Cooking While Under Construction: This Old House {Part One)

An artistic rendering of Michael and Renee's vintage house!
An artistic rendering of Michael and Renee’s vintage house on the outskirts of New York City.

Today we are announcing a very exciting multiple part series here on the blog based on real-life history-making circumstances that are facing two of our readers. You’ll remember these familiar faces, Michael and Renee as winners from our Sparta giveaway last November.  In communicating during their prize winnings and exchange of recipes they shared exciting but daunting news that they would soon be undergoing a kitchen renovation in their 1940’s New York colonial. Not new to the reconstruction game (these two have been updating their house for the past several years) this kitchen project in particular kept getting put off because it was going to take three months. Three long months for two people who are crazy about cooking.

The thought of 90 days of food preparation among tarps and tape and sawdust and drills and hammers and workbenches during cold, wet winter sounded anything but appealing. But alas with a firm “Let’s begin,” from their contractor, the project could be put off no longer. The time had come for Michael and Renee to embrace the chaos that is a historic house kitchen renovation.

In submitting finally to this process a challenge has been posed.  Can these two epicureans figure out what and how to cook when a fully functional kitchen will not be accessible for the next 270 meals? Can their sanity keep up with their ideal determination not to eat out or order in during the entire phase of construction? What will these two gourmet cooks and farmers market foodies make during this three month stretch that will keep their hearts happy and their stomachs satisfied? Can they stay true to themselves and approach food in their normal, healthy, excited-to-cook-for-you kind of way? Or will they succumb to the frustrations and inabilities of not having continuous access to the proper prep space, cooking equipment, storage facilities or clean-up stations?

Will they slip out to Starbucks for breakfast on the go? Will they develop reasons for in-city lunch meetings or after work “networking” cocktails?  Will friends and family take pity on them and invite them over to enjoy someone else’s home cooked meal? How will their enthusiasm towards healthy eating be affected? How will their culinary creativity be tested?  And most importantly, of all the challenge questions, what happens if the construction plans take longer than 12 weeks?

Over the next several months, Michael and Renee, will share in their own words how things are going. They’ll report on what they are making and how they are feeling. They’ll talk about how the construction is evolving and about how their initial hopes and aspirations have been received by the physical parameters of the construction process itself. And if everything goes south (no pun intended!) and they find themselves without the ability or the desire or the space to properly cook they’ll share those thoughts as well. It’s a food lover’s journey trekking across a bumpy pumpernickel road that stretches out over a quarter of a year. Will it sprout new innovations or will it turn their minds into toast for a dozen weeks? Let’s jump right in and see!

We begin this series with an introduction from Michael and Renee and a special, sentimental send-off  recipe from their soon-to-be-old kitchen marking the start of their culinary construction adventure…

When we moved out of the West Village and bought our house in our “micro-urban” town in southern Westchester County, NY we did so with a firm and well-defined 5-year plan.  Nine years later, we are about to embark on what should’ve been our year two project.  To quote the sage Mike Tyson, “everybody has a plan until you get punched in the face.”  Thanks, life.  

Joking aside, we really like living here and we really love our home.  We have a better commute than most people that live in the confines of the Five Boroughs, and we get all the perks of the ‘burbs…the car, the trees, the backyard, the nosy neighbors…well, maybe not everything is a perk.  So, when we recently decided that it was time to either trade-up or up-grade we came to a fairly quick decision that we would do some serious renovating and stay put.  When we say “serious renovating” we’re not kidding – we’re talking new kitchen, extension off the back of the house, new siding, new family room, and a new deck.  We got the ball rolling back in October and quickly found a contractor, got the plans in order and started looking for appliances and materials.  We figured that by late February we’d be done.  As of today, the anticipated start date on the project is February 15, with a 12-week estimated duration.  Given that we started out 7 years behind schedule, that’s not so bad.

One of the key sacrifices we’re going to have to make is being without a kitchen for a few months.  We are the type of people that have almost every single meal we eat come from our kitchen.  Breakfast at home every day.  We take lunch to work every day.  We cook dinner at home almost every night (gone are the days of restaurant hopping in the West Village, but we still get out sometimes).   

