Charley Harper

My love for vintage cookbooks led to my love for American Modern artist Charley Harper.  You might not recognize his name, but his signature style is unmistakable.  Throughout his six-decades-long career, his vibrant illustrations were the exclamation point of many publications for a wide range of audiences…including The Golden Book of Biology for children, magazines such as Ford Times for men, and (where I discovered him) Betty Crocker cookbooks for women.  

I am sure there were men reading cookbooks and women reading Ford Times, but let’s just keep it simple, shall we?   

Charley’s subjects were largely inspired by wildlife, so over the years he was also hired to create over fifty posters for many nature organizations, parks, and causes.  He called his style “minimal realism”, and when he was asked to describe it further he replied:       

“When I look at a wildlife or nature subject, I don’t see the feathers in the wings, I just count the wings.  I see exciting shapes, color combinations, patterns, textures, fascinating behavior and endless possibilities for making interesting pictures.”       

Unlike the glossy cookbooks of today, where we want to see a photo of every recipe, vintage cookbooks relied on illustrations to punch up the columns of text.  Often there were a few pages of photos…but really, they probably should have stuck with the drawings.  When you see examples of cookbook photos from this era, you wonder how anyone ever worked up an appetite.       

For example, here is a selection of Charley’s delightful work from Betty Crocker’s “Dinner for Two” cookbook from 1958:       




And here is one of the precious few photos from this same volume, of a dish creatively titled “Small Whole Fish”:   


Yum, right?  I appreciate the fishing props and the notched wedges of lemon…but that just looks like yuck.   

Despite his death in 2007, Charley’s talent lives on in many forms.  For children there are puzzles, alphabet & counting books, and a Memory game.  For older audiences there are posters, prints, calendars, stationary, and holiday cards.  All of these feature his colorful nature illustrations.  A beautiful and touching tribute book by designer Todd Oldham also came out last year titled “Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life”.   

And if you are like me, you can hunt around for old cookbooks or copies of Ford Times and hope to find Charley on the pages.  You can’t miss him.    

Visit the official Charley Harper art studio here

Okay…one more drawing…you know I need to get a cat in here somewhere.   


Thank you, Charley!

Four and Twenty Blackbirds

This past weekend I went to Brooklyn (not NYC…Brooklyn) to visit my beloved Kayte (and Sam!) in their new place.  I had the best time.  We had no agenda and less than 48 hours together, but managed to accomplish an amazing amount of eating, drinking, and walking everywhere while sweating profusely…but it was a great time, and it was great to see Kayte.

I lied…there was actually one thing on our agenda.  PIE.  Kayte told me about a pie place in her neighborhood that had just opened up in April and had pie to die for.  That place was Four and Twenty Blackbirds.  Since I have been on a major pie kick lately I thought I thought it only fair that I share this latest chapter in ALL THINGS PIE 2010.  We stopped in on Saturday…and went back for breakfast on Sunday.  The bakery/cafe is beautiful, with tin-tiled walls and ceilings, hardwood floors and lots of sunshine.  The pies of the day are written on the chalkboard, along with drinks and some other traditional cafe fare like scones, sweet breads, and their unique spin on “Egg in a Nest”.  The shop is owned and operated by two South Dakota sisters, and I am a sucker for sister business ventures (especially bakery-themed ones) since Courtney and I often joke we should do the same thing.

Saturday’s pie slices were berry crumble and apple ginger.  Kayte was a good sport about all of my picture-taking…even when it meant she had to wait to eat.

Sunday’s slices were blueberry lavender and salted caramel apple (double blog reference there).

The Egg in a Nest was not the “toast with a hole with egg in it” that I was expecting.  Instead it was like a delicious sweet biscuit wrapped in a soufflé-like egg and cheese puff.  Delightful.

The crusts were buttery and flaky.  The fruits were flavorful and fresh.  The ginger had bite.  With teeth.  The girl behind the counter recognized us on Sunday and had great feather earrings.  I will absolutely go back here every time I visit going forward.  Their pies change with the seasons and I want to try them all.

