beneath, to make all others seem jealous over, and to make all men feel masculine about. A piece of magic is a hat.”

Well said Martha! A piece of magic is a hat! This got Ms. Jeannie to thinking about the past – back to nostalgic times when women (and men!) wore hats everyday and millinery shops lined the streets of every city. Now those physical brick and morter shops are few and far between but thanks to Etsy, we can still enjoy vintage hat shopping in our new and modern way – online!

Vintage Hat Forms – photo courtesy of Greg Lang via pinterest

Lucky for us – one of Ms. Jeannie’s readers is Cindy – the dynamo behind The Vintage Hat Shop on Etsy. With over 100 hats currently for sale and over 700 hats sold in just over two years, who better to sit down with to discuss the state of the hat union than her?!  Enjoy this stroll through fashion history as Cindy gives us all a glimpse behind the curtain of a true vintage hat shop….

Vintage 1940s Tilt Hat in Gray with Bows from theVintageHatShop

Ms. Jeannie:  How did your Etsy shop come about?

Cindy from The Vintage Hat Shop: I get asked that question a lot. I knew that when I opened a shop on Etsy I wanted to concentrate on just one item. Hats just seemed to work for me—they are unique, ship easily, and I like the types of folks that buy hats. I love hunting for unusual and stylish hats.

1930’s Halo Hat Clamshell Turban from theVintageHatShop

MJ:  Explain a little bit about sourcing your hats – do you have to do a lot of mending and cleaning to do or do you look for hats that are only in pristine condition?

TVHS: I have my own certain criteria for hats—I won’t buy a hat that has a foul smell, is soiled or needs a lot of repair. I do replace elastic back bands, remove veils, do a bit of minor mending. I iron a lot of ribbons. And I go through many lint rollers.

MJ: Your shop spans many decades – do you have a most favorite time period? 

TVHS: I like the ’40s hats myself. I just think it was such an interesting era and the hats are a reflection of the times. The styles were rather “gutsy” and dramatic. So many supplies were in short supply during the war and innovation was the key. I admire and respect that. Such a variety of fashion styles are available from that time period.

1940’s Tilt Slouch Hat in Lavender with Ostrich Feathers from theVintageHatShop

MJ:  Are you just as interested in hat related paraphernalia, like hat pins, hat boxes, etc as you are hats?

TVHS: I am interested in hat related items but I seldom buy them. I have too many interests and I make myself concentrate on just hats. The hat pins that I have were passed on to me by family members.

Miniature Dobbs Hatbox – from theVintageHatShop

MJ:  Kate Middleton seems to have brought some new attention to the hat industry, are most of your clients from the U.S. or overseas?

Some of Kate Middleton’s hat collection. Photos (clockwise) courtesy of: marieclaire.co.uk, graziadaily.co.uk, allhatnocattle.net, zimbio.com, hatsca.com

TVHS: I have clients all over the world. I have sold hats to folks in 27 countries—(yes, I keep a list!) About a third of my sales are international. I have hat dealers in 3 countries that buy from me for their shops. Australia is the country to which I ship the most hats.

MJ: If you could put one of your hats on any famous head, living or dead, who would you choose?

TVHS: Some of my hats would look great on Lady Diana. Can you imagine!

Actually Cindy – Ms. Jeannie can imagine this! She thinks Diana looks splendid in your 1960’s sequined pillbox hat!

MJ:  What is your most popular selling style of hat? And most popular decade?

TVHS: That’s a good question, but I haven’t quite figured out the answer yet! There doesn’t seem to be one decade that is consistently popular. Right now I am selling 1960’s cloches that look like they came from the 1920’s. For awhile 1940’s tilts were very popular. The tilt/slouch look from the 1930’s consistently sells well.

Vintage cloche hat with 1920’s style (one of Ms. Jeannie’s favortes!) fromtheVintageHatShop
1940’s Vintage Saks Fifth Ave Forward Tilt Hat from theVintageHatShop
1930’s Tilt Slouch Hat from theVintageHatShop

MJ: At the moment, there seems to be just a few men’s hats in your shop – is it harder to find men’s hats then women’s, do they sell more quickly or do you just have a natural affinity for a more feminine style?

