Monthly Archives

September 2015

Cooking Stories

Oh Devil!

The deviled egg, in my opinion, is another one of those bastard dishes that gets a bad rap. The poor guy used to be so attractive, sexy, even. Often he was exotic and ladies just couldn’t live without him. And now, he’s the pot-bellied, balding uncle who drives an old, rusty Corvette, listening to Bobby Darin a little too loud, mostly due to his hearing. Sadly, he is completely unaware that he’s just not cool anymore, yet there is a strange draw that is unexplained. Maybe he really is still cool and we just don’t know it?

Okay, I was about to say that I actually like deviled eggs, but after reading the paragraph above, I’m kind of grossed out by the idea that an old fat uncle is delicious. Ew!

Anyway, back to the egg.

Vintage 1950s Deviled Egg recipe[3]

Have you ever walked through a thrift store, an antique mall, a yard sale? The number of dishes specifically designed for deviled eggs suggests that this was one hell of a popular item.

In fact, so much so, that I recently heard an amazing tale of a church bazaar in the early 1960’s that illustrates the power of the deviled egg. The bazaar was to be well attended, so the church ladies agreed to pull double duty and make double of their dish of choice to bring.

On the day of the bazaar, all of the ladies arrived and rushed down to the basement to set out their dishes. The first couple ladies laughed when each of them uncovered plates of deviled eggs. “Oh my,” one said, “Well, you can’t ever have too many deviled eggs.” Then came a coffee cake, another coffee cake, then three more. The deviled egg ladies whispered to each other how silly it was that there were now five coffee cakes. Who needed five coffee cakes at one church bazaar? Good thing they had made deviled eggs!

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A few minutes later, the rest of the ladies came filing in with their dishes. “What have you brought, dear?” Deviled eggs!

“And how about you honey? Those are awfully large dishes!” Deviled eggs!

Soon enough, the food tables were filled end to end with plates of deviled eggs (and five coffee cakes). Quickly enough, the ladies began defending their eggs: “Well, mine are made with Spam;” “Mine are made with horseradish and dijon mustard;” “Ladies, clearly mine are different, they are made with crab.”

And so, the professing of one’s unique and clearly more exotic and delicious recipes continued until the reverend’s wife came by to referee and asked the ladies to quiet down. She claimed that there was a simple fix to this: they would announce that today the church bazaar would include a deviled egg contest. And in the future, they would constitute a sign-up sheet for baking/cooking for all church functions. Good idea, ladies!

And, well, to this day, the church has an end of summer bazaar and hosts a food contest. But deviled eggs are no longer the main focus. It seems that the damn egg held on until the mid 1990’s, which is a pretty long stretch. The “church ladies” of the deviled egg days had all retired from their cooking posts and it seems that the young folks today just don’t understand a good deviled egg. And I should mention here that these gals referred to the deviled eggs as stuffed eggs, as they didn’t feel it made sense to devour a food named after the devil while in church.

People Celebrating the Holidays in New Jersey (12)

So, I began to think about my own fascination with the deviled egg. I will eat them when I see them laid out at parties, knowing full well that this is a 50/50 gamble. There have been a few eggs that have put me off the deviled egg game for years, the ones usually containing Miracle Whip. (No, no, we won’t get into that battle right now; I will save that for another time)

A few times, there have been sweet deviled eggs. Nope, can’t do it. Then there have been the deviled eggs that were so spicy, I couldn’t taste anything for the entire night. And a few times I have gotten some fun surprises in the eggs, like cranberries or nuts. WHAT???!!!!

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But, I still walk right over to the damned things and shove one in my mouth. I don’t even smell them first. It’s like they have some strange power over me: “Just eat me! Don’t smell me, don’t inspect me, don’t worry about your food allergies. No, I can’t harm you. I’m a good egg!”

Bologna, I say! Oh, and I have gotten that too, once, inside an egg. Yuck!

The deviled egg has been around for a long time, actually. It first shows up in written text in the 1700’s and is not, obviously, an American born food. Nor is deviling specifically linked to eggs. It refers to a spiced or zesty food. Think of deviled ham. And yep, got that inside a deviled egg once, too!

