Christmas Eve

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As my schedule would have it, I find myself here in New Jersey with mom on these days leading up to Christmas this year. While I miss being home with Kim and kitties just before Christmas it is an unusual treat to be in NJ and spend these days with mom and in the area I grew up in.

Red Bank decorated for the holiday on a wet morning yesterday.

It is very cold here – as it is across the country today. I decided I would hazard a run with some layers (down vest under my sweatshirt) and I will say I didn’t see many of my brethren today – not even the dog walkers were out between the holiday and the cold. The winds of last night were hard on outdoor holiday decorations – many were flattened or visiting the neighbors. And in fact it was the wind that made me cut my run short today. I forgot that my iphone hates the cold and it ran through all its charge – last winter I was in the habit of keeping it tucked in an inside pocket to avoid this.

Yesterday morning, by contrast, it was a humid 59 degrees and I stripped down for my run into neighboring Red Bank. While these were not the streets I lived on when I was young, I drove constantly through these areas and I wrote recently about my teenage and early adult years in this downtown area. Still, I am surrounded by memories as I jog through this area, decorated now for the holiday.

Sincere Santa in a neighbor’s yard.

I found this photo above here at the house. It was Christmas 1969 and my sister Loren and I are shown among Christmas morning toys. (She is the older one in braids.) The enormous black and white bear was one of her gifts, I believe Loren had that bear into adulthood. I remember him in her room. No idea when he departed.

The bear came from FAO Schwartz – that epic purveyor of toys. The reason for his presence in our lives is no longer remembered now. I asked mom. She tells a funny story about having asked an actor bachelor friend to “pick it up” for her. Ha! Evidently he didn’t enjoy being a mule for a larger than life bear. His name was Al Viola and I am not sure he ever forgave mom and dad. Mom says that a few years later he gave up his dreams of acting in New York and returned to his native Texas, fiance in tow. She didn’t take root in Texas however, although the story as mom knows it seems to end there.

Me and my dog Squeaky.

We are shown in a house in Englewood, New Jersey which we grew out of not long after this photo was taken. The huge stone fireplace was a focal feature and I remember it well. I also remember the bedroom I shared with Loren which had a corner of casement windows, something I have aspired to ever since. It was a tiny two story with just our bedroom, my parent’s room and a bathroom between upstairs. Other than the fireplace, a screened porch and a beautiful rock garden in the backyard were the memorable features. Also, we were across the street from a park which seemed enormous to me as a small child.

If I felt slighted by no mutually commanding stuffed animal I don’t remember, and I don’t remember what I did received that Christmas. There may be another photo, in color of that Christmas, of us in color and I am hugging my dog Squeaky so maybe that is where he made his debut although my memory is he was given to me another way.

Local decorations on my run yesterday.

Christmas and my birthday are days that remind me most of my sister Loren. She liked to get the day started early and as kids she was always climbing on me to wake up before dawn so we could go get our parents up. Loren kept the practice up in adulthood and if we weren’t together she’d call me at an obscenely early hour. I can’t wake early on Christmas or February 11 without thinking of her.

But this year I keep mom company. Her litany of caregivers are here and come and go. We are a fairly well oiled machine at this point. Mom, as is her habit, ordered enough food for an army which I just spent a half an hour fitting into the fridge – there is an art to this. There will be plenty to eat tonight, tomorrow and to take home tomorrow night. Cats are running around madly – they are comfortable enough with me now to chase each other madly through my bedroom all night long. (They are heavy footed for small cats and sound like miniature elephants – the occasional thunking throw down.)

Peaches, small but heavy footed feline.

So, layered up against the drafts of the house, wind whistling around the corners of the house, I watch television with mom and Elaine who is taking the holiday shift and with us throughout now – how nice that she is willing to make that sacrifice. A hibiscus tree has been decorated with battery operated lights to make them twinkle at night. The cats are napping and right now that sounds like a good idea.

A Room with a View

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Drum roll please…because today we have our annual Christmas card reveal! Here at Deitch Studio we have been producing a holiday card for a few decades now. One day we’ll have to see who has old number one because, although I knew we kept some, I am not sure we can lay our hands on it. In the first year, and maybe the one that followed, we hand colored each one (differently) with colored pencil – but we had a smaller distribution back then.

A better look at this year’s card! Deitch Studio collection. Click on it to make it larger.