For further reading visit their writeup on Serious Eats.

Or better yet, visit them and taste for yourself!  They are located at 439 3rd Ave in Brooklyn and they are doing it right.

Pyrex Glassware

I know I am not alone in my love of Pyrex Glassware.  In my research of all things Pyrex, I learned from their website that over 70% of US homes have at least one piece somewhere – most likely in their cupboard, fridge, dishwasher…or oven!  They are useful, durable, versatile, and thanks to the passage of time…highly (and easily) collectible. 

When I think of Pyrex I think of mixing bowl sets, loaf pans, and casserole dishes with the satiny white interior, and a colorful, if slightly dated, exterior.  Growing up my mom had a large white Cinderella bowl (the kind with the spouts jutting off of the rim) with green 70’s looking flowers, that we used for microwave popcorn.  My grandparents had the set of brownish orange  mugs, the mere thought of which immediately calls to mind tea and buttery toast and Eggo’s on paper plates and my Papa. When I got to college and began my long love affair with thrift stores, I started picking up pieces here and there, but didn’t come into my first complete bowl set until last year.  John’s grandmother on the Tucker/Malo side had a wonderful set of Cinderella bowls in shades of green – my very favorite color.  They had been loved and used for decades, and I am very proud to have ownership of them for the time being.  I am very fond of them.  It’s hard to justify having multiple sets of mixing bowls, but for the Pyrex enthusiast, this becomes a constant struggle.   

The Pyrex website neatly sums up how it all began:

The idea for Pyrex Glassware came from the industrious wife of a Corning Glass Works scientist who was frustrated with her unreliable casserole dish. Knowing the strength of the railroad signal lantern glass her husband worked with, she begged him to bring home something she could use in the kitchen. Voilà, the Pyrex baking dish was born. Two years later, Boston department store Jordan Marsh placed the first order for Pyrex Glassware. The rest, as they say, is history.

My Pyrex collection today consists of the green Cinderella bowl set, a yellow square mixing bowl, the green, red, and blue bowls from the primary bowl set, clear pie plates, and a brown loaf pan.

The Cinderella’s look like a beautiful onion. My apologies to my fellow OCD sufferers that immediately noticed that the inner 2nd and 3rd bowls are turned the wrong way.  It’s going to be alright.

I encourage you to share a story about your favorite Pyrex pattern or item with me.  If you do it right I will immediately feel envious and make my way over to Ebay to buy my own.  Actually, I am probably already on Ebay…looking up vintage chenille bedspreads or Betty Crocker cookbooks dedicated exclusively to Bisquick.

I’m serious.

Shortcut Savory Monkey Bread

Yes, monkey bread is a dumb name for what is essentially chunks of yeasted dough rolled in butter and flavoring and baked in a tube pan.  Yes, you will sound dumb saying “Hey, I brought the monkey bread!” – but that in no way takes away from the presentation (superb!) and taste (dangerously buttery) of a magnificent monkey bread.

Monkey bread has other shameful names…African coffee cake, bubbleloaf, pinch-me cake…and its origins are a mystery.  Familiar recipes began appearing in women’s magazines in the 1950s and it quickly became a quirky breakfast favorite, particularly since it encourages eating with your hands…ripping off pieces while the cake is still warm.  Nancy Reagan was a fan and served it often in the White House.

John and I watched Game 3 of the NBA Finals with Matt and Melissa on Tuesday night, and my contribution was MB…savory style.  I love the traditional cinnamon and sugar variety, but I wanted something that would be a little more Budweiser than brunch.  I also had to make it after work so I cheated and used a coupon to buy some refrigerated Pillsbury biscuit dough.  The result was what I hoped for…a savory, buttery, garlicky, fattening…monkey bread.

