Screwy

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This little object came across my path on eBay and I snatched it up. Corkscrews have become a popular collectible and I was afraid I might face some stiff competition. I was lucky that it didn’t appeal to the collectors and I acquired him unchallenged.

There’s something perfectly appealing about this kitty and his corkscrew tail, sticking up in the air. This little fellow (or gal) sports a big bow, an arched back and a slightly wide-eyed expression. He (or she – despite the big bow I’m feeling he I think though), has nice heft and stands well on his own. He is easier to hold and better designed (and to pull on) than you might think, although I find this kind of minimal opener requires a sort of brute strength I don’t have and ultimately leads to bits of cork floating in my wine. Therefore, despite being quite sturdy, this fellow is officially retired from the work of cork removal as far as I am concerned. I am eyeing a cabinet which I think he will be quite at home in.

As someone who both waitressed and cooked professionally I became committed early on to a very specific device to removing corks from wine bottles. One of the most useful life skills (aside from extraordinary patience) that waitressing provided me with was the most fail safe methods of opening wine and champagne.

One summer during college I worked in a high end French restaurant (which despite being called Harry’s Lobster House, had quite a reputation for its French seafood cuisine), and this was where I believe I was introduced to this style opener. (I was also given instruction in the careful opening of champagne table side – slowly and wrapped in a towel – so that it would of course pop! but with no spillage.)

Pretty close to what Harry’s looked like back in the day when I waitressed there, but this appears to have been taken a bit later than that. They added outdoor dining in an ajoining area after my days of waitressing there.

For the most part I was a pretty lousy waitress. Friendliness was the best skill I brought to it (in addition to the aforementioned patience), which bought me a fair amount of forgiveness with the customers. Frankly though this made me better suited for working behind a counter, making sandwiches and serving coffee as I had the summer before,

I can still remember how befuddled I was by the specific names of the liquors when people ordered drinks – this was a high-end restaurant and Sea Bright in summer was a drinking beach town. I wasn’t familiar with top shelf alcohol brands and was decidedly unsophisticated in this regard. (Mom and Dad certainly had liquor in the house, but they were fairly mundane in their imbibing.) I did my best to write the order exactly, phonetically when needed, on my pad and report them faithfully to the bartender who, although nice enough really, in retrospect must have thought I was an idiot. Mom tells stories of working her way through college waitressing and it doesn’t seem to be a gene I inherited. (Incidentally Mom was also a record breaking long jumper in high school and a runner – these days while learning to run I often reflect on not having those genes either.)

To be clear, a superior corkscrew to me is a bit like the better mousetrap – you can try to make one, but the bar is high. It is a perfection of a certain kind of ingenuity and design. One should not tamper lightly with success.

These generally have a small knife, at top, to help peel off the cover on the cork and can also be used effectively for opening beer bottles, using the hook on the end.

Anyway, I have been using the same corkscrew since cooking school, mine came with an assigned kit of knives and implements. It has a red nail polish dot that I assigned to all my stuff so I could easily identify them quickly in a crowded kitchen. If you’ve never used one, you quite simply screw it in and then use the other, short, protrusion for leverage at the lip of the bottle and pull the handle – and voila! Bottle opened. Neat and tidy.

Growing up, the largely preferred bottle opener was the one below. I have a fairly good success rate with these as well, although clearly you can’t carry them around and use them as a waitress or cook. (The other folds nicely and lived in my pocket daily, handy for when needed.) This model has a bit less control than my preferred model (I’ve had more corks fall apart with these than the others), but I think one of these still also rattles around in my kitchen drawer. (Because of my former life as a cook, long ago though now that it is, there are some amazing things in that drawer that are rarely if ever used – things to make melon balls, pie crimpers to name a few. My zester recently came back into favor and my olive/cherry pitter lives there and is a much beloved item.)

Given all of this knowledge, opinion and lore, you would think that I would have successfully imparted this bottle opener knowledge successfully to my family at large. However, for some reason, my father became enamored of every possible variation of bottle opener to be found. He bought them in stores, at garage sales and they represented every conceivable variation on this theme. Some were quite absurd. Many were heavy and complex. Despite my protestations he would deliver them cheerfully to me as well. The fact is they almost never worked as well as my simple device – although in general I will grant you that they were more colorful and interesting, at least in theory.

Dad broke another rule of bottle opening and one evening opened a bottle of champagne which exploded in his hand, top breaking off, and cutting him badly enough that he had to trek to the emergency room for stitches. He did adopt my wrapped bottle technique after that.

Cafe d’Alsace earlier this week for a belated birthday dinner with a friend – they kept us pretty cozy despite the early March outdoor temps.

For all of this, you would think we are popping a whole lot of corks over here at Deitch Studio, but mostly we do not. Kim doesn’t drink and I am currently on a diet. Until earlier this week at a belated birthday dinner (which as my IG followers know was eaten outside under a heater and was actually quite lovely, pulling at the memory strings of what eating out used to be) when I broke down and had a glass of wine; I had not had a drink since December, maybe November. (The alcohol calories don’t make sense for me when I am counting them carefully. I always like to say that being on a diet is not so much fun that I want it to go on any longer than necessary so I try to be extremely focused and swift!)

I do cook with wine (or vermouth – although that’s a screw top) and there’s usually a bottle of something around for that. Pre-diet I enjoyed an occasional glass of wine or Prosecco with dinner – I like an occasional ice cold vodka tonic with lots of lime in summer. However, I am not and will never be knowledgeable about wine beyond what I like and what I don’t. Red wine triggers migraines which eliminates me largely from the erudite pursuit of wine. Nevertheless, when needed I know exactly how I am going to open that bottle.