For those who are new to the card this year the general process is that, after discussing the general subject first, I do the initial drawing. Kim responds with his version and then we might negotiate this or that, back and forth until it is an amalgam of our styles. In general, if we appear on the card, the rule is you draw yourself. (A few card reveals from year’s past can be found here and here, but the archive is chock-a-block full of them!)

Kitty cooks in the kitchen! No, we don’t really let them cook. Deitch Studio Collection.

This year however, Kim has been admiring the view from our window and it permeated my thoughts when I sat down to draw the card and it fell together quickly.

For those who haven’t visited Deitch Studio for awhile, yes, the plants have indeed increased in number and lushness this year. A friend commented on that. For those who follow Pam’s Pictorama regularly you know that Blackie had a rough year and we almost lost him to a bad infection and subsequent diabetes. In fact we had a mini-emergency with him just this past week as his sugar dropped too low. Despite that he is looking like his old self, has gained his weight back and his coat is thick and shining as shown here.

An exuberant Blackie showing tummy and fang recently.

Cookie would have been just as glad (or so she says – frequently) if we hadn’t bothered bringing him home. They are sister and brother and fight as such – love to hate each other I say. It gives them something to do. Cookie is the talker in the family and at nine years old still chases her tail (daily) like a kitten; often in the bathtub. Go cat go! I say she has one cat joke and that is to hide behind the shower curtain in the bathroom so she can jump out, meowing, at an unsuspecting type coming in. I fall for it several times a week. She does a victory lap with her tail after.

Cookie, always a card, a Noir Alley kitty a few weeks ago.

The view out the window is obviously much simplified, although I like to think it somehow captures the overall sense and mood. Kim was very light in his touch this year and really let my original drawing shine through. The view is quite wonderful, but it is especially nice at night when it is a twinkling wonderland. When I can’t sleep, I come and sit down on the couch (usually with Cookie these days, who in turn requires ear scratching) and spend some time looking at it.

Our view – a dim rainbow in upper right corner.

One of the interesting aspects of the view is that in recent years it is also the northern end destination of my frequent runs. Now when I look out I know it differently and I know the trip under the bridge and up to 114th Street intimately firsthand. I have written more about running in New Jersey than here in the City, but it is in reality my more frequent, if somewhat more static route. (A New York running post can be found here – and one from New Jersey here.) The path along the river is soothing, if windy in winter and hot and sunny in summer, whereas the suburban New Jersey path is more varied perhaps and has surprises like visiting deer and suburban highlights.

The northern part of my Manhattan running route one morning recently.

When I purchased this apartment I had no idea how beautiful the view was as the windows were too dirty to see out. Now it is our escape, bringing the whole world into our single room and we wouldn’t trade it.

So as the holidays approach and 2022 comes to a close, Merry Christmas and the best of New Year’s to all from the four of us at Deitch Studio!

And the Season to be Jolly Continues…

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I have a red velvet jacket, trimmed with a bit of black silk braid, that is probably a good decade (or even more) older than me. My guess is that it made its appearance on the scene in the late forties or early fifties. It is short and hits me just above my hips. It is a boxy cut so there is never a question if it will fit during and waxing and waining of weight. Mercifully the moths seem disinterested in it.

Since it is such an elder statesman of a jacket (showing some wear on the pile around the elbows) I only take it out for a few holiday runs a year, but without question it is a fan favorite and I always get so many compliments on it. Needless to say it dozed quietly in my closet over the pandemic years, and last year was a very abbreviated festive season with my mom in the hospital up to Thanksgiving and then with the time I stayed there. (A post from that time can be found here.)

Self-portrait in Christmas bulb on my run in New Jersey earlier this week. The NJ suburbs, as above, exude more holiday spirit.

So this year was the first in many years that I pulled it out again to wear yesterday, paired with high-waisted navy trousers and a silver (yes, silver – hotsy-totsy!) silk tank top. I have long found that dressing the part will get you part of the way to feeling it and I needed to pull out all the stops to find some ho, ho, ho this year for a dinner after work.

My evening out was preceded by a very long, frankly arduous and frustrating day at the office. As I alluded to in my post last week (it can be found here) fundraising is reaching a fevered pitch by this time in the calendar year. Some large events and important proposals have been layered on top of the usual frenzy truly making my head spin to the point of migraine meltdown early in the week. Yesterday I was sweating out the final version of a document right up until I had to leave to head over to a holiday dinner at our jazz club.