We are honored that our good and great friend Ms. Jeannie has asked us to chronicle this process for you, Dear Reader, on her amazing blog.  We hope that we can do justice to her gracious request, and we hope that we don’t scare too many of you away from the joys of home improvement.

For this first blog post, we are paying homage to the first meal we cooked in our home almost nine years ago – Roast Chicken and Risotto.  Our palates and our influences (and, for one of us, our cholesterol levels) have changed considerably since those bygone days, so our “updated” chicken dish is a little Israeli, a little Moroccan, a little Spanish, and a little local Farmer’s Market.  

In subsequent blog posts, I expect that our recipes will reflect the state of (or complete lack of) our kitchen, but for now happy cooking!  We encourage comments, requests, suggestions and commiserations from other renovation survivors.  

israeli
Israeli Inspired Chicken

Based on Israeli Inspired Chicken from Frankie Cooks

Ingredients:

3 – 3 ½ lb. organic free-range chicken (preferably from a farmer you know)

2 tbsp. each of za-atar, paprika and turmeric

¼ tsp. saffron

1 cinnamon stick

Salt and black pepper

2 Tbs. Olive Oil

1 cup of jasmati rice

½ bulb of fennel, sliced thin

4 cloves of garlic, smashed

1 leek, thinly sliced

2 cups of chicken stock (homemade is best)

1 small orange, sliced

Zest from one lemon (reserve the juice for serving)

Pomegranate arils (optional – we did not use, but felt that it would have added a freshness and zing at the end to the dish) and fresh chopped parsley or cilantro, for serving

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For the brine:

1/3 cup kosher salt

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

1/3 raw cane or coconut sugar

4 cups of filtered water

Up to two days before, spatchcock your chicken.  Combine the first three ingredients of the brine in a large bowl and whisk well.  Add the 4 cups of water and whisk until fully combined.  Add the chicken to the bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.

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The next morning, remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry.  Discard the brine.  Transfer the chicken to a rack breast side up.  Season the skin with kosher salt and black pepper and return the refrigerator, uncovered for 8 – 24 hours.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and sprinkle both sides with the za-atar, paprika and turmeric.  Set aside.

Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 325 degrees.

Heat a wide dutch oven or large sauté pan with a tightly fitting top on medium-high heat.  Heat the olive oil and add the chicken, skin side down, and brown for about 4-5 minutes without moving.

Meanwhile, warm the chicken stock in a saucepan on low, or in a microwave, and add the saffron and cinnamon stick to bloom.

Remove the chicken and reduce heat to medium low.  Add the fennel, garlic and leek and sauté until soft and translucent, about 5-8 minutes.

Add the rice and toast until fragrant, about 3-5 minutes.

Add the chicken stock and saffron mixture and citrus to the pan. Increase heat to high, and bring to a boil.  Then reduce to a simmer, add the chicken and cover.

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Move the pan to the oven and cook for approximately 35 – 40 minutes, or until the rice is cooked and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reads 165 degrees.

Remove chicken from the pan to rest.  Fluff the rice and plate, garnishing with pomegranate arils, herbs and a fresh lemon juice.

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Carve the chicken and plate on top of the rice.  

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Such a fitting farewell meal to all the fun times Michael and Renee have enjoyed in their vintage kitchen. Cheers to another 70 years of good times to come when all the renovations are complete!

Next time we catch up with these two bravehearts we’ll learn about the specifics of their construction project and see how this whole fresh food situation is faring. In the meantime, if you missed Renee and Michael’s other recipes featuring Greek olive oil and oregano find them here. And if you have any words of advice or helpful suggestions as these two get-going, please post a comment below!

Photo credit: All photos for this post are courtesy of Michael and Renee.

Tuesday In the Kitchen – The Art of Greek Cookery

Opa! It's international dinner night!
Opa! It’s international dinner night!

Today, dear readers, we are going on a wonderful culinary adventure that is taking us from Greece to Long Island, New York  to Ms. Jeannie’s kitchen in Georgia.  The subject of our adventure is a recipe from this Greek cookbook Ms. Jeannie has for sale in her Etsy shop

The Art of Greek Cookery circa 1963
The Art of Greek Cookery circa 1963

The recipes in The Art of Greek Cookery were compiled in 1958, by 16 first generation Greek women who lived in Hempstead, New York and were part of the congregation of St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church.