Considering the Campfire Girls: Wohelo! Part 2

Pam’s Pictorama Post: For those of you not reading this in real time (or who missed yesterday’s post which can be found here) I covered the four Radio Girls novels which were subsequently served up as Campfire Girls novels, sweeping them into a decades long series of books which has its start in the early teens of the 20th century. The organization was founded in 1910, born out of camps in Maine and Vermont and in response to the Boy Scouts – realizing it seems the need for a nondenominational organization for girls.

The early volumes that I have read appear to take place in a somewhat nebulous part of upstate New York or New Hampshire. Girls schools seem to play a role in them and these must have proliferated in a way I wasn’t much aware of, boarding schools for middle and upper middle class girls which were a mix of academics and things like sewing and music.

Cross promotion with Corn Flakes. That’s some good early fundraising going on.

Wohelo is the Camp Fire Girl pledge (short for Work, Health, Love) and serves many purposes in the novels. People shouted it in the woods when lost or searching for someone (this happens a lot in these novels) or someone might use it somewhat slyly to let another girl know you too were a member. There are songs and poems attached to it and I gather an award that the group gives at the highest level as well. As far as I can tell from the books the group was heavy on all of the above as part of their ceremonies.

There are a few warnings from the start that I should probably post on these early editions. A profound but casual sort of racism exists throughout and, despite being a movement which in a sense promoted independence for women, a young women’s goals were still largely tied out to what kind of wife she would ultimately make. I can only say that these are products of their time. I am not sure I would promote them universally without caveat to young girls today.

Brown uniform pretty close to what I wore. Would have loved those socks though!

I myself made a lousy Girl Scout – which is what we had locally in New Jersey. Camp Fire Girls was an exotic other which was not an option. I entered a Brownie Troop because I was expected to, as did my friends. I fretted about memorizing the damn chants they made you repeat (why always with the chanting? seems creepy now) wore a little brown dress, always somewhat ill fitting, and beanie dutifully to school on the designated day.

By the time I graduated to Juniors, I was even less enamored. We never seemed to get to the more interesting things in the guidebook like how to build a fire. And even then I was drawn to the early uniforms which were still available although they were in the process of morphing into bad 70’s remakes, my preference for vintage clothing rearing its head early. I liked the sash and the embroidered badges fascinated. My mother, who had made it up into Cadets during her own high school career, had been talked into be a troop leader for a small group at that elevated level and she told me that I was going to be in Girl Scouts if she was and I accepted my fate.

Close enough to my Junior’s uniform – minus the bolo tie and of course all the badges on the sash!

My friends remained in it as well and my specific memories of those middling years were that we did go to camp once – no idea where in the wilds of New Jersey. I used a sleeping bag my sister had acquired for something and had become what we used for sleepovers. It was an army green-brown and the inside was a print flannel – maybe fishing scenes? It was my sole experience of a sleeping bag until I crawled into a down version in Tibet decades later – far superior. My only real memory of camping was that it was much harder to make pancakes outside over a fire than at home and I was bad with a compass. We learned about Indian sand painting and this must have made an impression because it was brought back to me in detail when watching Buddhist monks performed a sand mandala ritual which seemed remarkably similar.

Images such as this filled me with a desire to push to the upper echelons of scouts which would provide for nifty berets, high heels and outfits that resembled stewardesses of a time already gone-by. It was mostly about the clothes for me and was not to be.

Other than that clutch of memories I know we met first in an ancient wooden building in town which was called Bingham Hall. It was probably built as a church originally and must have been used for other things, but I’m not sure I was ever much in it for another purpose. It was a single room building with a small stage and no other permanent features like chairs or pews. Later we met in a church basement and that introduced me to the smell of church basements (I come from a non-religious family and this was my only early introduction to churches at all) and that smell of cleaning fluid, paper and something else, that brings those meetings to mind immediately. As you can see, the Girl Scouts didn’t contribute much to my moral fiber or overall improvement.

Bingham Hall, Rumson, New Jersey

Nonetheless, the dawn of the 20th century was a different time and the idea of encouraging young girls to learn the skills needed to camp and to survive outside were downright controversial. It is years before women get the right to vote and even the need for more than a nominal education was a matter of debate. Very wealthy families had been sending their teenage daughters to European finishing schools and those existed in this country too. Colleges like Barnard (founded in 1889) and my own alma mater Connecticut College (founded in 1911) were somewhat experimental and controversial. One of the things that appealed to me about Connecticut College was its roots as an early women’s school which appeared to be born out of the Arts and Crafts movement and where wealthy families once sent their more creative offspring for secondary education.

An original building at Connecticut College under construction, originally founded as an all girls school in 1911.

In the first few books of the Camp Fire Girls series (as far as I can figure out the order) Ethel Hollister is the protagonist whose family pretends greater wealth than they have so she can make a good marriage match. Belonging to the Camp Fire Girls shows her another path which ultimately leads her leaving her finishing school and instead enrolling at Barnard – ensuring that she can make a living on her own – or ultimately help to support her husband as she states. Her going to college is part of the controversy making up the plot of these books and it was considered odd of her which causes some of her former friends to snub her. The series of four novels ends with most of the young women engaged or married.