The evening was a mix of people I know and a few I did not, although even those I didn’t know only had a degree of separation really. I was a guest last night and so while I can never entirely stop my work brain when I am in our venues, the evening was not mine to run and fret over. Drinks and fried food eased us into the evening, always a good start.

Marilyn Maye performing at Dizzy’s Club last night.

The set featured Marilyn Maye. For those who do not know her, Marilyn is a 94 year young jazz and cabaret singer who is still belting out standards and last night with a sprinkling of holiday classics. Marilyn had her start as a truly tiny tot in talent shows in her native Kansas. Over time she moved from Wichita to Kansas City, and then later to the big time in Chicago where she began a long recording and successful performing career.

Evidently dinner club cabaret eventually gave way to more stage and theater work, and although I have seen her in our other, larger halls, she seems most wonderfully at home in the club atmosphere. In her sparkling sequin jacket, trousers and decked out in glimmering earrings and bracelets, she is every inch a dinner club diva.

As I settled into the music, my phone tucked away for the evening (although I did sneak this photo), which is rare for me because often when I am at a dinner in the evening I am working and need to be available to the staff who are also working. Last night as a guest I was able to focus entirely on the music.

The enthusiasm of these decorations inspired me to make my run past it so I could get a photo.

The love songs lulled me into musing over my own good fortune to have found Kim (as they always do) and that put me in a good frame of mind. By the time she got to some holiday music (a medley with Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and Santa Claus is Coming to Town among them) my harden, cold, Grinchy little heart had melted. Somehow even as it was unfolding I knew it was an evening that I will remember and look back on – just a very special moment in time which will stay with me. Thank you Marilyn!

‘Tis the Season

Pam’s Pictorama Post: WordPress has a new feature where each time you sit down to write it offers up a question – I guess for inspiration? For example, today’s was What is your favorite cartoon? (And last week it was What did you dream last night?) Since I have devoted a fair amount of posting space to cartoons, I’m not sure it is the inspiration I might be looking for, but nice to know they want to help on a difficult day when getting started is hard.

I have had the opportunity to pepper my posts with many marvelous toy acquisitions lately and coming off that fete I admit to being a bit betwixt and between. So today I am reflecting on what is most on my mind and as we find ourselves solidly in the holiday season and I am doing my best to keep up with it I will share some of those thoughts today.

Flooring sample!

As I survey my mid-December perch, the holiday cards are done and going into the mail this week. (Look out for a big card reveal post next week!) I have purchased no gifts yet, however I don’t live in much of a gift giving world any longer. There will be gifts for my mother’s caregivers this year and a rare few for friends and of course Kim. I gave mom a new floor for converting her garage to a room (nothing says love like vinyl plank), but will try to find something additionally cheerful for her.

Woods are becoming bare already in NJ.

If you are a fundraiser like I am the holiday season merges with an exponential increase in work since most annual gifts will come in the last six weeks of the calendar year. (At the Met it was I think a full third of all gifts.) This against a fevered pitch backdrop of holiday events (two dinners under my belt with three more and a series of concerts to go as I write) and like the season or not, at a minimum you need to have a lot of energy to get through it.

I can be depended on for holiday cheer – after all as a toy collector it is sort of my season. I am the person who wants to celebrate a moment of first snow, to set up a three foot light up Santa or a small tree for the cats in the incredibly small apartment. I love tinsel and sparkle and bubbling lights! I will have drinks with you to toast the season at Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel and used to enjoy doing it with a view of Central Park from the Plaza when that was an option. I will systematically buy gifts with joyful anticipation of giving them. I was the kid who would volunteer to wrap all the gifts because I liked doing it so much.

Some low-key nascent holiday decorations in New Jersey a few weeks ago.

As stated, I like holiday decorations. I am heading to New Jersey tonight for a few days and I look forward to running in that neighborhood this week and taking in the burgeoning decorations of the ‘hood. Giant motorized snowmen and Santas are wheezing gently on front lawns amongst wonderlands of twinkling lights, elves and sleighs. Instagram followers of my running journal can look forward to those – although to really do them justice I would have to do a turn at night I think. The city is tame by comparison, although here I have the joy of running past the lines of Christmas trees awaiting purchase and breathing in their evergreen goodness.

Trees in Manhattan were being set-up the day before Thanksgiving this year.

