Hello and Happy New Year’s Eve and Thank You for Bringing the Joy in 2020

Hello, dear kitcheners. Hope everyone is having a cozy holiday and enjoying something delicious. I wanted to send out a little Merry Christmas post last Friday with well-wishes for the holiday and a photo of the outdoor Christmas tree we made for the city birds this year, but the December 25th bomb explosion in our city waylayed those plans. The explosion happened just a half-mile away from where my husband and I live. Fortunately, everyone we know is safe and fine, but the whole event was pretty nerve-wracking.  We lost internet service for three days, so that’s what stalled the happy holidays post, but that time offline gave me a chance to think about this post and all things that brought real joy to a year that can only be off-handly described as challenging.

The Nashville skyline as seen from mid-town. September 2018

To everyone who checked in on us over the holiday, I just wanted to say a special thank you. I don’t often write about our local home base of Nashville here on the blog, because I always like to think of the Vintage Kitchen as a universal place that defies roots in a specific city, state, or country. But on certain occasions, local events and local situations do affect the workings of the Kitchen and therefore require some recognition. Like the highs and lows that punctuated every week in this calendar year, the holiday started off lovely with a snowstorm on Christmas Eve. How rare and enchanting! Then in the morning, there was a bomb and the city was changed.

 In other years, other Christmases, this is what 2nd Avenue looked like during the holiday season…

Photo by Chris Wage. 2012

I’ve walked this street a million times on my way to the French bakery for baguettes, on my way to the library for research, on my way to dinner at some favorite downtown restaurants. With its sparkly trees and century-old brick buildings, the atmosphere on 2nd Avenue during November and December is usually a reliable guarantee.  It always hums with cocktail fueled celebrations, Christmas music pouring out of the bars, and a sense of bustling adventure as merrymakers drift from one entertaining music venue to the next.

Renowned in town as the section of the city that contains the most concentrated collection of Victorian and early 20th-century commercial warehouses, it has an enchanting aesthetic that blends the contemporary with the historic. Horse and buggy carriage rides line the street as country bands croon and tourists from all over the world traipse up and down, in and out, and all around the brick structures that have lorded over this side of the city since the 1860s. 

Unfortunately, that environment is no longer a guarantee anymore. This is what 2nd Avenue looked like this Christmas…

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

On the National Register of Historic Places since the 1970s, the buildings of 2nd avenue for the past 170 years have told stories of Southern history that date back to the steamboat days of the Victorian era. Located just one block from the riverfront, they are especially significant in regards to the role they played in the commercial trade occurring along the vital Cumberland River during the 19th and 20th centuries. 

With loading docks on the riverside and retail sales space on the 2nd avenue side, these tall, elegant and imposing warehouses were all-encompassing,  enabling entrepreneurs to handle all sides of their business including shipping, receiving, distribution, and retail sales all in one place, all in one space.

Evolving with the times for different needs and uses, most of the buildings along the waterfront have been able to retain the unique architectural details that hint at what wharf life was like in the 1800s.  Rounded doorways, intricate moldings, barely visible painted signs peek out from their facades.  Side doors, basement entrances, industrial windows, weathered wood, hand-forged hardware, rooftop terraces, even a secret garden in one stretch hint at activities that once occurred. It’s not hard to imagine different days and different eras. In a city that is constantly growing and changing, this set of buildings adds a comforting sense, a grounding blanket, to an urban landscape that grows taller, newer, every week. 

Downtown Nashville Waterfront Photo Credit: Austin Wills

But now the bombing has marked these buildings and left the fate of them hanging in a precarious state. All the damage has yet to be completely accessed, but it looks grim for several of the historic structures on 2nd Avenue.

Photo Credit: News Channel 5

It’s impossible to try and sort out the reasoning behind the whole bombing ordeal when information is still being gathered and one man’s mental state is still up to interpretation. Right now all I can do is chalk it up to a really terrible event in a year plagued with really terrible events.

It would be easy to slide into despair about everything that has gone wrong in these past 365 days, especially here in my city, but on January 1st, 2020 I wholeheartedly declared that this was going to be the year of joy and I’m determined, as the title of this blog post states, to wrap up these past 12 months by highlighting the things that did bring joy this year, no matter how big or small.  So here it goes, pandemic and bomb explosions and race riots and tornadoes aside, here are the best moments of joy that occurred in the Vintage Kitchen this year…

If you are in a hurry and you need a nutshell, the year of 2020 goes something like this – we cooked, we read, we watched fun things. We donated, we crafted, we communicated. We treasured nature. We treasured life.  We treasured any thing that grew in a positive direction. We laughed, we celebrated. We zoomed. We wrote about other times and other places. We researched. We discovered.  We cherished anything that birthed a smile or spawned a good time, no matter how silly or fleeting. And we grew. This was the year for patience and appreciation. For understanding and for finding more meaning. This was the year for the Kitchen and for the comfort it brought. 

