Friday, January 27, 2012

gnocchi gnight!

I have moved up in the world. Not that you would know it, because I just deleted a beautiful post I was just about to offer you. Again.
In other news, I have advanced to wearing very nice blouses (which now inevitably smell of delicious food) whilst cooking tasty meals for two. And also wearing very vintage-looking apron given to me by my sweet sister Hyacinth, who finds me love of vintage housewifery amusing. (Fortunately her good taste helps me overlook the fact - thank you, dahling, for the Hollywood-red lipstick!)
This meal was phenomenal, though I must say that gnocchi-making is a long-preparation affair indeed, and rather labor-intensive. I encourage you to try it, though - it's delightful food, and can be frozen for future use. I plan to make it in huge batches in future. Hello, fifteen pounds of potatoes at a time!
I used this recipe (lemon-thyme sauce highly recommended!): Potato Gnocchi with Lemon-Thyme SauceAnd this recipe(s) offered some great insight and optional techniques: Italian dumplings with two sauces.
Here is me being fabulous making my lovely lemon-thyme-sauce gnocchi!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The elements of style: tops

I was going to give this post a more specific title, but now that I've done some research, I've realized that specifics will have to wait for the next post. There's so much to cover! It's all quite fascinating, as you will learn if you keep reading. And now I realize, too, that "tops" can sound misleading... "toppings" are different than "tops," even if you are talking about just clothing. To settle this dispute, this is a blog post about tops. Not toppings, such as hats. Tops, like blouses, sweaters, etc. Things to wear on your top half.
While I would love to make this an exhaustive list of what to wear and how to wear it, we'll save that for the post on accessories. Today's fun entails the art of blouses, and elements such as wraps, cardigans, and jackets.


I won't discuss all the styles for sleeves, necklines, or collars in this post, but I wanted to give you a smattering of different types of blouses worn with pencil skirts, circle skirts, and pants of all kinds. There are so many to choose from! I will say that sleeveless and capped-sleeve blouses were common, especially for young women. My opinion is that they were favored because they left lots of opportunity to mix and match jackets and sweaters, and because they made it easy to add or remove a layer when going out.
thrifty blouse 8805 Simplicity 3882 Blouses simplicity blouse 2305


Sweater-set (or twin set)

School girls commonly wore these with poodle (circle) skirts, in the 1950s and 1960s. Made popular by screen stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Grace Kelly (on and off the screen), this style of clothing usually looks knit (wool, lambswool, or cashmere), but can be made from synthetic fabric.
The set was very often a sleeveless top and bracelet- or full-length sleeved sweater, and usually high-necked, as shown. The collars could be simple or ornate - peter pan collars were common in the blouses, as were monograms and embroidery for the sweaters (although I doubt they were worn at the same time).



We'll talk about girdles later, but I have to point out that when you watch all those old movies where the girls' waists are completely slim and impossibly not-bulgy, this is an effect, not a naturally-occuring phenomenon. No matter how hard you try, without a girdle, you are going to bulge. Period, end of story. The point is, most real 1950s blouse bodices were made for a particular shape - made possible only by a girdle. They are fitted supremely, and in my opinion are lovely to look at when watching Mitzi Gaynor, Marilyn Monroe, or Rosemary Clooney movies.


I love jackets these days because they take the pressure off having the perfect figure for whatever I'm wearing. It helps that it's winter, but doesn't help that an outer coat is usually necessary on top of a jacket against the cold... but never mind my personal fashion problems. Jackets are wonderful. They provide (as interesting collars do) an opportunity for creativity with any outfit.
I've posted one of my outfits with a fitted jacket (and pencil skirt) to show how this can go - but mind you, this jacket is modern and rather a shoddy replica of the awesome things women wore sixty years ago. To help you find your own, I've included a few types and descriptions below.
from from


