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The Ladies of Bridge Grove

Kitty Hosts The Holidays

It’s 6 a.m. Kitty cannot remember the last time she was up this early, but today her nerves and excitement will not let her sleep. She reaches over and turns on the clock radio.

“Heaven,” Kitty says to herself. She squeals with excitement: “This day could not have a better start, Bing Crosby on the radio singing White Christmas!”

After a minute or two of snuggling Max the cat, Kitty jumps out of bed, grabs her silk chiffon peach-colored robe, and heads into the bathroom.

“Now, what to do first?” Kitty wrings her hands as she looks at herself in the mirror. “There is just so much to do!”

This is the first time that Kitty will be hosting Stan’s friends. At first she was terrified of the ladies. They all seemed too polished and were considerably older. They seemed to know how to do everything: cook, bake, host, decorate, dress. It was very intimidating. And when Stan said he would ask about hosting the annual Christmas party at their house, and he came home and said the group agreed, she was bowled over. The ladies had been so nice to her since she and Stan got engaged, yet still her nerves were already working on her. Luckily, at the last bridge game, the ladies suggested that each would bring a special holiday dish. They said that it is what they had done every year, so Kitty certainly didn’t want to mess with tradition. And boy was she ever grateful, since cooking was not exactly Kitty’s forte. She had been wildly studying the latest cook books, but nothing seemed to stick. But she had a plan, fingers crossed.

She chews her lip with nervousness as she takes inventory of her face. She could hear her mother’s voice in her head: “Kitty, stop chewing your lip!” She groans and heads downstairs.

So, first things first. Since she has a few hours until her appointment at the beauty parlor, Kitty decides to have a cup of coffee and survey the house. She could still detect a hint of fresh paint smell and hopes that no one will notice. She and Stan had only moved into the new house a few weeks ago after they returned from their elopement in Acapulco.

But the wallpaper did look splendid; it was so modern and chic. Thank goodness her mother offered up her interior designer as a wedding gift. He was somewhat famous in Chicago and she thought his work was just the bees knees. The ladies were sure to be impressed.

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The color choices, she was assured, were the absolute latest and most popular: the soft robin’s egg blues with chestnut browns and the gorgeous creams and silvers for the second floor hall and bedrooms. They were just perfect, Kitty thought. And on the first floor, the rich wood paneling, kelly greens, and red carpeting were just so luxurious.

“Okay now, I must remember how to use this new Coffeemate thing,” Kitty says to herself, coming out of her reverie. She was so excited when she received it as a wedding gift from her aunt. Kitty surveys the kitchen and dining area, happy that she had decided to go with copper and yellow as her colors of choice here. Mr. French assured her that copper was going to be the next big trend in color and that Kitty would be the very first in her neighborhood to have it. The copper handles and hinges on her ranch style cabinetry were just divine. Kitty had also decided on a country motif for her kitchen, which she thought was so romantic. After growing up in a penthouse apartment in Chicago her whole life, she thought the country look was just so darling.

The best decision she thought she made as she surveyed her new kitchen were her kitchen counter tops: canary yellow with silver boomerang shapes. “Just splendid,” she thinks. They were the most gorgeous countertops in all of Illinois, surely.

Kitty walks over to the nice bay window with banquet seat in the kitchen which Stan had chosen to add. As Kitty floats down to it and sips her coffee, she looks outside and watches the snowflakes begin to fall, thinking that this addition was just perfect for the house. Now she knows it will be the perfect night: fresh snowfall for her Christmas party, how wonderful.

Oh heavens, look at the time! Kitty rushes off down the hall to the living room to give it a quick survey. The Christmas tree is beautiful and the buffet table is already set up, thanks to Stan. She will have to add more garland to the fireplace mantle and some more candles, but everything looks perfect.

Kitty quickly dresses, feeds the cat, throws on her coat, hat, and gloves, and heads out the door. She mustn’t be late for the beauty parlor! She booked just enough time for her setting, makeup, and nails. Miss Beverly, who owns the premier beauty parlor in Bridge Grove, is very difficult to get an appointment with. Nancy Gold recommended her and said there was just no one else that she would trust her hair to. And by the looks of Nancy, Kitty would trust her with just about any advice on fashion; she was certain that Nancy must have been a model before she married Chip. Kitty was so impressed that she ended up choosing the date of the party only after she confirmed an appointment with Miss Beverly.

