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Archive for the ‘Historical’ Category

DSCN6621Jennifer and I were enjoying the opening festivities of Autumn Splendor at the Elmhurst Art Museum, sipping on wine, nibbling on finger food, chatting with old friends and acquainting new. We wandered into the galleries and the Richard Koppe Exhibit.  As we entered the gallery, a display case caught my eye.  Actually, something in the display case caught my eye. A book.  It’s always a book with me, it seems, even in a renowned art museum.  The book, to be precise, was a cookbook.  I looked down and squealed “I have this book” .

As others were observing the large surrealistic works of Koppe, I was chewing on a cookbook.

Several years ago, I came across the very same cookbook in a second-hand store. “The Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Famous Eating Places”.  A more charming than practical compilation of recipes from famous restaurants throughout the United States,  it is divided by regions, and illustrated with stylistic paintings of each restaurant, a recipe from the restaurant, and a short description.  The books were sold by the Ford Motor Company in the heyday of US road travel in big cars and fine dining along the way as many veterans returned home from war, bought houses that were springing up all across the country, bought their first car . . .

. . .  I snapped up the book faster than a filling station attendant once rushed out to fill up the tank, clean the windows, and check the oil!

In subsequent years, I came across several other printings of the book, with some new recipes and new restaurants as original ones closed. A small cookbook collection ensued. When in the mood for nostalgia, I’ll pull one of the Ford Treasury books out, then all of them, and browse through the regions, admire the illustrations, and reminisce over featured restaurants I have actually eaten in.

As I looked into the display case at the EAM, I recognized one of the printings of “The Ford Treasury . . . ” .  The book was opened to page 159, with a painting depicting the interior of the once famous Well-of-the-Sea restaurant in the Sherman Hotel in Chicago. Neither the restaurant, nor the hotel, still exists,  but, the mural in the background of the illustration does. When I was though swooning over a cookbook, I looked up to see Koppe’s surrealistic mural generously covering a wall of the gallery.  While not my favorite artistic style, I could not help but be impressed at the “real deal” and the vibrancy of the colors and textures.

Back home, I pulled out my treasury of mid-century finds, and there it was, page 159, in the North Central region. The Well-of the-Sea. I wandered about the pages of several Treasuries, finding restaurants I recognized, even some I have eaten in, across the country,  getting hungry for food – and for hitting the road.

Here are a few I found that I have visited:  The Wayside Inn, MA;  Williamsburg Lodge, VA;  Antoine’s, LA;  New Salem Lodge, IL;  Plentywood Farm, IL;  Don the Beachcomber, HI.

Do you have a dining “treasure” you would like me to look up in these books?  Let me know.  I would love do a future post showing a page of your remembered restaurants.

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 This book jacket opens up to a map “. . . to decorate your kitchen or game room”. I think I’ll just keep this one on the book.

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DSCN6601Signs.

Sometimes they are just signs. Other times, they lead us to places, to action to awareness, to posts . . .

In a comment on my recent post about the passing of Tom Magliozzi of Car Talk, Debra, over at Breathlighter, wondered about my use of the term “filling station”. The very next day, walking west on Adams toward Union Station in downtown Chicago, I passed this sign. “Whoa, girl, slow down” said my inner self as the notorious Chicago wind whipped around the corner. “Go check out that sign”.   

So there I was, whipping my camera out faster than you can say “windy city“, strains from a street musician echoing down the urban cavern of ell tracks, skyscrapers, and congestion.  No one looked at me as I took the photo. Most were business attired with attaché cases walking with monetary purpose hurrying along the city’s financial district.  I momentarily wondered how many even realized the sign was there. At any rate, tourists are always taking photos in the Loop, though I don’t think many capture this particular sign – or know the connection between this sign and a friend on the terminus end of the Route 66.  Debra, who lives in California, regularly serves up enlightening posts about the history of California, water wars, tar pits, and more. the very same Debra who just asked, the previous day, a question about the term “filling stations.”

I wondered, right then, as I took a picture signifying the approximate location where the legendary Route 66 began, if Debra was motoring past a similar sign on the other end of Route 66.

With a train to catch in Union Station, I put my camera back in my purse and pushed once more against the wind. Once seated in my Metra carriage, homebound, I thought again about filling stations and writing a series of posts about filling stations, family, cookbooks and such, all related to how we used to travel.  I would like to start today with filling stations.

