The Lost Art of Paula Peck: Egg & Mashed Potato Pizza circa 1966

In 1966, these words described her cooking… creative, imaginative, inventive, eclectic, beautifully presented, and internationally inspired. Craig Claiborne, the New York Times food editor and a beloved favorite here in the Vintage Kitchen, said “anyone who truly cares about cooking is fortunate indeed that such a talent as hers can be shared on the printed page.” James Beard called her “the finest cook I know.” Newspaper columnist Elizabeth de Sylva deemed her the “free spirit of cooking,” and food writer Gaynor Maddox labeled her “one of the most exciting, competent, and delightful guides to better dining.”

Today, here in the Vintage Kitchen, we are featuring a thoroughly modern-minded yet vintage recipe from the culinary repertoire of Paula Peck (1927-1972), who was a phenomenal but now forgotten cook popular during the mid-20th century. I use the word forgotten carefully. Since professional chefs today consider her cookbooks classics and since she still has a quiet army of devoted fans, she’s not lost to a select group, but Paula is definitely, surprisingly not part of mainstream cooking conversations like other famous names that traveled in her circle. Why is that? Was she overshadowed by bigger personalities like Julia Child or James Beard? Did her culinary prowess get dismissed over time? Her recipes simply forgotten?

In order to try to figure out why Paula Peck is not a household name today, we need to start at the beginning and explore the details of how she came to be the topic of conversation in mid-20th century kitchens.

It all started with her spouse.

Among the many causes he supported, James Peck participated in the Freedom Rides in 1961, which protested the segregation of African Americans on public transportation. He was attacked and badly beaten for his involvement, but continued to defend the civil rights of African Americans. He is pictured here, fourth from left. Learn more about this experience in a 1979 interview here.

Paula’s husband, James Peck, known as Jim, was a newsworthy civil rights activist who worked his entire life trying to bring people together for noble and decent causes. Involved with the War Resistance League, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Congress of Racial Equality among others, it was Jim who first inspired Paula to dive into the world of cooking after they were married in 1950. Up until that point, Paula knew little about how to create a meal. This was a bit of a tricky situation since she married a foodie. Unless she wanted to lose her husband to the local eateries of New York City night after night, she knew she was going to need to learn to cook. So as a young bride of 23, she set out on a mission to tempt her husband and his adventurous gourmet palate away from the restaurant scene, which he adored, and into the kitchen of his own home.

Paula Peck in her kitchen in December 1966. Photo: Newsday

As Paula started experimenting with food, she fell more and more and more in love with cooking. In trying to appeal to her husband’s enjoyment of international cuisine, in particular, she studied foods from all around the globe. She began collecting cookbooks, keeping track of recipes in a file box and gathering ideas about food preparation with friends. With every passing bite, Jim encouraged her explorations. Eventually, she gathered enough courage to take a cooking class with one of the country’s most celebrated gourmands, James Beard. From there, her culinary star rose bright and shiny, as the two struck up a friendship. One opportunity led to another. Paula became James’ apprentice and then his teaching partner. And then she went on to teach her own cooking classes.

Eleven years into her culinary journey, she published her first cookbook The Art of Fine Baking in 1961. After that, she was hired to work on the baking portion of the mega Time-Life Foods of the World cookbook series along with a host of respected chefs, food writers, and culinary experts. In 1966, she published a second cookbook, The Art of Good Cooking, in which she espoused the physical beauty of the kitchen, of quality ingredients, of simple equipment, of the breath-of-fresh-air joy that became her signature cooking style.

Her recipes began to appear with frequency in newspaper columns nationwide. She did live in-person cooking demonstrations for various events. She conducted interviews. The industry was achatter with news about Paula, about her recipes, about her unique approach to food. By 1970, Paula, the twenty-something girl who was not so skilled in cooking two decades earlier, arrived in the form of an accomplished, confident culinary teacher. Swathed in accolades, with nothing but a field of potential and possibility in front of her, surrounded by skilled peers and influential connections, Paula’s trajectory was on course for iconic status. And then something terrible happened. Paula died. Sadly, she was just 45.

In the 1960s, Paula circulated in the culinary world a bit differently than her comrades. Unlike most well-known cooks of her day, she wasn’t necessarily focused on age-old techniques. She questioned things. She wondered about established facts of cooking, curious if there were other ways or reasons to approach techniques beyond the traditional. She wasn’t concerned as much with how things were done, had been done, or should be done. Instead, she gave herself, and then her students, permission to experiment with food intuitively and to play around with taste, texture, and time.

Taking little bits and pieces from other cuisines, from other places and adapting them in ways that were unique and interesting, Paula worked with food from the foundation up, building a recipe like an artist builds up a scene in a painting. Taking into account, color, subject matter, texture, time, origin, flavor, and the relationship between one ingredient to another, her food was dotted with elements of surprise and flourish. It was those bits of unexpected detail that wound up setting her apart from all the gastronomes of her day. And I think it was those bits of detail that make her food still very relevant today.

Take pizza for example. Everybody knows the age-old basic pie with its flour crust, tomato sauce, a sprinkling of cheese, and perhaps a topping or two. But in Paula’s midcentury mind, the word pizza could mean something else entirely too. It could look something like this…

Paula Peck’s Egg & Potato Pizza

As a prime example of Paula’s creativity in the kitchen, it is her recipe for Egg & Potato Pizza from her 1966 book, The Art of Good Cooking, that is being featured here today. Using mashed potatoes as a base, sauteed onions, peppers, garlic, and mushrooms in place of a tomato sauce, and sausage and two kinds of cheese as toppers, this entire dish is polka-dotted with raw eggs and then popped into the oven for a brief bake. Surprise, whimsy, and a delicious combination of flavors are the result.

In a decade when casseroles were king of the dining table, the presentation alone of this recipe most definitely must have felt like a delightful break from the ordinary in 1960s America. More like a popular modern-day sheet pan meal than a traditional pizza, this fun-to-make any-time-of-day appropriate dish has contemporary comfort food written all over it. Made with simple ingredients and easily prepared, it feeds six people, is satisfyingly filling, and is fun to present table-side. In other words, it contains all the hallmarks of a perfect Paula dining experience.

I made this recipe as-is except I substituted chicken sausage for Italian sausage. And one thing to note before you begin… this recipe is best served immediately when it comes out of the oven. If you leave it to sit for a minute or two the eggs will continue to cook to a hard-boiled consistency and will eventually turn rubbery, if you wait to serve it much longer after that. If you like your eggs runny, cook the potatoes and toppings minus the eggs just until the cheese begins to melt (about 17 minutes) and then crack your eggs in their allotted divots and stick the whole tray back in the oven for about 3 minutes.

Paula Peck’s Egg & Potato Pizza

Serves 6

1/2 cup olive oil

3 cups well seasoned mashed potatoes

1 large onion, peeled and sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups mushrooms

1 green pepper, seeded and sliced

4 cooked sweet or hot Italian sausages (I used maple-glazed chicken sausage)

6 eggs

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2/3 cup diced mozzarella cheese

Freshly chopped spinach for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a large flat baking tray generously with olive oil. Spread the mashed potatoes evenly covering the entire pan. With the back of a spoon, make six indentions in the potatoes for the eggs which will be added later.

Bake the potato-lined pan in an oven for 30-40 minutes or until the potatoes seem slightly crisp on the bottom. Remove from oven.

While the potatoes are baking, slice sausages 1/4 inch thick and brown them in a pan on the stovetop. Set aside. Next, saute onion, garlic, mushrooms, and green pepper in remaining olive oil until soft.

After the potatoes have been removed from the oven, spread top of it with the sauteed mixture and sliced sausage, leaving indentations clear.

Break eggs into each of the indentations. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and dot with pieces of mozzarella cheese.

Return to oven. Bake for 20 minutes or until eggs are set and the cheese is bubbly.

Cut the pizza up into squares or wedges and serve immediately. Paula recommended a green salad as a side dish which is a great choice if you are making this for brunch or dinner especially.

Ideal for upcoming spring holiday breakfasts like St. Patrick’s Day, Easter or Mother’s Day, when onions and spinach are in season, this egg and potato pizza is a blank slate for your creative interpretations too. Add purple onions in place of yellow onions for additional color. Garnish with fresh herbs or scallions on top in place of spinach. Replace Italian sausage with prosciutto or smoked salmon. Serve it for breakfast, for brunch, for lunch, for dinner. Call it a pizza or a sheet pan meal or a one-dish wonder. Paula would be the first one to tell you to take this recipe and run with it till your heart is content. Interpret it as you like. That’s what cooking was all about in the Peck family kitchen.