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As Kitty backs her cherry red Bel Air out of the driveway, she sees another lot on her street that is beginning construction. There were already six new ranch homes built on Meadow Lane. She is eager to meet new neighbors. So far, most of the neighbors that Kitty had met were mostly single men who were avid golfers and lived in the city during the week. It can be a bit lonely, so she hopes for a young couple or a family to move in and liven up the neighborhood.

Half and hour later, Kitty is sitting in the beauty parlor with her hands dipped in nail solution and Miss Beverly circling to size up her hair.

“So, it’s a Christmas party at your home, you zay?” Miss Beverly asks.

“Yes,” says Kitty.

“And you will be wearing ze emerald green satin cocktail dress, yes?”

Kitty nods, holding her breath.

“Zen ze only thing to do is ze bob and flip. Zis will make you look more mature.”

Kitty exhales, feeling like she just passed a test.

Within seconds, Miss Beverly’s assistants are buzzing around Kitty with curlers, powders, polishes, and creams. A few hours later, Kitty’s look is complete. Miss Beverly spins Kitty’s chair around to face the mirror. She takes one look and squeals with delight! Her hair is a perfect bouffant bob with the bottom edges flipped into a half curl. The height elongates her neck so elegantly. And her makeup is just gorgeous. Miss Beverly chose emerald eye shadow to match Kitty’s dress and a deep red for her lips and nails. “How very festive!” Kitty thinks happily.

The girls carefully wrap Kitty’s hairdo in a scarf, she pays the bill, and is off. After stops at the butcher and flower shop, Kitty arrives back home with a little less than two hours to get everything prepared. Within minutes, Stan arrives home with ice and a few extra bottles of scotch that he thinks might be good to have on hand. The butcher arrives to drop off the liverworst pate, tar-tar, vienna sausages in bbq sauce, and a pimento loaf, and the florist finishes setting up the poinsettias that Kitty had ordered.

Kitty catches Stan staring at the food items the butcher has delivered, looking perplexed.

“Why, Stan, is there something wrong?” she asks him.

“Ah, no, my darling, it’s just that this all looks so, er, so professional?” Stan says with hesitation.

“Goodness, they will know, won’t they? The ladies will take one look at this food and know that I didn’t make it. Oh no, this is going to be a disaster, isn’t it?” Kitty exclaims while wringing her hands.

“Now dear, calm down. The food looks beautiful and you are gorgeous! No one will notice. Everything will be just fine.” Stan kisses Kitty on her forehead and heads over to the bar.

Kitty nervously takes the food from the butcher out of the boxes and adds some finishing touches: Ritz crackers for the pate, melba toast for the tar-tar, and some fresh parsley for the pimento loaf, just like in the cookbooks.

Kitty catches a glimpse of the front yard as she walks into the living room to set out the new boomerang-shaped ashtrays and carton of cigarettes. It sure is snowing out there, looking so beautiful. She stands at the window for a while, smiling as she hears “Suzy Snowflake” by Rosemary Clooney cooing from the hi fi. She giggles a bit and then realizes that she does not have much time left to get dressed. She runs into the bedroom nearly knocking over the poinsettia in the hallway, hearing Stan yell to her from the kitchen: “Slow down dear, there is plenty of time!” She mumbles something back about men having no idea what it takes for a woman to get dressed.

Kitty unwraps her dress, such a beautiful shade of emerald, from the box. She takes out her girdle, stockings, dress, pumps, jewelry, shalamar, and poinsettia broach. “Perfect!” she exclaims as she views herself in the mirror, all put together. “Just perfect!”

As she arrives in the living room, she sees Stan sitting on the couch, reading the paper.

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“Now, let me have a look at my beautiful bride,” he says, ignoring her frantic pleas. “Wow, what a stunner! How did I get so darn lucky?”