There is an air of this around the early Campfire Girls and the Arts and Crafts movement seems to define its aesthetic as well as its roots in promoting the individual. In a volume from 1912 when a “camp home” is described it is in full blown Arts and Crafts style. It is therefore a bit frustrating when these independent young women drive home the point that these skills will ultimately make them better wives. This seems absurd today but is probably an important link in how women did gain their independence. These books are full of the fire of the converted however and in that sense it was a real movement.

The book series is odd in that, unlike the Stratemeyer Syndicate series I am familiar with main characters come and go. You get a few volumes devoted to a group of characters and then a new writer and new characters are introduced for the next few volumes. (Thus far all have been available on Google Play Books or other e-book sources and so far I do not own any of the actual volumes. They appear to be fairly available at low prices online from what I have seen however.) The underlying concept is very similar however and these volumes hew closely to laying out the tenants and driving home the concepts of the organization. These books are very much tools to bring new recruits to the ranks.

Silver ring for new entrants to the Campfire Girls. Man, who wouldn’t have gone for that?

Now let me just say, the Camp Fire Girls had really cool stuff. It is described so lovingly in the volumes that I began looking it up immediately and they would have sold me on the splendid outfits and jewelry alone. What young girl wouldn’t be enamored of the silver ring symbolizing their entry point as wood gatherers? Shown above in its Arts and Crafts design glory, these are available in abundance online, showing how many women had them and kept them over time. A silver bracelet was to follow shortly as they became fire makers. I am saving that, the rather extraordinary outfits and some period photos for my next post devoted to this subject.

Stormy Weather

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Ah, yes. A return to photos today and this recent acquisition which exceeded my expectations when I purchased it. I have discovered, the hard way, that purchasing photos off of Instagram sales is different than buying them on eBay. One must act very fast and can’t really study and consider a thing the way I like. Therefore, there’s been a fair amount of leaping and some purchases that have left me scratching my head when received. Such is the life of an online photo collector. Nonetheless, it has broadened my horizons and this example is a gem of the non-cat photo variety.

It is a smallish photo, the actual image is three and a half inches, square. It is permanently affixed to the white decorative cardboard mount. I am inclined to say it is a cabinet card, but I defer to some of my readers who are more specifically knowledgeable in this area to offer a correction or fine tune that assumption. On the back it reads, Brown’s house in pencil in one hand, and in pen below in another script, Medef’s Camera, Dec 16, ’01. I purchased it from a seller in the mid-west and I would make a guess that it depicts a scene there, but hard to tell of course. It was sold to me by a woman who runs two accounts, one for antique clothing and jewelry (@spakeasachildvintage) and another I first discovered her under, @_wherethewillowsgrow_, for old photographs. I frequent both.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

What I find somewhat remarkable about this photo is both the subject matter and the ability of an early photograph to capture it so well. I not sure I envy the early photographer, perched on the shore, capturing this roaring and roiling body of water. It is winter, there is snow on the hillside on the other side of the water and if you look carefully you can also see the icy banks across from they stood to take the photo.

The moving water is in sharp focus meaning it was a pretty fast exposure for the day. The Brown’s house is presumably the pleasant looking house across the way, a bit hard to see but visible. Hard to say if their property was threatened by the rising, violent water. There appears to be a whirlpool, or perhaps just a deep cavity formed by the waves, to the right side of the photo. It is quite a maelstrom.

Pictorama readers know I grew up on the Jersey shore, on the Shrewsbury River and only a few minutes from the ocean. River flooding and occasionally violent hurricanes, were not uncommon and dot my childhood memories – mom picking us up early from school before moving the car to higher ground and walking home in advance of a storm; watching the river burst up over the bulkhead and into our yard and around the house; the cold feeling of the water rushing under the house during a flood; geese paddling by and peering in the back door.

Despite that, I don’t remember seeing our river in quite this state – perhaps because the Shrewsbury was not contained by the same sort of deep embankment as is shown here, maybe made yet more active by a nearby falls. (Hurricane Sandy was the first time my parents evacuated during a storm and after a lifetime there they moved not long after, being too elderly now to deal with the extremes of life on the water. Mom lives nearby but definitely inland now.)

The sun playing on the water is always lovely.

As recent readers know, I have taken up running along the East River (attempting to anyway) as part of my pandemic exercise regime. (That post, Running Slowly can be found here.) The moods of the river remind me of my childhood and it is fascinating to watch its many moods each day. In general I am shocked by the current which almost always seems to be very strong and fast. Even without boats (and there are boats in winter, a more or less steady stream of ferries, tugs and cargo ships) small waves, sometimes eddies and whirlpools. On a very windy morning the water can slap the bulkhead and spray as I jog by. The extremely calm day is a rare exception. I find it irresistible to photograph in all its moods and record it ongoing, as seen here, often with the early morning sun playing on it. Being near it now reminds me of my childhood and endless days of watching the water out our windows.

A strangely still day on the East River recently.

Living by the water you are quick to learn that, much like life in general, one day it can be as calm and smooth as glass – and the next it can whip itself into a fury.

Strong currents in the East River in November.

A Whale of a Good Time

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: The fun and jauntiness of this snapshot caught my attention, probably from the teens judging from her dress. The large fish sign she is holding proclaims, Size of the One I Lost at Michigan City. One imagines that it was a photo op you were offered as part of a fishing trip package. I never thought about it, but fishing is a long-standing, major tourist attraction for Michigan, and a quick internet search turns up a thriving charter fishing industry. It makes sense that where there are enormous bodies of water there would be fishing.

