The Evanston Community Kitchen

A food memoir about women in the kitchen and history in the making


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“We can interpret, but we can never know.” – John Marquand

It is not everyday that one gets an email from a Pulitzer Prize winner — nor is it everyday one gets an email from a world renowned Washington Post book critic. Well, I got an email from both yesterday. Jonathan Yardley emailed me.

I just about fell out as they say in the South. Jonathan Yardley and I have never crossed paths, nor do I expect them to again, but for a small slice of time we were holding cyber literary hands. I have to admit I have a bit of a literary crush on him.

Jonathon Yardley

Jonathan Yardley

Jonathon Yardley at Pirate Alley Faulkner Society introducing  Ernest J. Gaines for the 2012 ALIHOT Award for Literature

Jonathan Yardley at Pirate Alley Faulkner Society introducing
Ernest J. Gaines for the 2012 ALIHOT Award for Literature

Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, class of 1969. Jonathon Yardley is in the first row, second in from the right.

Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, class of 1969. Jonathan Yardley is in the first row, second in from the right.

I feel it is safe to say that my mom had a crush on Jonathan’s dad, Mr. William Yardley while she attended Tuxedo Park School.  Mr. Yardley was indeed a handsome chap and the headmaster at Tuxedo Park School from 1943 – 1949.

Photo Courtesy of Tuxedo Park School archives

Photo Courtesy of Tuxedo Park School

My mom always talked about Mr. Yardley when I was younger. Now I wish desperately to call my mom up right this minute and tell her I received an email from Mr. Yardley’s son. Then I’d ask her to tell me every single detail of her time at Tuxedo Park School. When she attended, it was called Tuxedo Park Country Day School and the school was in the Henry W. Poor House. My mom was a boarder from Manhattan. I never quite understood how she could have attended school in a mansion that was called the “Poor House.” Now it all fits precisely together, like the Nancy Drew jigsaw piece it is.

Photo Source: http://www.townandcountrymag.com/society/photos-of-tuxedo-park-new-york#slide-1

Photo Source: Town & Country. Grounds of Former Tuxedo Park School, Henry W. Poor House

This is an excellent article in Town & Country about the origin of the tuxedo jacket. It also includes beautiful photographs of some of the community members of Tuxedo Park, NY.

The alumni relations director at Tuxedo Park School was so very kind to help me in my quest to learn more about my mother’s time there. Ms. Fiona Duffy not only scanned copies of my mother’s records and emailed them to me — she also made copies of letters my grandmother (“Juney”) had written to Mr. Yardley and snail mailed them to me. It was like Christmas when the white envelope with the evergreen tree in the right corner arrived in the mail Saturday.

Henry W. Poor House, also referred to as the Tilford House

Tuxedo Park School — Henry W. Poor House, also referred to as the Tilford House  — Photo Courtesy of Tuxedo Park School

Photo courtesy of Tuxedo Park Historical Society Children playing on the grounds of the Tilford House (also known as the Henry W. Poor House)

Photo courtesy of Tuxedo Park School
Children playing on the grounds of the Tilford House (also known as the Henry W. Poor House)

I learned that my mom had the chicken pox in 1944 and the measles in April of 1947. I learned my mother’s childhood address in Manhattan. I read a letter my grandmother wrote Mr. Yardley on Community Kitchen stationery. An excerpt says, “I still want to send you a box but since school closed was afraid you might be away from home — so when I hear from you if you would tell me when you’d be about 4 or 5 days from time I would receive your letter — I’d love to send you some of our goodies.  I never can thank you enough for what you did for Betty Anne — you put her two feet firmly on the ground.”

I also learned a lot about my mom as a fifth grade student. She was mature for her age, but was at first “a nervous little girl.” She excelled in music and her French teacher wrote on her January progress report, “Betty Anne continues to attack obstacles with a dogged determination which one cannot help admiring. She wrote a very good examination paper, of which she may well be proud of.”  Betty Anne certainly did have dogged determination. And then some.