As I mentioned to Debra, a filling station is an older term, probably centered in the midwestern states during the middle of the 20th century. It refers to places where drivers could fill their cars with gasoline. They are now most commonly called gas stations. Since so many of you are not only hugging both coasts of the United States, but, are also across the pond and down under, I’m hoping you will share what you call the place where you buy the fuel for your cars.

Why don’t you talk here amongst yourselves, sharing your gas related thoughts (no, not THAT kind of gas) while I compose another post about Tom’s father and uncles and their oil company, or, maybe a post about the Ford Motor Company and cookbooks and, well, we’ll see where the signs lead.

 

Postscript: See what you started, Debra, with your inquisitive mind?  As I was writing this, ’round about 9 am on this Saturday morn, I realized that the sun was probably just rising along your end of Route 66.  Here’s a tune to start your day. 

 

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I have enjoyed Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs books, even procuring a copy from a Little Free Library box a few months ago.  They are gentle mysteries set in the post WWI era and provide insight into life in England after the war. I was excited to learn that Winspear had written another book, independent of the Maisie Dobbs series, set in the English countryside.

It was not just Winspear’s reputation that drew me to “The Care and Management of Lies”, however, and it wasn’t the book cover. (The one posted here is the UK edition, which I find to be much more appealing than the rather drab colored one here in the US, which I show below.) It was the name of the main character. Kezia. This is the name, as you might recall, of our granddaughter, though hers has an “h” on the end.

Kezia Marchant is the daughter of an Anglican pastor. Her best friend is Thea Brissenden. As the story begins, we learn that Kezia is engaged to marry Thea’s brother, Tom. Tom runs the family farm, since his father’s death. Thea is a suffragist, who seems to be struggling with Kezia’s new role as farm wife and who comes dangerously close to being jailed for sedition.  Tom feels it is his duty to go off to war, leaving Kezia, new to living a life off of the land, to tend to the farm.  They have precious little time together after their wedding, but, during the time, Kezzie, as Tom calls her, struggles determinedly to learn how to cook, surprising Tom with exotic new herbs, spices, and flavors and making their meals an anticipated ritual for Tom at day’s end.

When Tom goes off to the trenches in France, Kezzie works hard to keep the farm going, as well as the spirits of the few workers left to tend to the fields, the farm animals, and life on the home front. In France, Tom becomes the target of the unit’s sergeant, who taunts Tom and refers to him as Private Gravy. It is Kezia’s letters that keep Tom steady and sure, and eventually those of the other men in his unit.

The lies that are being cared for and managed are not those of  hidden love affairs, mounting debt, murder or thievery.  They are the lies of omission and embroidered truths; lies intended to help loved ones feel safe or taking their minds off of the horror at hand.  Lies, told in letters, are intermingled with the evocative prose that Jacqueline Winspear is known for. She is adept at bringing the mood, the aura, the simple gestures of living that keep her characters real as the reader becomes immersed in the era she writes about.

Kezia’s letters describe tantalizing meals made from unlikely ingredients, evocatively penned. She teasingly invites Tom to imagine eating them as he reads her letters and, even 9780062220509_custom-0e3798b9ed22df31b37811651b9bb807fe3083c3-s2-c85asks him to make suggestions as to how to improve her delectable entrees.  As time goes on, the men in Tom’s unit learn of the “meals” Kezzie sends, and beg him to read the letters aloud, huddled in the stench and mud, cold and fear of trench warfare.  Even his commanding officers know of Kezzie’s culinary talents, which bring about several kinds of jealousy from Tom’s superiors, dangerously so from Sergeant Knowles.

Tom Brissenden, in turn, writes to his Kezzie of those things that soldiers of war write home about;  longing to see the woman he loves, missing home, asking about his sister, Thea, who has become an ambulance driver, and his father-in-law, who has inlisted as a chaplain, and wondering about hearth and home . . .

. . .  then, all converge in a clash of wartime, leaving the reader with as many questions as answers, and this reader with tears in her eyes.

My hope is that Ms. Winspear continues to write about Kezia in the same manner in which we follow Maisie Dobbs. My other hope  is that you read “The Care and Management of Lies”.  It is slow going at the start, but, much worth the determination, like Kezzie’s cooking skills, to see it through to the end.

 

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DSCN5973Shall I tell you a story of linen and ink, gardens and waterfalls, sunshine and splendor?

It occurs at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois.