If you have some time to spend over this holiday weekend, here’s a little bit more of an in-depth look at what made the land of the Vintage Kitchen most joyful this past year. 

Kangaroo Island 

When the wildfires broke out in Australia in January, we were on Week Two of the International Vintage Recipe Tour. Featuring a cake recipe popular in the land down under, we hosted our first-ever donation drive with a percentage of shop sales for the week going to the rescue efforts at Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park via their GoFundMe page.   I’m so happy to say that the Vintage Kitchen raised over $100 for the cause. As a thank you on behalf of any and all donations, the Park  sends out regular updates on how the animals are doing and the progress that they are making to get everyone back on their feet again.  Every one of you who purchased a shop item during our drive in January, aided in this rescue effort, so I wanted to share two updates with you that really made me stop and smile this year. The first is this photo featuring a recovering koala that had been burned in the fires. 

Weigh Day! April 2020. photo courtesy of Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park

The photo was taken on weigh day in April, which is an exciting progress report both for the koalas themselves and the rescue team. I just love that the koalas get weighed on a tree pole. So cute! And this one looks so happy and ready to be back on the road to healthy.

In July, the park sent out this 2-minute video. Koalas are not bears, but when they all sit together on their tree branches they look as cuddly as a favorite teddy:) 

 

A Press Feature 

In November 2020, our very first International Vintage Recipe Tour dish (Week One: Armenian Stuffed Meatballs) was featured both in print and online with the readers of the Armenian Mirror-Spectator, a weekly newspaper based in Massachusetts. Especially exciting because the newspaper reports on all things Armenia from around the globe including news, arts, culture and cooking, the feature introduced a whole new community of home cooks to the Vintage Kitchen and helped promote not only our love of heirloom recipes but also our love of traditional heritage foods. 

Messages From You 

One of the most consistent things that helped fuel the Kitchen this year were messages from you. Feedback from shop sales, inquiries about vintage kitchenware and chats about blog posts and recipes peppered email and social media conversations throughout 2020. Here are a few fun snippets shared from within our culinary community that brought an extra dose of joy to the year…

Melissa wrote into the shop with a question about the age of her grandmother’s nut chopper, which resulted in a lovely conversation about family heirlooms. She also shared a photo of her 5-year-old kitchen helper, who is now the fourth generation family member to use (and love) this vintage grinder. How wonderful!

Viktoria, who you may recall from the Recipe Tour’s  Austrian interview, sent a note and photo to say that she finally made it to the top of the Stanser Joch mountain this year. In her interview published in late January, when asked about goals for the year she admitted that it was hard to plan given these uncertain times.  But one thing she hoped to accomplish was climbing to the top of Stanser Joch. In the fall of 2020 she sent this photo and crossed that goal off her list. How exciting! She joked that it was pretty much the only goal she was able to count on accomplishing this year, but in my book that makes it her best goal. Cheers to Viktoria! 

Photo credit: Viktoria Reiter

Blog reader Gwen, wrote in to say that she braved the flambe and made Bananas Au Rhum (featured in this Haitian post) and not only enjoyed the recipe but also was impressed by the fact that she did not burn her kitchen down in the process! Cheers to you and your bravery Gwen! 

Fellow blog reader and Vintage Kitchen shopper, Marianne, purchased the 1965 edition of Farm Journal’s Complete Pie Cookbook and then got to baking in her kitchen. She shared this photo of her first vintage Farm Journal foray… Country Apple Pie. It’s a vintage recipe that contains two unusual ingredients – heavy cream and tapioca. She wrote “It was good! You wouldn’t really think there was cream in there if you didn’t know. It makes the juices from the pie into a silky sauce.” Sounds delish! And cheers to a beautiful dessert! 

Photo credit: mariedge2033

Laura wrote into the Kitchen this month with a longshot request regarding the possibility of finding a very specific lost holiday cookie recipe that was a favorite of her 83-year-old mom. This humble inquiry opened up a world of wonder around the Vintage Kitchen for days, instigated a deep dive into vintage recipe archives, yielded two blog posts (here and here) and provoked a nationwide recipe search that connected a handful of people across a wave of different social media platforms. This 2020 search for the 1970s Date Accordions goes down as the most quickly solved (and most satisfyingly resolved) mystery of the year!  Read more about it here.