These short jackets change the silhouette, often making one's waist look as wide as one's hips. I like them, however, because they are usually short enough to emphasize the curvature of one's lower half and hint at the slimness of the waist above. 
I think these photographs give a good idea of how that works. Coco Chanel designed jackets like these that weren't fitted and were thus more practical for movement and popular with American women who couldn't quite get away with the haute couture look of the time.
from from


These jackets are wonderful for suits with pencil skirts (the modern woman's suit blazer started as this) and emphasize the hourglass shape even though they are outer clothing.
The antithesis of this kind of jacket might be the loathsome anoraks people wore in the 1980s to evidently hide everything worth looking at and make women look like they have shoulders the height of the Sears Tower. Ick. You can find a picture of one here, but be warned: they are ugly enough to melt your eyeballs. A pox on anyone who tries to bring them back into fashion!



This wonderful style shows off more of the blouse and waistline than the other two jacket types, and is the most creative of all, as you can see from the picture. Some were made to match the skirts or dresses they outfitted, and some could be worn with other pieces. These days, they very often hang loosely so it's difficult to wear them with long sleeves. When shopping vintage, keep your eyes peeled for these short-sleeved, super-cropped jackets as a wonderful accessory to otherwise-mismatched outfits.

Wraps, Shawls, Capes, and other draperies

This lovely pseudo-accessory offers plenty of room for creativity in one's outfit. I'm only just discovering them with my own wardrobe, but there are a lot of examples out there with which to swathe yourself. I've included just a few, with more of my own examples to come.
my from the 1950s-red scarf and gloves mccall scarves 1500 CN00007133
In the next post I'll discuss collars and necklines on blouses and gowns of all kinds. There's such a wide range, I couldn't include them in this post. Check back soon for the next installment of "The elements of style"!
Also, many thanks to Jessica of for providing the bulk of the pictures for this post!

Friday, January 6, 2012

A new thread

For those of us still en route to a home and lifestyle reminiscent of a prior century, there are many ways to thread old-fashioned ideals into everyday life. Some take the work away from the machines and put it back into our own hands, some require learning a new skill (or seven), and some are just practicing looking at the world differently.
From what I've seen of the people who really own the vintage lifestyle, they are the picture we want to see. They dress the part, they simplify their tools, and they spend their time and energy doing things technology could do faster and probably better - but less humanly. Life is about living, and I for one do not want to spend it staring into the screen of a smartphone.
Here I have compiled a list of behaviors - threads - of the life I choose to live this year.

Don't hang up there
Cell phones

They are for talking and texting, yes, but not at the expense of living in the moment and being with the people who are with you. The person doesn't have to be there - he or she chooses to be.
The next time you're stopped at a traffic light watching cars go by, count how many people are on their cell phones. Or if you're in a crowded street, take a look at the pedestrians and count how many are texting or talking on the phone, obviously not mentally present in their environment. This is not the way I want to live. 
This year, I choose not to make a text or call more important than the experience or person in my presence. Remember when telephones were only in your kitchen? Let's pretend that's where they were meant to be.

Domestic Sewing Machine Co.

There always seems to be a pile somewhere, inevitable as laundry and dishes. This year I choose to make sewing a priority; a) because it's rather fun, b) because I don't like looking at the pile of clothes I wish I could wear, and c) because it requires that I slow down and live in the moment, stitch by stitch. 
If you want to start sewing or mending your own clothes, here are some resources with tips and stitch types you can try as a beginner:
I also found a blog dedicated to sewing vintage at Lots of great ideas here!

Bernardin Home Canning Guide (2), 1962

I recently became aware of some serious health issues regarding store-bought canned tomatoes. I love using canned tomatoes in my cooking, so I am going to have to remedy this by canning my own. Time for some tomato plants in my garden! In any case, lots of delicious foods can be canned and I intend to experiment with them this year. 
If you want to start canning, here are some good resources for learning:

Bags and boxes
Shopping... &c.