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A deviled egg, for those who may not know, is a hard-boiled egg, sliced in half. The yolk is removed and put into a bowl, then various things will be added to “devil” it, usually mayonnaise, mustard, and paprika. But some also add sliced olives, ham, and horseradish. The combination is mixed and mushed well, and then either spooned or piped into the half hard-boiled egg-white. These are the basic deviled eggs, but everyone has their own version or family recipe.

The deviled egg, though, saw its absolute heyday in the 1950’s and 1960’s. It was the rock star of hors d’oeuvres! People just could’t get enough of them. Card games, picnics, BBQ’s, appetizers, potlucks, buffets, these guys were everywhere.

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My paternal grandparents had a small cabin on Lake Ontario when I was a child. They would stay for a month, and the entire family would come on the last weekend of our time there for a last hoorah. There were a lot of people, so many that the entire lawn was lined with tents.

On beach days, we would take the boat across the inlet to the beaches, and it took several trips to ferry everyone there. We would stay all day, which meant that my grandparents had already taken several trips to the beach before any of us were really awake to bring beach chairs, folding tables, the grill, and the food.

When we arrived, there would be a huge tent set up and my grandmother would be working away. Whatever you wanted, she had it! You wanted chips? OK, there were the choices. You wanted ice cream? OK, there were the choices. Hot dogs, hamburgers, salad, chicken, cake, pie, whatever you asked for, by God she had it. And always, there were the eggs, a huge plate of deviled eggs. I would sit and stare at them while she was getting whatever treat I had requested, and I would think to myself: “Who wants that weird egg at a beach?” I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. I loved eggs, but this was a weird egg. And sure enough, not even halfway through the afternoon, the plates would be empty or have just one egg left.

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I once asked her who ate the deviled eggs. She looked at me in surprise. “Everyone!” she said. “No one has a picnic without deviled eggs; it’s unheard of,” she told me.

And that was that. I had to accept my fate that the eggs would always be there, everyone ate them, it’s not a picnic without them, so that all equals I was the weird one. Well, dammit, I wasn’t ready to accept that just yet, so one summer, I ate a freaking egg. There was a lot of praying and sniffing before my first bite, but I ate it. And you know what, it wasn’t so bad. Maybe it was actually even good. Yep, I was hooked. The devil had me, and I would forever be weakened by the powers of the deviled egg.

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So, next time you are at a party or a picnic, grab that egg, enjoy and relish it. There is no point in fighting the deviled egg! Just go with it.

xox – Sailor


Uncategorized

Ho Jo’s: A Love Story

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In the early to mid 1970’s, if you looked in the glove compartment of my grandmother’s car, you would find one of these: an official Howard Johnson’s Road Map. Howard Johnson’s was the “Landmark For Hungry Americans” and my favorite motel chain.

HoJoMap

My family traveled several times a year by car from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to Long Island, New York, and back. And always, if my grandmother was in charge of the trip (which was often), we stayed at a Howard Johnson’s and exclusively ate at Howard Johnson’s restaurants while on the road.

Howard Johnson’s was founded in the 1920’s, first as a soda fountain and ice cream counter in Mr. Johnson’s drug store. By the 1960’s, it was the largest restaurant chain in the US with 1,000 restaurants and 500 motor lodges in both the US and Canada.

Howard Johnson's Motor Lodges

Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodges

To me, a Howard Johnson’s hotel felt like I was in Hawaii. That’s what I imagined Hawaii to look like, anyway, and from what I saw on Hawaii Five-O, I was pretty darn close. Or maybe it was an alien-like Tahitian Paradise on Star Trek, with blue and purple ladies with Bee Hives in sexy night gowns wandering about.

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Some of the Ho Jo’s, as we affectionately called them, even had legit thatched roofs on the buildings near the pool area. And the farther north you went, they had INDOOR POOLS, with plants and stuff around them. Inside! Did you hear me? A tropical paradise indoors! Ho Jo’s was an exotic and magical place, for sure.

Howard Johnson's

Ah, the colors alone – the signature orange and peacock blue – just called out to me while sitting in the back of a station wagon with my face pressed up against the window. “Come on,” it would whisper, “tell your parents to turn off the highway. There is so much fun going on in here! We’ve a pool and palm trees and colors and beds to jump on.” How could one resist? Ho Jo’s were unmistakeable. You could see those A-frame roofs from a mile away and the peacock blue towers, even farther.