The International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020 

As you can see from some of the mentions above, the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020 influenced and instigated many of the joyful moments of this year. The goal set out in January was to cook our way through the cuisines of 45 countries over a 12 month period with recipes that were featured in the 1971 edition of the New York Times International Cook Book.  We didn’t make it all the way through the Recipe Tour this year, but I am pleased to say that we at least made it halfway.  21 countries to be exact! Not so bad considering the momentous sandwich of a year that began with a tornado, ended with a bombing and was stuffed with a global pandemic in between.

Highlights from the Recipe Tour!

I am happy to announce that the Tour will be carrying over into 2021, so that we can continue the fun of exploring heirloom foods from far off places.  The second-half of the tour will be handled a little bit differently in the new year – it will no longer be the only focus of the blog like it was primarily this year. Instead, the recipes will get peppered in with other kitchen posts throughout the next twelve months. It was a pretty enthusiastic schedule laid out for 2020, with a new country and new recipe featured every week. While those plans were industrious, they left very little room (and time!) to write about anything other than the Recipe Tour adventures.  So in 2021, I hope to open up the blog to more posts about a wider variety of subjects and recipes, most particularly bringing back some seasonality to the blog and highlighting holidays once again. 

 In January we will be kicking off the new year, and the new half of the International Vintage Recipe Tour, with a hunger for Hungary (pun intended!). So stay tuned for more adventures in the kitchen as we continue to cook our way around the globe. In the meantime, catch up on previous International Vintage Recipe Tour posts here.

The Kitchen Garden

Quirky gardening ruled the roost around here this year, thanks to the help of a flourishing experimental garden that included papayas, coconuts, avocados, grapefruit and a Liz lemon tree. Finding new things to grow, new ways to grow them, and new garden subjects to learn about meant a continuous stream of curious growing in 2020.  Getting hands in the dirt, clipping, pruning, shaping and fertilizing every week, indoors and out, added a sense of hope and purpose to the pandemic, as well as reaffirming the fact that life continues to grow and thrive regardless.

The succulent garden in particular really grew by leaps and bounds this year, and had to be re-homed to larger containers a number of different times. Two of the homes included repurposed containers – a hollowed-out half coconut shell and a broken vintage Japanese sugar  bowl. The coconut was a leftover cooking component of the  Ceylon blog post. The sugar bowl was destined for the shop but suffered an unfortunate fall before it ever got there.  Now they are both quirky containers that bring joy to the kitchen each day along with reminders that life isn’t perfect and home is what you make it.

The Wormholes of History

The reliable saving grace of 2020 was the research. Whether we were traveling down the wormholes of history for the Recipe Tour, learning about the backstory of shop items or discovering the biographies of true adventurers from the past, it was these curious moments that lent an air of much-needed escapism when the pandemic loomed too large or the political world seemed too crazy. This year I was totally enthralled with these past lives…

Clockwise from top left: Pamela Harlech, Harriet Risley Foote , Adelle Davis and Charlotte Bartholdi

and these old objects…

Clockwise from top left: The work of novelist Rumer Godden, the art of French painter Maurice Utrillo, demitasse spoons from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and a vintage Portmeirion fruit strainer.

The Bird Seed Christmas Tree

Julia and Paul, our resident city mourning doves visited the balcony every day throughout 2020 offering their consistent, reassuring, and calming presence in exchange for a seed tray and a lump of suet or two.

They turned out to be quite the ambassadors for the neighborhood, inviting a host of other feathered friends to dine with them as well. Throughout each day of 2020, we had visits from chickadees, wrens, cardinals, cowbirds, titmice, blackbirds, mockingbirds and an occasional brown thrasher. We loved all these visitors so much that my husband and I  made them an outdoor Christmas tree for them on the balcony, complete with white fairy lights, homemade birdseed ornaments, orange slices, dried fruit cups and cranberry swags.

The ornaments were fun to make – requiring nothing more than birdseed, unflavored gelatin and some cookie cutters. I wasn’t sure if the birds who had been used to a full seed tray every day would be interested in these ornaments at all. If this year taught me anything it was to keep my expectations low. But to my surprise, after day two of the decorated tree, Julia and Paul got to pecking away at the ornaments and encouraged the other birds to do so too. 

