Posts tagged ‘vintage’

February 21, 2014

Lessons from Mamaw Maggie: How to properly season and care for your cast iron pan

by Crystal Cook

Pan and Crisco

My Mamaw Maggie passed when I was only six months old. I didn’t get to create my own memories with her, but I felt as though I knew her as everyone I met had a fond memory of her and a story to share. One of the very few items I have of my Mamaw Maggie’s is her cast iron skillet. When I was younger I only really used it when I was feeling nostalgic, and would bake up some cornbread. When I was little my Mom always said cornbread, soup beans and buttermilk was her favorite meal. But as I got older, I began to discover the pan’s varied uses.

If you are not familiar with cast iron pans, they can seem intimidating. All that talk of properly seasoning it, how to wash it (or not wash) it, seems like too much work. But trust me, the benefits of the cast iron pan far out way any care concerns. When seasoned correctly, a cast iron skillet will work better than any non-stick pan in your cupboard. They heat evenly and beautifully, and when properly cared for, they will last a lifetime. In fact, Mamaw Maggie’s pan has lasted several lifetimes!

For Christmas, I received another vintage cast iron skillet from my boyfriend’s family. Since I need to season it, I thought that I would just share with you all the secrets I learned from my Mom – who just happened to learn from her mom- Mamaw Maggie!

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • If you have purchased a brand new pan, chances are it will contain a coating of wax. To remove the wax, you will want to thoroughly wash the inside of your skillet with warm soapy water to remove the coating, and rinse it extremely well. Please note that this will be the ONE and ONLY time that you will ever use soap on your pan. After you season it, you will only want to wash with hot water. Since my pan is vintage, and does not have a wax coating, I am just going to wash the pan under hot water for several minutes. It is imperative that you understand that a cast-iron skillet is not dishwasher safe, nor is it made for soaking. For best results, always rinse the pan with hot water immediately after cooking. If you have some stuck on food, try scrubbing with coarse salt or a nonmetal brush.


  • Be sure to dry your skillet thoroughly with paper towels, or if you want to dedicate a kitchen towel to your pan, you can. The main thing is to get it completely dry immediately. Never let it air dry or it will rust.

dry pan

  • Dampen a paper towel with a vegetable oil such as canola oil, lard, or a shortening such as Crisco, and wipe your skillet thoroughly. I always use Crisco, because that is what my Mamaw always did, and I rub the entire thing down with a nice even layer. Note: You don’t want the grease to pool up, but you will want to create a nice sheen or glisten to the pan.


all sides

  • Place the pan upside down on the top rack of a preheated 350° oven. Set a baking sheet, or spread a piece of heavy aluminum foil on the lower rack to catch any grease drippings.

best stove

  • Let the pan bake for 1 hour.
  • Cast iron skillets get very hot so use caution and oven mitts when removing and place on a safe surface for cooling. (In fact, another awesome present they got me was my Lodge Handle Mitt.  I love it!)  Cool for 30 minutes or more until the pan is cool to the touch.

cool with handle

cool for sotring

  • You will reinforce the nonstick coating every time you heat the Crisco in the skillet, so I like to repeat this process two or three times.
  • Rinse and dry skillet thoroughly like mentioned above (no soap).
  • Before putting your pan away, be sure to give it another light coating of oil or shortening to protect it from rust and corrosion. I also like to cover it with a paper towel to protect it from dust.

store with papertowel

Some other important things to note:

  • After you have seasoned your pan, you should avoid cooking anything acidic the first couple of times. In fact, you should try cooking up some bacon, or some other high-fat food, to help build up the surfaces high gloss.
  • Once you have achieved that ultimate gloss, you can cook up just about anything. The only thing you should never try is to boil water. That will cause your pan to rust.
  • Don’t let the cast iron sit too long without using it, if you do it may become a bit rancid. If this happens, clean and re-season the pan (no soap).
  • Always remember to give the pan a light coat of grease after cleaning the pan and storing.
March 28, 2012

Kitchen Grooves – The Cocktail Edition

by Crystal Cook

I have been completely obsessed with the Tiki culture these days – everything from vintage tiki sarong fashions, to the refreshing tiki cocktail revival! So I doubt that I will shock anyone when I say that I am totally in L-O-V-E with the chill sounds of Exotica! Just the name alone invokes fantasy and the mystical allure of the islands. (Uh, hello…guess who needs a vacation?) But since I am unable to escape to my own private isle, I retreat to my patio and create my own little getaway. All it takes is the company of good friends, a platter of Satay, and a Mai Tai in hand to escape the daily grind. Now, throw on this playlist, close your eyes, and relax.

