Monday, May 27, 2013


The word “orthodox” comes to us from the Greek, orthos (right, true, straight) and doxa (opinion, praise). It means adherence to the accepted norms, especially of religious beliefs. To be orthodox is to toe the line.

The opposite is heterodox, which means “other teaching,” and from which we get “heresy.” To commit heterodoxy is to stray from the accepted belief.

If you go off the rails altogether, you are guilty of apostasy; you are an apostate. That’s someone who has abandoned the belief system completely.

In order to understand this series of words, let us use the S’more as an example.

The orthodox version would be to toast a marshmallow to puffy meltiness over a campfire on a long stick, then at the exact moment when the sugars caramelize, to pull it off the stick by sandwiching it between two graham crackers (that is to say, one large one that has been broken in half), within which already lies half a bar of Hershey’s milk chocolate. The hot marshmallow then melts the chocolate to exactly the right consistency to form a unified gooey center. The S’more is then eaten like a sandwich, only with an ecstatic smile upon one’s face.

The heterodox version of this ritual is to use, say, something other than milk chocolate, or a different kind of cracker. Perhaps the violation is to attempt a S’more using unmelted marshmallow, or one that has been toasted over a regular stovetop burner. The absence of an actual campfire could be considered a heterodox S’more-making environment. One could, presumably, simply buy a ready-made S’more from a purveyor of unholy summertime snack foods.

An apostate would simply end their campfire meal by smoking a cigarette instead of making S’mores at all. Or not even go camping. Or they could approximate the S’more experience by using this recipe and filing utterly to enjoy life.

Family Dinners in a Hurry, Golden Press, 1970

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Survival Is Overrated

The single most astonishing thing about survivalist manuals is the assumption that life can be conducted as “normal” if an event of such apocalyptic proportions happens that it wipes out the food supply, water supply, electricity, etc., and turns your former neighbors into desperate thieves who want to steal your shit.

Lead us not into temptation, lest thou neighbor has a gun and shoots your ass.
There is a smugness to the idea that just because someone on the “outside” after such an event has not planned in advance like yourself, then they should suffer. Serves them right. So not only are you supposed to conduct “normal” family life inside your bunker, but you must also become a heartless bastard too.

Shelf after shelf of dehydrated peas. 
Survivalism is a neurosis which finds comfort in math. Supplies must be calculated by weight and volume in advance, and last for a specific amount of time at a predictable rate of consumption. The books which cater to this planning are all about charts and tables.

How to store food in your walls to prevent your hungry neighbors from getting it.
The Survival Food Storage book by Mark and Zhana Thomason goes a step further and is all about the furniture and very floors and walls of your house. Want to store enough food for your entire family for a whole year? Then use food containers to build furniture and stuff them into your walls. This would be awesome if you want to live in a LEGO style house full of rectangular boxes, but you’d have to be, as their illustrations suggest, a stick figure to find it at all comfortable.

Modular Living at its most modular. 
What they don’t account for is what happens to all your lovely beds and tables and fish-tank holders and book-cases once you have depleted your stock. One can imagine a wretched-looking family all eyeing that last box of dehydrated peas in an empty room with a feral desperation in their eyes.

On the other hand, they might just succumb to poisoning brought about by drinking toilet water. Of course one would only resort to that after drinking the contents of the water bed, and swimming pool. Wait, what? I thought they couldn’t go outside? Oh — they only recommend doing that if there is no radioactive fallout. Good call. Don’t drink the glowing water.

If you're thirsty drink from the toilet reservoir. Never the bowl. 
Survivalists approach their topic with the fervent ardor of the newly religious, anxious to spread the word (at a cost, of course; they’re not giving away this advice for free!) to converts. Thus you also find a veritable treasure trove of like-minded books and pamphlets (all with the same home-typed feel) at the back. This one lists such gems for the awkwardly worded How To Prosper During The Coming Bad Years, How You Can Profit From The Coming Price Controls, and How To Prepare For The Coming Crash, all of which sound like gripping reads. Also listed are several Revelations-Style titles as The Survival Bible, Disaster Survival Handbook, Passport To Survival, and Just In Case. (How does one choose?) In case starvation is an issue, there is Putting Food By, Let’s Try Barter, Just Add Water, and Making The Best Of Basics.

