Kitchen edition

Awesome vintage recipes, cookbooks, and kitchenware.

The Owl Diner in Lowell, Mass

I am in love.

Yesterday morning I was supposed to meet someone for breakfast and had to pick a venue – I had never been to this place, but Tim recommended it. And now I am furious that he’s been holding out on me for the last 10 years and never brought me to this amazing diner!

The Four Sisters – Owl Diner is everything a diner should be (except open 24/7). It’s a diner car, with an addition built on, and most of the interior has wonderful classic décor… great tile work, beautiful mid-century table and countertops, and, of course, plenty of chrome.

And the food is delicious. Check out the omelets, all named for streets in Lowell. I had the Pine Street (broccoli, mushrooms, and cheese) and loved it. The home fries have the perfect texture and plenty of flavor, too. Add in attentive, down-to-earth staff and you’ve got yourself a win.

I wish I had taken pictures, but I was there for a business meeting and didn’t want to seem rude. Now I have an excuse to go back… I can’t wait to take Becky and Andrew here.


Collectors Club guest post

Shameless plug: Rachael over at LOTS has a cool series of guest blog posts going from people who collect things. Yesterday she shared my post on collecting vintage cookbooks. Other posts have highlighted tins, vintage postcards, and brooches – I’m eager to see who and what collection she features next!

I’m also partial to her blog because she’s a fellow compact collector. 🙂 She’s got some gorgeous pieces from Evans, Volupte, Coty, Zell, and other big names. Definitely worth looking at.

Some of my vintage cookbooks.

Boiled dinner recipe

St. Patrick’s Day preview

On St. Patrick’s Day people always ask me, “Where’s your green?” They typically follow with a statement like, “With that red hair, you must be Irish.” (We’ve already established that I am not a natural redhead. Judas Iscariot was a redhead. No one assumes he was Irish.)

I am not Irish. I don’t drink beer. And I HATE boiled dinner.

Boiled dinner isn’t even strictly Irish.

Boiled dinner recipe

Betty Crocker says it's New England Boiled Dinner. Trust Betty.

In my 1950 first edition Betty Crocker picture cookbook, boiled dinner is clearly identified as a New England phenomenon. NEW ENGLAND boiled dinner. Not Irish. (Despite my lifelong New England residency, I STILL hate boiled dinner. Boiling cooks all the flavor out of things and kills the texture, as far as I’m concerned. I know many people beg to differ. That’s your right. Let’s just agree to disagree on this.)

When my husband was in college, he lived with two Irishmen: Michael and Kevin, both from Dundalk. When Tim tried to surprise them with a traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal, their response? “What the hell are you doing? We don’t eat that–we eat boiled dinner like once a year.”  Yes, St. Patrick’s Day is a bank holiday in Ireland and the source of much merrymaking. But corned beef and cabbage do not appear to be a crucial ingredient in the festivities. Tim did not encounter boiled dinner at all during his trip to Ireland. Does this make us experts? No. Just skeptical.

So we’re celebrating in our own way, with smoked corned beef and roasted vegetables. While Tim will probably still boil up some corned beef and cabbage for our guests who prefer it that way, I’m thrilled at the prosepct of smoked corned beef. Delicious.

I’m also excited about our friend Lisa’s Irish Car Bomb cupcakes, based off a recipe she found on Pinterest. I’m definitely a fan of Irish whiskey.

While our celebration may not be the traditional one, we’ll still have good food and great company – the most important parts of any special occasion. Have a happy St. Patrick’s Day. However you choose to celebrate.

vintage cocktail recipes

The lost art of mixing a Manhattan

Several times this month, I’ve ordered a dry Manhattan and had the bartender give me a blank look and ask what goes in it. Sigh. “How dry do you want it?” Acceptable question. “How do I make it?” No.

I realize that variations on drinks exist: lists two different dry Manhattan recipes (one of which includes an olive. Olives do not belong in my Manhattans). Esquire swears that bourbon Manhattans are unacceptable, rye is the only way to go. The Intoxicologist (brilliant name) has a recipe for a sweet Manhattan, which I’ve never seen anywhere else. I’m intrigued by the bar spoon of syrup from the maraschino cherry jar.

vintage cocktail recipes

The Martini, Manhattan, and Old Fashioned.