Pictorama readers know that I grew up in a fishing family and photographs of family members with particularly enormous fish dot our family albums. I myself have not spent much time fishing – I am a bit too soft-hearted, although I eat fish and I have done my time cleaning them. I take no pleasure in the act of catching them. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my grandfather repaired outboard motors and he also kept a medium-sized, wooden fishing boat which was call The Imp. In retrospect it was a surprising name for him to have christened his boat with. I must remember to ask my mother where it came from, assuming she knows. Perhaps the way it bobbed around in the water – a bit impishly?

It spent the off-season in a spot next to his workshop garage, up on a wooden frame or trailer, keepin it off the ground and make it easier to work on. (Unlike our sailboat which wintered at a nearby marina.) I remember it seemed huge and high to me as a small child. The Imp was painted gray and I have memories of the seemingly constant scraping of the bottom (barnacles were a concept that fascinated me at a young age) and re-painting, as anyone who has ever owned a wooden boat well knows. Even in the 1960’s wooden fishing boats like her were becoming a bit old fashioned.  I remember she made delightful creaking sounds when you were out on the water with her and there was a smell of the sun-warmed, painted wood which I cannot really describe.

Despite being the daughter of a fisherman, my mother is cursed with a poor inner ear and she can only be on a boat on the calmest days without being seasick. (My mother used to say it could make her seasick to watch our sailboat bob in the backyard during stormy weather and windy days.) Therefore I did not go out fishing with dad and Poppy too often, as I don’t think my mom was entirely comfortable entrusting the small children to them without her own watchful eye. When we did go we wore the bulkiest of life jackets which impeded much actual movement although we certainly would have bobbed like a cork in the water.

Dad was a city boy born and bred, but he was fascinated with fishing and sailing and would go out with my grandfather and others as often as he could. He started a documentary film on it, but for some reason it never got off the ground. (Shooting film in those days was a real expense and editing was a bulky affair.)

As I alluded to yesterday, my grandfather died suddenly and young of a heart attack. The Imp was sold shortly after, with some discussion. I think a boat is a bit like an instrument which is meant to be played – we wouldn’t have gotten her out much, even our sailboat was idle much of the time. Dad continued fishing with other folks, neighbors, on boats or surf casting on the beach. (There was a nearby draw bridge that folks fished from, but I don’t remember my father doing that. I think fishing was more tied up with being on the water or at the beach for him.) Fishing poles were piled around the garage and house, the line getting tangled and caught in everything. Even when he wasn’t fishing his buddies, or my grandfather’s, would bring fresh fish by for us.

Although blue fish does not enjoy much of a good reputation, when grilled with lemon and pepper, fresh off the boat it is a very different affair than that which has been sitting in a fish market where it tends to quickly grow oily and strong. I grew up eating it all summer, along side of Jersey corn – maybe also grilled – and tomatoes from our garden. Blues are big, toothy fish and wrestling them while cleaning them was messy work. Generally in the cleaning was done outside, fish scales sticky and flying everywhere and sticking to me. Our cats in their glory, their noses in a fury of sniffing, as smelly fish guts piled up.

There were other fish too – crabs my sister and I caught in the backyard off our dock which were boiled and tediously cleaned. Scallops in butter and lobster of course, although I think the majority of those were fished a bit north of us. The river inlet I grew up on was known as Oyster Bay because it had at one time been thick with them. Pollution eliminated them, although they re-seeded the bed to some success in later years. Because of pollution my mother steered us away from the practice of eating raw clams, and even steamers, and I didn’t eat mussels until I was an adult.

I cook fish often. As a result of growing up with it I am comfortable working with fish and never really think twice about the nuisance of cleaning a pound of shrimp, and am always surprised by folks who are stymied by it. If we were entertaining guests over this (Covid so we are not) summer my grandmother’s faux bouillabaisse might be in the offing. Well known for being better for sitting overnight, it is a favorite for guests as it then only requires heating. My French food training showed me the difference – hers is more of a thicker Mediterranean-Italian fish stew which I cheerfully favor. I will write about it and lay out the recipe one of these days.

For those of you with access to a grill this summer I urge you to throw some fresh fish and corn on and enjoy it for me. It is one of the pleasure decidedly denied to us city dwellers.

Tatty

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Tiny though this photo is, a small poof of the smell of time gone bye wafted up when I removed this from the plastic holder this morning. This one might fall into the category of a photo only I could love, but so be it if true. Somehow the scrappiness of the Felix, the photo and the small child all work for me here.

There is evidence that this photo was much beloved. It shows signs of having been pinned up somewhere at one time and the edges are heavily worn and reinforced by tape at the corners. If I had to guess I would say it has spent time in a wallet. There is no inscription on the back so any information about this little girl is lost. I am glad that it has come to reside in the Pictorama collection.

The little kid, holding a pint-sized Felix doll, is wearing a white smock over something slightly longer and with sleeves showing from underneath. As I look at it closely I am on the fence about if this is a boy or a girl. My original thought was definitely girl, but as I spend more time looking at it I am unconvinced. To my eye Felix looks like he wants to leap from his or her hands and charge ahead. (And yes, of course I own a Felix much like this one, as below. Mine is missing an ear sadly, but let’s remember, he is an old, old guy.)

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

The yard shown is a bit bleak. Not surprisingly the photo comes from England and this is the backyard of a typical row house there. No lovely little British garden here however, at least not in this corner of it.