“My belief is that tradition should not hamper us if we find a better way of doing things,” Paula wrote in 1966. Perhaps that very attitude is what has kept Paula’s recipes out of the widely circulated limelight of modern-day kitchen conversations. Instead of being stubborn, restrictive, and definitive about only one be-all-end-all way to approach food preparation, Paula encouraged exploration. She encouraged hands-on learning. And she encouraged continual education.

That type of exploration and freedom tends to breed a sense of confidence that builds over time through experience. A new cook might start out making one of Paula’s recipes exactly as she described, but then over time, feeling secure at the eventual mastery would adopt Paula’s methods of questioning and discovering. The recipe would get tweaked, augmented, adapted, enhanced. As it evolved, it would take on new forms, new ingredients, new flavors, a new identity. Attribution back to its original source, over time, would get muddied, fuzzy, forgotten, and then lost to history completely. I think that’s what happened to Paula and her creative approach.

In modern-day multi-cultural fusion cooking, in outside-of-the-box presentation, and in the pairing of unusual yet complementary flavors, I think today signs of Paula’s style of cooking are all over our culinary landscape. We just don’t realize that she was the source from which it all began. Paula Peck by name might not be on the tip of everyone’s tongue these days, but her inspiring style of cooking still is.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we did. If you decide to add your own flourish to this dish please send us a message or a photo of your finished affair. We’d love to learn how Paula inspired you!

Cheers to creativity in the kitchen! And to Paula for showing us what fun cooking can be when you add a little splash of imagination.


Annie’s Wine Baked Brisket & How a St. Patrick’s Day Staple Came to America

Cows are sacred, salt is expensive, cross the sea trading is prohibited and immigrants had to get to New York. In a nutshell, those are the four substantial situations that had to occur in order to bring brisket to your dining tables today. Happy St. Patrick’s Day dear readers!   Today’s post is all about a traditional Irish food that actually is, in reality, a multi-cultural collaboration between three countries.  While it is certain that many a crock-pot will be simmering away today in honor of the holiday, and the famous corned beef and cabbage that has become associated with it, you might be surprised to learn that the propulsion for this traditional heritage food actually has more to do with New York City than Ireland.

The Kerry cow is considered to be the oldest breed of cattle in Ireland.

It all started back in Ireland’s ancient times when cows were considered sacred animals. Valued for their milk and their strength over anything else, Irish cows were essential components to a working farm and were never considered a viable meat source. But England adored beef, particularly roasts, so much so that by the 1600s, England couldn’t keep up with their own country’s supply and demand.  So they went to Ireland to see about some cows.

A good revenue stream for the Emerald Isle and a can’t-live-without-it commodity for England, this cow commerce between countries was mutually beneficial for all.  That is until the Cattle Acts of the 1660s. In an instant, thanks to the Act, the sale of live cows to England was no longer allowed.  The sudden halt in commerce left Ireland scrambling for a solution and left England grumbly with hungry bellies.  This all came about at a time when salt was also an extremely expensive ingredient in England. Ireland, on the other hand, was not only flush with cattle but also abundant with coastal salt pans. The combination of these two riches formed a clever way for Ireland to package meat for export that skirted around the law. They created a new method of food preservation called corned beef – a salted meat product that could withstand time and travel to England without spoiling.

Coming from the brisket cut of the cow (located between the front knees and the shoulder area) this salt-infused food was named corned beef because of the corn kernel-sized salt crystals used in preserving it.  Generally known as a tougher piece of meat since that area of a cow’s body gets quite a lot of exercise, early corned beef was essentially just a slab of meat that was rumored to taste more like salt than beef.

Commercial Cuts of Beef chart from the Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, 1967 edition

Because it was shelf stable, easy to prepare, and came in bigger portions, corned beef became a popular staple in the diets of 18th-century Englanders as well as sailors away at sea for long stretches of time. It even made its way into the diets of Early American colonists who were struggling to produce food for their new country. The only people who were not enjoying this salty slice of protein were the Irish, who, in a terrible twist of irony, couldn’t afford to buy the very product they were exporting.

Newly arrived immigrants at Ellis Island. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

It would take one more century and a move to America before Irish immigrants were able to afford and enjoy the corned beef that made their home country famous. In the mid-late 1800s, a majority of the butcher shops within the New York metropolitan area were owned and operated by Jewish immigrants.

The Lustgarten family owned a Jewish butcher shop in NYC in the late 1880s. Photo courtesy of

Living in close-knit communities, both Irish and Jewish transplants bonded over feelings of displacement and discrimination experienced in their new world. Financial resources were a challenge for most city dwellers, but especially for these two ethnic groups in particular, as they faced prejudices in work and social environments. Luckily, food brought them together via thrift and necessity, and novelty.

Market shopping along NYC’s Mulberry Street in 1900

Upon arriving in America, Irish immigrants were delighted to discover that corned beef was much less expensive in New York then it was back home in Ireland. Likewise,  Jewish immigrants liked brisket because it was one of the least expensive cuts in the butcher shop and could feed a crowd.  Through experimentation in their New York City kitchens,  Jewish and Irish newcomers developed the low, slow cooking methods that eventually evolved brisket from a salty slab of preserved meat into a rich and flavorful meal.  Cabbage was often paired with it since it was the least expensive vegetable. Both cultures developed their own trademark dishes – slow simmered corned beef and cabbage for the Irish and smoked pastrami and sauerkraut for the Jewish community. Each specialty stemmed from the humble brisket cut.

Beef Chart from the Culinary Arts Encyclopedic Cookbook circa 1948

Today’s recipe focuses on the Jewish side of cooking, with a brisket that quickly browns in butter on the stovetop before heading into the oven for a slow simmer in red wine. If you are not a fan of the saltiness of traditional corned beef or are wary of the seasoning packet that comes in most store-bought brisket kits, this recipe is a great alternative, since you can control your own level of spices. It comes from Annie, an avid cook, and a world traveler who lived in New York for most of her life. A dear friend to my father, she’s proud of her Jewish heritage and is famous for many signature dishes including homemade horseradish (more on that in a future post).

Annie sent this recipe to my dad over email 15 years ago while she was at sea traveling between Buenos Aires and Santiago.  The trip was rough with wild waves and cold temperatures but Annie was more than happy to take a few moments to share her way of making brisket. In our modern age, email letters aren’t quite as pretty as handwritten ones – but the sentiment is there nonetheless. My dad has hung onto her correspondence for over a decade and a half. I discovered it recently, tucked inside one of his favorite cookbooks.

Although it requires two days to make, it is very simple and involves just a few ingredients. I used grass-fed beef from the farmers market and a red wine blend called Sheep Thrills for the fun pun. Also, Annie cooks like James Beard recommends – with your intuition – so she doesn’t specify in her recipe exactly how much seasoning to use. In the directions, I share my method, but you may want to add more or less depending on your preference.

Annie’s Wine Baked Brisket

4-5lb beef brisket ( I used a 3.5 lb grass-fed beef brisket)

4 tablespoons butter (only necessary if using grass-fed beef)

6-7 onions

4 stalks celery

2 bay leaves

2 cups red wine

Onion Powder

Garlic Powder

Celery Salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Remove the brisket from the packaging and let rest on the counter for 45 minutes to 1 hour. If you are using frozen grass-fed beef make sure that it has completely thawed in the fridge before beginning this recipe. Do not trim the fat from the brisket.

Seasonings with dots of butter on top before the flip to brown the other side.

In an ovenproof pan (preferably one that has a lid) over medium high heat, add the butter (but only if using grass-fed beef, otherwise omit the butter). Generously sprinkle each side of the meat with the onion and garlic powders and the celery salt (I did about five passes on each side with each of these seasonings). Brown the brisket, fat-side down, for 5 minutes on each side.

Roughly chop the onions and the celery and add them to the brisket pan.

Pour in the red wine and add the bay leaves. Cover and bake in the oven for 2 to 3 hours or until the brisket reaches an internal temperature of 170 degrees. (Note: Grass-fed beef cooks faster than grain-fed beef, so watch the temperature and time closely.  My 3.5 lb brisket came out exactly at the 2-hour mark.)

Let the brisket cool to room temperature and then refrigerate overnight it in the same pan that you cooked it in so that all the juices can soak back up into the meat.

The next day, remove the pan from the fridge and scoop off the top layer of fat.

Remove the onions and celery to a blender and mix until well combined. This will form a thin au jus style gravy which is delicious for dipping.

Transfer the au jus to a small saucepan and warm over medium heat. Next, thinly slice the brisket and serve cold or at room temperature alongside the au jus and/or with your favorite condiments like mustard, mayo, or horseradish.