Don Tiki – Close Your Eyes

Les Baxter – Jungle Flower

Stan Getz – The Girl from Ipanema

Steel Guitar Magic – Maui Chimes

Miles Corbin – Quintana Roo

Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass  – A Taste of Honey

Martin Denny – Quiet Village

Stan Getz- Samba De Uma Nota So

Arthur Lyman – Love for Sale

Yma Sumac – Wimoweh (Mbube)

July 22, 2011

So wrong or so right?

by Crystal Cook

I am not entirely sure if it’s the umbrella or these fabulous (and I do mean fabulous!) ceramic tiki tumblers, but with one sip, you’re instantly transported to a tropical paradise. (Ok, who are we kidding? It’s totally the Mai Tai’s that do the transporting!) But seriously folks, what do you think? Do my vintage tiki tumblers make you want to break out your ukulele and burst into song?  Or do you just think that these tiki’s may just have the Brady Bunch curse?

P.S. Regardless of what you think of my tumblers, you should try a refreshing Mai Tai this weekend – recipe below!

  • 4 parts dark rum (2 oz.)
  • 4 parts light rum (2 oz.)
  • 2 parts Curacao (1 oz.)
  • 2 parts fresh lime juice (1 oz.)
  • Grenadine (1 tbsp.)
  • Orgeat (almond) syrup  (1 tbsp.)
  • Pineapple spear
  • Umbrella and awesome tiki tumblers optional.

Combine all ingredients with cracked ice in a cocktail shaker and shake like there’s no tomorrow. Strain into a chilled tumbler or glass highball over crushed ice. Garnish with pineapple, umbrellas, orchids, etc… Have fun!

July 14, 2011

Ask Miss Vivian DuBois, Vintage Fashion Advice

by Crystal Cook

Miss Vivian, the Queens need your help! We are hosting a fabulous “Tiki” party, but we have no idea what to wear- any advice?

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  

Oh, Kittens- of course Miss Vivian has some advice for you; in fact, she is utterly delighted that you ask!

First, a little background: the Tiki phenomenon started with- oddly enough- a restaurant. A nice young man from Louisiana, with the improbable name of Ernest Beaumont-Gantt, opened his Polynesian themed “Don the Beachcomber” in Hollywood in 1934 after a stint as a sailor in the South Pacific. Mmmmm… sailors! Polynesia, as you will recall from freshman geography class, is a series of islands, including Hawaii, New Zealand, Fiji, and- my personal favorite- Easter.

Mr. Beaumont-Gantt served wonderfully exotic food and cocktails (in fact, Kittens, he is the man who is credited with single-handedly inventing the tropical drink; a tip of the mini-umbrella to you, Ernie!) in a delightfully novel setting that was rather loosely based on the Polynesian aesthetic. His restaurant was so popular with the cognoscenti and glitterati of Hollywood alike that he was soon imitated, first by Trader Vic’s, then by a growing cadre of others.

By the 1950’s, fueled by post-war consumer culture and the easy accessibility- for the first time in history- of travel to tropical paradises like Hawaii, Tiki culture spread across the county, where it reigned in all its growing and glorious kitschiness through the 1960’s.

So with that in mind, what to wear? Close your eyes, Kittens, and imagine a warm, tropical breeze caressing your silky skin. Smell the gaudy, gorgeous hibiscus blooms. Hear the gentle roar of the sea on clean white sand. Now, tighten your sarong a bit, and let’s get to work!

A few key phrases: Bright, perhaps clashing, colors. Big, tropical florals. Novelty Hawaiian prints. Sarongs. Batik. Tribal. Think the dark haired, flower bedecked beauties of Gauguin, the muumuu’d and lei’d Hawaiian princess, even the uber-Americanized pop culture tikiness of Ginger from Gilligan’s Island. You can dial up or dial down the kitsch factor to suit your needs, Kittens; Tiki style tended to grow further from true Polynesian culture and more bastardized and silly (nothing wrong with that, however- I love a silly bastard!) as time passed.