He plants a kiss on her cheek, making her giggle.

“Hey, the gals just love ya,” he says. “Everything is going to be great! Look at this beautiful home I had built for ya. There’s nothin’ to worry about, dear, nothin at all.”

He sits back down with his paper and Kitty just laughs. “Men,” she says, shaking her head.

The door bell rings just as Kitty is lighting the last candle. She may have overdone it with the candles as she sees Stan’s reaction as he walks towards the door. Oh well, too late now.

She rushes to his side to greet their first guests, John and Vicky Pool. Stan chuckles when he sees that it’s them who has arrived first.

Vicky is wearing the most interesting pink coat with a pink sable hat, pink gloves, and pink pumps. She arrives with a casserole of franks and beans and a pitcher of her famous iced tea. Now that was one inside joke Kitty does know about. Oh my, her tea is just awful.

Stan gives John and Vicky the grand tour as Kitty lays out the casserole on the buffet table. She can hear John talking to Stan as they approach the living room. “We will have to get you a pool in that backyard this summer there, Stan. And who better to get you a great deal on a pool than the man named Pool?” John laughs and laughs, patting Stan on the back. Kitty chuckles to herself.

As the guests continue arriving, the buffet table fills up fast, the bed is piling high with coats and hats, and the smoke is wafting through the house. Kitty hopes that everyone is enjoying themselves so far.

Gladys, Kitty was told by Stan, is always the life of the party and it seems that she is in fine form tonight. The minute she arrived, everyone gathered around her and Jack as they told the latest story about their recent trip to Florida. She certainly knew how to work a room. Kitty so admired her.

Gladys is wearing a beautiful silver wiggle dress with a short cropped matching jacket. Her red hair is piled high in a beautiful coif, and the contrast of her hair against the silver shimmering material is stunning. Kitty thinks that Gladys looks like a movie star.

Last to arrive is Nancy and Chip. Vicky Pool had forewarned Kitty that Nancy is always fashionably late, so by no means should she pass out any hors d’oeuvres until Nancy and Chip make their entrance.

And what an entrance it is! Nancy has really outdone herself this time. She is a vision in powder blue chiffon with a floor length pleated gown gather at the bodice, with the most beautiful gold rhinestone star-shaped broach. The train elegantly dusts the floor, extending all the way up to the neckline. And her hair, what a piece of artistry, gorgeous curls swept up just like Lucille Ball’s.

Just then Kitty hears Gladys announce that her famous egg nog is ready and asks who wants a glass.

Kitty loves egg nog, and boy is Gladys’ delicious. Stan calls everyone to the bar and raises his glass for a toast. Kitty stands next to him and looks around the room. With the low lights and soft candle glow, the Christmas tree just looks magnificent with all of its colors and tinsel.

“Thank you, dear friends, for joining us tonight,” Stan says as he holds his glass high. “And to my new bride, Kitty, may this be just one of many happy Christmases together. And that means a lot, coming from a Jewish guy!” The crowd roars with laughter. “Cheers, everyone!”

All of the ladies rush over to Kitty to tell her how much they love her dress and hair, and oh that eyeshadow!

Soon after everyone heads to the buffet. What a beautiful feast it is! There’s liver pate, deviled ham, lobster newburg spread, sardine and bacon rolls, pimento pinwheels, mushroom loaf, chicken ala king, and a wonderful array of desserts.

Carla whispers to Gladys to meet her in the kitchen and they both stealthily slip away from the other ladies. Carla opens the napkin in her hand and gestures to Gladys to look at it.

“Is that a wrapper?” asks Gladys.

“Yes, it was under the entire liverworst” Carla says.

“Oh my, poor dear! Vicki found plastic wrap under the tar tar and quickly slipped it out before anyone else noticed, she told me,” says Gladys.

“We have to do something. We can’t let this poor lamb suffer and we certainly don’t need to be ingesting paper and plastic! She’s one of us now doll; we’ve got to help her out,” says Gladys. They nonchalantly head back to the group to mingle.

As the ladies eat and talk, Gladys realizes it is just the girls standing around, so she asks Kitty which dishes from the buffet table are hers. Kitty admits it’s the liverworst from the butcher. After a moment of silence, Gladys glances around the room and finally says: “Say, Kitty, you can’t cook a lick, can you?”

Kitty laughs with relief and says: “No, not a lick.”

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All the ladies laugh and take their turns hugging her. Susan says that she will teach Kitty to bake and the ladies nod in definite agreement. “Susan is the best baker among us, for sure,” says Carla Benson.

“And Carla should be the one to teach you casseroles. I swear every time there is a gathering you have whipped up some new delightful concoction,” says Gladys.

“Oh, and I would be happy to help you as well. Everyone always loves my roast,” claims Mary Peterson.

“My, yes, the best roast in Bridgegrove,” says Nancy. “I’m still trying to perfect the recipe.”

“I would be happy to give you my ambrosia and summer salad recipes, Kitty. Everyone always enjoys those dishes when I bring them to our gatherings,” says Vicky. “Oh, and my iced tea, naturally. I might be persuaded to share that recipe with you.”

The ladies all shoot each other a glance and try not to burst out laughing.

“No, Vicky, we wouldn’t want you to give away your trade secret,” says Nancy, as the ladies nod and sigh in relief.

“Well, there you go, doll,” Gladys remarks to Kitty. “And say, you realize you deprived us ladies of a wedding to dress for, right?”

Everyone chuckles and Kitty blushes. “I’m so sorry, girls. With the differences in Stan and my religions, we just thought it would be much easier for our families. I couldn’t bear either of us having to tell our families we had to convert,” Kitty responds.

“Oh my, I didn’t even think of that,” says Mary. “You are absolutely right, dear. Very smart.”

“Ladies, I have the best idea,” Nancy cries. “Kitty, you must let us throw you a proper wedding shower this spring!”

“Oh yes! What fun! How swell!” All the ladies exclaim to each other.

Kitty beams with joy. “I would love that! Thank you so much!”

“Leave it to us,” Nancy says. “Gladys, we have planning to do,” elbowing Gladys gently. The two exchange an excited look.

“Sorry to interrupt, girls, but may I steal my bride away for a spin across the room?” Stan asks as he reaches out his hand to Kitty.

Kitty smiles from ear to ear as she follows Stan across the room.

Within minutes, everyone is slow dancing to the sounds of Pat Boone. The snow is falling gently on the bushes outside the living room window. Gladys tiptoes around the room in stocking feet, handing out champagne. “Oh, my, I almost forgot the champagne,” Kitty thinks to herself.

Kitty is so happy, she lays her head on Stan’s shoulder and thinks about all of the compliments the ladies gave her on the party and her home decor. She feels such pride. Maybe entertaining isn’t so difficult after all.


Cooking Stories

Let’s Talk Tuna

What comes to mind when you hear the word “tuna?” Personally, I think it probably depends on your age. If you are in your 20’s, you may think of sushi right away, perhaps a nice piece of Nigiri. If you are in your 30’s and 40’s, chances are you think of tuna salad, either as part of a sandwich or on a bed of lettuce. Most likely, if you are in your 40’s and above, you think of tuna noodle casserole. Oh yes, I said those dirty, dirty words, the sorry bastard of all baked multi ingredient dishes: TUNA CASSEROLE!

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My grandmother once said there were only two ways to eat tuna: Tuna salad for lunch or Bridge, and tuna noodle casserole for dinner. And, of course, both types were made from canned tuna. I can hear my grandfather interrupting my thoughts, saying: “No, no, no, tuna steak, you grill up a beautiful piece of tuna steak.” Well, he was a fancy pants — a sports fisherman and world traveler. He actually spent a lot of time in Japan for business, so he preferred a lightly seared tuna steak. At the time, this treatment of tuna was a rarity in America. Tuna, like my grandmother said, belonged in a salad or in a casserole, and canned was just fine. She played a lifetime of bridge; she should know.

The sorry bastard tuna noodle casserole gained its notoriety in the 1950’s, thanks to our BFF, Betty Crocker.

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Casseroles in general became a very popular household dish in the 1950’s for a number of reasons. Mainly, the ingredients were cheap and easy to find at the store: a can of tuna, a can of vegetables, a can of soup, and a package of egg noodles. In a quick thirty five minutes, dinner for the entire family was ready. Tuna casserole could also be frozen or refrigerated, then reheated to be eaten as a leftover the next day. Tuna casserole was a very popular dish to take to pot lucks.

While every tuna casserole is different, historically, it is made with egg noodles, chopped onion, shredded cheddar cheese, frozen green peas, canned, drained tuna, condensed cream of mushroom soup, sliced mushrooms, and crushed potato chips. The cooked noodles, onion, cheese, peas, tuna, soup, and mushrooms are mixed in a baking dish with the potato chips and extra cheese sprinkled on top, and then cooked.

While researching the history of tuna noodle casserole, I came across a fantastic article from the LA Times titled “Poor Tuna Casserole Has a Rich History.” In part, it says: “No single dish has done so much to degrade the image of the casserole as the seemingly ubiquitous combination of canned tuna, canned mushroom soup, and smashed potato chips. It’s gotten so that the mere phrase ‘tuna casserole’ has become a kind of punch line.”

Casserole-type dishes show up in cookbooks from the late 1800’s, but it wasn’t until 1949 that marked the beginning of the “Baroque era,” as the Times refers to it, thanks to Good Housekeeping and that bitch, Betty Crocker.

The 1950’s also marked the beginning of ethnic foods entering mainstream America. GI’s returning from tours in Europe and the Pacific had developed new tastes, and food companies were quick to supply the ingredients. “Americanized” versions of sukiyaki, egg foo young, chow mein, enchiladas, pizza, lasagna, and barbecued meats with Polynesian sauces regularly appeared in 1950’s cookbooks.  Believe it or not, the popular casseroles of the 1950’s were considered exotic!

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It had been a long time since I made a casserole. I had to dust off my vintage Corelle ware and really ponder the ingredients in basic tuna casserole and tuna salad. How could I update these dishes and still keep them quick and easy?

In my house, we try really hard to keep to a low sodium and sugar-free diet. We also try to stay away from processed foods whenever we are able.

Originally, I crafted a recipe to turn the tuna casserole into a super chic modern dish, and then came back to this piece and decided to stay true to the recipe. I replaced frozen and canned with fresh ingredients, and instead of potato chips, I grilled pita bread and made bread crumbs. I used sodium-free mushroom soup.

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For the original Betty Crocker Recipe, see below

The flavors do work. It was delicious and took me back to memories of my mother’s attempts at tuna noodle casserole, one of her better trials indeed.

So, I am going to save this bastard from the fires and bring it back to the dining table. Be thoughtful about your ingredients and let’s give some love to good ol’ Tuna Noodle Casserole. Hooray!

xo – Sailor

Original Tuna Noodle Casserole from the 1950’s
1 can (10 1/2 ounces) Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup 
1/2 cup milk 
¼ cup pimento, chopped
1 cup frozen green peas 
1 small onion, chopped
1 can of sliced mushrooms with water

2 cans (about 5 ounces each ) tuna in water, drained 

4 ounces (about 2 cups) medium egg noodles, cooked and drained 

1/3 cup of crushed potato chips 

1 tablespoon butter, melted 

Heat oven to 425°F.
Combine all ingredients, using only 1/2 the cheese.
Pour into buttered 1-1/2 quart baking dish.
Sprinkle with remaining cheese and crushed potato chips.
Bake 20 minutes.
Enjoy!


Cooking Stories

The Joys Of Jell-O!

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Oh, the joys of Jell-O!

I am currently working on a four part blog series about what Americans were eating in the Atomic Age and why they ate what they ate. Consider this the prequel, or inspiration, to this series.

I’ve always been very interested in this topic. As a child of the 1970’s, there were still remnants of this culture in my childhood.

The research has been absolutely fascinating and I am finding it hard to stick to the main theme; there are so many subtopics in this discussion. Did the Atomic Age really liberate women from the kitchen? Did the modern conveniences of the time become an opiate for American women to soften the blow of being told to get back into the kitchen after working men’s jobs out of the the home during wartime? The economic effects created the modern consumer, created the teenager, and created American greed worse than this country had seen before, some would say.

Another question I want to explore is if the Atomic Age ended the ingenuity of the “Greatest Generation.” One of the things that I love about that generation is the ingenuity, and I think it is the main reason why I’m drawn to the 1930’s/40’s era. Of course that ingenuity was born from hardship and necessity; but still, I think today’s generation doesn’t deal with such hardship in the same way. The 1950’s were so much about convenience and letting the machines and appliances do the work, that’s when I feel Americans lost much of their spirit for ingenuity.

In doing all of this research, I have combed the antique and thrift stores in search of paperback cookbooks that consumer companies were offering to American housewives. Companies like Procter & Gamble produced these cookbooks for a multitude of their products from the “Home Economics Department” at P&G.

In 1951, Winifred S. Carter, a notable American celebrity Chef and cookbook author, was in charge of these cookbooks for P&G. Women like Winifred were hired by companies to advertise to and guide American housewives on how to use these new food products and appliances.

General Foods had its own Kitchen Cookbooks, each based on the use of a certain food product. I have one of these books that is focused on the many uses of Jell-O. The index tells you that Jell-O can be used not just for desserts, but for salads, as well. Printed in 1962, this book tells American Housewives that not only is Jell-O a trusted product for over 60 years, but it is also gives them thanks for many of the imaginative recipes found there. This book has 86 pages of recipes, all devoted to Jell-O. That is a lot of congealed food. My, oh, my!

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Jell-O is described in this book as being wholesome and exciting. Wholesome? Really? Hmm.
Jell-O going mainstream is attributed to modern refrigeration in the 1950’s, its powdered form, and Home Economics classes. Jell-O was also popular in the 1930’s and 40’s; it was considered en vogue to serve congealed salads.

But it wasn’t until the 1950’s that really saw the Jell-O boom, and that’s when the company responded with such savory and vegetablicious flavors such as celery, Italian, mixed vegetable, and tomato. Super delicious! I’m kidding.

One of my favorite recipes in this book is the Tuna Salad mold. Now, I remember eating a lot of Jell-O as a kid. At my grandparents house, there were always little glass dessert cups neatly placed in rows on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator: one with Jell-O, one with chocolate pudding, and one with Jell-O with grapes inside. But tuna? Oh my gosh, no! I would have run screaming from the kitchen. I think by the mid 1970’s, thank goodness, Jell-O had been relegated to just desserts.

Here is the recipe from 1962, sure to wow your guests and family!
(Describe as: “Tuna At Its Best,” a well-seasoned salad that stays fresh until served)

1 package of Jell-O Salad Gelatin – Celery flavor
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup cold water
1 tbs lemon juice
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp grated onion
1 cup chopped cucumber
1 can tuna
1/4 cup sliced, stuffed olives
1/4 cup diced celery

The reader is instructed to prepare all ingredients and throw into a mold, then chill until firm. Oh, and be sure to plop your tuna amazingness on a crisp bed of greens. I highly doubt many young Americans today would find this an appetizing dish. And there are more amazing options in this book, such as: Salmon Mousse, Chicken Mousse, and a Soufflé salad, all with Jell-O! Yuck!

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Another gem recipe is Jell-O BBQ cubes to go on top of a shrimp salad. Oh yes, you can congeal any sauce or condiment! And that got me thinking; we are not actually that different today. With the rise of Molecular Gastronomy, it seems that we still have a fascination with our food being encased in some sort of edible package.

So are we really eating that differently than the Baby Boomers? I would say yes, in part, we are, or at least we are striving to get back to eating whole, fresh and local foods. Less preservatives, less manufactured. But… I do think we are still striving for the same thing: convenience, newness, and the next best thing.

What will future generations be saying about what we eat today? I don’t know, and frankly I don’t care. I’m not here to judge or poke fun; really, I’m not. Well, maybe I am about the poking fun part. The point is that I am interested in how and why food got to our table, and I think the Atomic Age is a particularly fascinating period in American History and in the history of what we eat.

So back to my Jell-O, my Crisco, Pimento Loaves, and Spam!

xox
Sailor


Cooking Stories

How I Learned To Cook

Since I am starting at the beginning, or well, near the beginning, I’ll tell you a little bit about how I learned to cook.

I always assumed most people had a really nice mom who wore an apron and on Sundays, that really nice mom would say to her daughter: “Sweetie, let’s bake and cook together.” Said daughter would learn how to properly crack an egg, separate the egg white, learn about folding verses mixing, you get the drift.

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Now I did learn specific things from my great grandmother in reference to making certain Greek dishes, but she was more of the type of grandmother who didn’t want me to work. She wanted to do it and I don’t think she understood that I was actually interested. She was so humble about her mad skills, she really thought it was nothing.

So in my mother’s house, there was not a whole lot of teaching or passing down of technique. Most of my learning came from getting up at the crack of dawn while everyone was sleeping and making strange food concoctions while watching a whole lot of cooking shows on PBS. For you youngens, PBS in the 70’s and 80’s was our Food Network.

My favorite TV cook was Jeff Smith of the Frugal Gourmet. I would get so excited every time his show was on. A few times I tried to convey my excitement to my friends. Big mistake! My cool status took a nose dive. What 10 year old in the 80’s watched some old guy cooking on TV? Umm, me!

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And that is how it all began. I actually owe a lot to Jeff Smith, now that I think about it. The first thing I ever attempted to cook that I learned from watching him was Baked Elephant Garlic. Sounds so simple, but to a 10 year old, hell no!

First of all, what the hell is elephant garlic? As an adult, there aren’t many possibilities of what it could be, but as a kid, there were so many.  So I asked my mom when she woke up and she told me it was just really large bulbs of garlic. “Okay,” I thought, “that makes sense.” And later that day, she actually bought some for me.

So the next morning while everyone was sleeping, I started my foray into this dish with the recipe committed to memory:

Remove the husk from the garlic bulb, brush with olive oil, bake for 20 minutes at 375 degrees, remove from oven, open shell and spread on a nice crustini. (Wait, what is a crustini? Sounds like crust, must be bread, okay I’ll make toast.)  Sprinkle with a little salt and bon appetite!

It was a success! I loved it, and so did my mom. Hey, I cooked something fancy! Woo hoo!

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Not all of my early attempts were as successful, though. There was the time that I tried a microwave quiche from a cookbook I found on a kitchen shelf. It professed that you could make anything in the microwave and it would be amazing. They lied, or I sucked at it. The result was a runny omelet-like odd substance. I tasted it, then threw away the evidence.

A family favorite story is the time I tried to substitute spaghetti sauce with a can of Manwich when I was living with my dad. He was an actual chef, as a matter of fact, and even co-wrote a cookbook called How To Garnish.

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It was my turn to cook dinner. I was a teenager, had better things to do and the cupboards weren’t very well stocked. I saw a box of spaghetti. Bingo, I thought I’d whip up a nice salad and we’d be good to go. I threw the spaghetti in the water, opened the cupboard to grab the sauce, and oh crap. No sauce, NO SAUCE!  “Okay,” I thought. “Think! Think! What else could I use? Manwhich? Hmm, I’ve never had it, but it looks close enough. How bad could it be?”

So I put it all together, tasted a tiny bite, and it was totally gross. Crap crap crap. More parmesan, more salt, some oregano made it better, right? Not really. I chose butter and cheese for my spaghetti. No way was I eating that Manwich stuff.

I put the meal on the table. My brother had already witnessed my madness and decided on butter and cheese as well. Our dad sat down, looked at the dish, smelled it, tasted it and… ate the entire thing! After he was finished, he got up and said: “By the way, what the hell was that?” Haha he knew it was gross but didn’t want to hurt my feelings. Poor guy.

But experimenting brings amazing results more often than not, and it’s really how I learned to cook: bake and infuse. Just pick your balls up off the floor and try it! You can always throw it away if it sucks.

xox

Sailor