How I do miss my mother.  Even after receiving an email from a Pulitzer Prize winner and reading the academic files from her fifth grade in school — getting to know her as a little girl — it just was not enough. More than anything in the world, I just want her back. I want to yawn as she tells me for the fifteenth time about the time she ran away from Tuxedo Park School, convincing several other girls to come with her.  I imagine her gazing out on the terraced lawns, planning her escape. She was a feisty redhead and exhausted Mr. Yardley’s patience at times, but he adored this little red head. She adored him.

Below is the email I sent to Mr. Yardley’s son, Jonathon Yardley.

Dear Mr. Yardley:

Hello. My name is Megan Oteri. I am the daughter of Elizabeth Anne Welch Miller; she attended Tuxedo Park School in 1946-1947.  

I have been in contact with Fiona Duffy and she unearthed my mother’s TPS school records. What a treasure. There were letters your father wrote my grandmother and letters he wrote on behalf of my mother to her school in Evanston, Illinois.

There is also a letter my mother wrote him on cat stationary from her summer camp. My mom was very fond of your dad. Fiona sent me a copy of Vera Brigham’s book on Tuxedo Park School.  I would like to talk to you specifically about 1946-1947 and your father. 

I believe the story you told Vera Brigham is about my mother (see below). My mother told me she ran away from Tuxedo Park. The story about the pistol seems familiar too. It is so interesting to hear the name Mr. Yardley and see it in print (in the letters) because my mom spoke of him so often.

“Day students left at 4 P.M., but having a boarding department put a great responsibility on Bill Yardley. Nothing worried him more than the prospect of harm coming to a border. So when several girls decided to run away one evening his consternation was intense. Soon all but one returned and, finally at about 11:30 that night this last lost sheep knocked timidly at the Crawford Blagden’s door in the Park. Bill rushed over to bring her back, but not to castigate her, as he was always gentle and kind.”

I am writing a historic food memoir about my great-grandmother’s and grandmother’s famous food delivery service and bakery, The Community Kitchen,  located in Evanston, Illinois. The book spans how long the Community Kitchen was opened — 1918 to 1951. The Community Kitchen brought national attention to the city of Evanston in the 1920’s because it successfully addressed the Servant Crisis and also was the model for the nation as a cooperative centralized kitchen.

I agree with the John Marquand quote you wrote in your 2005 review of Samuel Freedman’s book, My Search for My Mother’s Life: “We can interpret, but we can never know.” 

My mother passed away on Christmas Eve 2012, and like Marquand, I am searching for who my mother was. She had an entire different life before she met my father, which set her life on a completely different trajectory. 

I am searching for the interpretation of who my great-grandmother was before she was a woman who was one of the first business women in the country. I am searching for who my grandmother was as a freshman who flunked out of Smith College. I am searching for who my mother was as a nervous little girl sent to boarding school in Tuxedo Park in 1946, two years after World War II.

I have been hunting through archives, through ancestors, through story, through memory. Nothing can replace a mother. Even though I had a letter my mother wrote as a fifth grade student from TPS, written in her pre-teen cursive script on kitty cat kid stationary, it just was not enough. I wanted to know exactly what she was feeling right then and there. I want to know what she felt when she looked out at the terraced gardens at the Henry W. Poor House. I want to know the exact conversation she and your father had when she finally found the courage to return back to Crawford Blagden’s door the night she ran away. But I can’t know that, I can only interpret…


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Memories of Grandma and Beet Soup for Hot Summer Days

I recently returned from a very fruitful research trip to Evanston, Illinois.  I am working on a post about that trip (stay tuned next week). I was very fortunate to obtain travel funds from the North Carolina Arts Council, Pitt County Arts Council at Emerge and Wilson County Arts Council for a Regional Artist Project Grant.  Thank goodness for Arts Councils. They rock.

With that said, I am busy writing writing writing.  I am eating, thinking, drinking, sleeping and even dreaming about The Community Kitchen.  My husband is even dreaming about the Community Kitchen since I have been talking about it non-stop since returning from Evanston Saturday. When I was in Evanston, I was lucky to trace my great-grandmother’s, grandmother’s, and mother’s footsteps by visiting the original location of The Community Kitchen at 600 Davis Street, which is now home of the Mozart Cafe. To think each of them stepped foot in here, along with so many other historical women.