For the big night, why not check out those bastions of vintage goodness, eBay and Etsy? Search for terms like “tiki dress”, “sarong dress”, “Hawaiian dress”, or “kamehameha dress”. Genuine tropical splendor from the salad days of Tiki- the late 40’s and 50’s- won’t come cheap, but they are often absolutely stunning sartorial creations which, when combined with a bold bloom tucked behind one ear, have the power to turn any modern girl into an exotic pinup almost immediately! Look for halter-neck or strapless styles, distinctly Polynesian prints and colors, and a wiggle silhouette (although there are numerous nipped-waist, full-skirted dresses in fabulous Tiki fabric which might work brilliantly, if you prefer that shape). If budget presents a problem, there are a plethora of adorable 80s-does-40s/50s, Tiki-inspired little numbers on offer as I type, and newer means cheaper! (Oh, forgive me, Kittens- I meant to say “newer means more affordable”!)  If you prefer a more mod take on Tiki, look for tropical or tribal print shifts and minis from the 60s.

Whatever your shape, style, or budget, I guarantee there is a Tiki dress out there for you, Kittens! Once you find it, accessorize yourself like an island goddess, and enjoy your warm summer evening in all its tropical Polynesian-esque splendor!

March 25, 2011

Blame it on the Merry Mushroom Pattern.

by Crystal Cook

The other day I opened up my cupboard to find an old friend. Underneath the piles of Pyrex, the gleaming gold and orange of the mushroom detail caught my eye. “No,” I said. “Risotto is just way too time consuming. It’s late in the day and I don’t think I have the energy.”

“But you miss me, don’t you?”

“Yes, my little mushroom dish. Yes, I do. Let me pour a glass of wine  and we will cook.”

Mushroom Risotto with Spinach and Bacon

  • 6 cups of organic chicken broth
  • 8 slices of center-cut bacon, chopped
  • 2  tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped shallots
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 5 ounces baby portobella mushrooms, sliced
  • 5 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
  • 5 ounces oyster mushrooms, sliced
  • 1.5 cups uncooked Arborio rice
  • 1 cup dry sherry
  • 5 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1/2-cup grated fresh Asiago cheese
  • 1/2-cup grated fresh Parmaesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. First, do your self a favor and have everything prepped. Risotto does not like it when you step a way from it for any length of time.
  2. Bring organic chicken broth to a simmer in a saucepan (do not boil the broth). Keep warm over low heat.
  3. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add bacon to pan; cook until crisp. Remove the bacon from pan, leaving the drippings in the pan. Add oil,  shallots, parsley, thyme and garlic to drippings in the pan. Cook 5 minutes or until shallots are tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in mushrooms; cook 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add rice and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in dry sherry; cook 1 minute or until the liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. Stir in 1 cup of broth; cook 4 minutes or until the liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. Add remaining broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next (about 25-30 minutes total). Stir in spinach; cook 1 minute or until all is wilted.  Remove from heat; stir in cheeses, salt and pepper. Sprinkle with chopped bacon.
  4. Dig in, you earned this meal!
February 24, 2011

Vintage Cinema with Miss Amelia Lockwood

by Crystal Cook

In honor of Oscar week and our love of all things vintage, check out this movie review of the 1939 version of The Women – compliments of our talented actor friend, Amelia Lockwood (and yes, that is an alias!).

The Women, Hey, I’m one of those!

The 1939 version of The Women directed by George Cukor is one of my favorite films. Part of that is due to the fact that I was in a stage production of it that ran for three months when I lived in Los Angeles and it’s a very fond memory. I played Peggy (Mrs. John O’Day). She’s a small role in the play and an even smaller role in the film. I haven’t seen the most recent version, but I hear she was left out completely. Poor Peggy. ANYWAY. I wore an ill-fitting wig and a skirt with a 23″ waist. Ouch, on both counts. We know all the historical stuff about the film: it features an entire cast of women, the plot is about a backstabbing group of “friends,” all the actresses in it were the powerhouses of their day, and Joan Crawford, already 34 at the time, needed a hit and so took the smaller but pivotal role of Crystal Allen even though (in my opinion, at least) she is miscast. I think of Crystal as being manipulative but stupid (sort of a malicious version of Lena Lamont) and there is no denying the fact that Joan Crawford radiates competency and intelligence.