Big travel plans this year have thwarted my spontaneous spending habit, so now frugal's the word! I love to shop, especially vintage. This spring it will mean a lot of window shopping and digging around for the rarity of inexpensive finds.
I also want to change my attitude towards shopping to something rather foreign - spending within my means. Whatever I buy, I have planned for. While credit itself has been around for more or less ever, credit cards are new and honestly of the devil. I refuse to be another of this country's horrendous statistics of people who spend money they don't have.
Also, it's time to get creative with gifts and household items! I've found a few websites that will allow me to maintain my zeal for change and excitement while keeping a respectful distance from my pocketbook:

Food Is Fun (remix), c1950

By the way, I hate it when I write a fabulous and sardonic section on how cooking will change my life this year, and then refresh the page without saving only to lose it all. Life hates me.
Anyway, moving on. 
So I have this theory about the impossibly-tiny people who lived in this country half a century ago. Actually, two theories. One is that they were malnourished because the food they ate was limited by - well, a lot of things. The other is that they ate just fine, it's just that we are now enormous human beings because we eat just as much hormone as we do nutrient anymore. So this year, I resolve to go back to basics. We're talking fresh fruits and vegetables instead of canned and processed ones (unless homemade, of course), whole grains (such as my newly-beloved quinoa) instead of the useless sifted grain-product known to the wise as "empty calories" but otherwise known as "white flour," and lean meats--and less of them.
I've already begun to adjust my pantry to more organic and non-hormone-imbibed animal products and I have one thing to say: people should not be drinking milk produced by cows on steroids. I have very good reasons for saying this, but they stray too far from my vintage theme to be discussed here. The point is, that lovely lady I discussed in The living doll? She did not serve her family food on drugs, and therefore I refuse to, as much as possible. Her downfall was most likely Crisco, which, I am convinced, was the beginning of America's food problems.
Ok, enough about drugs. I have some recipes to share that our kitchen-bound women of the 1950s can only wish they'd known about. Here are some I have either tried and love or will try this year:
Quinoa chocolate cake
Baked kale chips (I like them with garlic and salt)
Quinoa chili (double the quinoa to make it last longer)
Zucchini with quinoa stuffing (my favorite quinoa recipe to date)
Stuffed eggplant
Rosted shrimp and orzo
Sesame soba noodle and veggie salad


Okay, so work on the novel last year was short-lived. For something so long in coming, I'm disappointed that I didn't make more progress when I said I would. This year, I am determined. The fact that finishing it has been on my list of new year's goals for the last seven years is irrelevant. Also: more letters. Someday I might even write them in calligraphy. Journaling is also an important and satisfying re-addition to my life. In keeping with the vintage theme, I have a journal made from an old copy of Emily Dickinson's poems.

The Girl Scouts Rally

I always love the pictures of girl scouts from the '50s on hikes in the mountains. Exercise is not my favorite thing, but pictures like that inspire me and make me want to go do it. They did it without the help of spandex and breathable socks, so I have nothing to complain about. My only question is, when did they start selling cookies? And then how did they manage to keep their girlish figures after that?
Speaking of girlish figures, I also want to take more walks and enjoy the day because I'm convinced Americans drive too much. I blame the beautiful 1950s Cadillacs for making us want to drive everywhere instead of walk. Doubtless I would have a different opinion if I owned one myself, but in the meantime, this year is about diligence and discipline, and maybe even some tennis... but only because the outfits used to be fabulous.

Unknown Woman Reading =view

While I'd love to say I plan to read nothing but fashion history this year, I must be honest and admit my interests are more variable than that. I have some great Victorian history books (especially about the shift to home life) I'd like to read, and I may yet find my way to a Sears Roebuck catalogue. And perhaps I'll add a dash of Viktor Frankl and Dale Carnegie for good measure.

Pride and Prejudice

I love watching Jane Austen movies where you see these middle-class young women singing and playing the pianoforte at social gatherings. What's happened to the world? 
Anyway, obviously real life in this century is not like that, no matter how much we make believe. However, inasmuch as my ingenuity allows, I resolve to a) participate in more social gatherings, and b) start practicing the piano and singing more often to be prepared in case we fall back into the 19th century. Community choir, don't start without me!