Men’s Newsboy Cap from theVintageHatShop

TVHS: I like men’s hats but I don’t seek them out. Men want their dress hats to fit exactly and it is very hard to size them. Most of the fedoras that I find are a small size. So I rarely list them anymore. I do sell newsboy caps which can be worn by either men or women.

MJ:  In your shop bio, it reads that one of your buyers was Polo Ralph Lauren – how exciting! Have you seen your hats in any of their campaigns?

TVHS: No, but I haven’t been looking . Guess I should check that out.

MJ: What is your most favorite hat currently available in your shop?

I like the 1930s maroon tilt slouch hat. I like the quiet simplicity with a touch of classy style. But my favorite changes often.

1930’s Maroon Slouch Tilt Hat from TheVintageHatShop

MJ: Tell us a fun hat buying story in regards to one of your customers…

TVHS: Last week I sold two hats to Loretta Young’s daughter-in-law. Loretta Young loved Lilly Dache’ hats and one of the hats purchased was a black velvet Dachette turban. The hats will be used at a Loretta Young 100th anniversary exhibit at the Hollywood Museum in LA that runs from December through April. She even encouraged me to attend!

Loretta Young (1913-2000) was an American, award winning film and television actress. Photo courtesy of fanpop.com
Cindy’s hats are la-la bound! See them on display at the Hollywood Museum. How very glamorous! Photo courtesy of thehollywoodmuseum.com. Click the photo for more info.

Two of my 40s hats were purchased to be worn by extras in the movie “42”, the Jackie Robinson story starring Harrison Ford now being filmed in Macon, GA. You can bet I will be going to see that movie!

Movie Poster for 42

Many of my hats have been purchased for vintage weddings, theatrical productions, professional photo shoots and to women that like to dress in a vintage style. Today I sent a hat to a woman that is going to a Gatsby themed wedding and wanted a vintage cloche. You just never know! That’s what makes it so fun.

MJ:  Do you have a favorite “hat” movie? “Hat” actress? “Hat” actor?

TVHS: I like the 40s movies and actresses—Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman. I can’t pick out a favorite hat movie! What guy wears a hat better than Frank Sinatra?

Clockwise from left: Bette, Katharine, Frank and Ingrid (okay Bogie – you too!)

MJ: Why do you think women’s hats fell out of fashion as a regular, everyday accessory?

TVHS: A lot of people attribute the demise of hat wearing to hairspray! When women get their hair all “dolled up” and put on hairspray so it stays in place. They don’t want to ruin their “do” with a hat. I know on the days when I go hat shopping by the end of the day I have “hat hair”. It isn’t pretty.

MJ:  What do you look for in a vintage hat?

TVHS: I look for a hat with class and style. Sometimes I buy hats I don’t like because I know there is a market for them. But usually if I just don’t like a hat at first sight, I don’t buy it. And I love most any hat that tilts.

MJ: Do you wear hats yourself?

TVHS: Now you would think so, wouldn’t you? But in reality I seldom wear hats. They just aren’t in fashion in this area. (Which makes them available for hat buyers!!). But I do come home and try on every one that I buy. Shhhh. Don’t tell the family, they already think I am hat possessed.

MJ:   Can you tell us something a little “extra” about these 5 hats from your shop (Ms. Jeannie’s favorites!)… 

Favorite #1: Vintage 1960’s velvet cloche with 1920’s style from theVintageHatShop

This hat has a great memory. I purchased it on a trip to see my family. We had such a terrific time that day. Now it is off to London.

Favorite #2: 1960’s Bucket Tilt with Coralie Faux Fur from theVintageHatShop

 I purchased this hat because the color was unusual. And the feather looked like a bird!

Favorite #3: Vintage Cloche Hat with 1920’s Style from theVintageHatShop

There is an antique shop that I stop at often, they don’t know my name, they just call me “The Hat Lady”. I found this hat there. Could anyone pass up a 1920s cloche in this condition?!!

Favorite #4: Vintage 1950’s Turban Style Hat from theVintageHatShop

Turbans are very popular right now and this is such a great color. It has more of a structured shape than other turbans that I sell.

Vintage 1960’s Tilt Slouch, Beret Style with Rhinestone Pin from TheVintageHatShop

What a classy way to do a winter hat! That beading adds just the right touch of interest.

MJ:  What was your most exciting hat acquisition story?