Shortcut Savory Monkey Bread
(If possible you should obviously use fresh herbs, adjusted to taste, but I didn’t have any and the clock was ticking)

2 “tubes” refrigerated buttermilk biscuit dough (12 oz. each)
4 tbsp melted butter (1/2 stick)
1-2 tbsp basil
1-2 tbsp rosemary
3 tsp minced garlic
1 1/2 – 2  cups grated fresh parmesan

Preheat oven to 375. Grease a tube or (even better) Bundt pan and set aside.
In a bowl, combine cheese, herbs, garlic.
Close your eyes and pop open those scary biscuit tubes.
Cut each biscuit in half.
Dunk the biscuit halves in melted butter, or use a pastry brush.
Coat with cheese/herb/garlic mixture.
Assemble (overlapping slightly) in tube or Bundt pan.
Sprinkle any excess cheese mixture over the top.
Bake until top is golden brown – around 20 minutes, but it may vary.

Enjoy the smell of garlic in your home for hours and hours.

And just for fun, here is a picture of me with a real monkey back in 1986.

I don’t remember this magical moment, so I am going to assume that the monkey-handler was somehow so terrifying I blocked it out.  I wish the photographer had thought to include his face. Is it better to imagine what’s missing? I don’t know…

King Arthur Flour

In the past year I have become a voyeur of several baking blogs.  As a non-adventurous vegetarian, I find it easier to get interested and excited about baking, because the results can (usually) be enjoyed by both meat-eaters and veggies alike.  I also appreciate and respect the science of baking, and the artistry of the results.  Ingredients must be measured carefully.  Oven temperatures must be confirmed.  Butter must be cold.  Water must be warm.  Eggs must be room temperature.  Peaks must be whipped stiff.  Toothpicks inserted must come out clean.  Sometimes the opposite of these are true…but don’t mess it up!

One of my favorite blogs has been Baking Banter on the King Arthur Flour website.  The contributors are members of the personable, reliable and capable test kitchen staff, and every few days they offer up a new recipe with step by step photo instructions and clear text.  They even read and reply to comments in the comments section – which is usually my favorite part, because it really shows their knowledge and ability to offer advice and encouragement to home bakers. 

King Arthur Flour is America’s oldest flour company, started in Boston in 1790 before moving to Vermont.  It was family-owned and operated for five generations before switching to 100 percent employee-owned.  In addition to their wonderful line of flours, they also offer hundreds of other ingredients, baking tools, mixes, and have published several award-winning cookbooks – one of which is exclusively about whole grain baking.  Their whole operation, which you can truly get a feel for by visiting their website or their retail store and baking center, just makes you feel good.  They want people, seasoned bakers and novices alike, to get their hands dirty and learn how to make wholesome, delicious things in their own kitchens. 

I live in Boston and I spent a few days in Vermont this past weekend with my sister Courtney and my mom.  We all spend a fair amount of time in the kitchen, and it wasn’t difficult at all to infect them with my excitement to include a stop at the King Arthur Flour store and bakery in Norwich.  It was heaven!  I had given myself a budget of $50, so I had to make some tough choices, but in the end I settled on a collection of mostly ingredients like pizza dough flavor enhancer, dutch cocoa, and espresso powder.

I don’t feel quite brave enough yet to make BREAD, so I made pizza dough using pizza yeast and the pizza dough flavor I purchased at the KAF store.

The results were good.  VERY good. 

Perhaps its the proud fellow New Englander in me, but KAF ranks among my favorite baking blogs and baking supply retailers, and I know I am already planning my shopping list for my next visit to the KAF store.

Total dork, I know…

Marshmallow Fluff

Marshmallow Fluff…the classic New England sweet staple that seems (comfortingly) resistant to the passage of time.  The logo, packaging, and ingredients have barely changed over the years, and its spreadable marshmallow-y goodness still tastes terrific on bread with peanut butter (aka the Fluffernutter) and as the main ingredient in many classic recipes for fudge, pies, cakes, and that other New England classic…whoopie pies.   