St. Paul's Greek Orthodox Church, Hempstead, NYPhoto courtesy of rohlfstudio.com
St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church, Hempstead, NYPhoto courtesy of rohlfstudio.com

The Church, which was formed in 1944, needed to expand as their congregation grew, so the ladies of the Church formed a recipe committee, which was a segment of the church’s social organization, the Mr. & Mrs. Club (so cute!). The intention of the recipe committee was to gather traditional recipes from their homeland into a book for American cooks and then to sell the books as a fundraiser for the new building construction. In true Julia Child spirit,  these ladies got to work gathering, testing and and adapting hundreds of recipes that were representatives of their Greek culture.  This is a picture of some of the original members of the recipe club…

Photo courtesy of stpaulhempstead.org
Photo courtesy of stpaulhempstead.org

After two and half years of laboring,  they published a simple spiral bound cookbook entitled, The Grecian Gourmet, which turned out to be a runaway success. Both the The New York Times and the New York Tribune published articles about the women and their book project, which caught the attention of people all across the country and book orders poured in.

The recipe committee was humbled and amazed that their little cookbook had become such a sensation.

“It was a book that had immense appeal for all food conscious people. For gourmets and experimental cooks of all kinds; for tourists who upon returning from Greece, wished to duplicate  in their own kitchens some of the interesting and exciting dishes they had tasted in Greece on the Grecian islands. It was a work of love and a great pleasure for all of us.” – Theodora Lourekas, Chairmen of the Recipe Committee, 1963.

The cookbook also caught the attention of New York publishing giant Doubleday and Company, who wanted to republish it under their “Art of ” cookbook series. And so the Art of Greek Cookery was born in 1963.

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Containing a wealth of recipes ranging from appetizers to desserts, the cookbook also contains information on Greek wines, traditional feast days, customs, traditions, suggested menus and a lovely forward by the then pastor, Father George Papadeas. To say that he was not only proud but impressed by the hard work and determination of these women was an understatement.  Just by reading the forward, preface and introduction of this cookbook you can tell that so much love and good cheer was behind this project.

100% of the proceeds from the book sales went into the church construction fund, which provided them with more than enough money to undertake the expansion.  Both the Church and the recipe club are still going strong today!

So in true spirit, Ms. Jeannie embarked on a new cooking challenge and made one of the recipes from the book. Ideally, she would have liked to have chosen a lamb recipe, since that is so traditional, but Ms. Jeannie feels bad for the little lambs and doesn’t know of a local, ethically sourced lamb company, so she chose a chicken dish instead. It had five ingredients and was ready within an hour. And it was DELICIOUS (with a big capital D!). Here’s the recipe…

All the ingredients you will need!
The ingredients!

Chicken with Scallions (also known as Kotopoulo me Kremidakia Freska)

3-4 lb. organic chicken, cut into 6 pieces

5 tablespoons butter

Salt & Pepper to taste

1 cup hot water

6 bunches organic scallions, rinsed and ends trimmed

3 organic eggs

1 lemon, juice of

Rinse chicken pieces and pat dry with paper towels. In a Dutch oven (or you can use a large soup pot) melt the butter, add the chicken pieces and brown until golden on all sides. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. *Add hot water and scallions. Cover and cook over low-heat for one hour.

In a medium bowl, beat eggs. Incorporate lemon juice slowly into egg mixture while constantly stirring to prevent curdling. Add some broth from the pan (about 1/2 cup), again constantly stirring to prevent curdling. Stir actively for about a minute.

Remove chicken from pan and place on a plate. Add the egg mixture to the pan broth and stir constantly for another minute to avoid curdling. Add the chicken back into the pot to soak up the sauce. The heat under the pan must be on low and the sauce must not be allowed to boil. Let the chicken rest in the sauce fora few minutes before removing from heat and serving.