There are a lot of things that I like about the film, but Rosalind Russell’s Sylvia (Mrs. Howard Fowler) has to be the top of the list. Her quick delivery, while difficult to decipher on occasion, is absolutely modern and hilarious. The way she carries herself physically is self-consciously feminine and effortless all at once.  That is tough to accomplish. I find Norma Shearer’s Mary Haines (Mrs. Stephen Haines) lovely to look at but she never grabs my heart the way Sylvia does.  Sylvia’s story is the one I’m most invested in. I’d sure like to know Mrs. Howard Fowler in real life. I think we’d be fast friends. She’d share a Manhattan with me at noon and we’d never run out of conversation. The first things we would talk about would be her GLORIOUS hats. And when I could borrow them. Of course, there are things about the film that I don’t love: mainly, the message that you must be married to be Someone (the single women in the film are either home wreckers, vague-ish lesbians or VERY annoying 9-year olds who call their mothers “darling.”) Also, Mary Haines’ mother (Mrs. Mary’s Father’s Name) tells her not to confide in her girlfriends because they will gossip about her. That’s bad advice as far as I’m concerned. OF COURSE, my girlfriends are going to talk about me. I would expect nothing less. I hope they gossip about me a lot! Every crisis I have ever gotten though successfully is due to my friends hashing it out and telling me what they may have figured out while I was not around.

There is something so quaint about the way that Mary Haines finds out her husband is cheating on her. She goes to the manicurist who has a big mouth and spills the beans! Today, the manicurist is basically Twitter. Crystal (the other woman) would post some photos of herself in a bikini that she took while standing in front of a mirror in a bathroom and Stephen would be taking a shower in a glass stall behind her unaware of her shenanigans. Scandalous. And oh, so calculated. Also, the broads all go to Reno on a train to get divorced. I have no idea what the equivalent is of that today. Maybe while the divorce is happening all the girls go to Morocco and stay in a really expensive hotel while traveling around in matching Maybachs? Oh wait, that’s Sex and the City 2. Hang on, hang on, maybe those Sex and the City girls are just amalgams of The Women women! For instance, Carrie = Mary Haines/Sylvia, Samantha = Crystal/Sylvia, Miranda= Sylvia/Edith/Nancy(the masculine writer), and, stay with me, Charlotte = Peggy. Oh, look. Peggy is back! Hot Damn. AND both Joan Crawford and Sarah Jessica Parker wear lamé turbans. I think that proves it.  Listen, I’m really on to something. I gotta call my girlfriends and run this theory by them. You know, see if they like it. They’ll tell me the truth, right?

February 19, 2011

So Wrong? So Right?

by Crystal Cook

From serving as a trusty side-kick to your toaster, to elegant serve ware for your table, who wouldn’t want this amazing vintage toast rack? Chances are you probably already have one, unknowingly re-purposing it for a way to organize mail or bills. Silly rabbit, toast holders are for toast–not post!

But what do you think? Is this toast holder so wrong or so right?

Oh and PS. Ignore that adorable condiment jar the jelly is in…that, my friends, is an entirely different post!

December 21, 2010

Vintage Fashion: Ask Miss Vivian DuBois, Part II

by Crystal Cook

Dear Miss Vivian,

Vintage clothes can be lovely, but the sizes are confusing- and buying online is totally intimidating. What  is your secret for finding vintage clothes that fit as if they were made for you?

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •

Oh, Kittens- Miss Vivian feels your pain! Many’s the time she has pulled a frothily lovely vintage frock off the rack and squealed with delight to find it her size, only to face debilitating and demoralizing defeat when it barely fits over her head, to say nothing of her voluptuous curves. All part of the joy and heartbreak of loving and living vintage, Kittens! But never fear: armed with a bit of information and a measuring tape, this need never happen to you!