As I write and consider this photo I wonder if the idea of carrying a photo in a wallet has already disappeared entirely. Cookie and Blackie as kittens grace my the front of my phone and I see them, looking like tiny aliens, every time (hundreds of times, these days even more) I pick up the phone. Perhaps that is today’s version of a photo in your wallet.

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Blackie and Cookie perched on my chair shortly after arriving here in 2013.

 

My father carried photos of us kids, prom photos of me and my sister Loren; Edward shown as a small sprout digging around in the gravel driveway. At least those were the last incarnations I remember him having with him. (As I remember, there was a pre-cursor photo of me in second grade with long hair pulled back and a gap tooth grin – I am unsure of what the counterpart photo of Loren was, and Edward would have been an infant.)

These pictures resided tucked into a caramel colored, long, fat, leather wallet he carried for decades – not the type of wallet that had room for display as such, but I would see them flash by occasionally when he was looking for something. I took it for granted that they were there – the three of us each in our own photo, frozen in about 1980. My own wallet – also leather but black and red, is stuffed with credit and various loyalty cards, is remarkably and perhaps sadly photo-free.

You Oughta Be in Pictures

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I now realize that I did a sort of lousy job taking pictures of these photos when I came across them while unpacking things at my mother’s a few month’s back and I apologize for that. These photos are large, at least 8″x10″, and both are matted the same and set in blond wooden frames. (I cropped them because my photos of them were uneven and a bit cockeyed – they are in reality more of a matched set.) These pictures are of me and my sister as tiny tots – apologies to my brother as he wasn’t born for another six or so years. I am the younger of the two, in the playpen, and my sister Loren is sitting on some steps, looking a bit like one of the Little Rascals in her slightly grubby looking garb.

Without knowing it for a fact, I assume that these were taken by my father. Pictorama readers know that dad, Elliott Butler, was a cameraman for ABC news for his entire career. Ironically this meant that there weren’t that many photos he took of us as kids because he was never content with the simple snapshot. Photo taking with dad involved a panoply of light meters and carefully considered compositions, and my memories of it are of the somewhat tedious variety of standing around as a subject – especially frustrating as a child, but the family tradition continued into adolescence.

The end result was that he didn’t bother with all the truck and nonsense that often and, like the shoemaker’s kids who go shoeless, we do not have all that many photos of us as small children. Despite all of that, somehow he captured us here pretty much in our native state of kid-ness.

This pair of photographs hung in my parent’s bedroom as long as I can remember. (Another set were in my grandmother’s living room and I was reminded of that recently. It popped a small bubble of memory in my mind, but I can’t say I really remember it.) These hung over a bureau – above a television at one time as I remember, but on either side of an antique mirror in more recent memory. (Many years ago I was flying home from Russia when my photo, which had already hung in the spot for decades, fell off the wall. My mother, who barely suppresses a superstitious streak, told me she was a nervous wreck until she heard I was safely on the ground. Luckily me and the pilot of my plane were ignorant of this incident.)

While retrieving these from a leaky garage before they could be ruined, I piled up a few others and perhaps we’ll get future posts on those. Most memorable are the photos of my mother and her brother John, also large, framed professional photos taken when they were in high school. These have the skillful hand coloring of the period. Ironically those I remember distinctly from my grandmother’s living room, hanging on silver-gray wallpaper with a design of green vines. I used to stare at them in fascination and try to mentally equate them with the adults I knew at the time.

I think Kim and I agree that I do not make a case for an extremely attractive child here. As he put it kindly this morning, I grew into my looks. On the other hand, Loren looks very charming here with her wild curls. Knowing my sister and her restless energy, it must have been quite a coup to get her to sit still as long as it would have taken to achieve this photo.

Anyway, I rescued these, cleaned them up a bit and set them up in the room I stay in at my mother’s house. As it would happen, they sit on an old bureau of my father’s, on either side of a television and I will be glad to see them each time I visit.

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Dad’s Day

Pam’s Pictorama Post: So, I have been arguing with myself about this post and whether or not I was going to write it. This is fair warning to anyone out there who doesn’t want to read a somewhat downbeat Father’s Day post, this one probably isn’t for you. It is the only thing on my mind though as the marketers (everyone from my drugstore to where I buy my running shoes) remind me to think of my father today – and he remains very much on my mind. It’s a small story but seems to be the one for today.

As those of you who have followed this blog (or my and Kim’s real lives) know, my Dad died last August, just shy of a final birthday and after several painful months in hospice. As you lose people in your life, especially to illness, it gets hard as the year spins closer to the anniversary and there are landmark dates or, for me, seasons that remind you of where you were in the previous year. I wrote about bringing my father ice cream on Father’s Day last year (in a story that remains a bit amazing even to me that can be found here) so I know exactly where I was this time last year, although the early summer weather had been telling me for weeks.

I remember that these were the last few relatively good days he had. And I have a clear memory of sitting next to his bed, eating ice cream and him suddenly asking me if this job that I had taken at Jazz at Lincoln Center was going to work out. He always enjoyed hearing about the ins and outs of my work life – the travel I did and the people I met. It tickled him that, like his career as a cameraman, I enjoyed my work and it took me all over. He was proud and marveled that he had a daughter in business as he would say.

I was just over a year in my job responsible for fundraising at Jazz after thirty years at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and it was a fair question. In fact the challenge was at times overwhelming me, a real tiger by the tail, and I did wonder what on earth I had done in taking it on. However Dad spent those last months of his life worrying about me and my brother and asking for reassurance about the future. I would tell him that I would make sure my brother and mother were okay and would take care of everything.