When I ask for a dry Manhattan, I expect dry vermouth. ONLY dry vermouth. Even the vintage recipe above offers misguidance on that front. A Perfect Manhattan contains half sweet, half dry vermouth, according to the Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide. Either way, my Manhattan should have bitters and a cherry. I confess a preference for bourbon, usually Knob Creek. Do I expect bartenders to know my bourbon preference? No. Just the difference between classic, perfect, and dry.

Green with envy: Depression glass

Depression glass pitcher

Green depression glass pitcher used to hold wooden spoons.

Over the weekend, my amazing husband tore apart our kitchen and cleaned everything…including my favorite Depression glass pitcher. My fascination with Depression glass started when I was about 8 years old. One of my grandmothers had handed down some plain green glass dishes to my mother. We used them on the weekends for sandwiches. I loved the color and how the light came though them, not to mention being mature enough to be trusted with a REAL GLASS plate…not plastic like we used at my other grandmother’s house.

I didn’t learn what Depression glass was until much later, when the love for clear green glass ran deep in my blood. When I got my first apartment, my mother passed on the green glass plates I loved so much. I found this pitcher while antiquing one day and knew it belonged in my kitchen. That may have been three or four kitchens ago, but my love for pale green Depression glass has endured.

In our current kitchen, the pitcher sits by the stovetop–the perfect receptacle for wooden spoons and other implements of cooking construction.  (The spoon in the front actually belonged to my grandfather, I remember using it to make brownies together.) I love small touches like this as accents. We use empty clementine crates with retro labels to store snack foods–another detail that gives our kitchen a vintage feel.

The lost art of duck confit

My husband and I are food geeks. We love cooking, eating new foods, and exploring different flavor combinations. We love learning about food in the process. Like most quests, however, some adventures turn out better than others.

After perusing numerous magazines for dinner ideas, I decided to try this recipe for rice and duck with apricots. While I’ve never made duck before, I’ve eaten it numerous times and know it’s good. Obstacle #1: my grocery store doesn’t sell duck. Fortunately, the owner of our favorite local Chinese restaurant loves duck and recommended another place where we might find some. She was right. I found my duck and set it to thaw in the fridge. In the back of my mind, though, I knew I had missed a crucial step. My recipe called for duck confit legs. My duck’s packaging said nothing about confit.

Since I was at work, I turned to the internet. Multiple sites reported the same basic technique: season the duck with salt and herbs, refrigerate for several days, take it out, cover it in melted duck fat and toss it into a 225 degree oven for several hours. This supposedly draws the fat out of the duck and improves the flavor. Adding fat to remove fat seems counterintuitive. Obstacle #2: I don’t have several days or four cups of duck fat at my disposal. Four cups of duck fat? Who the hell has four cups of duck fat sitting around? I asked my work BFF, Maureen. Her response? “We have vats of it at the restaurant. Have your husband stop by on the way home from work and we’ll give him some.”

She’s part owner of a restaurant. Of course she has duck fat.   

But my husband nixed that suggestion, anticipating a work departure after 7 p.m. after an arrival before 7 a.m. The guy put in yet another 12-hour day. I’m not going to make him run errands on his way home. I decided to forgo the confit portion of the recipe.

“You’ll be sorry,” Maureen said. “There’s a reason they call duck fat liquid gold.”

Dammit. I decided to at least attempt confit when I got home. The more I read, the more I saw that failing to get fat out of my duck would render my final dish a grease-laden, inedible mess. Yuck. I collect vintage cookbooks–surely, someone would have a secret alternative means for making confit.  

Nope. While The Joy of Cooking, the American Woman’s Cook Book,  The Farm Journal Cook Book, and The Storecast Cook Book all had plenty of recipes for roast duck, none of them had any suggestions for confit. My cookbooks date from the 1950s, when America shifted to convenience food. Casseroles displaced confit. My books, however, all assumed a knowledge of duck anatomy that I lack. Duck thighs nestle deeper into the body than chicken thighs, posing a challenge for folks like me attempting removal.  I cut them off without maiming myself.

Once again, I turned to the internet and found a time-saving solution. Which still took an hour and a half, but yielded delicious results that worked perfectly in the rice with apricots and duck recipe that started this whole adventure.

For the working woman–even those pursuing a vintage lifestyle–duck confit is a weekend endeavor. Pre WWII, women probably put fat-smothered ducks in the oven while doing laundry, scrubbing floors, or preparing bread, setting it to rise on top of that nice warm oven.  Despite the time required, this tasty dish is well worth the effort. It’s inspired me to seek out more classics in danger of fading from kitchens across America.