First, we simply must get one thing straight: garment sizing has changed significantly over the decades. Vintage clothing may run as much as six sizes smaller than a comparable modern garment. Six sizes! Why? I’m so glad you asked, Kittens! First of all, we are getting larger as a species. In the 1940s the average woman was 5’2”, 129 pounds. These days the average gal is 5’4” and weighs 145 pounds; not a huge difference, but it accounts for a size or two, at least. In addition, there is no standardization in US sizing, so similar garments in the same size from different stores or brands may fit completely differently. And just to confuse matters, clothing manufacturers realized they could sell more of their product if the tag had a smaller number, regardless of the actual dimensions of the garment. Voila- vanity sizing was born! Honestly Kittens, would you buy a pair of dungarees in a “size 10”, when you could get the identical pair in a “size 6”? Miss Vivian thought not!

What to do, what to do? Below, Miss Vivian bestows upon you her golden rules of shopping vintage for the perfect fit!

1.) If you can try it on, for Pete’s sake Kittens- try it on! This is Miss Vivian’s number one rule for vintage (or any other kind of) shopping. Granted, vintage and thrift stores are not known for their luxurious accommodations; their dressing rooms are often not for the faint of heart. But gird your loins and give a go, Kittens! You’ll save yourself tears in the long run.

2.) Know what styles work for you body, generally. For example, if you are blessed with a voluptuous hour glass figure (like your humble blogger), the 1950s is a treasure trove of nipped in waists and forgivingly full skirts. If you sport the slender, slim-hipped look, how lucky you are: the 20s and 60s offer sartorial splendor that only the gorgeously boyish can embrace! Experiment, and figure out what looks good on YOU.

3.) Don’t get hung up on the writing on the tags. Like age, size is just a number, Kittens! Approach vintage with an open mind, knowing full well that things were different in the way-back-when. Give it a whirl; if it doesn’t fit, blame the dress rather than your lovely body, and move on. (And for my sisters who were designed on a generous scale: a.) you “have qualities which littleness can never possess”, and b.) it can be a bit more difficult to find vintage in our size, but it is by no means impossible, as Miss Vivian’s positively bulging closets can attest!)

4.) Buy, and use, a measuring tape. Vintage stores can be pricy, and with the rise of the internet seller, it can be virtually impossible to find vintage in thrift stores these days. That leaves buying on-line. I know, Kittens, it’s a bit scary, and it directly contradicts Miss Vivian’s first rule of vintage shopping. But… if you know your measurements, you can buy with confidence. Here’s how: in the nude, (or a well-fitting bra), measure around the fullest part of your bust, your natural waist, and the biggest part of your hips. Keep the tape level and firm, but don’t pull; there should not be indentations in your fabulous form. Now, add at least two inches in the bust and hips, and at least one to one and a half inches in the waist; this wiggle room is critical for fit! These are the numbers you’re looking for when you surf for pretty things on-line. Miss Vivian finds it best not to negotiate with these numbers, no matter how divine the garment, unless you are- or know- an excellent seamstress (in which case you know these rules already).

5.) Understand how measurements are used in vintage selling. Most sellers will provide the three measurements we discussed above: bust (which may also be labeled “armpit to armpit”), waist, and hip. When skirts are voluminous rather than fitted, the hip measurement may be listed as “full.” Occasionally, sellers will add total length, or length from shoulder to waist; these can be important if you are particularly tall, or very long- or short-waisted. It is customary for sellers to measure a garment flat, in which case you will have to double the measurement given to find the actual size of the piece. If you aren’t certain or need additional information, it is well within accepted etiquette to contact the seller and ask.

So, Kittens, now you too can find the dress of your dreams or the frock of your fantasies! Miss Vivian would be lying if she claimed she has never splashed out on a lovely vintage piece, only to find, upon receiving the package, that it didn’t quite fit. However, the successes far outnumber the failures these days, and the pay-off is a completely unique, utterly fabulous wardrobe! Happy shopping, Kittens!

November 20, 2010

Vintage Fashion: Ask Miss Vivian DuBois

by Crystal Cook

Dear Miss Vivian. The Queens tend to wear a lot of Patton leather pumps with our delivery outfits, but we would love some variety. What other 50s type shoes are appropriate for the time period and where can we find them?