This style of brisket is perfect for French Dip style sandwiches served on crusty rolls. It also travels well for springtime picnics and outdoor family gatherings. In Annie’s house, it is a staple for many Jewish holiday celebrations.  Simple fare with a collaborative past, that’s the brisket in all its wonderful ways.

There is something lovely about Annie’s recipe that ties all the historical elements of the holiday into one tidy package. With its Irish and Jewish heritage,  its international transmittance, and Annie’s New York roots, it feels like this recipe really embraces the spirit of the holiday. The parallels are endless. The recipe was written on a boat in the 2000s featuring a food that was once eaten by sailors in the 1700s. Annie lived in New York during the 20th century. The immigrants who helped perfect this style of cooking lived in New York in the 19th century. Annie is Jewish. The butchers who sold brisket cuts to the Irish in NYC were Jewish. Annie uses brisket to feed her family on Jewish holidays. The Irish-American community uses brisket to celebrate their national Catholic holiday.

St. Patrick’s Day isn’t only for the Irish – it’s for everyone in America who hand a hand in building a country where people and food worked together to create new things and new traditions in a new land. Cheers to foods that continue to bring people together in surprising ways. And cheers to Annie for sharing her delicious brisket recipe.  Hope this St. Patrick’s Day is your most festive one yet!

All Aboard: Your Adventure Awaits {Part Two}


{Special note: This is the second installment of a two part story. If you missed part one, catch up here.}

The date is April 27th, 1964.  You are standing among the crowd in front of the Unisphere, the largest globe ever built by man. It contains 470 tons of stainless steel and is considered “one of the most outstanding achievements in structural sculpture in the past decade.”  The New York World’s Fair has you dizzy with excitement!


It is Day 5 of your travel adventure and you marvel at just about everything you set your eyes on.  There is an edge and an urgency to see, taste, hear and explore all the situations around you. You are bouncing from exhibit to exhibit on a natural high, guided by curiosity and surprise. Part New York frenetic energy and part endorphin rush you are bombarded in the best possible way with ideas that are new and thrilling and coming at you from all directions.


If you wanted to see all 150 pavilions and attractions at the Fair it would take 30 full days of sightseeing. But you only have a week so you have to make a list. With your trusty 300 page fair guide…


purchased for $1.00 at the concession stand you highlight the specific places and pavilions you want to see first.


Among your not-to-miss moments are the: House of Good Taste, the Rheingold, Walter’s International Wax Museum, the Clariol Hair Color Exhibit, the Avis Antique Card Ride, the Transportation and Travel Hall, France, Switzerland, Indonesia, Africa, the Space Park, the Garden of Meditation and the Pool of Industry plus 27 others. It’s an ambitious schedule but you are determined to make the most of it.


While so many exhibits are enormous, some in particular really catch you off-guard by their sheer size. Sinclair’s Dinoland for example, has nine life-size replicas of dinosaurs that hover high above the heads of fair-goers.


It is one of the most popular spots for photographs so you have to squeeze in quickly to get a few snaps. The dinosaurs were made by artists in upstate New York and were in fact so big they couldn’t be transported by truck or trailer, so they had to be floated down the Hudson River via barge. In the anticipation leading up to your trip, your friend Gene took a photo of the big guys heading down river and sent it off to you in the mail…


Other incredible sightings so far have included the steel and plastic Liberty Tree with leaves made of historic documents in the New England pavilion…


…and the scale model of New York City, which measures in total 180′ feet  x 100′ feet. Each building is scaled at 1 inch to 100 feet which means that the Empire State building is 15″ inches tall. Amazingly,  this model includes every building in Manhattan.


You soak up all the sun and and all the fun at the very first live Porpoise show courtesy of the Florida State Exhibit…

before heading over to the Hollywood Pavilion where you soak up celebrity and have your autograph book signed by Joan Crawford and Kirk Douglas.


With heart pounding, you fly like a bird through the air courtesy of the Monorail, the Observation Towers, the Brass Rail Snack Bar, the giant Royal Tire ride and the Parachute Jump…


Part of the reason why you are feeling so giddy and alive is because there is so much positivity and potential floating around. Words and wonders like Carousel of Progress, Futurama and Tomorrowland greet you both in person and in print at every turn…


and you can’t help but feel a sense of overwhelming optimism for the progress that is sure to come in the next 5, 10, 15 and 20 years.

You have been at the fair for five days. You have traveled 1000 miles from New Orleans to New York City to get here. But in reality you have gone much further. You have circumnavigated the globe. You have seen zebras in Africa, enjoyed coffee in Lebanon and arranged flowers in Japan.  You have explored planets in outer space and dived deep into the inky depths of the sea. You feel like a true globetrotter, a jet-setter and a time traveler all wrapped into one. You are crossing continents and centuries in the blink of an eye. This is by far one of the most exciting vacations of your life. You don’t want to leave but you also can’t wait to share your trip with all your friends back home. You mail off a litany of postcards every day… your words running off the cards because there is just so much to say.


You look for a souvenir that can encapsulate this experience of a lifetime in one item. You search through many stands and stalls before it hits you…


You find a book that symbolizes all the magic of the moment that is the World’s Fair. You purchase a souvenir copy of the story of Michelangelo’s Pieta, which is on display in the Italian pavilion. The 15th century sculpture stands 6′ feet tall by 5.5′ feet long and contains three different elevated viewing platforms. You walk onto each one to gather a sense of the sculpture’s size and scope.


The sculpture fills you with emotion. It is a combination of history, stone and craftsmanship.  It contains story, self-expressionism and symbolism. It conveys love and tenderness, majesty and gift-giving. It is passion magnified in a portrait of faith and future.  It represents past accomplishment and future hope. It is the New York World’s Fair personified. This art, this souvenir book, this incredible Fair represents a moment in time, in life, in history destined not to be forgotten.


A Trip Around China with Fishs Eddy: Discussing Dishes and Design with Julie

It’s unusual for things to stick around New York City. In a place that’s constantly moving, constantly changing, constantly striving to be the best and the boldest, it is understandable that the pressure is great. The city, at most, is a complicated love affair offering you treasures in the form of new favorites…restaurants, boutiques, coffee houses, galleries, apartments, friends, jobs… you lose your heart, you fall in love, you grow to need them and then one day they are gone.  It’s life lived bittersweet, but in an environment that constantly strives to out do itself, it’s to be expected. To Ms. Jeannie, that’s what makes the city wonderful. It’s addictive and adventurous and mysterious. It’s here one minute and  gone the next. But every once in awhile you get lucky, the city gods smile upon you,  and one of your favorites winds up sticking around for many, many years and many more beyond that.

Such is the case with the whimsical vintage china and kitchen shop, Fishs Eddy, located at Broadway and 19th street.  First opened in the mid-1980’s by Julie and her husband, Dave, Ms. Jeannie first discovered it thanks to her brother, who had purchased a vintage Howard Johnson’s creamer there, and then went about telling all of New York how wonderful of a place it was. Like her brother, Ms. Jeannie was smitten right away. Having just moved back to the city,  from Seattle, it reminded her a bit of the market stalls in Pike Place, where everything was a feast for your eyes  in that simple, unearthed presentation way that spoke a straightforward this-is-what-I-offer language. It also reminded her a bit of the one day sample sales, she had just  started frequenting with her girlfriends. These were sort of “secret” sample sales where you had to be on “the list” and show up to a hush-hush location where designers opened trunks of clothes in near empty buildings and let you rummage through one of a kind fashions that were just retired from the runway or design studio.  Of course these were deeply discounted clothes in waif sizes but you couldn’t help but feel like an adventurer among all those fabrics and that you being offered something rare and unusual.

That’s exactly what Ms. Jeannie felt when visiting Fishs Eddy for the first time. It was exhilarating.   Barrels of retro plates and cups, bins of mismatched silverware, shelves and cabinets of affordably priced pitchers and platters, cups and glassware. And then there was their sense of humor, their quirky signs, their whimsical displays. It was all perfection right from the very beginning.

So how does one such store manage to make it in one of the toughest cities in the world for more than 25 years? Clearly it’s good business practices, but also there’s more to it then just operating the nuts and bolts of every day. Ms. Jeannie caught up with Julie to discuss all aspects of selling china in New York City. Here’s what she had to say…

Fishs Eddy in NYC. Photo courtesy of
Fishs Eddy in NYC. Photo courtesy of

Ms Jeannie: Where did your love of china and glassware begin?

