Lunch Hour NYC @NYPL

It’s been a while, but I am GLAD to be back in the swing of things. While on hiatus, I was thrilled to learn from my friend Wendy, that my book, Ancestral Recipes of Shen Mei Lon was included in the New York Public Library exhibit of “Lunch Hour NYC.” The exhibit was co-curated by Rebecca Federman and Laura Shapiro. I had the pleasure of meeting with Rebecca, who gave us a personal and truly informative tour of the show. It was held in the very GRAND “Bryant Park” Library—whose name is actually the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. If you had a chance to see it, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. If you didn’t, I’ll share some details now.
Lunch Hour NYC by the New York Public Library
The show was about New York lunches, spanning a century of development, encapsulated in a way by Rebecca and Laura that was truly inspiring and thorough. Each “room” of the show presented an era or idea, and it was like stepping back in time. I was living in New York City during the later decades explored by the show, and happily recognized the high-shine and sheen of the Horn & Hardart Automat. The exhibit had a fully operational unit, but instead of food, nicely printed recipe cards were given as your treat for trying the slot-and-knob operated machinery. The recipes are straight from Horn & Hardart, and are what you might have been lucky enough to eat back then: Baked Macaroni and Cheese, Pumpkin Pie, Burgundy Sauce with Beef and Noodles.

Original menus were also a feature of the exhibit, and we discussed dietary changes, prices, and the things considered “normal” so long ago, including the children’s menu. A few of the menus had the warning that patrons needed to watch their belongings, not necessarily because of thievery, but because many restaurants were ‘standing-room’ only and even turning for a second, someone immediately took your slot.

One of the show’s rooms, quite pink, shown here, housed many beautiful cookbooks and kitchen furniture; it was the quintessential 1950s kitchen. My book was featured right above the refrigerator, nestled between “Marian Tracy’s Complete Chicken Cookery” and “Good Meals and How to Prepare Them” by Katharine A. Fisher, originally published in 1927.

photo of kitchen exhibit

The “Kitchen” room at NYPL’s exhibit, Lunch Hour NYC. My book is right above the teeny refrigerator.

It was so lovely to see it posited there, and I wondered what at-home-chef had donated it to the library, and how many recipes from it were kitchen-experiments or favorite family fare. It warms my heart every time I think that a piece of my husband’s and my life’s work ended up in someone’s home. When we set out, we weren’t looking to be that big. We were just looking for something we liked to do  TOGETHER. My husband always referred to me in business as his partner. Because of that, he was ahead of his time, and so was I. Yet the foundation of my future was laid much earlier than our publishing years; it began in college.

My book between books

Edward R. Morrow addressed my Smith College graduating class of 1947 and described of a better role for us WOMEN. HE guided our role by telling us, “you young women are going out into the world and if you want to keep your husbands with you during the times ahead, it would be wise to assume some of the financial burdens and share in the world of work.” I took this very seriously and I wish I could tell Mr. Murrow that his words inspired me to work side by side with my husband for 46 years. The resulting publishing company is still publishing 50+ years later with our next generation at its head. I also recall interviewing a young woman who was interested in attending Smith College in the 50’s by asking her this question, ”How would you like to be treated for 4 years the way men are treated all their lives?” Smith women including Betty Frieden and Gloria Steinman were leaders in that mind set as was I.

Standing in front of the exhibition poster

Standing in front of the poster for Lunch Hour NYC

There was a feeling of female ingenuity in the Lunch Hour show, but truly it was a show about all of us during an era when new possibilities were presenting themselves, and work was at the center of our lives. This forced the way we ate, whether in public or private, to change. I’d like to think we helped with that by publishing sensible, time-sensitive material, that still holds up to today.

We talked with Rebecca Federman about the sheer volume of artifacts and incredible knowledge that the exhibit imparts, and we wished that her beautiful show could “go on the road.” But perhaps it truly belongs as a NYC gem, just in New York, since it’s all about the New York lunch and the New Yorker’s ability to adapt to many circumstances. For anyone who would like to see the exhibit, it is now archived as an online exhibit at the NYPL, click here to see it.

So now I’d like to offer a recipe from Ancestral Recipes of Shin Mei Lon. I chose the recipe because of its ease. It is a highly-prized recipe, in the Oriental tradition, which is very long and filled with exotic ingredients. We decided to adapt it for convenience to make it as simple and delicious as possible with ingredients that are easy to find in a standard American grocery store.


The Cookbook: Ancestral Recipes of Shen Mei Lon

SHARED RECIPE: Sieu Pi Kwat Barbecued Spareribs

Click this card for the Shared Recipe post

Click this card for the Shared Recipe post


  1. It is allways a delight to read your charming, intelligent, and delicious blogs.
    Fondly, Linda

  2. Anonymous says:

    I just LOVED reading this!!

    Lots of love,

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