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The current Mozart Cafe, which at one time was the location of the store front area of the Community Kitchen.  My great-grandmother and grandmother once ran this famous Evanston bakery (located at 600 Davis Street from 1925-1951).

With that said, My cousin (my mother’s cousin, my grandmother’s niece) kindly fed me nourishing meals while I stayed with her in Evanston. One of the meals she made me was Beet Soup.  It was perfect for lunch on a busy day of researching. Mary Liz used Julia Child’s recipe for beet soup.

The bright red color contrasted with the white bowl, creating a balanced pattern with a dollop of sour cream, garnished with fresh parsley. A white, red, white color collage of beauty. Delicious and delightful.  Mary Liz and I sat and chatted while I took sips of this nourishing, healthy soup. She took good care of me while I stayed with her. She told me anecdotal stories about my mom, whom I am desperately longing for. My mother recently passed away. She passed away on her favorite night of the year, Christmas Eve. Her funeral/inurnment was July 1 at Arlington National Cemetery where she is inurned with my father, who was a Korean War veteran.

My mother often spoke of The Community Kitchen throughout my life and most likely took me by 600 Davis Street as a child when we visited my grandmother at the Mather Home in Evanston.

Interestingly enough, I walked into the lobby of the Mather Home last week and a woman said she remembered me when I inquired about my grandmother. She has been a long-time employee of the Mather Home. My grandmother lived there before it became the great big towers it is today. I was stunned. I asked her if she remembered my grandmother and she said, “Oh yes, of course. She was a really neat lady.” Then she said, “There is something about her that I am not remembering — what it is?” and she uncoiled her memory loops and traveled back to the late 70’s and early 80’s.  I mentioned, “She ran the Community Kitchen on Davis Street from 1947 to 1951 and was an executive chef in New York City.”  Then I took out a photo of my grandmother from my overstuffed backpack bursting with newspaper articles and photocopies of research. Her eyes widened and she said, “Oh yes. I remember exactly. She loved to sit in the dining room and always took her meals facing the garden.” When she looked at the photo of my grandmother, she commented on Juney’s hair style saying, “How can you forget that hair? That hair style is not an easy one to do.” I felt such a burst of joy.

My grandma Juney

My grandma Juney

Then I cried. Then I smiled. Then we hugged.  What a neat lady and what a treat to be given that gift of memory.  Food equals story.

Here is a recipe from Bon Appetit for Five-Spice Beet Soup.


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The Bones Know (how to cook, that is)

As I was making chocolate chip cookies with my son today, I thought of something so profound and deep — it barely surfaced.

At that precise moment when my three and three-quarters year old poured the baking powder into the blue bowl, I should have honored and listened to the Montessori urge to go write it down right then and there.

But I didn’t. I kept mixing, baking, and preparing our cookie dough.

I had spent the hour prior to this trying to engage my sick, moody, snow day cabin fevered son to bake with me. He was mad at me because I would not let him watch Phinius and Ferb — his current favorite cartoon (I really like it too). We (or rather I specifically) are trying to limit his TV watching to two hours a day. And two hours a day seems like too much as it is.

Back to my profound deep thought — it was right there ready to be  measured out in perfectly proportioned words.

1 cup of prose

1/2 tsp of poetic phrasing

1/4 tsp truthful juice

1/8 tsp of heart based memory

1 stick of beauty

The words were perfect — so perfect I thought I’d remember them exactly for sure.

But I didn’t; I don’t.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” 
― Ernest Hemingway

I know what my one truth was — geez it was the first line of this darn book my ancestors have placed on my insecure shoulders and it was perfect.

Here’s the understudy’s attempt (the lead actress took another gig apparently): my grandmother taught me to cook when I was four. I don’t remember, but my bones do. When I cook with my son, I remember.