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •

Oh, Kitten! With all due respect to the great general George S., and to the delicious actor George C. (whom ugly babies around the world resemble), it is in fact PATENT, not “Patton”, leather. Patent leather–invented in 1818–is leather that has been given a glossy, shiny finish through the application of a linseed-based lacquer or (in modern days) a plastic coating. And while Miss Vivan simply adores a shoe so reflective that a naughty beau might use it to ascertain the color of her foundation garments, in the 1950s patent leather was typically reserved for fancy evening dress, or for little girls’ shoes.

Ladies’ day shoes (an important distinction, as opposed to evening or “leisure” shoes) in the 1950s tended to be made of calfskin. The simple pump, with a 2-3” inch heel and a rounded, slightly pointed, or boxy toe was a very common silhouette. As “denim dungarees” and Capri pants grew in popularity, flats began to gain a foothold–pun intended, Kittens! Of course, no self-respecting bobby-soxer would be caught dead without a pair of penny loafers or saddle shoes (to be worn with pants, skirts or dresses).

Some of the shoes we tend to associate with the 1950s were really more what Miss Vivian considers “specialty items.” For example, stilettos with spindly heels and toes so pointy they could kill a roach in a corner were originally for “fast” girls, though eventually they found their way onto the feet of more sophisticated ladies, as street fashion so often does–and eventually, by the 1960s, into Everywoman’s closet. Platforms–a holdover from the 1940s–were more common in the early 1950s, but lived on, particularly in “play” shoes.

Now, Kittens: where to find these fabulous fashions for your feet? With devoted surfing, it is entirely possible to find the real thing on websites like eBay and Etsy, especially if you happen to be blessed with petite little paws. The drawback to authentic vintage footwear tends to be its durability, or heartbreaking lack thereof. At sixty plus years old, the leather and glue in these beauties are understandably fragile, and many’s the time that Miss Vivian has found joy turned to tragedy as a divine pair of vintage shoes has absolutely disintegrated around her feet upon wearing.

But chins up, Kittens; there are a number of lovely resources to satisfy your vintage shoe needs! Miss Vivian has been rewarded with several pairs of absolutely marvelous, faithful reproductions of vintage designs by Crown Vintage, sold (of all places) at Discount Shoe Warehouse. For the computer-savvy Kittens among you, there are fabulous websites like Rocket Originals and Remix Vintage Shoes. Oh–to die for! And for pure comfort when you’re on your feet all day, whether it be delivering casseroles or running your media empire, swing dance shoes  (check out Everything For Swing) can provide your tootsies with unparalleled comfort and authentic vintage design. What could be better?

So happy vintage dressing from head to toes, Kittens!

November 13, 2010

Inside the Queens Studio: Meet Miss Abigail!

by Casserole Queens

Drawing inspiration from James Lipton (or maybe Will Ferrell playing the part of James Lipton on SNL), we periodically interview someone we find interesting and inspiring. In our first installment, we talk to author and advice-giver Miss Abigail.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m Abigail Grotke, aka Miss Abigail. I began collecting advice books back around 1985, and the collection has grown to over 1,000 books since then. I’ve scoured these books to glean wisdom from advice-givers of yesteryear, and have been doling out advice from classic advice books on the web since 1998. The best-of the website was turned into a book, Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating, and Marriage, and the book recently inspired a play, which is opening Off-Broadway on October 24 and is starring Eve Plumb (Jan Brady) as Miss Abigail!

I have an extensive background in print and digital publications and a keen interest in historical materials and pop culture, not to mention a love of crawling around dirty used bookstores to find the perfect book to add to my collection. During the day, I work on digital library projects for the Library of Congress (currently I help archive the Internet), and have previously worked in the publications office of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. In 2004, I was named one of 55 Library Journal “Movers and Shakers,” an annual feature which sets out to identify “emerging leaders in the library world.”

I live in an old house in Takoma Park, Maryland, with my talented musician husband Denis Malloy, and our terrier mutts Felix and Lulu.

What is your “recipe” for success?

Good friends, good wine, good food, good fun!

If you weren’t an expert advice-giver you would be…

Well, since it’s all a hobby, the expert advice-giver actually answers the question “if you weren’t a government employee what would you be”?

If your personality could be described as any casserole, what would it be?

A classic chicken pot pie. Warm, comforting, with a crust that is a bit flaky at times.

What dish from your childhood brings you the most comfort and why?