This whole birdseed ornament Christmas tree project was an unexpected reassuring wrap-up to a climatic year. Once you mix the birdseed with a mixture of gelatin and water it sets over the course of a few hours and eventually, the ornaments harden – petrifying into whatever shape they form to. This process kind of reminded me of the year of joy. In the beginning of 2020, I was determined to focus on joy, find the joy, feel the joy. Then one catastrophe after another happened and joy felt harder to proclaim. Harder to find. Somehow though joy found its way. Present in the little nooks and crannies that formed the year. Luckily, those moments, like the birdseed ornaments, petrified and have turned hard and lasting in my memory of 2020.  For that I’m grateful. For the joy I’m grateful. And for you and the Vintage Kitchen,  in this weird and wonky year, I am grateful. For anyone who bought a teacup or a towel from the shop, shared a story or a recipe, left a note of kindness or support on a post or a story I’m grateful. In the nicest way, you are the glue of joy that stuck this year together.

Now, with just hours left in 2020, I would like to say cheers to this New Year’s Eve. Cheers to the strength that made this year liveable, to the micro-moments of joy and happiness that carried us through from January to December. Cheers to a more calm, peaceful year ahead. Thank you for being a part of the Vintage Kitchen.  Onwards and upwards in 2021.  

 

Dinner Time Stories: An Extraordinary Evening with Le Petit Chef

An evening of Dinner Time Stories with La Petit Chef

It’s not every day that you receive an invitation to dine with the world’s smallest chef. But that is exactly what happened on Sunday night. This one-of-a-kind dinner took place at The Standard, a private cigar bar and restaurant located in a historic townhouse in downtown Nashville.

A foreigner to the country, the world’s smallest chef lives in France, but he’s just recently embarked on a world-wide tour of sorts that will take him to Stockholm, Cairo, the United Arab Emirates and all around the United States in 2018. Lucky for us, his first stop in America was right here in Nashville at one of the prettiest restaurants in town.

The Standard is an elegant splash of old-world glamour that naturally evokes daydreams of long-ago decades and previous merrymaking.  Although it’s only recently become a restaurant and cigar bar (in the early 2000’s) it is definitely not hard to imagine that this building has lived a flamboyant and glamorous lifestyle throughout its existence.

Built in 1843, it is a gorgeous example of antebellum Italianate architecture, the last of its kind on this city block that once held dozens of similar buildings all in a row.  With its exposed brick walls, moody lighting, leather furniture, big fireplaces and cozy nooks your imagination doesn’t have to run far to conjure up swanky scotch parties and charming tuxedo-types romancing dates and drinks throughout the past 175 years.

Scenes from the Standard

Originally a family home, then a bed and breakfast in the 1980’s, and now most recently a night-time restaurant and a private club, it is safe to say that this building has seen its fair share of special occasion dinners. This past Sunday evening was no exception.

Tucked into a private dining room with two long tables, white cloths and curious leather bound books placed at each setting,  dinner guests were invited to indulge in a bit of whimsy for a two hour stretch on a cold January night.

Photo courtesy of dinnertimestoriesusa.com

Our mysterious host, the little chef, was nowhere to be found at this point, but as the lights dimmed and the maitre d’ welcomed us, he magically appeared…

Bonjour! Meet the little chef with the BIG personality!

from inside the books placed before us!  As it turns out, the world’s smallest chef is no bigger than your pinkie finger. Mini in size, but mighty in personality, we quickly learned that Le Petit Chef is a BIG fan of a certain famous explorer…

Marco Polo (1254-1324), the famous Venetian explorer who traveled across Europe and Asia and published his experiences in a book called The Description of the World.

Marco Polo. By nature, the two have very much in common – they are both intrepid travelers, free spirits, and excellent storytellers. This very special dinner, hosted and prepared by the little guy himself, turned out to be a culmination of bold travel experiences inspired by his idol, Marco and his famous 14th-century explorations that changed the world.

Told through the use of 3D projection mapping, Le Petit Chef cooks and adventures right before your eyes pulling you into his engaging world of storytelling and food presentation in the most fanciful of ways. Over six courses, he takes dinner guests to a myriad of exotic lands, near and far, with stops in places like India, Asia, the Himalayas (and more!) all the while preparing signature dishes from each culture.  His adventures were so big in scale, he had to literally jump out of the book and walk around on the table in order to showcase the whole journey…

To give you a little perspective, that’s my wine glass in the top left corner and Le Petit Chef in the right-hand corner walking around on the tablecloth.