My mom, grandma (Juney) and me

My mom, grandma (Juney) and me (and Shaggy and Penny. Shaggy is the the Pekingese and Penny is the German Shepard)

***

I don’t think there is a perfect way to write this story. It just has to be written. I have got lost in the research. There is just so much to say. I want to ask my grandmother so many questions that a thirty-nine year old would ask — an almost forty year old would ask. The thing is — I know one thing for sure, well actually two, maybe three:

1. My grandma loved me and I loved her.

2. You don’t get to ask your loved ones all the questions you will have.

3. You are left to wonder. And sometimes wonder is better than knowing.

I could hem and haw and stop right there. But the story wants to be told, so I will tell it best I can. I am telling it right now.

That is enough for today. The bones know. I am lucky to have had her in my life for the ten years I did. This love is baked into me. I may not remember our conversations, but I remember her perfume. I can still smell it. I remember her pajamas; I can feel them — she always wore silk. I remember her glasses; I touch them — they were pointy. I remember her legs; they were muscular — even for an old lady. She never crossed them at the knee, only the ankles — lady like.

Juney, you are my Valentine. I love you.

A valentine from my grandma

A valentine from my grandma

Inside of Grandma's card

Inside of Grandma’s card

Recipe for Chocolate Chip cookies from Community Kitchen recipe notebook

From Juney's (Grandma's) recipe notebook from the Community Kitchen

From Juney’s (Grandma’s) recipe notebook from the Community Kitchen


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Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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This is a photo of Jacquelyn Markham and me at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association Conference in Atlanta in front of her poster presentation on Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Dr. Markham is writing a book about Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Gilman spoke to the Evanston Woman’s Club in 1918. She was a catalyst in the creation of the Evanston Community Kitchen. Can you imagine being a woman listening to Charlotte in 1918?

My great-grandmother, Elizabeth Odell was there. What I wouldn’t give to time travel and slip into Gilman’s lecture at the Evanston Woman’s Club and sit next to my great-grandmother.


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Charlotte Perkins Gilman

image

This is a photo of Jacquelyn Markham and me at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association Conference in Atlanta in front of her poster presentation on Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Dr. Markham is writing a book about Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Gilman spoke to the Evanston Woman’s Club in 1918. She was a catalyst in the creation of the Evanston Community Kitchen. Can you imagine being a woman listening to Charlotte in 1918?

My great-grandmother, Elizabeth Odell was there. What I wouldn’t give to time travel and slip into Gilman’s lecture at the Evanston Woman’s Club and sit next to my great-grandmother.


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She’s Got to Feel It

I have been keeping something from you. I can’t cook. Well, I can but it’s a struggle and there’s no winging it. I have to have a recipe. Well I can cook Chicken a la Meg which I made up in college. It’s basically chicken, veggies and Ken’s Peppercorn Ranch dressing.

But cooking is such a struggle for me. I am blessed with a wonderful husband who is a natural. He can look at frozen meat, flour, and the pantry and whip something up. I look at the pantry and I run.

I am a recipe cook.

I was embarrassed to tell you I can’t cook or worse I don’t really enjoy it (the sucking at it part). But tonight I had an epiphany while making this recipe I found in Martha Stewart magazine.

Epiphany: I have got to cook my grandmother’s recipes in order to write this book. Full disclosure — I’ve been struggling with finding the right way to tell my grandmother’s, great-grandmother’s, and the Community Kitchen’s story. As Anne Lamott says — there have to be a lot of “shitty first drafts.”

So back to my epiphany…of course I will never find the voice for this book unless I overcome my fear of cooking, which really is my fear of failure.

It was as if Juney said it herself!

So I am going to get my fear of failure butt into the kitchen and cook… no matter how uncomfortable I get. The story is in the discomfort. The story is in the tension. I was reminded of that by a wise woman today. Thank you K.C.

And ya know what…I enjoyed making this meal.

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I have to get all my ingredients out first or I panic. And it ain’t pretty when I panic.

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Fresh carrot from my garden. I ended up using store bought carrots for this recipe because the carrots I did pull were premature. So I did something clever with them. Is it Pinteresting enough?

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I love how carrots smell when they are pulled from the earth.

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I replaced fresh basil for parsley. Basil is another beautiful plant. I have a surplus and I keep putting off the harvest. I love going outside to get it.

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Basil store

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Pumpkin shadow — that’s me with a fistful of fresh basil

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I love this color — reminds me of Fall.