So I was tempted to lie and gloss over it, but in the end, I told him the truth – it was very hard and the jury was still out on whether or not I would pull it off. A challenge is just that and you might fail. Sometimes hard work and sincerity weren’t enough and I just didn’t know yet. He was never much of a conversationalist, which was made worse by the labored breathing of his illness, so he nodded his head, listened and thought about what I was saying.

A year later a lot has happened and as these things do, the job got harder and more difficult before there were any signs of it getting better and that only very recently. Somehow though, through a dint of unstinting hard work and some good luck in these last weeks, we are starting to see some traction. It is possible that after two years of unrelenting effort there is some real daylight as I look around. With the help and hard work of some many people, a sense of order is starting to prevail. I have learned a lot and Dad would be pleased I think – I can see a nod of approval. Meanwhile, I will be eating ice cream later today in his honor.

Peggy and Ruth

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I just found this photo, purchased a little over a year ago. Somehow it has been overlooked, but today seems like the right day for it finally. For many of us this past week was smacked with a weather front we now refer to as a polar vortex. While it plunged our compatriots in the midwest into negative double digit weather, closing offices and schools and terribly even killing a number of people, here in New York it was just very, very cold, requiring many more layers of clothes than we wanted to wear and waddling like down covered penguins as a result.

In the midst of it we experienced something called a snow squall, which I admittedly liked the name of very much, but the experience of a bit less. I saw it from a conference room at work, overlooking the south end of Columbus Circle and within view of the southwest most corner of Central Park. We could barely see out the window and the wind was so bad it snowed upward! For a little more than an hour it poured snow and pounded Manhattan. Visions of pioneers struggling through sudden deadly storms came to mind, although we remained safe in our office tower perch. It resulted in a sheet of ice covering all the sidewalks which somehow the denizens of buildings responsible for snow removal didn’t see fit to address.

Of course my relationship to bad weather was quite different as a child, as I am guessing is true for at least most of us who experience childhood in the suburbs. For me, childhood hurricanes brought floods caused by the nearby river and had a holiday effect, a cause for excitement as water rushed around the house and under the floors, chilling them, ducks quacking at the backdoor. (I think about that now and how my mother was often home alone with us, three small children, when it happened – Dad off at work in New York or traveling as often as not. Mom was and remains, one tough cookie.)

Snow was of course the best because it resulted not only in a day off from school, but in ice skating (that same river flowed into smaller tributaries that froze solid) and sledding. Now, before I create an image of a sylvan childhood of Rockwell-like jolliness, I will state that as a child the meteorological conditions seemed to rarely result in weather that both closed school and was prolonged enough and appropriate for skating and/or sledding. It seemed to be something you were always waiting for that rarely occurred – making it all the better when it did.

Born in February blizzard, I have experienced many snowy birthdays. I will not opine on them right now, but frequently canceled birthday plans created a love-hate relationship with the white stuff. However, I do remember getting a new sled for, I believe, my eleventh birthday, and even without snow on the ground that year it remains a splendid gift that lives in memory.

While this photo was taken twenty-one years before I popped onto the scene, it could very easily been me and my sister Loren, and our cat Snoopy. We owned this very type sled and peaked caps, just like Peggy and Ruth. Snoopy was white with black cow spots, instead of this nice tabby type, and I believe Loren and I at 19 months between us, were closer in age than Peggy and Ruth appear to be. (A nod to Edward who would have shown up on the scene later in the game.) I have trouble imagining a photo of us this angelically posed – I believe most of the snow photos of Loren and I have us fighting, appropriately enough. Still, I purchased it thinking of us.

Unsurprisingly, at the moment the long-range forecast has precipitation predicted for my February 11 birthday. Last year it was a torrential, icy rain – none of the jolliness of snow I am afraid. I am working next weekend, but taking my birthday off to enjoy with Kim and cats here, snow or not, at Deitch Studio.

 

Wedding Photo

Pam’s Pictorama (Family) Photo Post: For those of you who tuned in yesterday for my post All in the Family (which can be found here) this is a companion post. I apologize for the length, but rambling family history is a hard tale to tell in a brief and cogent way.

This fragment is the wedding photo of my great aunt Rose (née Cittadino) to a man named Al Mazza, whose wedding feast held in the backyard I decades later knew as my grandmother’s, which was shown yesterday. (I am a bit stunned by the poor condition of both of these photos, but this is clearly a case of taking what you can get. Like yesterday, this is a photograph of the photo I took with my phone.)

I never knew Mr. Mazza, who I am told was from the French provinces of Canada, but of Italian lineage, as were the Cittadinos. As it stands now I know nothing of their courtship and can only say after they were married he went to work in my family’s bar and ultimately had one child, Frankie. My great-grandfather, Nikolas, came to this country to marry Mary and I was surprised to find out that his was a fairly affluent, professional family in Italy. I had always assumed the family had immigrated impoverished. (When visiting the south of Italy a number of years ago I remember thinking it was so very beautiful it must have been hard to leave, even for the pretty coastal New Jersey town they settled in. I visited Russia a few years later and thought instead of the other side of my family, this was a tough place to live and no wonder they worked so hard to leave!)

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My great-parents Nickolas and Mary in their wedding photo, undated

 

nikolas and mary later years

Nik and Mary in later years. Mom says Nik, her grandfather, used to say, “She had her hand in my pocket even then!”