Julie: After college I moved in on west 15th street. Dave was working at his cousin’s shop called the Wooden Indian. It was this quirky little store at the end of the block, they sold restaurant glassware and some dishes, along with a lot of peculiar stuff. It was a fixture in the West Village and a lot of cool artists and locals shopped there. Dave was working behind the counter, and well, the rest is history. I had graduated from Syracuse University and knew a little about Syracuse China-a major American manufacture of restaurant ware located near the campus. Dave knew a lot about restaurant dishes and glasses. He also knew how to run a shop. So he left his job and we opened our own store. The more we went out searching for dishes and glasses, the more we learned about these incredible factories and the manufacturing process and the wonderful people behind it.

Syracuse china marks from the 1890's -2009
Syracuse china marks from the 1890’s -2009

MJ: How did the Fishs Eddy concept come about to begin with? If I understand correctly, Fishs Eddy started with your barn discovery of old restaurant ware back in the 1980’s. Did you know that you were specifically looking for dishes that day or did it just happen to work out that way? If you had stumbled upon a barn full of old lamps do you think you would have then been in the vintage lamp/lighting business?!

J: Well we wouldn’t ever sell lamps because chances are, for us at least, if its something that has to be plugged in, it won’t work! But back at the shop we were already selling vintage restaurant china and glassware -because both Dave and I shared a passion for that kind of stuff. So we were searching for dishes when we stumbled upon that barn filled with “ware.” The thing is, we were always picking up odds and end, finding a dozen of anything would be a big deal…and here was a whole barn filled!

Fishs Eddy in the early years. Photo courtesy of the Fishs Eddy blog, Table of Content. Click the picture to read more...
Fishs Eddy in the early years. Photo courtesy of the Fishs Eddy blog, Table of Content. Click the picture to read more…

MJ: Did you grow up in New York? Why did you decide to open your first store location in the city as opposed to the suburbs or surrounding boroughs?
J: I grew up in Staten Island. I love art and dragged my father into the city any chance I could get to take me to museums. I always knew I would do something in the city. But I thought I would be a painter, I didn’t think I would have a business. It all worked out.

MJ: When you opened up shop in 1986, did you find that people got the mix and match concept right away or did you have to educate them about all the whimsical possibilities?

J: It’s funny how it all happened because it didn’t happen by design. Many many years ago we were hauling endless bushels of dishware out of the basements of the restaurant suppliers down in the Bowery. In those days the Bowery was the restaurant supply district. Those bushels we were hauling were filled with mixed pieces. It’s not like there were sets of anything. It was all obsolete cups and sugar bowls and mugs and plates. When we displayed these dishes in the store everything looked great together, even though nothing matched as a set. We merchandised our dishes the way were finding it, massed out in those basements. It was the best suggestive selling we could have ever done. People were excited that the common denominator was the great restaurant quality and they felt comfortable putting mixed patterns together to create something very unique. I have to say without sounding too presumptuous, I do believe Fishs Eddy was at the forefront of that whole approach to table top.

A "traditional" Fishs Eddy store display. Look at all those possibilities! Photo via flickr.
A “traditional” Fishs Eddy store display. Look at all those possibilities! Photo via flickr.

Crates and barrels and baskets all full. How could you not find at least one treasure in all of this?! Photo courtesy of
Crates and barrels and baskets all full. How could you not find at least one treasure in all of this?! Photo courtesy of

MJ: I was first introduced to Fishs Eddy through my brother who had bought a vintage Howard Johnson’s creamer from you guys. That was was 20 years ago and I still think about that creamer! Is there one item like that from the early days that brings back a sense of nostalgia for you?

Ms. Jeannie's brother purchased ne similiar to this one which is available online at
Ms. Jeannie’s brother purchased one similar to this one which is available online at (click the photo for info)

J: Hmmmm that’s a hard question because there are so many. The one pattern that I get very nostalgic for are these fantastic little cups made for the La Fonda Del Sol restaurant in the city. They were designed by Alexander Girard and had a fabulous design that was so 50’s and strikingly modern. The best part is that we’re working with the Girard family and bringing those dishes back! I still can’t get over that we’re producing a pattern that we found sitting in a basement 25 years ago, and who knows how long they were sitting there before we rescued them!

Alexander Girard (1907-1993) is an American born designer that studied in Italy.
Alexander Girard (1907-1993) is an American born designer who studied in Italy. He is most known for his textile designs for Herman Miller, but in addition, he designed the visual concept of the original La Fonda del Sol restaurant in New York, circa 1960.  Pictures (clockwise top left): (1) the original menu designed by Girard for the La Fonda Del Sol restaurant, 1960.  (2) Portrait of Girard. (3) Porcelain plates designed by Girard now available at various museums. (4) The original La Fonda Del del Sol Restaurant, 1960. All photos via pinterest.

MJ:  One of the most fun things about visiting Fishs Eddy is your store displays – with the old crates and big bins of bits and pieces, it makes everything feel like a constant discovery. Like we’ve unearthed a treasure that you might not even know you had. That’s great design! How do you come up with your display concepts?

Crate full of mix and matches! Photo courtesy of
Crate full of mix and matches! Photo courtesy of

Even the cardboard boxes seem to fit right in! Photo by Heather Bullard.
Even the cardboard boxes seem to fit right in! Photo by Heather Bullard.

Quirky window displays. The wedding dress is made entirely out of spoons!
Quirky window displays. The wedding dress is made entirely out of spoons!

J: I tell our visual people that if it looks as though they spent any time at all thinking and strategizing about how a display looks, then the display is going in the wrong direction. We aren’t decorative and we aren’t “fluffy.” Every fixture in the store has a purpose, opposed to other stores that put random and useless props out to set a mood. Our dishes and glasses are what sets the mood and I think that kind of straight forward merchandising gives customers a lot of credit. People are very creative if you give them a chance.

MJ: Design-wise, who or what inspires you?

J; Without a doubt, Todd Oldham! We approached Todd a few years ago thinking this guy is never going to call us back…but he did! Todd is truly a talented and brilliant designer, watching him in action is awe-inspiring. We’ll be talking about how to lay out a graphic or something like that, and Todd will just see something that is totally unexpected, but it’s always right!

Todd Oldham (1961 - ) is an American designer with talents in a multitude of creative design fields including furniture, clothing and merchandising. Photo courtesy of
Todd Oldham (1961 – ) is an American designer with talents in a multitude of creative design fields including furniture, clothing and merchandising. Photo courtesy of

But what inspires me even more is that Todd is most unpretentious, giving and wonderful person ever! His partner Tony is the same way. Todd overseas the Charley Harper estate and could have given that design to anyone for dishware. God knows a lot of people would have killed for it. But he trusted this small business to do the best quality. He doesn’t make decisions based on how much money he could make. I‘m inspired by Todd as a designer, and just as much for the person that he is. How many people can you say that about?

A sampling of the Todd Oldham + Charley Harper collection for Fishs Eddy. clockwise top left: (1) Cardinal dinner plate (2) Green Jay Placemat (3) Eskimo Curlew Tray (4) Western Tanager Coaster. All items avaiable at
A sampling of the Todd Oldham + Charley Harper collection for Fishs Eddy. Clockwise from top left: (1) Cardinal dinner plate (2) Green Jay Placemat (3) Eskimo Curlew Tray (4) Western Tanager Coaster. All items available at

MJ: What is the most exciting item you ever discovered on your buying sprees and where was it from?

J: We’ve discovered a lot of things. But I have to say one of the most exciting pieces that we’ve ever come across was this very large punch bowl from the 21 Club in NYC. The 21 Club was a speak-easy and I always think about how that bowl was probably made for some kind of spiked punch!

Side note: To see a fun quick little video of all the “hidden” doors, vaults and prohibition- era trickery inside the 21 Club click here.

The 21 Club in Manhattan - now over 80 years old!
The 21 Club in Manhattan – now over 80 years old!

MJ: Is there a particular pattern or brand that creates a frenzy among Fishs Eddy customers?

J: Customers really love our Charley Harper dishes that Todd designed. They also love some of the crazy one-offs that we mange to get away with, like a little tray that’s Obama’s birth certificate! That was a frenzy because it came out around election time.

The Obama Birther Certificate Tray exclusively from Fishs Eddy.
The Obama Birther Certificate Tray exclusively from Fishs Eddy.

MJ: After 25 years in the business, do you think you have seen it all when it comes to china patterns? Is there a holy grail of patterns that you are anticipating?

J: Haha….a holy grail of patterns? I love anything that was done in a spray mist pattern. That was popular in the 50’s, so I guess if I found a barn filled with that stuff I would start worshiping. And trust me, it takes a lot to get me to worship!

MJ: What’s one of the best customer stories you can recall?