TVHS: Last summer I went to a local estate sale. A widow had died 15 years ago at age 90 and her nephew was just cleaning out her home. She was meticulous about her belongings. Her hats were exquisite! I got some from each decade 1910s-1950s. One of her hats was made by a local milliner, that will go to our county museum. I have two of her hats that I just can’t quite bring myself to list. I am a sentimentalist at heart. I had such a great time that day! And I was so honored to pass her hats on to collectors that would also treasure them.

MJ: You have lovely models in your shop! Tell us a little about them.

Meet the Vintage Hat Shop models…Jo & Jo!

TVHS: I had searched for months for a new mannequin. I had been to antique shows, and every shop in our area but just couldn’t find a mannequin that suited my style. I had decided to order a new one on line and just make it work. My husband and I decided to go out to a small town for a Friday night dinner and parked next to a tiny gift/antique shop. The mannequin gal with the dark brown hair was in the window! The shop was closed for the night and the next day was the last day for the season. You can bet that I took another trip back to that store early the next morn and purchased her. I went to the same shop again this spring and bought the redhead. Oh, and of course many hats, too!
It makes me happy each time I use them. I have named them both Jo—after a classy aunt.( yes, she wore hats and loved them!)

MJ:  What style advice would you give to the first time vintage hat buyer?

TVHS: Buy hats you love of course. But the real secret is to give your hat a good tilt. For the “oo-la-la” factor.

Other interesting tid-bits from Cindy’s world:

Currently on her bookshelf: 

Recommended Books from Cindy: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, Until Tuesday by Luis Carlos Montalvan, and The Measure of A Man by Sidney Poitier

Currently listening to:  Country music on the radio. 

If she could luncheon with anyone famous living or dead, she’d choose: Eleanor Roosevelt 

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) – First Lady of the United States from 1933-1945, civil rights activist, author and public speaker.

Of course Eleanor would be the one in the hat!

This interview is part of an ongoing interview series that Ms. Jeannie is orchestrating about artists, writers and musicians and their inspirations. To read other interviews in this series, simply click here.

 

Book List: Ms. Jeannie’s Top 10 Books About African Adventure

Ms. Jeannie is a collector of books on Africa. Mostly she loves those fish out of water stories, either fiction or non-fiction,  about people that discover Africa through their own experience.

Having had the opportunity to visit both the Ivory Coast (west Africa) and Morocco when she was young, Ms. Jeannie can appreciate that Africa means different things to different people. Ms. Jeannie’s experience was full of pink buildings and dusty red roads, sugar sweet pineapple (the best she has ever eaten in her life), black black faces and bright white smiles, medicine men and open air markets,  belly dancers and mosaic tiles.

In Morocco, she woke up every day to the sounds of street sweepers sweeping the streets with palm fronds, a soft scratchy whoohsing sound that was exotic and comforting all in one.  She learned how to play squash and how to belly dance. She saw a snake charmer in the marketplace and watched the vendors sell, nap and chase customers and the children tag along behind hunting chiclets gum.

The following books represent many different viewpoints on Africa spread out over a century. There is politics, family, romance, nature, friendship, death, disease, prejudice… but one universal theme exists between them all… that Africa is wild. It’s what Ms. Jeannie felt the entire time, she was there. No exceptions. No airs. No rationalizations. Just nature in all its grandeur and brutality….

1.  I Married Adventure by Osa Johnson. Originally published in 1940.

I Married Adventure – available from EverUpwardNY

Ms. Jeannie first came upon this book while antique shopping on her honeymoon. Funny, this is how she felt marrying Mr. Jeannie Ology:)  Detailing the lives of adventuring filmmakers, Martin & Osa Johnson, I Married Adventure portrays Africa from two interesting perspectives – newlyweds and artists.

2.Don’t Let’s Go to The Dogs Tonight  – Alexandra Fuller. Originally published in 2001.

A book about growing up in Africa certainly, but most intersting, a book about family. Told from Bobo’s (Alexandra Fuller) fresh perspective as a child of politically charged bohemian parents, Bobo’s childhood was anything but ordianry. She captures the relationship between her and her sister with such relateability that Ms. Jeannie laughed out loud and then called her own sister to recommend it.