However, the several sobering years of the pandemic changed my relationship to the festivities and in some ways I am finding it hard to resume my mantle of cheer. The mountain of work has climbed to tsunami proportions and sadly a full scale memorial needed to be inserted right after Thanksgiving (for a former Board chair, shortly after two large scale dinners) and has me and the team flagging. The idea of adding a single additional thing to my calendar taxes me beyond credulity. Collegial and friendly imbibing will have to wait for the New Year.

Carl Schurz Park tree.

Endless discussions occur about whether or not people want to eat from a buffet table now and how many people is too many in the living room of a small townhouse are enervating. Concerts have sold well, but occasionally the purchased seats go empty if the people do not show which seems to happen more frequently than in the past, giving the hall a slightly gap-toothed look. I have written about our altered universe before (see one of those posts here), but never is it more evident I think than than this time of the year.

Me and my (small but determined) staff will continue our march through the holidays, right through New Year’s when we can finally come up for air and fall into an exhausted rest. I will bribe them with cookies and all manner of treats when I am with them in person and rally them virtually when online. I am hoping that amongst the extraordinary generosity of the season that I will find that gear again, or maybe while listening to our orchestra, or to Marilyn Maye belting out holiday standards at Dizzy’s, or catching a final show with Matt Wilson and his Christmas Tree-O there.

Winter-ish scene from a recent run in NJ.

Regardless, shortly ’23 will be upon us and another holiday season behind. Last minute contributions will have been booked, concerts completed and parties concluded. We will head into January with our resolutions firmly in hand and see what we can make of the New Year.

Can it be? Another Felix?

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: When this new Felix landed here at Deitch Studio the other day, Kim exclaimed that he looked exactly like another Felix on the living room shelf. I denied this allegation and a quick (close) comparison revealed notable differences and Kim conceded the point. Having said that I admit that some of my stuffed Felix toys differ in ways that only a mother might notice differences among her children.

Felix with bristly whiskers, shoe button nose and simple stitch teeth. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

For me it is quite self-evident – a crooked grin, how the teeth are stitched in – just a single line or a filled in toothiness? Do the arms move or are they in a permanent attitude or pose? The legs are important because that is how a Felix doll stands, always a tripod affair, the support balancing between the two legs and the tail. Some of these fellows have a hump to their back, a tribute to his hunched over thinking walk, others not. Some stand with more assurance and others more attitude. Others have trouble standing at all.

A closer look at our man today. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

For me it is the expression however. Some are knowing, others have a sort of charming dufuss-y and daffy look. Still others are sort of good time Charleys who you might be up all night drinking and playing cards with. Some, like this one, have a cocky and confident look.

I have written a bit about the sometimes handmade nature of some of these early British toys. (A post about their manufacture on the East End of London as employment for indigent women can be found here.) The more oddly off-model the better in my opinion. I like the ones that challenge credulity as whether or not they even are Felix – Kim saying, That is NOT Felix! and me insisting, Yes, he is! (At least he was intended to be.)

A few whiskers left on this fellow, with a smushy fabric nose and a vaguely curly, longer mohair. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Although I believe all or virtually all Felix-es had whiskers they come in a wide variety of options – from hard plastic like fishing line, to a few wispy threads to a nice full bunch of coarse threads like this fellow still has. Clearly the whiskers are among the parts to first go missing.

An especially googly eyed Felix with big, felt-y teeth. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Eyes are most often shoe button black, but there are some variations with black and white glass like this fellow sports. Some are more googly than others. Noses can be stitched on affairs, cloth covered or metal. The quality of the mohair varies as well – some with a longer nap and almost a curl to it, others a more bristly sort.

Bristly mohair Felix, with large glass eyes – whiskers intact. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

He was sold to me via auction as made by the Dean’s Rag Company, but I cannot firmly confirm nor deny that origin. He is about 18 inches tall.

All of this makes up a Felix toy and the variations that makes that particular one hold a special place in my heart!

Felix Takes a Powder

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Recently my friend Mel directed me over to a small auction that was primarily devoted to space ships, but had a small number of Felix items and I guess a very few people paying attention to them. Today’s very unusual item came to me via that auction along with a lovely stuffed Felix I will share soon as well.

Schuco produced Felix perfume bottle. Always very pricey! Not in my collection.