J: One of my favorite stories is when a customer took a photograph of the Fishs Eddy sign on the highway on route 17. They sent the photo to us and said “did you know they name a town after your store?” That town was founded about three hundred years before we were!

Ms. Jeannie consulted her 1943 vintage atlas and was thrilled to see that Fishs Eddy was listed on the map!
Ms. Jeannie consulted her 1943 vintage atlas and was thrilled to see that Fishs Eddy, New York  was listed on the map! In 1943, it had a population of 488, in case you were wondering!

It's located in the southern part of the state, right in the crook of Catskill country.
It’s located in the southern part of the state, right in the crook of Catskill country.

MJ: I absolutely love antique ironstone pottery and get so excited when I come across a piece. The older, more aged and imperfect looking the better – if it has a crack or a chip it is absolutely perfect! What sort of pieces or brands get you so excited like this?

Ms. Jeannie's most beloved ironstone pottery platter dating to 1850.
Ms. Jeannie’s most beloved ironstone pottery platter dating to 1850.

J: I love any dishes that have the original guideline markings under the glaze. There was this guy named Ray who worked forever at Shenango China factory and he signed off on all the sample plates. So we have lots of these plates with Ray’s signature. He even doodled on some of them!

Julie's favorites! This one is a Pottsville Club Sample Plate (click for more info)
Julie’s favorites! This one is a Pottsville Club Sample Plate (click for more info)

Isbell's Picadilly Restaurant Sample Plate available at (click more more info)
Isbell’s Picadilly Restaurant Sample Plate available at (click for more info)

Colonial Hotel Sample Plate available at (click for more info)
Colonial Hotel Sample Plate available at (click for more info)

MJ: What is your most favorite piece, or collection, in the shop right now?

J: Right now at this very minute I love this funny little pattern we did with the winner of our annual design competition at Pratt Institute. We’ve been doing this competition for several years now and some of my favorite patterns have come out of it. I love student work because it’s so unfettered. Last year the theme of the competition was politics. I did get a lot of elephants and donkeys but this one student submitted a Teddy Roosevelt pattern that’s totally adorable. I was thinking, where else would you get Teddy Roosevelt dishes other than Fishs Eddy??? And, we had it made in America because of course, you can’t outsource TR! It just makes me happy to look at!

The Teddy Roosevelt Collection available at (click for more info)
The Teddy Roosevelt Collection available at (click for more info)

MJ: Is it ever nerve-wracking to be around so many fragile things?

J: We’ve broken some pieces of our collection that, after the damage, I just have to go and hide under a rock for a few hours -but at the end of the day, they are dishes.

So many fragiles! Photo by Heather via pinterest
So many fragiles! Photo by Heather Bullard via pinterest

MJ: I saw your recent blog post about Stanley Tucci stopping by for a book signing (very cool!), do you have a big celebrity clientele? And have you, yourself, been star-struck by anyone that’s visited the store?

Stanley Tucci's new cookbook
Stanley Tucci’s new cookbook

Stanley Tucci signing books at Fishs Eddy. Photo courtesy of the Fishes Eddy blog, Table of Content.
Stanley Tucci signing books at Fishs Eddy. Photo courtesy of the Fishes Eddy blog, Table of Content.

J: We do get a lot of celebrities. The one person I might have frozen in star “struckenness” is Bill Clinton, who came in a few months ago while I was out to lunch, of course.

Julie didn't miss out on meeting Stanley! There she is (in the glasses). Photo
Julie didn’t miss out on meeting Stanley! There she is (in the glasses). Photo courtesy of the Fishs Eddy blog, Table of Content. Click on the picture to read more about the event.

 MJ: If you could sit down to luncheon with anyone famous, alive or dead, who would you chose? And what would your place settings look like? 

J: Gloria Steinem is one person. I sat a few rows behind her once when I went to Carnegie Hall with my father.   I only watched her for the entire concert. Anyone who speaks up for gender equality is someone I want to have lunch with. And then there’s Hank Williams because I love county music. I know, I’m a big walking conflict of interest because it’s not like county music preaches gender equality.

Julie's lunch companions. Gloria Steinam is an American journalist, activist, feminist and leader of the women's liberation movement in the 1960's and 1970's. Hank Williams (1923-1953) was a highly influential American country music artist.
Julie’s lunch companions. Ms. Jeannie bets there would be some interesting conversations going on between these two over lunch!  Gloria Steinem is an American journalist, activist, feminist and was the leader of the women’s liberation movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Hank Williams (1923-1953) was a highly influential American country music singer-songwriter.

MJ: Can you name some restaurants or hotels that have utilized your food service supply line?

J: Marcus Samelsons Red Rooster, Joseph Leonard, Perla, Prune, Maialino, La Bernadine….too many to name!

Red Rooster Harlem -  American comfort food cuisine - between 125th and 126th Streets (click for their menu)
Red Rooster Harlem – American comfort food cuisine – between 125th and 126th Streets (click for their menu). Photo via flickr.

Joseph-Leonard American Restaurant  and Bar in the West Village - 170 Waverly Place. Click for menu. Photo by Daniel Krieger.
Joseph-Leonard American Restaurant and Bar in the West Village – 170 Waverly Place. Click for menu. Photo by Daniel Krieger.

Perla  - a rustic Italian restaurant at 24 Minetta Lane in the West Village. (Click photo for menu). Photograph courtesy of
Perla – a rustic Italian restaurant at 24 Minetta Lane in the West Village. (Click photo for menu). Photograph courtesy of

Prune - American homecooking with mulit-cultural influences. Located at 54 East 1st Street (click photo for menu).
Prune – American homecooking with multi-cultural influences. Located at 54 East 1st Street (click photo for menu).

Maialino - A Roman trattoria located at 2 Lexington Avenue. (Click photo for menu). Photo courtesy of
Maialino – A Roman trattoria located at 2 Lexington Avenue. (Click photo for menu). Photo courtesy of

Le Bernardin - considered to be one of the best seafood restaurnts in all of Nyc. Located at 155 West 51st Street. Click photo for menu. Photograph courtesy of
Le Bernadine – considered to be one of the best seafood restaurants in all of NYC. Located at 155 West 51st Street. Click photo for menu. Photograph courtesy of

MJ: If one of our readers was visiting NYC for the first time and you were their tour guide, what five places would you take them and why?

J: I would take them to my house, because I have the best view of the Hudson River and the Statue of Liberty, and a collection of paintings that I love to show off. I would take them to Central Park, the MoMa, the lower east side, Eatly, and we would walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. Why do I only get five places?

Julie's New York tour...clockwise from top left (1) Central Park, photograph by zenzphotography (2) The Museuem of Modern Art (MoMA), painting by Gwen Meyerson
Julie’s New York tour…clockwise from top left (1) Central Park, photograph by zenzphotography (2) The Museuem of Modern Art (MoMA), painting by Gwen Meyerson (3) NY’s Lower East Side at night, photography courtesy of nydigest (4) The Brooklyn Bridge, water color painting by merlyna (5) Eatly Italian Marketplace, photography courtesy of paloma81.blogspot

And of course, you’d have to visit Fishs Eddy:)  To keep up with Julie via her blog, click here. She’s a hilarious writer with lots of fun stories! If you do not live in the New York area, have no fear – you can still be charmed by FE and fill your shopping cart full via their website
Cheers for being a mainstay, Fishs Eddy, and cheers again, to 25 more years in the dish business!
This interview is part of a series of interviews Ms. Jeannie has been conducting with various artists around the world, for over a year now. To read more from this series, click here.

From New York City to Rockport, Massachusetts: A Love Story

Mid-February marks two special events for Ms. Jeannie and her valentine. First, the holiday of love of course, and then two days later, February 16th, marks Ms. Jeannie’s wedding anniversary.  Each year, her and Mr. Jeannie Ology alternate planning something special between the two events.

It’s fun to keep each another guessing as to what’s in store for a special treat. Some years, there are elaborate plans like a weekend getaway or an expensive gift, but mostly they are simple celebrations – a special dinner, a movie, a bottle of champagne. Time spent together is all that matters. Really they could sit at home and do nothing and still have a grand time together.

It was like that right off the bat for them. They struck up this wonderful conversation when they first met here…


in the lobby of the New York Hilton Hotel. Both were there on work purposes involved with running a tradeshow. Ms. Jeannie on the corporate side, Mr. Jeannie on the entertainment side.  Ms. Jeannie had just been promoted to a new position with a ton of responsibility and Mr. Jeannie was there to keep the show moving along at an interesting clip. For three days, they worked side by side. For three days, they talked, they laughed, they got to know one another. For three days, they kept discovering small things they had in common…

A profound love of Ireland. Photograph by TootsFair.
…a profound love of Ireland. Photograph by TootsFair.