3. West With the Night – Beryl Markham. Originally published in 1942.

West With the Night by Beryl Markham

Full of graceful, beautiful writing from a woman who became the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic, this book pulls you in from page one.  An excerpt from the opening paragraphs gives you a glimpse into her writing style:   “After all, I am no weaver. Weavers create. This is remembrance – re visitation; and names are keys that open corridors no longer fresh in the mind, but nonetheless familiar in the heart.”

As a sidenote: Ms. Jeannie first discovered this book in her junior year of college. Needing a monologue to recite for speech class her father suggested something from West With The Night. Ms. Jeannie read it cover to cover in two days and recited a four page  passage about the feeling of flying. Her professor said it was too long but her classmates were intrigued:)

4. Woman in the Mists – Farley Mowat. Originally published in 1998.

Woman in the Mists by Farley Mowat

If you’ve seen the movie Gorillas In The Mist, starring Sigourney Weaver then you’ll know the precipice of this biography. Dian Fossey was a woman all her own. Like Jane Goodall, she felt called to become an animal advocate. Shedding her contemporary lifestyle to study animals in their environment, she made it her life-long mission to bring attention to the lives of the mountain gorillas of Africa. It was a brave decision and her lifelong work intensive and noble to say the least, but purposefulness also came with a price and Farley Mowat delicately describes both the strengths and the weaknesses of one women’s attempt at tremendous action.

5. Out of Africa – Isak Dinesen. Originally published in 1937.

Out of Africa – 1952 edition – available from RetroHut

Romantic, nostologic, glamorous, adventurous – this true life story about Baroness Karen von Blixen who moves to Africa to start a coffee plantation, has it all. After you read it, be sure to watch the movie, Out of Africa, starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. Stunning on both accounts.

6. The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver. Originally published in 1998.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Like Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, this book is about family as much as it is about Africa. Although it is a novel, it reads like non-fiction, full of relatable characters and circumstances. Each chapter is written from the voice of one of the four Price daughters and their mother (with the the littlest one being Ms. Jeannie’s most favorite!), so you get a really well rounded sense of their lifestyle  in the Belgian Congo as their father attempts to connect with the locals through his missionary work. This is not a book about religion, so don’t let the title dispel you.

7.  The Making of The African Queen by Katharine Hepburn. Originally published in 1987.

The Making of the African Queen by Katharine Hepburn

Who can resist Katharine Hepburn’s viewpoint on anything?! Packed full of her usual charm and wit, The Making of is fun for movie buffs who like to learn about what goes on behind the camera. The movie, The African Queen, came out in 1951 and starred Kate, Humphrey Bogart and Robert Morley. It was directed by John Huston. Humphrey Bogart plays a riverboat captain and Katharine Hepburn, a prime and proper missionary. They are a hilarious pairing:)

8.  Rules of the Wild – Francesca Marciano. Originally published in 1999.

Rules of the Wild by Francesca Marciano

Rules of the Wild centers around a group of fictitious expatriates living in Kenya.  At the heart of the story is Esme, who gives us her perspective on life and love in the wilds of African culture. Like, West With The Night, it is beautifully poetic and Esme provides intimate details about life in Africa that you would have never considered. Here is the opening paragraph…

In a way, everything here is always secondhand. You will inherit a car from someone who has decided to leave the country, which you will then sell to one of your friends. You will move into a new house where you have already been when someone else lived there and had great parties in which you got incredibly drunk, and someone you know will move in when you decide to move out. You will make love to someone who has slept with all your friends. There will never be anything brand new in your life.”

9. The Power of One – Bryce Courtenay. Originally published in 1989.

Ms. Jeannie got caught up in the energy and determination of  the energetic main character Peekay. If you are looking for a book to inspire you or cheer you up – then this is the one! Ms. Jeannie won’t spoil any of the plot, but after you’ve read it be sure not to miss the movie of the same title – beautifully crafted – just like the book.

10. The Flame Trees of Thika – Elspeth Huxley, originally published in 1959

Ms. Jeannie is just at the start of this book – but already she loves it. This a true account of Elspeth’s childhood as she and her parents set up house in Kenya in the early part of the 1900’s.  Ms. Jeannie is reading the illustrated 1987 edition which contains family photographs as well as beautifully rendered illustrations by Kenyan artist, Francesca Pelizzoli.

If you’ve read any of these, please share your thoughts with us! If not, happy reading:)