 

Rose, the bride, was the oldest, my grandmother Ann was a middle-ish child, the third of five and she appears to be in her late teens in this wedding photo. (She is on the end of the right side of the photo, holding a large bouquet of flowers, the youngest sibling, my great-aunt Margaret, or Mickey, is standing below her.) There are two brothers and they have not been identified for me, but I would guess that the older one, Phil, is in the white gloves and seated next to that absolute babe holding a bouquet and wearing a tiara, who I am lead to believe was the maid of honor. Ben, the younger brother, is probably standing next to my aunt Mickey. Phil dies young, at 36. I’m not sure Ben fared much better – this is the heart disease curse for that part of the family at work.

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The women however all live large in my memory. I remember Rose (Ro Ro to my tiny tot self) as a sort of parallel universe version of my grandmother in my childish mind. By the time I arrived conscious on the scene, my grandmother and her older sister were of a similar short and round build. Both were known for producing the most amazing and prodigious amounts of Italian delicacies. (Although my grandmother, having married a mid-westerner whose family hailed originally from the South, also mastered some distinctly American delicacies and her fried chicken, bread and meatloaf were unmatched.) In my memory, Ro was a bit sterner and more no nonsense than my grandmother, although she always had some excellent homemade cookies for me and my sister – this was before my brother was born. (Mickey, was the youngest sibling and remained wiry with red hair – she was cut from a slightly different cloth. She died over a year ago, well into her 90’s.)

As I have mentioned, aside from my grandfather, Frank Wheeling, who worked at Bendex and repaired outboard motors for a living (he was an epic tinkerer and could fix or build anything), all the men in the family, including those who married in and ultimately their sons, worked in the family bar. The women were tasked with cooking of course. My great-grandmother would have lead that effort (see my post about the blue plate special here) and in addition to the Monday-Saturday buffet, I learned recently that on Sunday, when the bar was closed, she cooked an additional midday meal that the regulars at the bar could subscribe to. Her daughters obviously helped with the endless cooking and learned at her knee. My grandmother was good with numbers and grew up to keep the books for the bar, but learned her cooking lessons well too. The bar still exists as a restaurant/bar on the site today, as far as I know. I have never been inside, but walked by one afternoon several years ago with my father.

However, Rose was the real cook to emerge from the family and she later owned her own restaurant located on the Long Branch pier, before taking a series of jobs cooking,  those included being private cook to wealthy families, and running the kitchen at Monmouth Park race track. (Where despite Rose’s eagle eye my college-age mother met my camera toting father one summer, but that is a story for another time.)

My memory of Ro was being at her house late in her life. She lived in the upstairs of a small house with her daughter in-law and granddaughter in residence downstairs, retired from the last of her positions, but commandeering her younger sisters to execute in tandem the most extraordinary holiday meals. Quite literally, the card tables set up in a line in the living room of the apartment groaned, and I believe I remember the long strands of fresh pasta drying on racks all over the apartment prior to the cooking.

When I entered my own nascent professional cooking career after college, I wondered if those shared genes were at work. I had done stints waitressing and as a short order cook, but even with that wasn’t entirely prepared for the overwhelming physical grind of that work. I came away with an even greater respect for Ro, and the other Cittadino women, who for several generations churned out those meals in addition to feeding their families – and the occasional festivity like the wedding feast shown yesterday.

The same cousin who unearthed these photos (Patti, granddaughter of Rose) has discovered a cache of her recipes. I look forward to going through them and hope in particular to find the recipe for certain Christmas cookies and bread. I am told the original recipe for Poor Man’s cake is also there – I am anxious to compare it to my recent recreation project. (The recent post devoted to that can be found here, called Having Your Cake.) Many of the recipes will sadly be of less interest to me – we are largely vegetarian here at Deitch Studio and Pictorama, and our consumption of pastry is modest. Yet I will be pleased to see them, in her handwriting, and indulge in a few.

 

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Rose seated, the era I remember her from, shown with her daughter in-law Grace.

Having Your Cake

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Photo of the first piece of the first try – too many raisins and before adding a dusting of confectionary sugar

 

Pam’s Pictorama: The holidays came late this year to those of us at Pictorama and therefore I ask for your indulgence as tidbits continue to pepper these posts in coming weeks. One reason for this is fairly self-evident – generally I am a cheerleader for making the most of what is good about the holidays, but with my dad’s death in August, none of us much had the stomach for it and we approached Thanksgiving gingerly. Setting the bar low helped, and we limped through without any group weep-a-thons, although I guess that would have been okay too.

At some point in the days before Christmas, I found myself reading the electronic version of the New York Times (something I do early in the morning over breakfast while Kim is already grinding away at his pages at the other end of the table) and as usual continued reading on my (usually) brief train ride on the Q to midtown. I believe I was on the Q when I read an essay about a lost fruit cake which had been sent to the author by his father several months before the father died. The cake was from a company, not homemade, and never arrives, but the son ultimately orders another and eats it. I had two reactions to this essay. The first was to get weepy – believe me, when I started the essay I had no idea a father was going to die in it or I wouldn’t have chosen it. However, more important to today’s story, it carried a reference to Poor Man’s cake which is something I have not thought about in years, and frankly thought was a term that might only be known to my family and that I had no idea was in general use.