The same taste in movies.  Vintage movie real canisters from PassedBy.
…the same favorite movies. Vintage movie real canisters from PassedBy.

The exotic appeal of white cherries. Photograph by AmeliaKay Photography
… a newly discovered fondness for white cherries. Photograph by AmeliaKay Photography

The art of spontaneous travel. Vintage suitcase from epochco.
…the thrill of spontaneous travel. Vintage suitcase from epochco.

and a shared respect for each other's dreams. Inspirational art from typoem.
…and a shared respect for each other’s dreams. Inspirational art from typoem.

As you can see they covered a lot of topics! By day three, it felt like they had known each other for years.

On the afternoon of the third day, the show ended. Ms. Jeannie packed up. Mr. Jeannie packed up. Ms. Jeannie felt ill at ease. In just a short while Mr. Jeannie would walk out those hotel doors and disappear from her life.  Ms. Jeannie’s heart ached at the very thought of never seeing him again. So what did she do?

She gave him her phone number. This is a re-enactment for story purposes and not Ms. Jeannie's actual number, so please don't call it expecting to find her there.
She gave him her phone number. Please note: this is a re-enactment for story purposes only and not Ms. Jeannie’s actual number.

By the weekend they went on their first official date here…

The Central Park Zoo
The Central Park Zoo

As it turned out there was a special celebration going on for the sea lions that day, which involved free cake for all zoo-goers. There was also a  film crew, party balloons and a giant fish cake for the sea lions.  It all felt very festive! Ms. Jeannie took this as a good sign:)

On a quick side note: If you have never been before to the Central Park Zoo, you must visit. It is  a fabulous little hideaway tucked into Central Park and is often overlooked for the much bigger, much more well known Bronx Zoo.  A lot of people don’t even know it exists, because it is laid out in Central Park in such a way, that every time you visit you feel like you have unexpectedly discovered it.  Ms. Jeannie’s favorite exhibit is the penguins where you can watch them both on land and in the water in the same exhibit.

You can view them both above the waterline and below. Photo courtesy of
It’s like one massive fish tank. Photo courtesy of

Penguin exhibit.

Ms. Jeannie just loves these penguins. They have zippy little personalities and always seem to be having a ton of fun. If you are lucky enough to find yourself  alone in the exhibit – it can be very peaceful –  just you and the penguins.  Ms. Jeannie could watch them for hours!

Here’s a video of the exhibit Ms. Jeannie found on youtube. It gives you a feel for these active little guys…

So back to the date… the zoo, turned into an all day outing. And by the end of it, they still didn’t want to part. So they went for pizza. Then they went for cappucinnos.  Then they walked to the subway – the long way – 25 blocks in total.  They just kept walking and talking without realizing!  It turned out to be a record breaking 13 hour first date, from 10:00am in the morning until 11:00pm at night. It was grand.  Ms. Jeannie felt lucky to know such a great new friend.

Marvelous dates kept occurring.  Ms. Jeannie knew she had met her romantic match when Mr. Jeannie  took her up on the roof of an old hotel on the Upper West Side.  “So they could look at the city at night,” he’d said.

Few things are more romantic then looking down on Manhattan from that perspective.  The city almost looked fake. And all the lights seemed to twinkle. It was quite magical. New York provided quite the backdrop for falling in love.


Fast forward a few years, and Mr. Jeannie proposed in Florida on a tiny little boat during a Christmastime vacation. Ms. Jeannie was surprised, she had no idea Mr. Jeannie had such big plans prepared! Ms. Jeannie said “of course” without hesitation.  Mr. Jeannie cried the whole boat ride back to shore:)

A few years later they were knee deep in wedding plans. Since it was so expensive to get married in the city, and because they were such big fans of road trips, they decided to get married somewhere else. They looked into Vermont, into Maine, into Connecticut, but couldn’t find just the right place.  A friend of Ms. Jeannie’s tol;d her about a fabulous movie she had just watched, noting in particular, the gorgeous coastal New England town setting.  Here’s the trailer…

The next weekend, Ms. Jeannie,  Mr. Jeannie and their newly adopted border collie, were on the road to Rockport, Massachusetts where the movie was filmed.  If you are unfamiliar, Rockport is located on the very tip of Cape Ann, just north of Gloucester (which, incidently, was the setting for the movie, A Perfect Storm). It’s a 5 hour drive from NYC and only a 45 minute train ride from Boston.

When Ms. Jeannie and Mr. Jeannie drove into town, this is what they saw…

Bradley Wharf in Rockport Massachusetts. Photograph courtesy of
Bradley Wharf. Photograph courtesy of

Bradley Wharf sits in the center of the scenic inlet that leads out to the Atlantic Ocean. The town of Rockport surrounds it on three sides.  The red barn, known as Motiff No. 1, is the most painted barn in America and Rockport, itself, is an actual artist community.  With views like this how could it not be?!

Rockport Harbor
Rockport Harbor

The town sits nestled against the hillside, facing the water and is filled with gorgeous, historic seafaring captain-type homes.

View from the harbor
View from the harbor

House built in 1711
House built in 1711

House built in 1900
House built in 1900

House built in 1771
House built in 1771

House built in 1840
House built in 1840

Ms. Jeannie and Mr. Jeannie stayed at Carlson’s Bed & Breakfast, the only b&b in town, at the time, that would accept pets.  Sven Carlson was a painter himself along with his wife (who dabbled!).  They were extraordinarily interesting hosts.

Carlson's Bed & Breakfast
Carlson’s Bed & Breakfast (on the left) . Ms. Jeannie and Mr. Jeannie stayed on the top floor in a yellow wall papered room that was bright and sunny.

Ms. Jeannie and Mr. Jeannie did all sorts of exploring up and down the coast. They went lobstering with a boat captain as he picked up his pods for the day, they went shopping on Bearskin Neck (see photo below) and they ordered take-out lobster from Roy Moore Lobster Company which they took down to the beach to enjoy. True picnic decadence:)

All the storefronts here are old fishing shacks and are wonderfully weathered. Some even have apartments on top too.
The shops of Bear Skin Neck.

You might also recognize Rockport from the movie, The Proposal, with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. The movie is supposed to take place in Sitka, Alaska – but it was actually filmed in Rockport  and the neighboring town of Manchester-By-The-Sea.

Ms. Jeannie and Mr. Jeannie returned to Cape Ann several more times for vacations. Each time having more fun then the last.  They decided on the Emerson Inn  as their wedding venue, because it was located on a bluff right above the ocean. Also Ms. Jeannie loved that it had literary connections in it’s namesake, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Emerson Inn by the Sea, Rockport, MA

It had been lodging house, always, since the very beginning in the 1850’s.  Ralph Waldo who spent summers at the hotel with his family, was said to have gathered poetic inspiration from the landscape.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) Boston born poet and philospher credited with leading the transcendentalist movement in America.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) Boston born poet and philospher credited with leading the transcendentalist movement in America.

Ms. Jeannie and Mr. Jeannie were married at 8:00pm in a small candlelight ceremony, by the town clerk. They wrote their own vows. They held each other’s hand.  Mr. Jeannie cried:)  They danced to Ella Fitzgerald’s At Last.  They had two cakes, a traditional lemon creme pound cake with rolled fondant and fresh flowers and then a red velvet  groom’s cake in the shape of a lobster.  Both of them agreed they were the best cakes they had ever eaten.

The Emerson Inn at night.
The Emerson Inn at night.

For their honeymoon, they traveled with their pup, up and down the Massachusetts coastline for a week, exploring each small town.  They visited parks  and cafes and antique shops. They ate lobster and drank wine and walked to the beach every day. On their last night, they stayed near the water’s edge until late in the night looking for their dreams in the depths of the stars.

Fast forward all these years now, and Ms. Jeannie and her valentine are still adventuring together and still dreaming. Their pup has come and gone, their lives have twisted and turned, and their love has lasted. And for all that, Ms. Jeannie feels incredibly lucky. To know such experience and to know such a man.

Thank you New York Hilton, thank you Central Park Zoo, thank you New York City, thank you best dog ever, and above all, thank you Mr.Jeannie for starring in the best love story of Ms. Jeannie’s life.

Love from Lyon: Bookbinding Born from New Beginnings

We are in the middle of our first ice storm of the season, here in the South. The weather is so grey and dark and COLD, Ms. Jeannie thought this would be a lovely time to take a little trip. Where are we going, you ask? Why, it’s off to France, my dears! To visit a bookbinder in Lyon, who specializes in upcycled journals.