* Special note – Ms. Jeannie doesn’t have a Dutch oven so she used a large soup pot. After she browned the chicken and before she added the water and scallions, she de-glazed the pan with 1/4 cup of white wine just because her pot tends to burn easily. If you are using a Dutch oven you might not need to add that step at all.

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Once Ms. Jeannie placed the chicken and sauce in a serving dish she sprinkled it with some chives from her garden. This of course is optional. She served the chicken with a simple homegrown tomato basil salad which was marinated in olive oil and garlic for an hour, a crusty baguette and a glass of sauvignon blanc. Enjoying an authentic Greek dinner outside on the patio with Mr. Jeannie Ology made Ms. Jeannie feel like she was on a little vacation!

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It is armchair traveling at its best and most delicious! Cheers or Opa (as they like to say in Greece)!

The Lost Bird Project

The other night, Ms. Jeannie watched a documentary and fell in love with big birds. Five in particular. This is one of them…

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The documentary was called The Lost Bird Project and was about an artist who set out to memorialize five birds that are now extinct from our environment.

Inspired, after reading the book, Hope Is The Thing With Feathers (great title!) by Christopher Cokinos, sculptor Todd McGrain built man-size sculptures of five particular birds  that are no longer living in the natural world.  He wanted the birds to be not only memorials for something now lost, but also educational pieces that would make people pause and reflect about their own individual roles in the hands of nature.

The five birds he chose were:

The Carolina Parakeet. Extinct since 1918, was highly sought after by the millinery industry for the bright feathers. Photo courtesy of lostbirdfilm.org
The Carolina Parakeet, extinct since 1918, was highly sought after by the millinery industry for their  bright feathers.  This statue was placed at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park in Okeechobee, FL. Photo courtesy of lostbirdfilm.org
Carolina Parakeet. Photo courtesy of extinct-website.com.
Carolina Parakeet. Photo courtesy of extinct-website.com.
The passenger pigeon, extinct by 1914, saw its main decline due to hunting. Photo courtesy of lostbirdfilm.org
The passenger pigeon, extinct by 1914, saw its main decline due to hunting. This statue was placed at Grange Audubon Center in Columbus, Ohio. Photo courtesy of lostbirdfilm.org
Passenger Pigeons. Photo courtesy of rareprintsgallery.com
Passenger Pigeons. Photo courtesy of rareprintsgallery.com
The Heath Hen, extinct since 1932 due to hunting, predators and development was last seen in the wild on Martha's Vineyard. The last one living by himself on the vineyard for few years - calling for mates with no replies. Photo courtesy of lostbirdfilm.org
The Heath Hen, extinct since 1932 due to hunting, predators and development was last seen in the wild on Martha’s Vineyard. The last one living by himself on the Vineyard for years, constantly called for mates with no replies. This statue was placed in Manuel F. Correllus State Forest in Martha’s Vineyard, MA. Photo courtesy of lostbirdfilm.org
Heath Hen. Photo courtesy of nhptv.org
Heath Hen. Photo courtesy of nhptv.org
The Labrador Duck, extinct since 1878, was most likely demolished by coastal industry. the labrador duck was north america's version of the tuxedo penguin in all of it's black and white glory.
The Labrador Duck, extinct since 1878, was most likely demolished by a lack of food supply due to coastal industry expansion.  This statue was placed at Brand Park in Elmira, New York. Photo courtesy of lostbirdfilm.org.
Labrador Ducks. Photo courtesy of mcq.org
Labrador Ducks. Photo courtesy of mcq.org
The Great Auk has been extinct 1844. Ever present seabirds, they mated for life and found refuge in rocky terrains off coastal waterways. Their greatest predator was man who would use them for food source, oil and feathers. Photo courtesy of lostbirdfilm.org
The Great Auk has been extinct since 1844. Ever present seabirds, they mated for life and found refuge in rocky terrains off coastal waterways. Their greatest predator was man who would use them for food source, oil and feathers. This statue was placed at Joe Batt’s Point at Fogo Island in Newfoundland. Photo courtesy of lostbirdfilm.org
The Great Auk. Photo courtesy of itsnature.org
The Great Auk. Photo courtesy of itsnature.org

The documentary presents a wonderful arc of a story from creation of the sculptures through dealing with the bureaucratic red tape of state “gifting”  to seeing the sculptures placed in the areas intended by the artist (where the real birds were actually last seen).