I realize this is a difficult situation to wrap your head around – a little guy walking and talking around your plate  while you are also eating – so we’ll share this video so that you get a better idea of how it all works…

Each course was presented in its own dynamic and interesting way. The first course for example, (Ratatouille  Terrine with Tomato Jam accompanied by a Roasted Green Slip Mussel with Garlic and Lemon) arrived in a mini suitcase just as the little chef was sailing across the ocean in search of the start of his trip.

As the story continued and the travel destinations became more exotic, the table landscape changed in a multitude of different ways…

Here we are in China!

In an instant, patterns and colors transformed into new shades and shapes…

while real food filled our bellies and visual artistry fueled a feast for our eyes. Magic met us at every turn.

Grilled Shrimp with Chili, Sriracha and Sesame, on the left and a dessert demonstration by Le Petite Chef on the right.

By the time the cloudy mountaintops of the Himalayas were presented, and real-life fog flooded our plates, in both food form and story form, we all, everyone at the two long tables, had completely fallen in love with the little chef.  When the last crumbs of dessert were whisked away and the little chef bid us good night, we knew we had experienced an incredible event. We had spent a glorious time with a new friend who not only fed ourselves but also fed our souls.

It’s the goal of the little chef to see as much of America as possible, which is good news for you. He might be heading your way next! Keep up with his city stops here… and if he’s in your neck of the woods, go and find him. Dine with him. Fall in love with him. And enjoy the enchantment he brings. It will be an unforgettable night full of magical storytelling.  And if there is anything more than we need in this crazy world right now, it is more moments like this in our lives.  Passion, excitement, and entertainment meet at the table of Le Petit Chef.  As Marco Polo once said, “You’ll hear it for yourselves, and it will surely fill you with wonder.”

Look for Le Petit Chef’s tour schedule here.

If you live in the Nashville area, book your Dinner Time Story night at the Standard here.

And if you haven’t already visited, all you Nashvillians, stop by the Standard for a cocktail or two. You won’t regret it!

Cheers to Le Petit Chef for a most marvelous night and to Marco Polo for continuing to inspire centuries of travelers the world around.

MFK: The Street Artists and the Food Writer

There is a group of graffiti artists in our city called the Metal Fingers Krew. They make these spectacular giant wall murals of their initials all over town on the sides of industrial buildings. Every time I pass one I think of the food writer MFK Fisher who shared the same initials.

Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher (1908-1992)

The work of the Metal Fingers Krew is elaborately designed and really beautiful. They make their mark mostly on warehouses that are nondescript or in a state of shabbiness, so they add a bit of pizazz to the landscape with their color and their big 4-5 foot tall font faces.

MFK Fisher (1908-1992) made her mark on the 20th-century literary scene writing about food and how it looks and tastes and feels over the course of 30 books. Considered one of the most beautiful prose writers still to this day, she wrote her way through her own experiences… of men and marriages, of cross-continent moves, of motherhood and memories and of making food to eat.

The Metal Fingers Krew works like traditional graffiti artists – under the cover of night. One day you pass a blank brick building and the next day it is magically decorated. In a city that has a lot of murals but not a lot of graffiti, street art really stands out. The thing I notice most is not that this talented batch of artists defaced a building (which may or may not be exciting to the property owner) but that they’ve added a layer of creative flourish to what is otherwise a very linear and industrial part of town.

MFK Fisher also added her own flourish. Writing about food and life with such poetic, descriptive detail you can practically taste her words, she was famous for saying that she just wrote the facts of things.  But in doing so she also wrote the feelings of everything. Even the unglamorous sides of cooking… the dirt, the dishes, the heat, the nonsense, the dueling perspectives, the disasters.  Like when you are canning fruit in the summertime without air conditioning you get hot and sweaty. Or like when you pull butter and lettuce out of water from the spring house storage you get cold and shivery. That was all just part of the process of eating and experiencing, not an indelicate act or sensation that should go overlooked or unnoted because it was unattractive to talk about. Every bit was important.

The Metal Fingers Krew talks the same language in their own way too. They point your gaze at a typically unattractive building and make you look at the detailed beauty of it simply by adding a swatch of color. They call attention to the plain-Janes of a shed row, or the slow decay of a factory, or the burnout of a building left vacant in the same way that MFK Fisher draws attention to eating the everyday foods that we mostly take for granted.

I think MFK Fisher would have loved the passion behind the Metal Fingers Krew graffiti art just as much she liked describing her passion with food. They were two artists working in two different mediums but had the same initials and the same sole purpose of expressing oneself.

