The Evanston Community Kitchen

A food memoir about women in the kitchen and history in the making. Food = Story.


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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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Juney, Mom, and Me (and Shaggy — the Pekingese)

This is a photo of Juney, my grandma holding me. My mom, BA as in Betty Anne is sitting next to her.  Our Pekingese, Shaggy is on my mom’s lap. Shaggy bit me under my nose when I was a young child.  He had a sensitive spot and if touched, he would bite. Otherwise, he was about as Zen as they come. My sister and I would put him on top of our collie (like cowboy in saddle) to provoke him into movement. Shaggy was like a monk — quiet and spiritual.  He was a kind dog.

I wish I could go back in time and ask my grandma all the questions I have for her now.

What was it like to go to Cuba in the 1930s?

Tell me about Speakeasies?  Did you go without telling Granny Dell?

I can hear her answer that one … “Of course, I didn’t tell Mother! I wouldn’t dream of it. Harriet and I used to sneak out. We were very clever like that  Mother was a a member of the WCTM (Women’s Christian Temperance Union).”

I have my little notepad and write her messages to keep a diary and include it ALL. Grandma was a humble woman and very private. She was equally fascinating and is certainly the main character of this memoir.

Grandma and me

Grandma and me

Juney’s story of her past as a gourmet executive chef and business woman didn’t matter at this moment in the photo. What mattered most to her was she was a grandma — she was Grandma. That was the role she loved the most.

The German Shepard there is Penny. Mom got rid of her because she bit us.  There was no reason to it.  Shaggy got the pass because of the Pekingese temperament.  Every Pekingese has a sensitive spot. Mom got rid of Penny when she snapped at us when we were kids. I wish I could call Mom up right now and muse a bit about Penny and get the exact reason.  My mind wanders and wants to know, “Did Penny bite us?  Or did she just snap at us?”

Funny, what we can get stuck on.  I have a deep desire to know every exact truth about my grandma, mom, and great-grandmother, but I can’t really. We are private creatures as humans and most people (besides journalers and writers, don’t share those private moments and thoughts in our heads).

But I am on a quest to find the truth of my Elizabeths — Elizabeth Odell (great-grandmother — Granny “Dell”), Elizabeth Odell Welch (grandma —  “Juney”), Elizabeth Welch Miller (Mom — “BA,” “Betty Anne,”  “Betty”) and me (Megan Elizabeth Miller Oteri, memomuse).


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Ripping Down the Yellow Wallpaper: Charlotte Perkins Gilman Comes to Evanston in 1919

Charlotte Perkins Gilman spoke to the Woman’s Club of Evanston in 1919. Gilman was one of the first feminists. She was the author of The Yellow Wallpaper, which is a story about postpartum depression that turns into postpartum psychosis. It was first published in 1892 in The New England Magazine.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman quote

Charlotte Perkins Gilman quote

The subject of Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s talk at the Woman’s Club of Evanston was “The Waste of Women’s Labor.” It caused quite a stir in the community of Evanston. I wonder what women in the meeting had read The Yellow Wallpaper and how did they feel about it. What prominent Evanston club women had experienced or were experiencing postpartum depression? Were any of the them prescribed a “rest cure” like Gilman and the character in The Yellow Wallpaper?  Was it a subject women could openly talk about? Granny Dell (my great-grandmother) had a difficult birth with my grandmother. It was a breached birth. Juney (my grandmother) was also born 14 months after her older sister, Harriet (Aunt Harriet). Granny Dell was quoted often in national publications about how the Community Kitchen was created to ease women’s responsibilities at home and provide comfort and relief.
This quote from the Kokomo Daily Tribune (1893-1929 from Kokomo, Indiana) illustrates her concern for women in the home with young children: “Evanston has been suffering from a shortage of domestic help. Everywhere women, especially young mothers, are finding it impossible to do all that is required from them, to take care of the babies and the house, and have any leisure for the homecoming of the husband. An increasing number of families are frequenting the hotels and cafes, sacrificing family life and interests to necessity. We felt that by delivering dinners to such homes a service would rendered to those families alone, but to society as well by preventing the disintegration of the family table.”