Felix bottles are a category unto themselves and to my knowledge include a soda bottle, a plastic bath bubble bottle, a popular perfume bottle and an even more available early bath salts bottle. The perfume bottle has a mohair outside (as above, produced by the toy company Schuco, which makes you wonder a bit about the quality of the perfume in question) and looks like a toy, while the bath salts one is made of clear glass and painted. The paint is usually worn off on the latter and there is a very similar Bonzo Dog – oddly and weirdly almost interchangeable if you aren’t paying attention. (As below and not in my collection – yet!)

My new Felix bottle is in what I think of as his Romeo pose, on one knee, hands clasped to his heart. You can imagine his impassioned cat-on-a-fence type tune. There are no makers or brand markings at all. In all of my searching around I have never seen the likes of him.

The white of his face appears to have been repainted, fairly well, but still is generally something that turns me off entirely. I can’t say the style of him is a favorite either – why the two tooth look I wonder? Again though he is so unusual I decided he had a place here at Pictorama and I am pleased with a having acquired him.

Powder stopper. Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

I have never however seen this item before in all my looking, nor when I did a dedicated search after finding him. He is made of a heavy molded glass (seam in the bottom) and stands about five inches high, and he’s a slightly off-model Felix with that sort of gap-tooth grin. The brass-esque cap comes off to reveal a powder shaker top. (Felix arrived well packed, but in a tsunami of powder which had remained in the bottle until he traveled! I guess the seller figured I would want it powder and all. Only a vague scent to it if you are wondering. It is sort of getting all over everything despite my best efforts to contain it.)

I like to imagine a dressing table somewhere, maybe in the early 1930’s with Felix atop where each morning a bit of powder was shaken out of him. So beloved however, he has made it down through almost a hundred years to be with us today. And stay tuned – while I was writing this I found another bottle I had to have. More to come…

Flat Iron Fiesta

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I have been itching to share this acquisition since I purchased it this summer on our well worn Friday night path to and from Vietnamese take-out. Folks who follow my Instagram and Facebook page saw it when I first spied it in the window of the nearby junk store over the July 4 weekend.

I opined on its wonderfulness then (said it was too big to buy) and it wasn’t much more than a week later that I hustled Kim over to help me strike the deal and bring it home. Numerous bits and pieces have found their way into the Pictorama collection from this tiny storefront. Most recently I have written about a few piggy banks (two of those posts here and here), but this will remain in my mind as the very best buy I suspect.

A short video I made of the window at the shop when I found the Flat Iron Building among these other model buildings.

It turns out to have been made by a company called Department 56. (Odd name, yes? The man who started the company, Ed Bazinet, had worked for a company called Bachman, a florist and wholesale gift importer. He ultimately convinced Bachman to invest $50k in his new company which would specialize in high-end holiday items, and named it for his former unit, which of course was 56.)

My Flat Iron building is part of a large series devoted to Christmas in New York, reproducing landmarks of the New York skyline. It is (weirdly and surprisingly) made of ceramic. While it is heavy it is nowhere near as heavy as I thought it would be sizing it up as likely being a non-ferrous metal of some sort – like a giant piece from a toy train set.

It was a great window chock full of building models.

While these are specifically made for a holiday set up they are amazingly beautiful reproductions of New York architectural stand-outs and range from the obvious, such as the Empire State building and the Chrysler building, to the somewhat more obscure such as Luchows, the Singer Building and something called the Uptown Chess Club.

The reproduced buildings with pre-20th century architecture seem to revert almost immediately to too cute for my taste. However, the Woolworth building is tantalizing (talk about huge though) and Kim and I are still discussing if there is a spot that can accommodate it. (Stay tuned for a perhaps future post.) It is unclear to me if they continue to produce more New York buildings and it seems they pay tribute to a smattering of other cities – I believe I saw a building from Dayton, Ohio online too.

Empire State building for sale on eBay.

Of course my mind races with what it would be like to have enough space for them all. A tiny, if snowy, NYC right here in the apartment! Imagine that!

My Flat Iron building was brought onto the market in 2006 and “retired” in 2010, although it appears to do a brisk business on the secondary market if you too (understandably) must now own one – they are available. The claims of value on the resale market were considerably higher than what I paid. As you can see from the video the proprietor purchased an entire collection of miniature buildings of various kinds. Mine was the only one made by Department 56. (I was very attracted to a tiny Central Park made of metal. There may be more to come on that – it has stayed with me.)

I want that building in the window! Many reflections interfere a bit, but this was my first sighting.