Since she was small, Ms. Jeannie has had a love affair with journals and diaries, doodlebooks and sketch pads. But it wasn’t until her early 20’s that she really started to depend on them as confidante,  emotional therapy and creative outlet.

During one particular portion of her life,  Ms. Jeannie carried a journal around with her everywhere she went. She was in her early 20’s, living in New York, attending college, working at a Manhattan publishing company and living in an old warehouse in Brooklyn.  She was exploring the city with her girlfriends, falling in and out of love with boyfriends and in the last book from those years,  fell in love with THE boyfriend, who eventually became her husband, the very handsome Mr. Jeannie Ology.

These are her journals from that time…


There are quite a few of them because she challenged herself for one entire year to put down her reading book on the subway (her most preferred activity for train travel) and to pick up her pen and just free-write in her journal. If you are unfamiliar with free form writing, basically you just start with a thought and go from there without any sort of restriction or point. A steady stream of conscious,  if you will.  For example…The train smells like onions today. There are pearl onions in my freezer, in a blue bag with a bird on it. I think the bird is an eagle, with wings outstretched. I wonder if an eagle has ever ridden on the subway. Maybe it would get on at Central Park and get off at Battery Park… maybe the eagle is going to visit the Statue of Liberty. Maybe they are friends and spend their days discussing the stresses of being national icons. (So there you go from onions to eagles to national symbolism – all in a minute with Ms. Jeannie!).

For the most part this activity occurred twice a day while she was commuting, usually once in the morning and once at night. The writing project sparked a few short stories, but mostly they were just daily observations of things going on around her…sights, sounds, feelings. Notes from a girl and a city going through their daily paces.

As you can imagine, New York is a bevy of interest and intrigue practically every moment – so there was lots of material. She started going through journals faster then she’d ever had before which meant journal shopping became a regular routine. She had this one favorite bookshop, in particular, in the World Trade Center, that she loved. They carried a whole section of handmade journals there and Ms. Jeannie loved the fact that no two ever really looked the same.  Her first book purchased from that shop was made out of recycled banana leaves, the last out of silk fabric scraps from India.  Both very different in style yet each had been made by hand. Selecting which one to buy seemed as important as selecting which words to write.

So that brings us to our little trip. Ms. Jeannie thought it would be fun to learn about the writer’s craft from the other side of the notebook. So off we go on a magical trip to Lyon, France to chat with Karen, bookbinder extraordinaire beyond the Etsy journal shop Spellbinderie …

Ms. Jeannie: Your shop really is magical – from the name right down the line to the contents. How did you decide on Spellbinderie?

Karen: The name came to me after many agonizing nights spent brainstorming with my husband. I wanted a shop name that reflected the concept of binding while also suggesting upcycling/transformation and my location, France. Finally Spellbinderie came to me while I was thinking about words that had -bind or -binding in them. This word said all I hoped my journals would be, enchanting, fascinating, unputdownable. I think upcycling is a bit of magic, it’s transformation, a second life, so the wordplay kept working, spell, craft, bind. Once I was settled on the name, my husband suggested the spelling, using the “ie” instead of a “y” for a French touch.

Lyon, France. Photo courtesy of
Lyon, France. Photo courtesy of

MJ:  Tell us a little bit about living in Lyon. Is that where you grew up?

K: I’m American, my husband is French. We met in Brooklyn just over 5 years ago and after three years together, he asked me if I’d be willing to leave my beloved Brooklyn and move to his hometown, Lyon. I was admittedly smitten with the idea of living in France and jumped at the opportunity. Plus we both wanted to have more time to create with our hands and do more traveling, instead of work, work, work. Brooklyn is an exciting place to live but it’s very much a career-oriented, go, go, go, type of city and I felt ready for a change. Lyon is a pretty city, famous for it’s gastronomy and well-located in the southeast of France. It’s a calmer pace, which I enjoy, while still being a good sized city, but I do miss coffee to go and good Mexican food!

This is a photo of
This is a photo of some vintage booksellers who sell near Karen’s home

MJ: How did you become interested in binding?

K: Honestly it just sort of happened. My romantic move to France had the ugly reality of finding a job. A big hurdle considering I did not speak a word of French. My former career was in documentary film editing but I wanted to change my path. A friend of mine back in the US  was doing really well selling vintage on Etsy. He encouraged me to do the same here. I began going to flea markets, thrift shops and yard sales, picking up this and that to sell, constantly drawn towards the gorgeous vintage books, often damaged but still enchanting. I’ve always had a passion for old books, started to collect them when I was quite young. I started to collect more here thinking eventually I’d figure out what to do with them. From there I researched upcycling ideas online and stumbled on bookbinding. I knew that was it, I just had to learn how.

French book published in 1909 now offered as a wedding registry book by Spellbinderie.

MJ:  I love how your books are actual stories within stories. Does it take a long time to concept the construction a book? What is your most favorite part of the process?

K: Right from the start I wanted to make my journals more than just blank pages. What inspires me is a book’s history, where it’s been, who’s hands held it, what were they thinking, doing, eating, sitting, dreaming? The old paper calls me with it’s soft texture and warm color and I’m absolutely smitten by old handwriting or bits of paper or cards left behind. In the end, it’s my own imagination, my need to tell stories, my love of secrets and mystery, that is my favorite part of the process. I want that to be bound right into the journal.

Mixed paper journal by Spellbinderie
Mixed paper journal by Spellbinderie

MJ: Do you have a sourcing method for all the old books and papers you incorporate into your items? Are you scouring France for great papers?!
K:  I’m scouring my section of France for sure! I have a wonderful local thrift shop and the proceeds go to help the poor and needy, so an added bonus for buying there. I also shop the flea markets and vide-greniers, or “empty attics”, the French version of a yard sale. I’m lucky that my in-laws are avid thrifters and often find amazing books for me to use as well. My vacations tend to include a bit of thrifting now too.

MJ:  What is your most favorite item in your shop at the moment?

Custom Made Art Journal Sketchbook by Spellbinderie
Custom Made Art Journal Sketchbook by Spellbinderie

K: My custom made “Layo” artist sketchbook, I think. The photos don’t do it justice, I’m limited to how many photos I can add on Etsy so kept the focus on practical matters. The “Layo” was made for a repeat customer who’s an artist and avid journaler. We always work together to create very unique sketchbooks that fit her needs and I love each and every one of them.

MJ: What’s your best customer story? Do you sell your books anywhere else besides Etsy?

K: My best customer story is related to the “Layo” sketchbook. The sketchbook is named for her of course. She is very creative and pushes me, in a good way, to be more creative and learn new things. Her orders are the most time consuming because they are never simple and sometimes I need to think outside the box to make what she wants or to find suitable material. I love the challenge and the result. She’s been a customer for almost a year now and has become a friend through our conversations and collaborations. I probably would not know this amazing woman if I weren’t selling online!

I just started to list on Dawanda but Etsy is my main focus for selling.

MJ:  Are most of your clients writers?

K: I’d say my clients are brides, next would be writers. I also get quite a few men ordering custom journals as gifts for their creative girlfriends. I LOVE that! It’s really exciting to make a special gift for someone and I have to say it, I’m impressed with these super cool and thoughtful boyfriends.

Wedding registry books by Spellbinderie.
Wedding registry books by Spellbinderie.

MJ:  Do you have an educational background in bookbinding?

K: No, I am self-taught through instructional videos and books plus lots of practice before I opened my shop. I am interested in taking a few courses in high level binding in order to improve and perfect my technique and be able to offer more variety in binding style but haven’t found the right course in my area. I’ve also reached out to some professional bookbinders for advice and found the community supportive.

Personalized Wedding Guest Book by Spellbinderie
Personalized Wedding Guest Book by Spellbinderie

MJ:  Do you have a shop bestseller?
K: My wedding guestbooks are by far my biggest sellers but next would be my Retro Journal Series which are crafted from small antique books that have a math, literature, science or geography theme. I fell in love with this type of book early on, drawn to their distressed covers and simple cream and black color scheme.

Rustic Vintage Mixed Paper Journal by Spellbinderie. This one is Ms. Jeannie's favorite!
Rustic Vintage Mixed Paper Journal by Spellbinderie. This one is Ms. Jeannie’s favorite!

Retro Journal by Spellbinderie
Retro Journal by Spellbinderie

I wanted to make them more distressed and mysterious, gatekeepers of secret formulas and agendas, by adding bits of the text, tattered reclaimed paper and burning the paper edges. I loved that it looked like it had been traveling around, maybe having a few too many drinks and a bar fight for it’s own good. When I listed the first one, it sold immediately, which shocked me because I honestly thought it would take awhile to find the right buyer. Turns out people love them just as much as I do and just like that this line was born. Which just goes to show you, ALWAYS follow your heart and your own style.