“One of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world.”  MFK Fisher

What do you think? Do you see other stories or other artists in the face of graffiti? If so, please share your comments below!

In the meantime, cheers to painters and food preparers and the perspectives they bring!

Lost In Translation No More: An Update on the Chinese Mug!

Back in April we posed  the question… how many people does it take to translate a mug? We were up to four at that point with two more possibilities waiting in the wings of email communication. The mug in question was a vintage 1950’s enamelware covered cup made by the Peacock Enamelware Factory in Tianjin, China.

Due to its rarity and the fact that the message written on it was in Chinese (possibly Mandarin), deciphering the Chinese characters enough to associate them with English words and meanings was dauntingly slow. But with a little luck and a lot of perseverance connecting with online translation sites, friends of friends, and Chinese language books we got to the following stage of interpretation… (the blank dashes represent words we had yet to figure out)

First ____  Makes ____       {related words/themes from this line include: living, livelihood, give rise too, birth, life}

Prize  {reward, given for victory}

Burning Culture 1st ____ ____ 2nd ____ _____  {collectivization, work, worker, skill, profession, individual}

Theories surrounding the literal translation of the mug ran the gamut from Communist propaganda to marketing slogans (Eat at Al’s!) to an award of some-sort (mainly because everyone agreed that the middle line definitely referenced a prize or award of some kind).

Two weeks ago, when Google translator sputtered out two words, pride and factory, before shutting down completely, I thought for sure we were on the right track of this mug bearing some sort of political campaign message for an impassioned Chinese factory worker.  I could see him in my mind, eating his lunch, drinking his tea all along silently communicating his political ideology through the slogan on his mug.

Wonderfully, a breakthrough came in the form of the Nashville Chinese School when a last ditch effort was made to reach out to yet another language school (the fourth during this search!) just after the July 4th holiday. In two days, Irene from NCS had the whole mystery solved.  And to think this jewel of school was sitting right under my nose all these months.

Irene provided the following translation…

Progressive Manufacture
Award
Blaze Company – #2 engendering department

As it turns out our little covered mug was an award! Not exactly as sensational as a piece of communist history, this mug announced a prize for a job well done by an innovative manufacturing department. It was someone’s proud acknowledgement of accomplishment. A midcentury metal (pun intended!) of achievement.  A smile and a handshake, which is by far a happier association than communism.

Looking back on my original ideas of the translation, I see that we weren’t really that far off. First and Makes easily falls in line with Progressive and Manufacture. Prize and Award are the same. Burning Culture coordinates with Blaze Company.  We even had the number 2 figured out. The only part that drew blanks was the engendering department (which means the idea department or innovation department or possibly where sales and marketing resides!).

Aha. In solving this mystery of history we’ve also been able to answer the question of the day. How many people does it take to translate a vintage mug?

NINE!

Nine people and three months and lots of imagination to solve the slogan on a 64 year old mug.  I learned so many things on this fun little journey – but most importantly I was reminded to check my neighborhood first. Had I contacted Irene at the Nashville Chinese School in the beginning, this would have been the miniest of mysteries solved so fast. But on the other hand I would have never jumped in feet first to the deep end of the Chinese language pool. Knowledge is power(fully) exciting. And for that I’m grateful.

Cheers or 干杯  ganBei (as I now know they say in Chinese!) to Irene and to Sing and the host of other helpers involved along the way. And most importantly cheers to our vintage mug, who now has a spirit and a story.

If you ever need any translation help yourself, or want to embark on an interesting new language journey contact Irene here.

As for our little trophy of a Chinese mug – find her in the Vintage Kitchen shop here. Her exotic appeal and around the world scavenger hunt make for a happy little storage system for tea or spices or kitchen items of all sorts.

 

 

 

 

Evolution of a Restaurant: From Livestock to Luxury Living

There’s a neglected building downtown on 2nd Avenue that F. Scott Fitzgerald would have loved. It takes up most of one city block with a rounded corner front entrance, large paned glass windows and eyes that look out onto the street below not unlike Dr. T. J. Eckleburg’s in The Great Gatsby.  

These all knowing eyes of 2nd Avenue belong to a cow, a pig and a curly horned sheep. Animals now so out of place in an urban industrial neighborhood that they appear to be up to something unusual – something marvelous and clandestine.  The building they live on, itself, is peculiar with steep steps that spill out onto the sidewalk and armies of tall trees that hug the front facade like protective bodyguards.