If you look carefully you will note that the building is gently trimmed with snow. It is meant to have wreaths, bows and garlands added (purchased separately of course) and maybe even a tiny couple getting caught (23 skidoo!) in the wind around the building.

A tiny couple that can be added to my building scenario – for a price of course! Not in my collection.

So after I got it home I of course examined it at length. The company name and the date of copyright is on the bottom. As I examined it I realized that there were holes in the bottom where two small lights should be inserted. Unfortunately it turned out that the replacement lights were on back order and getting a hold of someone to place my order a bit complicated. It took several months, but a few weeks ago the lights showed at last and I was thrilled to be able to light it up which really does add something to it.

I do not for a minute regret the space that has been dedicated to our Flat Iron building on a bookcase over our bed where I get to see it daily. Ours is a year round New York City admiration, but since we are heading into the holiday season it seems fitting that it can do double duty to an extent in this December post. I have considered if I should acquire a tiny decoration or two as a nod to the season, but knowing me it would remain on infinitely. The tiny windblown couple, who appear to be from an amalgamation of the 1940’s, would be less seasonally specific, if forever caught in a very single moment in time.

Even if it remains as our sole iconic New York architectural tribute here at Deitch Studio I don’t think I could have picked a better one. I have long favored the Flat Iron building as one of the greatest buildings in New York and never pass it without a moment of passing admiration. It just barely slips into the 20th century, construction started in 1901 and it opened in ’02, and it has a foot in the old while managing to be a harbinger of the new, melding time and style in a way that so much of New York City does.

Grandma’s Soup

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I have devoted a number of posts to the cooking of my maternal grandmother, Anne Wheeling, an Italian American who was one in a long line of great cooks in a family of them. (A few of those posts, some complete with other recipes can be found here, here and here.)

Like today’s post, some of these have been devoted to the recreation of recipes from my childhood. Meanwhile, I have not written nearly as much about my father’s mother, Gertrude Butler, however I did write about her recently when I found a photo of her I didn’t remember having seen. (That post can be found here.) Gertie, aka Tootsie, Butler was a tiny powerhouse of energy.

Tootsie in a later undated photograph recently turned up in some papers. I think my father kept this one in his wallet.

When it came to food hers was more of a utilitarian variety than Grandma Wheeling’s and drew on a more limited menu. Our Sunday meals there were generally based around a soup and a rotating choice of roasted chicken, brisket or the occasional turkey. There was often a noodle kugel which was for some reason anathema to me and never crossed my lips! (I wasn’t a picky eater as a child and rarely in full revolt. I don’t know what it was about noodle kugel which made me defiant, although I can’t say it calls come hither to me even now. I remember the smell of it cooking vividly.)

Young Irving, Elliott and Gertie in an another undated photo discovered when my folks were moving several years ago.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, my grandmother worked hard six days a week in the family dry goods store. In retrospect that she produced a full meal for us on the seventh day and was always perfectly turned out, often in a brocade dress as I remember – I think I get my love of clothes and jewelry from her; she liked some sparkle. Her Sunday meals were nothing short of a miracle of commitment and love. I know now from experience that the soup could (and should for maximum taste and texture) be made well in advance and refrigerated or can easily even be frozen. She clearly made it earlier in the week or at least on Saturday. (The alternative to this soup was a quick matzoh ball one which I hope to perfect an eggless version of as well – stay tuned.)

Dessert was marble loaf cake from the bakery where she also purchased her rye bread, or a simple yellow cake she made herself with thick chocolate icing. (There were black and white cookies, but those we took home. Another favorite of my father’s, I was still buying them for him right up until he passed several years ago and I wrote about that here.) After the rather extravagant Italian indulgences of the other side of my family her fare was more simple. However, this soup was a favorite of my dad’s and Grandma taught mom to make it early on.

Mix of dry beans ready to hit the pot.

It would seem that despite or maybe because of her family cooking pedigree mom somehow made it into marriage with only nascent cooking skills. (There are stories about her cooking her first steak and leaving the label on by mistake – and a chicken cooked with the neck and giblets still inside.) Somehow learning from her mother in-law was less fraught I guess. It was a family business to her mother who was, I think, rather no nonsense about it although she softened with age and I frequently watched her in the kitchen for hours.

Grandma Butler had a bit of a mania about healthy eating and mom recently reminded me that she would lecture at great length about the benefits of the chicken in the soup, the eggs in the yellow cake, etc. Grandma was a firm believer that one should not have beverages while eating, it would dilute the nutrition somehow, but there was alway rye or black bread and butter on the table.