MJ:  Is there an ideal type of book you look for when your sourcing your papers?

K: I look primarily for whatever catches my eye, could be great illustrations, a beautiful cover, a wonderfully distressed cover. I stay away from anything rare or in demand as well as too damaged or fragile.

MJ: When you are not working on your books what else occupies your time?

K: I love watching movies, reading, traveling, camping and photography. I also love to cook, and eat quite frankly. I enjoy infusing booze too! I make my own bitters and infused rum, known as rhum arrangé here, which comes from Reunion, an island off of Africa. It’s delicious! Only hard part is being patient for at least three months before you can enjoy.

MJ: Are your customers mostly in Europe or the US?
K: Primarily in the US and UK, then Canada and Australia.

MJ:  Are you a journaler yourself? If so, do you make all of your own journals?
K: I’m always a bit nervous when asked this question because I am not a journaler and wonder if buyers would be turned off by that. My pleasure is in bookbinding and designing though, not in writing. I’m a storyteller but do so visually. My former career as a film editor probably seems so different from my new career but both involve taking pieces of something and stitching them together to create a new thing. Both end up with my interpretation of the story.

Rustic Wedding Guestbook by Spellbinderie. Note the vintage needlework  she included!
Rustic Wedding Guestbook by Spellbinderie. Note the vintage needlework she included!

MJ:  What is it about the art of journaling that attracts people?

K: I think I’m not qualified to answer since I am not a journaler but I would assume it’s the same thing that attracts me to bookbinding or film editing: it feels good to do and it’s necessary to do, to create.

MJ: Do customers ever send you pictures of their journals or guest books all filled out? I bet they’d look incredible!
K: I’ve been hoping someone would but I think journaling tends to be a private thing more than not. I made a guestbook for a friend of mine in Lyon and that was so exciting. I got to see the reaction of her guests to my creation and see the guestbook afterwards.

MJ: What is your design space/studio like?
K: We live in a loft like space with a mezzanie. The area of Lyon that we live in is known for these kind of apartments because this area was formerly a silk weaving neighborhood. The buildings have very high ceilings to allow for the silk weaving frames and the mezzanines were where the weavers slept or for use as offices.

Karen's studio space.
Karen’s studio space and her handmade bookbinding frame. 

My studio space is not separated from my living area which means there is no door to shut, making it hard for me to really draw a line between work life and private life. That can be tough sometimes but I love my neighborhood and my open space. As much as I’d love to shut the door and go home at the end of my work day, I enjoy having everything right at hand too.

MJ:  What inspires your work (besides antiques books, obviously!)
K: My neighborhood. I walk around looking at the architecture, I’m particularly drawn to the distressed doors and wood beam ceilings. I am also a fan of Keith Smith, a book artist. His work is very very different than mine but inspires me and pushes me to try new things.

The amazing architecture of Lyon. Ms. Jeannie loves those doors too!
The amazing architecture of Lyon, France. Ms. Jeannie loves those doors too!

Keith Smith, book artist. For more info on his work, please click on the photo.
Keith Smith, book artist. For more info on his work, please click on the photo.

MJ:  As far as gathering books for eventual re-purposing into journals, what subject matter interests you most?
Generally fiction because of the ornate covers and pretty illustrations. I love the drama, especially a darker, more gothic type. I also love geography and history books with old maps and descriptions about various places. I recently started making journals for a US buyer who spends quite a bit of time in the Alps. He’s an avid mountaineer, skier and journaler. He contacted me to find old books on the subject to transform into journals and now I am hooked on these books too. I discovered Pierre and Georges Tairraz, amazing photographers who traveled around taking incredible photos.


MJ: Do you have any new year’s resolutions? What is one thing you plan to accomplish in your Etsy shop this year?
K: Double my sales, hire a part time assistant for the spring/summer wedding rush, come up with new ideas, learn a new binding technique.

Karen is currently reading:
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. My favorite author!


MJ:  What music are you listening to?

K: Hmmm, I’m 44 and sadly finding I’m listening to less and less new music! My iTunes recent playlist shows: Joy Division, Bjork, Kate Bush, Portishead, Bear In Heaven, Birdie Nam Nam, Mahmoud Ahmed, PJ Harvey

Karen, the face behind Spellbinderie...
Karen, the artist behind Spellbinderie. 

Do you have questions for Karen? Post them in the comments section and Ms. Jeannie will be sure they get to her. Or you can visit her shop here.  Also, click on any of the Spellbinderie journal pictures in this post for more detailed information.

Not ready to leave the beauty of France quite yet?  No worries, my dear, read a previous interview with  French photographer Yann Pendaries here.

Or enjoy a year full of Ms. Jeannie’s other interesting interviews here.

Storytime with Ms. Jeannie – The Journey of Christmas Pig

So a little bit ago, Ms. Jeannie met this wonderful character whom she affectionately called Christmas Pig…

Vintage cast iron pig

Ms. Jeannie’s not one to notice looks first, but as you can see, he was nothing but handsome, with his distinguished rusty patches and his shabby chic patina. This pig had personality written all over him.

Ms. Jeannie made a home and a job for him on her kitchen shelves, holding down her fort of antique ironstone platters.

Pig on the job.

Pig seemed suited there for awhile. Each morning he’d greet Ms. Jeannie with a smile and a story. He’d recount his past, as she stood sleepy-eyed at the counter waiting for the coffee to brew.

A long time ago, Pig was born into a cast iron stable set made in England. His barn mates included a cow and a horse, a rooster, a lamb and some chickens, possibly there was a goat too (this part is a little hazy).

The stable was owned by a blond boy named Hugh, who fancied short pants and jam sandwiches and calling his mom, Mum. At some point in Pig’s early life, he  and Hugh crossed the great ocean together, journeying to America via steamer ship. The crossing was long, but every afternoon, Hugh took Pig out to the lido deck to show him the waves and the water. The salt air settled on their skin.

Boy and Pig wound up in a wonderful old house in the States. Years passed. The boy grew up. Pig was packed away. For years Pig stayed among the packing papers dreaming of what his future would hold. One day, when he could stand the confines of the box no more,  he mustered the courage to leave his world behind.  Discovery was calling and Pig proclaimed himself a new explorer.

Fate eventually led Pig to Georgia. And then to Ms. Jeannie, where they became fast friends. Together they settled into Southern life.

But soon, Pig began to grow restless. Even though he enjoyed Ms. Jeannie’s company and his job of guarding the ironstone, he began to get antsy.  His hooves started knocking against the shelves, then against the platters. At first it was just light little taps – barely audible, but as the days progressed,  the taps grew louder and louder until they could no longer be ignored.

Ms. Jeannie understood.   A restless spirit cannot be contained. It was time for Pig to move on.

“Let’s make this next trip spontaneous,” he told Ms. Jeannie. “You arrange it and I’ll go. Anywhere in the world.”

And spontaneous it was going to be! Exotic even. Ms. Jeannie was in touch with a lovely lady in Singapore who was ready to give Pig his next story. Thrilled by the prospect of crossing oceans again, Pig packed his bags, practiced his Chinese and headed off to the post office.  Unfortunately, a one way postal ticket to Singapore wound up to be a much larger expense then even a Pig could afford, so he returned to Ms. Jeannie’s shelf once again. His dreams of Asian escapades so short lived he couldn’t even remember what they were.

“Keep your chin up,” Ms. Jeannie said. “Something will come along soon.”

Pig sighed and wallowed and tapped around for two days, before Ms. Jeannie reported good news. A porcine model was needed ASAP in New York City for a Christmas production! Pig was perfect for the part!

Giddy, Pig packed again. While he got ready, Ms. Jeannie told him of all of her New York City adventures growing up as a girl. Pig listened intently to every word. His imagination swirling with all the sights and the sounds and the possibilities that Ms. Jeannie suggested.

“Goodbye, sweet Pig,” Ms. Jeannie said as she dropped him off at the post office. “Keep in touch,” she whispered.

Two days later, Ms. Jeannie was delighted to receive a picture and a note from Christmas Pig…

Pig in the big city!

Dear Ms Jeannie!

I did arrive in the city that never sleeps today, safe and sound! I’m enjoying the view from my new home and I’ll secretly tell you something: my new family is talking about me moving to some summer cottage, but I’m enjoying the bright lights in the city and I have bigger plans now… after my first model gig I’m going to look for an agent and I promise you, you will soon see me as a star on Broadway! I’ll blink at you from the posters!

Oh Pig! Ms. Jeannie looks forward to seeing your star:)

Be on the lookout readers – the next famous pig in the city could be our very own;)