A Poor Man’s cake, also known as a Depression cake, is one that doesn’t require the use of eggs, sugar or butter – all things that were in short supply during the war and Depression years. Like fruitcake, it will keep in your refrigerator or freezer for a long time – although as my mother pointed out when asked, we never put it to the test as we always consumed it in full immediately. It was a staple in my grandmother’s repertoire, at the heart of an ongoing rotation of recipes and it was as likely as not that she’d throw one together if she was in the house. (So often did she make certain recipes – this one, her one for bread which was heavenly and some of her Christmas cookies – that actual recipes seemed to elude her when asked. My sister Loren did work on writing some down. It was all a bit of this and that, done by touch and texture.) As I teased out my memory of her version of the cake, I remembered that it utilized boiled coffee, margarine (or bacon fat as an alternative) and molasses.

I became mildly obsessed with re-creating the cake. Maybe I needed a holiday distraction of sorts. Meanwhile, for those of you who aren’t familiar with my origin story – when younger I actually did time as a pastry chef (and a garde manger) working under, among others, Jean Georges Vongerichten at his first restaurant in Manhattan. That is clearly another whole post, but I mention it to say, while I definitely know my way around pastry, I haven’t made so much as a loaf of banana bread in years. Here at Deitch Studio, we’re pretty maniacally careful eaters (green smoothies, largely vegetarian) and while we might happily eat a bit of cake or pastry out in the world, I do not buy it, let alone produce it. Suffice it to say that the baking muscle has seriously atrophied, and executing even this simple cake required some both metaphorical and real dusting off of things.

In addition, the Pictorama kitchen is a tiny thing. I have often lamented that if we got a large dog it wouldn’t even fit in our kitchen. With some forethought I can claim a space of about six square inches to work on our limited counter space. Ironically, working in professional kitchens in Manhattan was good practice for this as I never had more than about a foot of space to work in – real estate is at a premium for them as well. Storage is another issue and as I did a quick assessment I realized my cooking supplies are somewhat pared down.

As I remember, my grandmother often used a Pyrex loaf dish. I know I owned or had owned one of these – I actually did make banana bread in it at one point. A quick search did not however turn it up. It either wandered out of the house in a cabinet purge, or has skulked far out of reach. (I did however find a pastry scale – so serious were my past baking endeavors – and the possible purge of a Pyrex dish while keeping that does seem somewhat ironic.) Undeterred, I turned to eBay and within 48 hours and for $5 I had one that was identical to what I remember. There were things I decided I could forgo, such as a flour sifter and a cooling rack.

Happily in the age of Google it took no time at all to find a number of recipes and by piecing them together I began reconstructing my grandmother’s version of the cake. The recipe I offer below is an amalgam of several recipes. I have replaced sugar with molasses, butter/bacon fat with margarine, water with coffee. Additionally I have changed the seasoning. There was much debate about the use of ground cloves and my mother remembers my grandmother using them, but I found them overwhelming in my first go at this and struck them out subsequently. I cut the amount of raisons – the original recipes called for two cups which seemed absurdly heavy. I realized that the recipe I took most of this from used baking soda and I used baking powder – I’ll probably try baking soda next time. As you can see from the photos, it is a pleasant looking cake, but not a real beauty. It is some rib sticking coffee cake – vegan for that matter as well.

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Cake two in the Pyrex loaf pan – yum!

 

I finished the cake with a sprinkling of powdered sugar which was what my grandmother did most often. (Oddly, the Upper East Side of Manhattan was literally sold out of powdered sugar. After trying Whole Foods and Gristedes, I purchased the very last bag at Fairway. Holiday cookies I assume? Weird, right? I began to wonder if people had stopped using it.) I have a memory of her occasionally using a chocolate glaze on it as well, although mom doesn’t remember that.

Even with my first try, the cake emerged as something close to what I remember. (I credit this with it being pretty much a no fault recipe!) Years of after school snacks, in evidence at every holiday and many weekend mornings was this cake. It had been a part of my life growing up that was a constant and I never really thought about until it was gone. My mother has never been a baker and when my sister died much of the family baking lore went with her. While asking about the cake, my mother and I have had several wonderful talks about other food we remember my grandmother making. She and her sisters were all gifted chefs – one sister owned a restaurant and was a private cook in wealthy homes.

Cake #2, shown with sugar at the top and made yesterday, is now tucked in my bag as I head to New Jersey this morning. I am anxious to show it off to my mother and cousin who will be stopping by for a piece later. I don’t know that it will become a staple here, but I suspect we can count on my making the occasional one now that I am getting the hang of it. There’s always my office, ready to consume some additional carbs if we are overwhelmed by my new cake ambitions.

Reading the recipes online I saw some complaints about some of the recipes running dry. I have not had that issue at all and suspect that the replace of sugar with molasses helps with that. I also think the loaf pan is better than the suggested two small cake pans as thinner cakes will cook faster and be more prone to drying out. I have included the nutritional information although I would imagine that it is a bit skewed with the adjustments I have made, likely lower calories and carbs with fewer raisins and no bacon fat!

Recipe:

  • 4 tablespoons of molasses
  • 2 cups coffee
  • 2 tablespoons margarine
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • Confectionary sugar to taste for topping

Directions:

  1. In a medium saucepan combine the molasses, coffee, margarine, and raisins, over medium heat. Bring to a boil for 5 minutes, then set aside to cool.
  2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease and flour a loaf pan.
  3. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Add the ingredients, a little at a time, from the saucepan and mix until well blended. 
  4. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes in the preheated oven. (Test with a knife to see if cooked through.) Cool in pan for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack (if you own one!) to cool completely.
  5. Sprinkle confectionary sugar or add chocolate glaze once cool.
Nutrition Facts:
Per Serving: 174 calories; 1.4  39.6  2  1  158