Our garden club’s adventure started with a private tour of the Lenhardt Library; a treasure trove of horticultural books, journals, periodicals, reproduction prints and more. There was an amazing display of noteworthy bookplates, including those of Charles Dickens and Eugene Field.  Several of us were particularly interested in Field’s bookplate as we first met long before joining the garden club, when our children attended Field School, named for the poet. (you know him – Wynken, Blynken and Nod).

After our introduction to the wonders Lenhardt has to offer, we were taken into the June Price Reeder Rare Book Room. It was as if a hush fell on my soul, so enthralled was I in the presence of four centuries of bound and conserved horticultural wisdom, some of which became the template of remedies for modern medicine.  To touch the linen pages that predate the anniversary of Columbus’s discoveries, the day before Columbus Day is commemorated here, is rather awesome, indeed. The library is in the painstaking process of digitizing  these books and journals, some truly tomes, for all to access. You can see some of them by clicking the link to the rare book room above.

No garden club event seems complete without food, so, we stopped for lunch at the Cafe. We commiserated over sandwiches, soups, salads and sunshine, then separated, some taking a tram tour of the grounds, others walking the paths.  I suspect most of us also ended up in the bountiful gift shop before heading home.

The groundskeepers were busy, hauling this and that, flowers and soil, pumpkins and gourds, readying the Botanic for this weekend’s fall festivities. It was a pristine day; the best kind for visiting such an expansive garden. The Chicago Botanic Gardens is a destination for grade school field trips as well as an international destination to world travelers.  It pleased me to no end to hear the many languages that were being uttered and the universal joy of horticulture.

Here are a few photos taken in the Rare Book Room.  Our guide was Leora Siegel, the library’s director. It is an understatement to say that she was exemplary as she guided us through the centuries of books. I felt a tinge of regret when the tour concluded as I longed to hear and see more.

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Finally, a few photos of the grounds, which include the Japanese garden, the vast vistas, waterfall, and stunning chrysanthemums dripping from the main arbor leading out to the Botanic’s grounds.

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They find me in all sorts of places; libraries, bookstores, antique shops, used bookshops, through friends and family, and from you, dear readers, which is how I learned about a Letters from Skye_finaltender novel I just finished.

When a book recommendation comes my way, especially through blogs and emails and comments here on the Cutoff, I pen them to paper; on a TBR list, where they sit in patient abeyance for just the right moment to present themselves. Most eventually see the whites of my eyes.

So it was with a recent review of “Letters From Skye,” by Jessica Brockmole, which I read on Cath’s blog over at Read_Warbler.  An epistolary novel, “Letters from Skye” spans two world wars.. The letters begin in 1912. Elspeth Dunn, a published writer of poetry, lives on the remote Scottish Isle of Skye. She receives her first fan letter from David Graham, a student from Urbana, Illinois. Elspeth writes back, a long correspondence begins, as does a journey of heart and soul and eventually love in the midst of WWI.

It is not just Elspeth’s and David’s letters that tell this story, however. When bombing rocks Edinburg in WWII, Margaret finds her mother clutching letters from a gaping hole in a wall that a bomb exposes. Margaret sees one letter, addressing Sue, and soon begins an adventure, via letters of her own, as another world war tilts the British Isles. Who is Sue? Where did the letters come from? Why were they hidden in the wall?

Cath’s well written review of the book immediately caught my attention. It was the location of Urbana, Illinois, however, that piqued my curiosity.  I mentioned to Cath that I almost went to college there many moons ago – and yes, there really is an Urbana in Illinois. It is, in fact, now a very big  and quite prestigious school, the University of Illinois at Champagne/Urbana, with an equally prominent extension in Chicago. In fact, the U 0f I Chicago extension sits on land where I spent the first four years of my life. I digress. It was a bit of fun reading about Davey, as he is quickly addressed by Elspeth, and his antics while in school in Urbana.

It was equally interesting reading about Elspeth’s secluded life in her crofter’s cottage on Skye, awaiting the return of her husband, first from the sea, then from the war. The fact that she has already published poetry while living on a remote island immediately shadows her independent character, even though she has never been on a ferry to cross over to Scotland.

“Letters from Skye” is a sensitive story that opens slowly and reveals more of the characters as the letters crisscross the Atlantic. Reading it brought to mind “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society” as well as “84 Charring Cross Road”. Whether true, as Helene Hannf’s book is, or imagined, as “Letters from Skye” and “The Guernsey Literary . .. ” are, there is something that draws a reader into story telling through letters.  At the same time, “Letters from Skye” evokes Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms”, for Davey does eventually cross the ocean and becomes an ambulance driver with the American Field Service in France before the United States entered World War I.