It is a city block full of inherent curiosities. Stories that F. Scott would have rushed to translate as they tumbled out of the curtained glass windows, broken in places, or tangled themselves in the ivy running all over the backside of the building. You never see any activity come or go from the glass front door. Cars park alongside it carrying people to other places in the neighborhood. Exercisers walk or run down its sidewalks. Occasionally a homeless person will take a rest underneath the faded, flapping awning or dogs will stop to sniff around the bushes. But lights are never on inside and the doors are never open.

F. Scott would have imagined a grand but tortured story here. He would have hunted around in the grass grown parking lot, creating characters out of chipped fencing and rusted gates. He would have penned something poetic about the runaway garbage and the shattered beer bottles and the Parisian lamp posts missing their white light domes. Its a little more Valley of the Ashes then it is East Egg or West Egg but there’s a romance about this place that is intriguing.

If I described this building to someone out-of-town the first thing I’d mention was that it used to be a famous restaurant called The Stockyard in the 1980’s and 90’s.  When restaurateur Buddy Killen bought the building in 1985 he imagined it as the place where you could get the best steak in town along with Las Vegas style entertainment.  “The place where the stars are seen,” that was what he was aiming for.

In the restaurant days – awnings, menu offerings and the front entrance foyer. Photos via pinterest.
He pulled the property out of bankruptcy, added $400,000 worth of improvements and made it possible to seat 475 people in the 27,000 sqf building. His plans were very successful and for 30 years local residents, tourists and celebrities alike climbed the front steps, passed under the concrete eyes and stepped into a lively atmosphere serving the quality of steaks Buddy had hoped for.

Some of the famous clientele of the Stockyard (clockwise from top left): Andy Griffith, Vicki Lawrence, Jerry Lee Lewis, Loni Anderson and George Steinbrenner

But before the Stockyard ever became a famous restaurant it lived another life serving an entirely different purpose. The name of the restaurant and its signature menu items weren’t fly by night marketing ploys developed to envoke a theme and inspire an atmosphere.  Buddy brought things full-circle when he served steak and called his restaurant The Stockyard.

Originally, over a century ago this section of Nashville was called Butchertown for its concentration of numerous butcher shops and fresh meat availability. Long before Buddy ever set eyes on the building it served as a touchstone for an actual working stockyard – one that would become the most prominent and important livestock trading site in the Southeast.

In the mid-1910’s  there were several small trading yards around Nashville but local businessman James E. Caldwell wanted to create one central spot where all the animals, farmers, buyers and sellers could meet under one roof and get their business done fast and efficiently in a convivial atmosphere.

Caldwell found the perfect area for such an endeavor in open farmland just two blocks from the riverfront and four blocks east of the downtown business quadrant. In 1919, he hired contractors Foster & Creighton to begin working on a 10 acre mega-complex of sheds, barns and paddocks.

Nashville – Union Stockyards under construction – July 1919

Nashville-Union Stock Yard construction photographs, 1919

Local Nashville architect, Henry Closson Hibbs was selected to design an all weather building where business could be conducted year round and where stockyard management could set up offices.  H.C. came up with this rounded corner front entrance – a new trend in building design in the 1920’s – that would welcome visitors with open arms.

Nashville-Union Stock Yard building designed by H.C. (Henry Closson) Hibbs 1919-1920

These pictures below detail the lot assignment for the building and the construction as it occurred in 1919 and 1920.

The street corner allocated for the future site of the stockyard building.

Eventually all those pits and sticks and bricks formed this beautiful building, fully completed in 1920…

And you can see from this 1921 photograph how quickly the building became a popular meeting place. It even housed neighborhood amenities in the form of small retail businesses like a post office and a barber shop.

From 1921 to 1974 the Nashville-Union Stock Yards served as one of the busiest livestock markets in the region attracting farmers from Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama and Mississippi. Over 6,000 animals arrived daily for trade coming in via boat, rail car and farm truck. A long time bookkeeper for the Stock Yards said that it was not unusual to see cows walking down 2nd Avenue or an escaped hog loose from a pen.

A view of the stockyards circa 1965. Photograph by Gerald Holly.

That scene is hard to imagine now as the Stockyard sits in between government buildings and modern apartment hi-rises in what is currently one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in Nashville. Remarkably, even though 95 years have passed the building still looks almost exactly the same…

The neighborhood however no longer looks like livestock. Downtown skyscrapers are just a few blocks away and the only animals in site are of the avian kind.

Parking lots and empty brick warehouses dominate the immediate areas surrounding the Stockyard now.