Who knew you could still buy these?

This soup was utterly ubiquitous in my childhood. Once the chill of fall set in rarely a week would go by without a pot of it simmering on the stove, containers of it filling the fridge or freezer. The childhood version of the soup always had chicken (or turkey) as the base, the remainder of a dinner the carcass would be thrown into a pot to start the soup. My father liked to add saltine crackers or preferably La Choy Chow Mein Noodles to a bowl of it. I had not actually thought of that in many years. The mixed dry soup beans used to come in a single long convenient bag where somehow they weren’t mixed but in sections.

Tootsie’s chicken based version was incredibly thick and would always need water to thin it after being in the fridge. If my vegetarian version has a flaw in my mind it is that I cannot make it as thick which may not be seen as an issue to all – everyone may not want it thick enough to stand a spoon in. Depending on how thick you like it, play around a bit with the amount of beans and how much you use the blender on. I like to think she would have approved of this vegetarian version – they were Jewish so it was never made with ham or bacon.

Wowza – found the bean mixes online! The miracle of the internet.

So find yourself a week with frost in the forecast and make this soup a day or so in advance. As with most of my soups, toss in whatever vegetables you have – leftovers included. You’ll have enough for about eight servings. Let me know how you like it!

The Recipe:

Soften onion, carrots, garlic and mushroom (celery if using), allow to cook down and brown some. Meanwhile, rinse the beans, trim the green beans and the potatoes. Add the green beans and the potatoes, after those have softened, add the beans. I stir the dry beans continuously and let them cook a bit.

Deglaze the pan with the vermouth or wine and make sure to use a wooden spoon to scrape the pot. Add the stock and allow to come to a boil. Season to taste with herbs below or your own preference, keeping in mind that this vegetarian version probably requires more salt and seasoning than you might typically use. (I use more herbs than my grandmother would have I am sure. I didn’t have flat parsley in the house or I would have added and I think it would be nice.) I used a marash red pepper, but cayenne will do. Let it stay at a soft boil for at least a half hour, adding water if necessary as the beans absorb the water.

At this point I would let it sit for at least an hour, or even more preferably – this soup is best if it sits overnight in the fridge. For a thicker body to the soup a third or half can be blended using a blender or immersion blender – make sure to remove the bay leaf however! I think this is a more satisfying texture, thicker.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium size rough chopped onion
  • carrots, cut about 1.5 inches, about 2/3-1 cup
  • garlic, to taste
  • mushrooms, sliced
  • halved green beans
  • chopped celery (optional)
  • chopped Italian (broad leaf) parsley (optional)
  • new potatoes, 1.5 inch chunks, about 1.5 cups
  • 1 cup split peas
  • 2/3 cup lentils
  • 2/3 cup barley
  • 64 oz. vegetable stock
  • vermouth or wine, half to two-thirds cups to deglaze the pot
  • dill, oregano, bay leaf, basil, salt, red pepper to taste

Bow-wowzers!

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: As much selling and buying has migrated online, I have bemoaned the loss of the sheer joy of browsing amongst the world of detritus that makes up a good flea market or junk store. The ability to run across things you never knew existed or thought of before but now must possess. One of the few online equivalents is the suggestions made by the algorithm for items you might like or sellers other items on eBay. Recently someone sent me a link (don’t remember what it was for as I was immediately distracted!) and a photo for a listing for this fellow caught my eye.

Sans identifying tag, Pluto was listed with the Dean’s Rag Company as its possible maker – more to come on that. Something about him caught my attention and when I showed the listing to Kim (we were in bed at the time) he gave a brief but definitive declaration of buy him. That is a bit unusual for Kim and so, with some misgivings about his size (he’s large, about 24 inches), I hit the buy it now button and soon Pluto was winging his way to me from Britain.

This example from the Novelty Toy Company, undated, has tag. Hind legs more defined, different nose and eye design. Not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Since Pluto does not bear the (rather wonderful) Dean’s Rag Toy imprint on his feet, even before he arrived I asked the seller (@bobbyrocksbazaar) why she thought he was a Dean’s. She responded promptly and it turns out that she is largely a seller of bears and not familiar with Disney character toys and was just making an honest guess. Aside from the tag issue it isn’t a bad one. I have a Dean’s Rag Pluto I wrote about in a 2014 post here.