Postpartum depression is still taboo somewhat today, almost 100 years later. This is a great online exhibition on the U.S. Library of Medicine website, titled The Literature of Prescription – Charlotte Perkins Gilman and “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

Charlotte Perkins Gilman  Photo Source:  Courtesy Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute,  Harvard University

Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Photo Source: Courtesy Schlesinger Library,
Radcliffe Institute,
Harvard University

Gilman was a catalyst for inspiring the Community Kitchen. The three chairwomen of the War Relief Committee and co-founders of the Community Kitchen (Mrs. James Odell – my great-grandmother, Mrs. Homer Kingsley, and Mrs. Rufas Dawes — and I refer to them by their married names because that is how they were referred to publicly by society, but you should know them as Elizabeth Odell, Nellie Kingsley, and Helen Dawes) traveled to the East Coast after Gilman’s talk to visit successful established cooperative kitchens. The women were inspired, encouraged, and excited after hearing Charlotte talk. Who wouldn’t be?

Life is a verb.

Life is a verb.

This is going to be a juicy chapter to write for the Community Kitchen book!  I love researching Charlotte Perkins Gilman. What a woman! I had postpartum depression after the birth of my son. I didn’t experience postpartum psychosis which the character in “The Yellow Wallpaper” suffered from, but I did have intrusive thoughts for the first three months after his birth. I remember going to Virginia Beach on vacation when my son was three months old. I couldn’t stand anywhere near the balcony for fear of him falling. And we had a nice balcony view of the beach, but I stayed far from the balcony. I treated myself to a cranial sacral massage at the Edgar Cayce Center.  I met a kind woman there named Annie, who is a very close friend now. Annie was my masseuse and did the cranial sacral massage. Our conversation during my treatment revolved around motherhood and our own mothers. At the time, I was dealing with the anticipation of losing my mother (at the time my mother was in a nursing home and very ill) and it weighed heavy on my heart. Annie’s mother died in childbirth giving birth to her.

“The glory of our race is its power of communication. We share our strength and knowledge and rise as one; we share our failure and weakness and help each other bear it.”
Charlotte Perkins Gilman,
“Our Place Today,” 1891

Women hold their hearts in the womb, whether is be physically present or not. Women give birth, even when they do not.

The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Society is calling for papers for:

The Sixth International Charlotte Perkins Gilman Conference

Gilman and the Archive

June 12-14, 2015

Schlesinger Library, Cambridge, MA

You can find more information on the Charlotte Perkins Gilman Society here. I am hoping to find a copy of her speech, The Waste of Women’s Labor for my book. Better yet, I’d love to find her journals and specific reflections from her visit to Evanston in 1919.

 This is an interesting slideshare on The Yellow Wallpaper. I found the slide about early hysteria treatment quite shocking, as well as intriguing.
hysteria treatment

hysteria treatment

 


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Frango Mints, Marshall Fields, and Thanksgiving Memories

I wish I could get some Frango Mints from Marshall Fields for dessert. Grandma always came for holiday visits with Frango Mints packed in her suitcase.

My mom, grandma (Juney) and me

My mom, grandma (Juney) and me

 

Juney (Grandma) used to work at Marshall Fields (after the Community Kitchen closed in 1951). She ran the Health Food Counter.  Mom took us to visit Marshall Fields every year.  I remember the magic of the Christmas windows and walking down State Street and Michigan Avenue bundled up — Mom in her fur coat.

Marshall Fields clock

Marshall Fields clock

The day after Thanksgiving, we would take the train into Chicago with my mom and grandma and go window shopping, stopping to marvel at the beautiful window displays at Marshall Fields. Marshall Fields always had the best window displays. we then off course would go inside and look around Marshall Fields.  Window shopping and watching the beautiful displays with all their mechanical genius was great fun. I’d snuggle up to my mom and we’d marvel at the beauty of it all. Here is a great article, “Christmas Holiday Windows on State Street: A Chicago Tradition.” It has wonderful photos of Chicago holiday windows.

Marshall Fields

Marshall Fields


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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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