The Nashville Union Stock Yards closed down in 1974 due to high property taxes. Sheds and barns were torn down, shoots dismantled and paddocks turned into parking lots. But the building remained, making way for Buddy Killen’s initial restauranteering interest in 1979.  Buddy’s restaurant, The Stockyard closed in 2015 after 36 years in business. The building and surrounding property were sold to out-of-town developers who now have plans to turn it into a 300 unit apartment complex.

Learning this recent information, I worried for the fate of the building and for the eyes of Second Avenue. Would the building be torn down and a piece of history cast aside? Would the pig and cow and sheep that have watched over the neighborhood for nine decades be replaced with something new and artistically of-the-moment? Would H.C. Hibbs turn over in his grave as his beautifully designed building gets turned over in the dirt?

As a lover of historic architecture, I am happy to say that this story stays bright.  The developers plan to incorporate the century old building into their design plans, keeping the history and heritage of both agriculture and aesthetic alive. The eyes of Second Avenue will be given a whole new century’s worth of sites to watch over. I know it is cliche to say that I wish these figureheads could talk – but I really wish they could. They’ve been witness to major history since they were set among the bricks… the Great Depression, civil rights, the rise of the automobile, the demise of farming, the destruction of their neighborhood and now the revitalization of their neighborhood. Not to mention all those famous people that walked in and out.

Construction begins soon for the apartment project. Materials and work trailers are already being assembled in a neighboring lot. We are going to be following along on the progress of the construction to see how this local landmark of stock yard turned restaurant turned apartment complex evolves.  And of course to see what the eyes of 2nd avenue will now be staring down upon. I hope it turns out to be something incredible.  Stay tuned for periodic updates!

***A special thank you…this post would not have been possible without the help of the wonderful staff at the Tennessee State Archives and the Metro Archives at the Main Branch of the Nashville Public Library. If you are keen on learning more history about Nashville and the state of Tennessee, I strongly recommend a visit to both places. They are fascinating and full of so much information, you’ll want to move-in and stay for a week researching your heart out.  

The 20th century construction photos of the Nashville Union Stockyards  included in this post are courtesy of the Metro Archives. 

 

 

 

Hello From The Other Side!

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Honk! Honk! Ms. Jeannie has arrived! The move from rural country to big city has been made at last! From her new vantage point in her new city she sends you the very biggest of the cheeriest hellos. Can you guess from the following photos what city and state she now calls home?

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To give you some hints… there are guitars everywhere, a river that runs the length of downtown, and a marvelous marquis heralding the history of the early newspaper industry.

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The architecture is a mix between very old and very brand new.

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The overall aesthetic could best be described as reclaimed rustic meets greek revival meets industrial modern. And centuries of creative arts can be seen, felt and heard around every street corner…

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It’s a city of riverboats and romance…

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statues and songs…

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flowers and fountains…

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It’s world-famous, most famous and always will be notoriously famous for its music scene. On the food front it is most known for a curious array of culinary creations including… hot chicken, peddle bars, whiskey slushies, and the first combination candy bar in the country.  If you drove from Chicago it would take you about 7 hours, from New York 13, and from Los Angeles a whole entire day plus five more hours. If you biked your way in the peddle bar it would take forever.

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It’s a bike and a bar! Peddle you and your pals around town on the hop on/hop off peddle bar!

There’s a beautiful waterfront lined with brick warehouses and lots of shops, restaurants, galleries and museums to explore.

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On the national history front, it’s officially been a city since 1779 and is home to one of the oldest working capitol buildings in the country. It was also home to three U.S. Presidents and one Vice President.

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The Capitol Building!

Last put not least, even though this is an urban environment there is still plenty of the wild and wooly to enjoy. Groundhogs run around the riverbank, rabbits live at the baseball stadium, and the open year-round farmers market provides all the farm freshness a city girl could ever crave!

 

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So there we have your clues: hot chicken, music, groundhogs, riverway, history, green space, peddlers and whiskey. Could you guess it dear readers? Could you guess where exactly this beauty of a metropolis is?

If you said Nashville, Tennessee you are correct!

In the month that Ms. Jeannie has been here she knows this city for its friendly faces, creative energy and gorgeously diverse architecture. She looks forward to exploring and sharing all the little nooks and crannies that make up this marvel of a place. There are many adventures to be had, so please stay tuned!

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In the meantime, Ms. Jeannie is hoisting her glass to stars newly aligned in what feels like a most important and influential chapter about to unfold. Cheers, cheers and cheers to new beginnings! And thanks to Adele for loan of the blog title:)