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:)