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Basil bounty

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Orange grace. Love the color.

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Onions, curry, white beans (I used white beans because I did not have lentils) and rice simmering which went in the meatloaf. I call it meatloaf because I added hamburger meat.

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Never without a map… I always need a recipe. Did you know my grandma (Juney) was a recipe writer for Schrafft’s and General Foods?

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Juney’s great-grandson. Also my helper. See the excessive three year old use of dish soap? Well, I got frazzled (happens often when I cook) and I sliced my finger with knife.

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Ready for the oven.

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My favorite part — dinner in
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“Life is a verb, not a noun” – Charlotte Perkins Gilman

memomuse:

“Life is a verb, not a noun.” — Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, spoke at the Evanston’s Woman’s Club on “The Waste of Women’s Labor” in 1918. She inspired the women to travel East and visit already established cooperative kitchens. My great-grandmother, Helen Dawes, and Nellie Kingsley traveled East and came back very inspired. That is when they established the Evanston Community Kitchen.
Read this post for the history of The Evanston Community Kitchen (http://evanstoncommunitykitchen.wordpress.com/about/).

Post coming today or tomorrow titled, “Dreams and Motion: Ancestors Who Whisper to Us When We Sleep.” That is a working title. May be too over the top, but something to that effect.

I had a dream about my mother on Tuesday night (read this post for details: http://memomuse.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/i-want-to-call-my-mom-what-is-the-area-code-in-heaven/

And last night I dreamt of my grandmother. I felt her presence and saw her. It was great. More to come on that.

Originally posted on Gram's Typewriter:

This is the first in what I hope will be a series of posts on my blog. I have found that there are many great quotations out there. Some are over-used, some are barely used, some are misused. But they all tell a bit of a story, and I thought I’d start to share some of my favorites.

Today’s quote comes from Charlotte Perkins Gilman (July 3, 1860 – August 17, 1935) – a prominent sociologist, writer, feminist, and lecturer for social reform.  Prior to coming across this quote, I had never heard of her. But this quote combines two of my favorite things (writing and living) and speaks volumes to me about something that I aspire to on an ongoing basis.

I find it all too easy to review life and say “Poor me. I’m over-tired, I’m … (insert whatever it is bothering me that particular week). My…

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1926: Juney goes to the Big Apple to Work for Alice Foote MacDougall — Takes a Big Bite

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My grandmother left Evanston, Illinois in 1926 for the Big Apple.  She left her job as the assistant manager of the Community Kitchen to go to New York City.  Juney (my grandmother) was single. Why not? She was an independent woman and had secured a great job working as Alice Foote MacDougall‘s manager.

I am sure Granny Dell was not very happy about her youngest daughter going to New York by herself. But Juney did.

Granny Dell must have appreciated it a little. I wish I could ask her. “Granny Dell, how did you feel when Juney left Evanston for the Big Apple?”

For more historic images of New York City, see this article in The Atlantic.

Perhaps Granny Dell would answer something like this, “Well, I went to Spokane in 1880 all by myself from Ohio. I didn’t know anyone in Spokane and I had secured a great job as a teacher, so I understood. Deep down I understood. Freedom is a beautiful thing.”

My grandmother wrote down quotes on little scraps of paper and cut out newspaper cartoons and clippings that were inspiring. I have some of them.

One of my favorites that Juney wrote down is: “Wear your learning like your watch, in a private pocket; and do not pull it out, and strike it, merely to show that you have one.” -
Lord Chesterfield

This certainly was true for Juney. She never bragged about her experiences or career. I sure wish she would have when I was a child. But she sure did brag about her grandchildren and her daughter.  Mary Liz, Juney’s niece did not even know that Juney had been to Europe twice. My mom told me last year about her two trips to Europe. Juney went to Cuba in the 30’s too.

My grandmother, Elizabeth Odell Welch -- "Juney"

My grandmother, Elizabeth Odell Welch — “Juney”

Juney was so elegant.  I can’t begin to tell you how beautiful she was.  Well, actually I can and I will — in the book, which I have to get back to writing.

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