I reshare a photo of mine below. This is the Pluto that is generally accepted as the Dean’s design and Dean’s was deep into producing Disney and characters with their widely sold Mickey Mouse toys but everything from Oswald Rabbit to Eugene the Jeep. Having come from Britain and given some similarities I can see the case for it being made by Dean’s. I suppose it could have born a paper tag rather than the imprint I am so fond of on their toys.

Dean’s Rag Pluto. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

However, having looked at a lot of Plutos since purchasing him, I am betting on a company called Character Novelty Toys. This company was founded in 1932 by Cesar Mangiapani and Jack Levy in Norwalk, Connecticut. Our friend Pluto was introduced into the Mickey Mouse cartoons in 1930 and won immediate popularity so it is possible he was picked up by the nascent company.

Dean’s Rag imprint on Pluto – plus his charming printed paws! Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

However, it should be noted that said company, despite their name, did not appear to have licenses for a lot of character toys. A quick look shows mostly non-character bears, although I guess I saw a late model Mickey Mouse thrown in there. They definitely had a line of Plutos however and I share some of those kissing cousins which still bear tags, although to be clear, none of the toys I found were this precise Pluto and the more I look at the others of the rough period online the less I think he is made by any of these companies. (Gund toys made one very similar to this Novelty Character Toy version.)

This example is much smaller and also said to be Novelty Character toy. Not in Pictoram collection.
Looking a bit later, this is the Gund toy version. Not in my collection.

My new Pluto is a nicely made toy of somewhat complex design. I would say that his very thin neck seems to have been a design flaw in this (and most) Pluto designs and examples often site a tear there, mine has an old repair. Pluto is made of Velveteen and his eyes are the identifying characteristic I can’t quite match on another version of the toy and careful examination shows the placement of the nose and lack of lines on the nose of mine as different. He may have sported a collar at one time. Aside from Dean’s (a very fine toy maker indeed) I think my Pluto is among the most nicely made. I am even more pleased with him in person than when I saw him online.

A Pluto “headshot” with Kim’s help! Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

As anticipated, Pluto is fairly large once we set him up properly. I am still deciding where in the apartment he can best live and be displayed – even taking photos has been a challenge. Right now he is living on a bookshelf next to a very outsized oil cloth doll of Uncle Walt (future post) which is equally difficult to display. For all of that and the mystery of his true origin, he was a great purchase and we are pleased he is a rare dog to have joined the Pictorama family.

Happy Feet

Pam’s Pictorama Post: One of the primary tenents of Pictorama is that I pretty much own everything I write about. I have made occasional exceptions (one, a very early Norakuro post of a toy, can be found here), but it is a general rule. However, I deviate today. A friend sent me this really interesting eBay posting from British eBay. The shoes had already sold, but I did love seeing them so I am sharing them with you.

So well used they were worn clear through.

These are so very worn! Not surprisingly they were much beloved – and what child of the ’20’s wouldn’t love them? And of course that they were kept all these years is a further tribute to their special place in someone’s heart. The tiny ankle straps are about worn through but it is easy to imagine a tiny tot kicking up their feet with Felix twirling on their toes.

A pair of Felix socks! These are also not in my collection but saved in my photo archive.

I wander over to British eBay occasionally and poke around, although I have not in quite awhile. Some of those listings make it onto an international listing, but not all. Occasionally there are also sellers who only wish to do business in the United Kingdom, not wanting to mess with different currency and long distance shipping.

Another item that seemed too large to make its home here. Having said that there was a hand decorated uke I actually purchased and the seller then refused to sell. Alas, no photo of that in my archive it seems.

Meanwhile, I have generally stayed away from items of clothing. Between my lack of storage space and the moth farm I have been raising since the pandemic, I see myself as a poor steward of such objects which tend to be fragile. Still, I appreciate them and in a different situation I would devote space and funds to their acquisition.

This was a US find but was just out of price range for me. Kept a photo of it and thought I would share it now. Hand decorated felt beanie.

As Felix fan Pictorama followers know, Britain is the El Dorado of all things Felix and there seems to have been a proliferation of items, presumably mostly unlicensed, some professionally made, semi-professional and also homemade from patterns or the products of creative minds. Back in 2018 I wrote about a handmade item, a child’s pinafore, in an aptly name post called Breaking the Rules which can be found here.

I hope you have enjoyed this new edition of a rule breaking post, peeling back a few layers of acquisitions that might have been.