Compelling, doesn’t begin to describe the subject matter and at  the heart of the story is one man’s quest for genuine expression.  It is humble. It is grand. It is remarkable.  And it makes you think about nature around us… the common sights and sounds we live with everyday… and all that we might just be taking for granted.

Here’s a trailer for the documentary…

If you’d like to find out more about the project and the artist , visit the film website here. If you happen to live near or have been to see any of the bird statues, please comment below with your thoughts – Ms. Jeannie would love to hear.

****** UPDATE – MAY 8, 2017 ****

The Passenger Pigeon – a Lost Bird Project sculpture was spotted in the gardens of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.!

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 shopikon.com
Fishs Eddy in NYC. Photo courtesy of shopikon.com
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 timeout.com
Crates and barrels and baskets all full. How could you not find at least one treasure in all of this?! Photo courtesy of timeout.com

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 fishseddy.com
Ms. Jeannie’s brother purchased one similar to this one which is available online at fishseddy.com (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 absolutelynothingtowear.com
Crate full of mix and matches! Photo courtesy of absolutelynothingtowear.com
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 poptower.com
Todd Oldham (1961 – ) is an American designer with talents in a multitude of creative design fields including furniture, clothing and merchandising. Photo courtesy of poptower.com

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 fishseddy.com
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 fishseddy.com

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 fishseddy.com (click more more info)
Isbell’s Picadilly Restaurant Sample Plate available at fishseddy.com (click for more info)
Colonial Hotel Sample Plate available at fishseddy.com (click for more info)
Colonial Hotel Sample Plate available at fishseddy.com (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 fishseddy.com (click for more info)
The Teddy Roosevelt Collection available at fishseddy.com (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 roundpulse.com
Perla – a rustic Italian restaurant at 24 Minetta Lane in the West Village. (Click photo for menu). Photograph courtesy of roundpulse.com
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 youropi.com
Maialino – A Roman trattoria located at 2 Lexington Avenue. (Click photo for menu). Photo courtesy of youropi.com
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 tripandtravelblog.com
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 tripandtravelblog.com

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 fishseddy.com
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.

A Family of Firemen and the Women They Loved

Last week found Ms. Jeannie, unexpectedly, in sunny Florida, helping her father who had fallen and hit his head. It was a scary week involving the Intensive Care Unit, doctors and specialists, prescriptions and timetables and making what felt like a million pots of soup.

In the midst of all the bad, Ms. Jeannie searched for the good. Happily, she found it staring right in front of  her on the walls of her dad’s house….

Ms. Jeannie’s grandfather, Herbert (second from left) and his pals

Family photos she had yet to record in her family history information!

Herbert (pictured above – with the curly hair)  is Ms. Jeannie’s grandfather. He was a firemen in Chicago for over 40 years. His father Joseph, was also a fireman in Chicago, as well as Joseph’s father,  Jacob, who immigrated from Germany.

Herbert and his dad, Joesph

Joseph first became a fireman in the mid-1910’s.  He was an engineer with Engine Number 24 in Chicago.  Here’s a picture of Joseph, in his uniform alongside his wife, Mary. Mary was also from Chicago – not too much is known about her yet (more research to do!).

Mary and Joseph in Chicago
Joseph with his engine company in Chicago. Joseph is in the top row – second from the right. You can just make out the fire truck behind them.

Mary and Joseph had two boys: Herbert & Charles, but Charles died when he was a baby. Joseph eventually found his way to the Army Air Force base in Sarasota in the early 1940’s where he was fire chief.  This is a picture of him with Ms. Jeannie’s dad. She just loves this photo!

Joseph in Sarasota, FL with his grandson.

Tragically, Joseph died after being run over by a cement truck. He was 67 years old. Mary died 20 years later. It must have been hard.

Joseph’s son, Herbert married Cecylia Lucille, whom everyone called Lucy. They were married in 1933 in Chicago.