While this novel opens slowly, it does so in the most compelling of ways. I was almost as anxious for the next letter to arrive as the characters of the book seemed to be. In fact, there were times I simply put “Letters from Skye” down and walked away for a spell,  as if to absorb the anticipation of waiting for the next post. Through what is written, and what is not, there is a palpable sense of time and place, actions and consequences, anxiety and resolve.  What surprised me as this epistle came to a close were the tears that welled in my eyes as the last of the letters were read. I had not realized, until almost the very end, how much Brockmole’s characters meant to me.

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CoverCBAdvertJust after WWII ends in Europe, in the Eugannean Hills near Venice, Graziella waits for her husband to come home.  Ugo has been engaged in the Italian Resistance.  Although now at war’s end, he has not returned home, while most of his compatriots have. He is presumed to be dead, though no word has yet come.

Caring for her ill father-in-law, Giovanni, and dealing with Ugo’s large Italian family, Graziella (aka Grace), is weary of war, misses her life in Venice, and yearns for Ugo’s return – or, to at least know if he is, indeed, alive. The foreign wife of a member of the resistance, Grazielle is sent to the family orchards for safety. Ugo’s many sisters, all with the first name of Maria, their husbands, children, animals and extended family, as well as the other villagers, all of whom are suspicious of the beautiful Grazzielle, are a challenge to live among. All are barely surviving, in  poverty, near starvation, and living amid the devastation and horrors of war.

One day, a handsome American soldier happens by. Graziella, as well as most everyone else in the hills, hears the rumble of his motorcycle before seeing him. In an area often subjected to air raids, there is still a palpable fear of bombings, even though the war has officially ended.

Frank’s appearance is at first frightening, then a curiosity – and a cause for gossip. He befriends the men and boys, first, then the suspicious women, some of whom scheme for marriages of their daughters. Frank also endears himself to Giovanni, who thinks him his son Ugo, returned.  Frank takes refuge in Giovanni’s barn, repairing things on the farm, chopping wood, sharing cigarettes with men and chocolate with the children. It is his attention and feelings toward Grazziella, whom he calls by her given name, Grace, however, that is the heart of “Ciao Bella”.

A little slow in the beginning, Gina Guonaguro and Janice Kirk’s story gains momentum and is full of as much humor as dismay, with several unexpected surprises. It is at once a gentle read and a reminder of the horrors of war, the choices one makes and the consequences of those choices. It is sometimes sad and horrifying, other times  humorous and speaks to the human spirit and the will to go on. It also awakened me to yet another region, plagued by war and how people survive, move on, learn to live again in an intimate portrait of family, fears, and faith in the future.

In the end, I was quite pleased that I rescued this book, with its beautifully evocative cover, from the overflowing shelves at a local charity shop. Someone needed to bring  it home; might as well have been me. As I opened the cover, it appeared to have not been read. How sad, I thought. In excellent shape and hardbound to boot,  I merely had to reach deep into my pockets and pull our six quarters for this quiet portrait of life after war.

 

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DSCN5599We sat in the cool of Chianti’s restaurant, munching on bread sticks and sumptuous salads, sipping iced tea, playing peek-a-boo with baby at the table nearby, and chatting about the vast venue of shiny vintage autos lined up in precision along the main drag at Sunday’s Geneva Concours d’Elegance.

Our table talk went from antique cars to wheels and rims, hood ornaments and horse power and all that comes along with a vintage car show, especially one of this caliber. Tom asked how my photos were and if I was going to do a post with them. Of course I was – and I even had a title brewing. Rimshot.

This led to a conversation about the term, which I thought was about basketball. You know, when the ball hits the rim, rolls around, and points are scored?

Not really. No. Uhuh. A rimshot, I was kindly informed by my handsome dining companion, aka Antler Man, is when something happens on stage.  A lame joke sort of thing where the drummer hits the rim with a drumstick

 Mr. Google helped me defend my own rimshot impression, however, for it also has a basketball reference, which made me feel better as I was beginning the think that the oppressively hot and humid day and the glare of the sun on all the shiny metal had melted my brain. Phew! So, dear reader, here are some rimshots of a vehicular sort, taken along the Geneva Concours d’Elegance. From a simple city gal who loves flowers and books and butterflies, a collection of vintage tires, rims and other memorable medal from our  motoring past.

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