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And guys, come on, they had clam strips, fried clam strips, and over twenty flavors of ice cream. And they used the word “Snackatites.” Genius! It had to be Don Draper who wrote that line. “Snackatities!” I can’t stop saying it.

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The best thing was the Ho Jo’s at the bottom of the hill where my paternal grandparents lived. And, get ready for this guys, one of my aunts was a waitress there! Oh yes, I was a freaking V.I.P. in that joint. Big stuff, I tell you. She was surely a rockstar to be working at Ho Jo’s, and OMG the uniform, when she put that puppy on, she was a true Johnson girl. I was so envious!

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Ho Jo’s was a reliable choice for our parents. It was thought to always be clean, have good food, and was priced well. Quality was consistent, so no matter what location you were at, you could always rely on Ho Jo’s and the kids loved it. How could you go wrong?

Ho Jo’s also had a knack for having two very different atmospheres at once. Somehow, you could go to a Ho Jo’s and sit at the bar in a fancy dress and have cocktails, while at the same time a family is pulling in with their kids ready to hit the pool and have ice cream. The two somehow never mixed while existing in the same lobby or restaurant.

Every time we pulled into the parking lot of Ho Jo’s, I was bursting with excitement. I knew that four very important things were in my immediate future: French fries, ice cream, a pool with a slide, and the perfect beds to jump on.

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I have so many great memories of being in the pool, yelling “Mom, Mom, look at this!” with my sister beside me shouting “Mommy, Mommy, watch this!” We had that kind of fun for hours. I am sure my mother looks back on this and thinks: “I didn’t really want to read that book, I wasn’t really that tired from driving for ten long hours. I was just so content to sit on my pool chair and listen to my kids yelling my name instead of relaxing.”

And the bed jumping! Oh, yes. And as we got older, my sister and I worked out that we could do somersaults from one bed to the other through the air. Again, I am sure my mother thinks to herself: “That was so charming. What little dolls they were. I didn’t mind screaming ‘Girls, stop! Someone is going to break her head. Don’t knock over the lamp! Who knocked over the lamp?'” It was hours of fun!

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Look at that lush paneling and those light sconces, the gorgeous carpet colors, and the bed spread. Oh, those scratchy thin bed spreads. Who wouldn’t want to rest their weary heads here?

I definitely missed the heyday of Ho Jo’s. By the time that the early 1980’s came around, Ho Jo’s was in a rapid decline. My grandmother still held onto her tradition though, even as my mother balked at staying in the “outdated, crappy motels.” Holiday Inns were in our near future.

So, what killed the Ho Jo’s of my childhood? Well, I’m no hotel tycoon, but I tell ya, it was the damned Holidome. Look at the crap! Who can compete with indoor pools, hot tubs, shuffle board, and mini golf; and what’s worse, you don’t have to walk far to the bar because it’s RIGHT THERE! And the waiters bring you stuff to your pool chair, INSIDE! Even if you ask for five brown cows and your mom doesn’t know you’re ordering them and charging them to the room. Psha, they don’t care. They bring them to you and call you “Miss!”

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Sure, sure, my sister and I would scream at the top of our lungs and bounce off the car windows until my mother agreed to choose the Holidome for the night. But that didn’t mean we didn’t love Ho Jo’s anymore. It was just a few times, I swear; we only cheated a few times, and it meant nothing. I mean, it was crazy fun and the brown cows were delicious, like I said, but we didn’t mean to leave you all alone Ho Jo’s; we didn’t mean to leave you with not enough customers for your fried clam strips. Oh my God! Am I responsible for taking down the entire Ho Jo’s empire? If I am, geez, I’m sorry, I was a kid. I had no idea! Kids don’t possess self control.

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As awesome as the Holidome was, it still didn’t have that same feeling that you got from Ho Jo’s: the orange roof beckoning from the side of the highway, reminding you of the magic that awaited you. Ho Jo’s reminds me of a gentler time filled with warmth and possibilities, a time when I truly believed I could jump from one balcony to another and actually make it. Good thing I never tried.

So there you have it, my Love Story of Ho Jo’s.

xox
Sailor