Sweetheart, you've lost weight. Let's sit here and dream about food.  
The essential question that underlies all of these books is what sort of world these folks will expect to find once their year of self-sufficiency is over.

One with less crates of milk powder, one presumes. And not enough Kool Aid.

Survival Food Storage, Mark and Zhana Thomason, 1980

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Déclassé Pie

This is a pair of tarts. I mean a tart of pears. Actually, it looks like only one pear was used to make this pie. A crumble isn’t usually also a pie, but a pie can be crumbled. I know this is cheesy, but there’s cheese on top. I mean cheeze. I mean three Kraft Singles cut into triangles. Serve while your family prays. I mean, they will give you praise. Serve this pie only to your prey.

Pies and Cakes, Better Homes and Gardens, 1967

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Calories, Calories, Calories!

If I want to lose weight, I want to gaze at Jennifer Hudson’s new slim frame and live vicariously through her by fantasizing that I, too, could drop lbs like that.

What I do not want to do is count every miserable calorie that I ingest. I do not want to buy this book. I do not want to hold a “low-cal party.”

I do not want to eat this well-balanced meal for dinner. I do not know, or want to know, what that brown log-like thing is. I am suspicious of what looks like shredded cheese on the fruit salad. And if someone EVER tries to make me drink a glass of milk, I will shank myself in the carotid artery with that thin, sharpened fork.

The Forward tells me that “Some folks can eat like the proverbial horse and look as though they regularly dined on sautéed butterfly antennae.” I would like the recipe for that, please.

It also says “Calories, calories. The word is used endlessly until it seems that food is nothing but a writhing mass of calories.”

It ain’t gonna work if you make food sound like an orgy. Only if it sounds like Jennifer Hudson.

Calorie Counter’s Cook Book, Better Homes and Gardens, 1970

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Saddest Wedding Cake That Ever Was

The Saddest Wedding Cake That Ever Was

Once upon a time there was a wedding cake which was made for the nuptials of a young couple who had met at a bus stop and fallen in love. It had seemed to the girl that she would never find a beau, and had given up looking. People, she knew, called her “homely,” which was a euphemism for someone who rode the 61 into town at 4:30 pm to begin her working day as an office cleaner. The young fellow usually rode his bicycle in to work, but it had a flat tire and so he’d taken the bus instead. They’d gotten off at the same stop and found themselves waiting for the 61 again later that night, alone together under a streetlight in the light drizzle.

One thing had led to another fairly rapidly, and a wedding was required. The young man wore his best pair of trousers and trimmed his beard; his bride put on blue eye shadow and a smile. Her aunt had made the cake “on the cheap,” as she said, due to the lack of advance notice, and felt she couldn’t be blamed for it. “You get what you pay for,” she was often overheard claiming, as if this explained most things.

It was necessarily a small reception, things being what they were — just a few photos of the happy pair, and a few of the parents too, the groom’s father grimacing for the camera. They held it in the pub’s back room before the evening crowd piled in. There were drinks of course — pints of bitter, mostly — and a small bowl of mixed nuts. The bride’s mother popped next door for a bag of bon-bons to liven things up when it looked like the nuts would go a bit quick.

The wedding cake wore a tulle-covered heart made from two pipe cleaners, and a sugar bell atop cement-like icing which had been applied with what could only be called a heavy hand. It was plain sponge, without vanilla, because the aunt had run out and not realized until it was too late.

The saddest wedding cake that ever was sat on the bar while the wedding party drowned their sorrows in beer. All except the bride, that is, who sipped at a glass of orange juice, Doctor’s orders. Every now and then she ran her hand over her belly self-consciously, just in case it had all been a dream.

Eventually, the bar became noisy, and smoky, and someone, no-one knows who, accidentally stubbed out a cigarette on the top tier. Someone else poked a finger into one side, and still another drew an obscene picture in the icing with a cocktail sword.

It was only after the married couple roused themselves at noon the next day that they remembered the cake. But by then it had considered itself abandoned, and thrown itself away.

The End.

 Pies and Cakes, Better Homes and Gardens, 1967

Also from this book: Déclassé Pie
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