I am proud to have just moved to Somerville, MA – the birthplace of Marshmallow Fluff.  It was here in 1917 that Archibald Query began making it in his kitchen and selling it door to door, until rationing during WWI forced him to stop.  When the war ended, he sold his formula to candy makers H. Allen Durkee and Fred Mower of Lynn, MA for five hundred dollars, and they took it from there.  Fluff is as simple as it gets with just 4 ingredients (corn syrup, sugar syrup, dried egg whites, and vanillin) and no artificial preservatives, stabilizers or emulsifiers.  It is gluten-free.  It is kosher.  It is a great substitute for whipped cream in your hot chocolate when you realize you have no whipped cream.

Today you can get your Fluff in a tub or in a jar, and the more adventurous palate can also try it in strawberry or raspberry flavors.  Somerville has a lot of Fluff pride, and hosts the annual Fluff Fest (aka What the Fluff?) each September to pay tribute.  You can be sure I will attend this year.

I used Marshmallow Fluff this weekend as a last-minute addition to the buttercream frosting I was making for my Memorial Day cake.  I didn’t have enough powdered sugar, and I knew what was in the bowl wouldn’t be enough.  Fluff to the rescue. 

The Fluff and the red, white, and blue jimmies did a great job filling in the crack I made in the cake when I picked it up before it was ready because I needed the cooling rack for pizza.  Whoops!


Bundt Pans

Bundt pans are the 1950 Nordic Ware creation designed to pay homage to traditional ceramic molded baking pans of Germany, Austria, and Hungary.  The traditional style is a fluted ring shape and works well for pound cakes and coffee cakes.  In 1966 a Bundt pan was used in a Pillsbury baking contest, and the cake (the famous “Tunnel of Fudge” cake) won 2nd place.  After this, the pan became the most popular baking pan in America, and in the 1970’s Pillsbury put out a line of baking mixes exclusively for Bundts.  Other manufacturers began to create their own fluted tube pans, and Nordic Ware (still the best) began issuing new and even more elaborate molds. 

Bundts have become such an iconic cake in American culinary and cultural history, that some of the original pans are now in the Smithsonian, and you can celebrate National Bundt Pan day on November 15th.  Probably with a Bundt cake.

I officially have an obsession with Bundt pans.

I can trace the evolution of how this came to be, if I really think about it.

A few years ago I made a jokey New Year’s resolution to make 500 cupcakes before the year was over.  I didn’t quite make it…nor did I make it the following year, when I tried it again “for real this time”…but somehow during that foolishness I started to become known for cupcakes, and began to enjoy the art of flour and eggs and mixing and frosting and (mostly) feeding other people.  That led to an interest in cake decorating (uhm, those roses are hard)…which led to signing up for a 4 week baking series class at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts…which led to new worlds of breads and pies and tarts and pate a choux.  Wonderful worlds.

The ironic thing is, I don’t really like cake, and I am utterly unmoved by chocolate.  Women that love chocolate embarrass me a little.  What I do love is bread.  Quiche.  Savory Gruyère and scallion pate a choux.  Cheddar jalapeno cornbread.  And, it turns out, cakes in flavors of lemon and vanilla and coconut with fruits and nuts.  Thin glaze encouraged.  And if I can have these cakes, and ALSO have them look lovely in fluted shapes…or cathedrals, chrysanthemums, evergreens, or kugelhopfs with no overly-sweet frosting…well that’s a cake I can be friends with.

Also, the colorful vintage Bundt pans I have been stockpiling from thrift stores, yard sales, and a certain internet auction site are going to look great on my new kitchen wall when I finally take the time to hang them up….and I will…when I am done buying them. 

I had some overripe bananas recently and decided to make Banana Bundt Cake from Dorie Greenspan’s marvelous “Baking: From My Home to Yours”.  Traditional Nordic Ware 12 cup fluted Bundt pan.  No nuts.  No fuss.

My plants supported this cake.