Herbert and Lucy on their wedding day in 1933

Lucy was born in Buffalo, New York  to parents, Jozef and Jozefa,  who immigrated from the province of Posen in Germany.

Jozef and Jozefa on their wedding day in 1902 in Buffalo.

Jozef was a tailor in Buffalo throughout his life. Together, he and Jozefa had eight children. Four years after the last one was born, Jozefa died from burns sustained when her clothes caught on fire in the kitchen. Jozef wrapped her in a blanket to extinguish the flames but the burns covered over 80% of her body.

Unprepared to raise 8 children on his own and overcome with grief, Jozef had to place his children in the Catholic orphanage in Buffalo. Family members eventually collected all the children again, but most of the 8 grew up at the orphanage – Lucy included. She was 18 when she left there.

This is a picture of Lucy’s first Holy Communion, which must have been taken just about a year before her mother’s death.

Lucy photographed on her First Holy Communion.

Although Herbert was not yet a fireman, when he and Lucy married, Ms. Jeannie thinks it must have been reassuring for Lucy in some way when he became one.  For all the sadness that surrounded Lucy’s childhood, happiness in her adult life with Herbert really made up for it. They were great loves and had a lot of fun together.

Herbert and Lucy
Herbert in his fire uniform.
Lucy was always a very stylish dresser. Ms. Jeannie wishes she inherited her lovely wavy hair. Herbert’s curly genes seemed to be more prevalent though!
Herbert at the the firehouse – Engine 33 in Chicago. Herbert is in the top row, second from right.

In addition to being a fireman, Herbert was also the firehouse cook. Boy could he make a mean bowl of chili! He was great at making big pots of things – but Ms. Jeannie guesses after 40 years of cooking for a company full of firemen, it must be hard to scale down!

Lucy and Herbert

Lucy died when Ms. Jeannie was just a baby so she she doesn’t really remember her, but Grandpa Herbert remains strong and lovable in her memory. He was a marvelous grandfather, full of fun and kindness. He was forever bringing little treats and presents to Ms. Jeannie and her sister. And he told wonderful, exciting stories about life at the firehouse.

He also loved to sing and tell jokes, believed in playing the lottery every week, had a fondness for doughnuts with coffee, and a cigar in the afternoon. He loved crossword puzzles and baseball games. He loved all types of affection and he loved to dance. He taught Ms. Jeannie how to be a card shark when it came to poker, how to love unconditionally and how being pleasant, good-natured and grateful was far nicer then being opinionated and troublesome. Everything about him was just lovely.

Herbert died in his mid 80’s of cancer, having never been sick in his entire life. In his final months,  he gave many of his old family photos to one of the nurses aides that watched over him, simply because she expressed an interest in antique photographs. That was his way, always giving, so we can’t fault him for his generosity,  although this has left Ms. Jeannie with quite a challenging genealogy project on her hands. She thinks one day, that the photos Herbert gave away, will eventually find their way back to the family.  “When the time is right,” as Herbert would’ve said.

In the meantime, Ms. Jeannie likes to keep her eye out for firehouse-related antiques. Etsy has quite a few amazing finds like the ones listed below… maybe one day she’ll find something from Herbert’s or Joseph’s fire companies. Wouldn’t that be spectacular?! (click on each image for more info) 

Antique Fire Hose from 86home
Antique Fire Station Bell Control Box Top from OhioPicker
Antique Brass Fire Extinguisher
Antique Waterbury Fire Department Buttons from stbthreadworks
Antique Booklet – The Great Chicago Fire from MsHuggerNeck
Vintage NY Fire Dept. Collapsible Bucket from LathandPlaster
Antique Fire Chief Insignia
Vintage Fire Hose Nozzle from CopperandTin
Antique Fire Prints from SurrenderDorothy
Antique Icebox from the Willimatic Fire Co. from wearesellingit
Antique Brass Fireman’s Tool from 40thStVarietyStore
Vintage Emergency Telephone Call Box from MoonMayfairVintage
Antique Tintype of Two Firemen from diabolus
Pair of Firemen’s Hooks from 21GristMillLane
Vintage Fire Alarm from LunchLadyVintage
Antique Toy Fire Truck from ChompMonster