Grilled cheese. It’s the only thing I ate for years, and I still get a lot of joy from them, particularly with a nice hot cup of tomato soup.

Best piece of advice you would give to a seventeen-year-old girl going on her first date to a fancy restaurant?

I’d have to stick with table etiquette advice, because manners are so important to making a good first impression. And the seventeen-year-old has probably not had much experience in fancy restaurants (she must have found a great date!).

I consulted with Betty Betz’s Your Manners are Showing: The Handbook of Teen-Age Know-How (1946). She says: “It’s not easy to make sparkling small talk if there’s a major conflict starring a knife and a fork whirling around your brain. Basic table strategy is simple, like all good manners. Once you learn the routine, your table manners will come naturally…”. In addition to the usual advice about where your drinking glass is and starting with the outer forks, knives and spoons, the author gives a few specific tips that might be helpful to our seventeen-year-old girl:

“Always remember to raise the food to your mouth — don’t duck your head over your plate like a hungry bird of prey. Don’t play games with your food, and never twiddle with the silverware. Habits like these make you appear ill at ease, so be smooth; remember to keep your hands on your lap when you’re not eating.

Be as attractive as you can at the table — this means not talking with your mouth fill, and avoiding unpleasant or off-color conversations. Don’t sprawl on the table or tilt back on the legs of your chair. Never comb your hair during a meal, and if you feel a sneeze coming on, turn your head away from the table. …

If you happen to make a mistake, brush it off lightly and don’t let it ruin your evening.”

This tip from Sophie C. Hadida, in her 1950’s book Manners for Millions, might also come in handy: “It is discourteous to order at a restaurant any food which through its odor may disturb others at the table. Such foods are strong cheese, onions, chives, garlic.”  Ms. Hadida also provides some advice for the boys – hopefully this girl’s date will pay attention to this one!

“I once heard a young man say, ‘I should care whether my girlfriend likes onions or not. If I want to eat onions, I eat them. If she doesn’t like it, she knows what she can do.’”

Such a person is the personification of selfishness. The poor girl may be helpless. She has no other boyfriend at the present time, and is forced to go out with Jack, who chooses to eat onions that evening. No one wants to be accused of having halitosis. Eating onions is courting a form of halitosis which is really more objectionable than the unavoidable kind, because the implied discourtesy irritates.

Elbows on the table…yes or no?

Oh, most definitely not. In an 1880 book called Decorum: A Practical Treatise on Etiquette and Dress of the Best American Society, written by John A. Ruth, the author advises “Keep your elbows at your side, so that you may not inconvenience your neighbors.”

I’ve also got a book titled “Elbows Off the Table: Manners for Teen-Age Christians.” (1957) I checked that, as it seemed to be the perfect reference on this topic. This author’s advice – oh wait, a surprise!: “Don’t put your elbows on the table, except between courses. Don’t lean. In fact, don’t put your left hand anywhere on the table; put it on your lap.”

We’ve all been on those dates when the check comes and conversation instantly becomes strained…should the girl nicely get out her wallet to pay or is that the man’s responsibility?

While times have changed and sharing the tab is much more common, sensitivity may still be a concern if the boy and girl don’t know each other well (if it is early in the relationship). Back in 1950, Evelyn Milles Duvall in her Facts of Life and Love provided some advice that might still ring true: she mentions that Dutch-dating, “wherein the girl and boy share the cost, is not a common practice in most communities — perhaps because the boy’s pride is involved. A girl must be extremely tactful; boldly buying her own ticket or handing him the cash in public may be offensive and embarrassing to him. It is usually wise to have the arrangement definitely understood in advance and to give the boy the money before leaving the house. In some cities a girl dutch-dating with a boy at a restaurant can simply ask the waitress to give her a separate check.”

Your spouse called and his Aunt Edna is coming into town and coming over for dinner. Quick– what is your go-to meal?

Luckily my spouse does most of the cooking, so I’d help do the dishes! But if I were in charge of cooking, and I had anything in the kitchen, I’d do some steamed artichokes, mashed potatoes, and probably some baked salmon. Then I’d top it off with a flourless chocolate cake!

If someone wrote a book about you, what would the title be?

Romancing the Artichoke

To learn more about Miss Abigail, visit her website at .

%d bloggers like this: