Have I talked about how much I love old cookbooks & recipe pamphlets? Well, I do. I mean, I never actually try the recipes in there- I like to cook, but not the stuff out of these things. I collect them because they're usually filled with hilariously awful concoctions that I can't imagine anyone eating with any sort of enjoyment. I don't know what was going on in kitchens across America until Julia Child came along, but awful food seems to have been pretty common from the 1930's until about the late 1960's. I've seen sooooo many recipes that centered around mixing canned goods, cracker crumbs, 'American Cheese', and instant minced onions together, pouring the lumpy slurry into a greased baking dish, and baking it for an hour until unrecognizable.
I'm not saying ALL American cooking at the time was bad, no, no, no- I'm just saying there was a vomit-inducing streak a mile wide for a long time and this stuff makes me laugh. And feel a little urpy.
For instance: I found this recipe pamphlet promoting Knudsen Dairy Products a while back and it's filled with some of the worst recipes in my whole collection, but the illustrations are lovely (which is another reason I like these things). On the cover, you see some appealing cartoony versions of food topped off with gleaming dollops of sour cream, whipped cream, and butter next to creamy pie slices and richly dressed salads. Not bad, not bad. But inside, you'll find a rude awakening.
If someone put hot dogs covered with cottage cheese ('farmer style'??) and crushed potato chips in front of me expecting me to eat it, I would have to leave the room, mumbling apologies. But that dish isn't nearly as bad as the assemblage called "Cottage Cheese Pop-Up" on page 28. Here it is, verbatim:
Cottage Cheese Pop-up
4 Cups Popcorn
2 Cups Knudsen Cottage Cheese
4 strips bacon
3 tablespoons chopped green onions
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 hard-cooked eggs, sliced
1/2 Cup crushed potato chips
Mix popcorn with cottage cheese. Cut bacon in 1/4" strips and stir into cheese mixture, add onions and salt, stirring until thoroughly mixed. Place half the cheese mixture in lightly greased casserole and cover with egg slices. Pour remaining cheese mixture on top and cover top with remaining egg slices and potato chips. Cook in low oven (250 degrees) 20 to 30 minutes- or place casserole in pan of hot water and cook on top of stove keeping water at slow boil for 30 to 40 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.
Words fail me, gentlemen.
Let's move on to another favorite: "The 1969 National Chicken Cooking Contest Recipes" which is a book I saw in some junk shop. I idly picked it up and leafed through the pages, instantly realizing I was holding a gold mine even though the whole thing was water damaged and torn in several places. The contest was sponsored by Delmarva Poultry and every single recipe submitted is accompanied by a picture and brief bio of the contestant. I wish I could scan this whole book, Project Gutenberg-style, so that you can see all these people. It's filled with friendly wrinkly old ladies, grim middle-aged men, earnest Cub Scouts, shyly smiling teenage girls, milquetoast housewives, weirdo housewives, Army officers, nutty-neighbor types, just everybody is delightful. Adding to the entertainment value is the fact that almost everyone who submitted a recipe across that nation came up with some sort of embarrassingly jokey dorky dippy name for their chicken dish. For example:
Picnic-Packin' Danny-Chick??!!!! That sounds to me like something hoarsely hollered out by a grizzled old frontier man with a shotgun, "Get off mah land, you picnic-packin' Danny-chick!!!"
Some other highlights include: Chick-O-Rum 'n' Honey, Munch Fun Bacon 'n' Cheese Chicken, Strip-Tease Drumsticks, Leprechaun's Delight, Winekraut Chicken, Chicken Excite-Mince, Tea-Zing Chick, Chick-A-Coo-Coo-Roo-Coo-Coo (!), Wee Luv It Chic!, Mace 'n' Dixon Chicken, Delmarvalous Chicken Tan-Tarara, Friar Cluck, Cock-A-Noodle Do, Low-Cal Chick-Up-Front, Teen-Scene Chicken, Futuristic Chick, Chick Be Simple Chick Be Quick, Pear-Adise Chicken Bake-In, Peanut Chick-O....it just goes on and on like that.
I also keep my eyes peeled for privately printed old recipe collections put out by churches, ladies' clubs, and the like. These also usually include household hints and old local ads like the ones in the backs of high school yearbooks. Right now I'm looking at Stew 'n' Stir from the Annie B. Greene Wesleyan Service Guild of the First Methodist Church in Troy, Alabama, circa 1955. On page 71, we have a page of "Cook 'n' Kitchn' Tips". By the way, I promise I'm not adding all these 'n's in these recipe titles and headings- these people just love 'n's and there's nothing I can do about it. Anyway, one of these hints contains the perennial outdated, unintentionally funny usage of the word "gay".
"Poke stuffed olives in center of meat balls- real good, real gay!"
Poke, meat, balls, and gay in the same sentence is too wonderful to ignore.
But on the same page we have my favorite one-line cooking tip ever, although you could also take it as a sex and dating tip:
It sounds messy, but according to them, it's pretty effective. I'd like to know more about this technique, but I guess they can't go into detail in a church cookbook.
I'm sorry there was no B-Movie Non Sequitur last Sunday- one person in particular was really upset about it! So I apologize.
To make up for it, I'm posting a deliriously wonderful video that my friend Jay sent me yesterday. It's about girls' Halloween costumes and it goes like this:
One of my favorites is the Sexy 1900's Steel Conglomerate Tycoon. And Sexy Detective!
Now, I adore Halloween. You all know this. But I find manufactured Halloween costumes in general to be kind of nose-wrinkling. Who wears them? Who buys them? I've never actually seen anyone wearing one, so I'm a little mystified about where the demand is for these things. And why are they so badly put together and cheap looking? The seams are already coming apart on the hanger! Although most of them do come in a sealed plastic bag so you can't see how poorly made they are, I guess. And the fabric! Everything looks like it was pieced together out of old, cheap, stretchy, shiny underpants! It makes you gag! Not only that, the prices are ridiculously high for such shoddy stuff.
Now, I must say that there is one kind of manufactured Halloween costume that is completely excused from that little rant even though it's even more cheap and absurd than the other type. And it doesn't exist anymore anyway. I wore a couple of these when I was really little, so they have sentimental value: The Vinyl Apron and the Plastic Mask Combo. The kind that came in a lightweight cardboard box with a cellophane window in the lid showcasing the mask. Those were so exciting, even though they looked ridiculous and the masks were supremely uncomfortable, unless you liked the feeling of tepid condensed breath and sweat smearing all over your face. And the vinyl apron (always with permanent fold marks) didn't necessarily have a life-size approximation of, say, Casper the Friendly Ghost on it so that you would sort of look like Casper, albeit in a very removed way. No, the apron would have a sort of scene drawn all over it with a picture of Casper flying around and waving at you. Made no sense, but I didn't care. I went one year as the Vague Beautiful Princess and I loved the mask so much. I remember really being jazzed about the incredibly saturated Day-Glo pink color of her lips. I found that mask in Junkman's Daughter a couple years ago and almost had a heart attack when I saw it! I bought it instantly.
Jeff used to work at a huge old cluttered Army-Navy store and every year the store was descended upon by hordes of people looking for costume stuff. He says that every single year dozens of men came in wanting to buy an Air Force Captain's uniform. Why? Because their wives/girlfriends/whatever were going as Barbara Eden's iconic 'I Dream Of Jeannie' character, so they wanted to be the Larry Hagman/'Tony Nelson' counterpart. He also says most people had no idea what they were going to be for Halloween and that many people threw together something totally incoherent, like combat fatigues with a Frankenstein mask, a fringed vest, and a can of silly string. I dunno- to me, any fucked up thing you can put together is way better than those Party Hut costumes.
OK, I'm about to write a love letter to a computer. Embarrassing? Sure. Ridiculous? Oh, yeah. Just out-and-out pathetic? I'll give you that, and I'll even add that it's laughable.
Well, laugh all you like, but I'm not ashamed to say that I love and miss that damn Mac Classic II, even though I never had one. Here- I'll supply a photo of someone's Mac Classic that I found (which still works fine), so you can have some sort of a frame of reference. I was happy to find this photo because it includes some everyday objects near the computer so that you have a sense of scale (Lucky Strikes!). The candles are a nice reverent touch, too.
Ever have one of these? Or work on one? Just curious.
Here's a sketch of my early computer history, which might give some insight as to why I like the Mac Classic II. My family didn't have a computer, but the family that was sort of our family's best friend, the LaRoches, had a Commodore 64 that Dianne LaRoche and I would occasionally screw around with. The only thing on the Commodore 64 that interested us was Print Shop, a sort of Iron Age, Lascaux cave forerunner of the idea of desktop publishing. In the 6th grade, I remember the two of us printing a huge 6-foot long banner that said " I love Ryan Gibson!" with Print Shop, which took about 3 hours to print and we had a lot of that perforated sprocket hole paper to tear off it afterwards. That's really all we did with it.
And I had no interest in computers in high school- I graduated in 1991 from a small school and there were next to no computer classes offered there, although I do remember that one could take "Keyboarding" if they so desired. I did not. And when I took the art school 'math' cop-out course in 1992, which was then called "Computer Math", we had Amigas in there!! Jesus Christ!! I still find that hard to believe. I was truly in a dark and unknown land in that class- I had no interest in or aptitude for working with these computer things, but it was required, so let's get it over with. But yeah, we had to do little animations and a touch of programming. I was fine at the animations and a miserable failure at the programming.
Then in...oohhhhh...I guess it was 1994 that I was required to take Desktop Publishing, where they had a room filled with the most up-to-date Macs of the time, and I was still kinda lost. Still didn't care for computers. Hated having to do anything with that goddamed vector Adobe Freehand shit. "Freehand" was certainly a misnomer. At the time, I was deeply immersed in choosing the right sheet of Arches Extra Cold Press Deckled Edge paper and finding soft brushes with just the right amount of spring and all these picky geometrical processes and 'files' and 'folders' seemed like an absurd amount of trouble to go through just to get a crummy fake ad printed out on a piece of crap 8 1/2 x 11 copy paper. "This is bullshit! If I wanted to be graphic designer, that would be my major, wouldn't it?" The only good thing about that class was the professor; one Durwin Talon, who said on the first day that we could address him as Durwin Talon, Dark Lord of the Sith. He gave us extra credit if we we went to see "RoboCop", since there was supposed to be a computer animated sequence in there and that had something to do with our class. I didn't go.
But that same year, I had to write a long paper for History of Film and my professor, Mr. Joe Marohl, required us to either type the paper or print it out from a computer and he told us that there was a writing lab in Norris Hall (known as the 'computer building'- a very cold, quiet, and boring place). So once I finished writing my paper out I went to Norris and found this writing lab, which turned out to be a small grey deserted room. There was one long waist high counter that ran all around the room and on this counter there were about eight little Mac Classic II's. They just sat there, patiently waiting. I pulled up a chair, turned it on, and started to 'type up' my paper. And typing is still the way I thought of it. And no, it hadn't occurred to me to actually write it on the computer. Even now, whenever I write anything longer than these blog posts, it's always longhand first.
But that day I had such a satisfying time typing up that paper, for some reason. Sure, I'd enjoyed writing the paper itself, but that teeny little humble and inoffensive computer was so appealing to me and so cute. I just liked the idea of that small little Mac Classic with no separate hard drive to bump your feet into or take up space on the desk, and no memory room for too many big scary programs I didn't know how to work. Just perfect for quietly helping you turn out a nice-looking paper, like a little friend! No one else came in while I worked- it was just me and the Mac Classics, having a nice, peaceful, and productive afternoon. I got an A+ on that paper, too.
Alas, at that time the Mac Classic II was on its way out, and I had no money or reason or inclination to buy a computer for years until The Internet was a well-established entity. But I'm still carrying a torch for that friendly little friend whose friendly name was Mac Classic II.
One more thought: I realize some of my friends who are reading this are PC people who might scoff at my Mac leanings, but that's OK. I myself am not one to judge a person based on their computer beliefs or operating system affiliations. I know you're laughing, Chuck!
I found this great old book in a Junior League thrift shop about a week ago:
Guerrilla Wife???!! Wow! I bought it just for the title and the cover alone, which I thought were pretty funny. I mean, seeing as how the woman is a self-described "guerrilla wife", you'd think she'd opt for a pair of pants instead of the long full skirt with crinoline. I guess she's rolled up the sleeves of her shirt and that's as casual as she gets- that's the only fashion concession she's making in this guerrilla wife business.
And it seems that the Guerrilla Husband, who's fleshed out by the illustrator as sort of a bus-and-truck edition of Clark Gable in "Mogambo", has been through some shit, since his shirt's ripped all to hell. But the more I look at it, the more those rips with brown skin showing through look more like she just tried to beat him up with a caramel apple.
And take a look at the elaborate endpapers:
Yeah, I forgot to take the price tag off. But books were half off that day, so I got it for two bucks instead. Anyway, I like to look at this beautiful scene as a sort of Bizarro Universe version of the "Jolly Holiday" scene from "Mary Poppins". Surely you remember that- when Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke leap magically into Dick's sidewalk pastel drawing, then they frolic around an animated English (and yet somehow American) countryside? And they encounter a barnyard full of farm animals that sing "Oooohhh, it's a jollly holiday with Maarrryyyyy..."? Yeah.
What's it about? Let's read the flap and see. Well, hey! Turns out it's a memoir! Here's what it says:
"This is charming Mrs. Spencer, who went to the Phillippines as the bride of her mining engineer husband. Life on Masbate [my italics] was pleasant: plenty of servants to do the housework, the Saturday bridge parties, and occasional sprees to Manila. Then the Japs. To avoid torture or even murder, the Spencers took to the hills, little dreaming at the time that the jungle would claim them for more than two years. Louise Spencer didn't imagine that...[blah, blah, blah]....They slept on bamboo poles or on the ground, ate strange native foods- rice or homemade peanut butter or anything they could get. They didn't think they could smoke the cigarettes they made from old scraps of paper or drink the cocktails they poured from a kerosene can, but they did. They longed for things like a calendar and some soap, and they nursed one fire for months to save matches. Louise Spencer held her breath while her husband was attempting to repair the only watch they had. The women's clothes were patched, tattered, and mildewed; and they treasured a single moldy old lipstick for the sake of the husbands who could slip back rarely from dangerous guerrilla operations."
Wait...what? The men wanted to put lipstick on when they came back to camp? Hmmm.
Anyway, looks like these American imperialist dogs got a rude awakening. Hey buddy, you should be happy you weren't unlucky enough to be in the fuckin' Bataan Death March going on a couple miles away!