Sunday, July 21, 2013

Potato Pancakes

In Creative Writing the teacher always gave us assignments like “write about your grandmother’s kitchen.” I know why she did this. She wanted us to write about cookies and love. Blech. The girls all wrote about cookies and love and it made me want to throw up. Hannah wrote about how her grandmother made chocolate chip cookies with her and how she let her mix the dough and how she ate them afterwards when the chocolate was all melty and her grandmother wore wire-rim glasses and an apron and slippers, and when her grandpa came home he ate cookies too and gave them all a big kiss. Hannah Hopkins is a liar because everyone knows she has no grandparents, because her granddaddy killed her grandmother and spent the rest of his life in jail. Killed her dead with a carving knife. She got an A+. That’s when I stopped believing in Creative Writing.

This year we have a new teacher and she’s lazy. She’s using the last teacher’s class plans, so we have to do all the same assignments over again. Last time, I wrote about how my grandmother’s kitchen had flowery wallpaper and smelled like cotton candy and how my grandmother used to be in the circus, which is how come she loved cotton candy. I got a D. I went too far, I guess. This year, I’m going with THE TRUTH, because being creative doesn’t pay off.

Chapter One

My grandmother makes me eat potato pancakes every day. This is because she lives on a potato farm and there isn’t much else to eat. My grandmother is a stout woman who never smiles, and she always wears the same blue spotted dress and apron and puts her grey hair in a bun on her head. She is too poor for wallpaper.

Chapter Two

When my grandmother makes potato pancakes, she clamps a steel grinder to the wooden table in the kitchen and cranks the handle while pushing potatoes in. The potato mush comes out the other end. I sit and watch. There is nothing else to do.

Chapter Three

Once my grandmother has ground all the potatoes into mush, she mixes it with some flour, salt and pepper, and hands me an onion to cut up. She doesn’t like cutting onions because they make her cry. They make me cry too. But I do it.

Chapter Four

My grandmother mixes the onion with the potato mush and warms up a skillet with a big knob of bacon fat in it. Then she puts in handfuls of the potato mixture. They sizzle when they hit the pan. I often wish for a sausage instead but this is not to be. I once asked for sausage and she threw a spoon at me. Grandmother isn’t one for conversation.

Chapter Five

I do not know my grandmother’s name. I’m not sure my mother knows my grandmother’s name, and they’re related. My mother grew up eating potato pancakes and as soon as she had me she left to go work in the big city so here I am. Maybe her name is Gretchen. Maybe it is Gerta. Maybe it’s Esperanza. OK, that’s impossible, I know that. Esperanza means “hope” in Spanish. Maybe it’s Verzweiflung. That’s a German word, and she is German.

Chapter Six

When the potato pancakes are done, Grandmother stands over me and makes sure I eat every bit. This is because she suspects I do not like potato pancakes. If I had a dog, I would feed them to the dog. Some apple sauce would be nice. A dollop of sour cream would be better. A sausage would be better still. After I have eaten the potato pancake, Grandmother wipes my face with a foul-smelling rag and sends me out to play. Most of the time she hands me a garden fork and basket because I also have to dig up more potatoes for dinner. This leaves very little time for play. A dog would be nice. A dog and a ball would be better.

Chapter Seven

When I grow up I will never eat another potato pancake. If I never see a potato pancake again in my life I will consider my life to have been a success. When I grow up I will eat sausages and own a dog. I will marry a lady named Esperanza who smells like cotton candy. Some people might call this wishful thinking, but I call it ambition.

The End. 

The Cooking of Germany, Time-Life Books, 1968

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sauerkraut Stuffed Pineapple

Do not try to bring hummingbirds into Hawaii. They will not let you. It is strictly prohibited. It is verboten. Not even if it is your favorite pet hummingbird. No way, no how. A soon as you land in Hawaii, they throw a lei over your shoulders and search you for contraband hummingbirds. Aloha my ass for the hummingbirds. Do not hide a hummingbird in your pants. Don’t even joke about the hummingbirds. Sure, you may find that once you have booked your passage to Hawaii, you will be inundated with requests from hummingbirds to secure themselves as stowaways in your baggage, because they, too want to go on holiday to Hawaii. But do not accept their bribes. If a hummingbird decides to hide in your baggage, and is discovered, he or she will meet a grisly end. Hummingbirds are not welcome in Hawaii.

This is because hummingbirds are attracted to bromeliads and end up pollinating them. But this is great! you say. How convenient! Isn’t nature wonderful! Surely the world could use more bromeliads! Hang on, what’s a bromeliad?

Pineapples, for a start. They are the most delicious bromeliads around. Companies like Dole and Del Monte have invested a lot of time and money into making sure your pineapple is succulent, sweet, low in acid, and lasts until it reaches your local supermarket. What ruins pineapples is seeds. And what makes seeds? Pollination. And what pollinates pineapples? Hummingbirds. Hence the ban. 

Pineapples aren’t even native to Hawaii; they were brought over from South America and soon found a home in the perfect climate. Hawaii might very well be associated with the pineapple, but it doesn’t even crack the top 12 list of nations producing the most pineapples.

It sucks to be a hummingbird.

Here is a picture of a pineapple stuffed with hot sauerkraut from Germany. Enjoy. 

The Cooking of Germany, Time-Life Books, 1968

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Ludwig Boltzmann's Steak Tartar

That Will Be That: Ludwig Boltzmann’s Last Meal, September 4, 1906, Duino, Italy

Ludwig stares at the wooden platter in despair.
On it, with utmost care, has been arranged steak tartar —
several small dishes of condiments surrounding
a rounded heap of raw minced beef into which
a single egg yolk has been dropped.

It’s a treat from his wife, who’s thought to combat
his dour mood of late with a dish from the Old Country
that he used to love. They are at the Hotel Plas,
on the Adriatic coast, for a spot of R & R
to shore up his unstable state of mind
before the lectures he’s due to give.

But all Ludwig can see are his brains,
the yellow egg throbbing at the center
like the restless nucleus of an atom,
more dense than he can imagine,
more, even than the rye bread
his wife is breaking apart with her bare hands.

She points to the anchovies, the salt, the capers,
but he’s imagining they’re electrons, protons, neutrons, entropy,
the Second Law of thermodynamics and statistical mechanics.
He’s watching his daughter Elsa scoop up some meat,
dip it in parsley and eat, oblivious to the fact
that while there’s less on the platter, it’s not really gone.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” a therapist once told him,
but the small stuff is his life’s work,
something his colleagues don’t even believe exists.
He dips his fingers in and chews it over: tomorrow,
when his wife and daughter go for a swim,
he’ll hang himself, and that will be that.

The Cooking of Germany, Time-Life Books, 1969

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Seeing Stars

If the sky is blue, it’s probably going to be hard to see shooting stars, which are more visible at night when the intense power of the sun doesn’t obscure them from view.

A shooting star is actually a meteoroid, which makes its distinctive bright slash across the sky as it hits the Earth’s atmosphere and burns up. If part of it makes it to the ground, it is a meteorite. Meteoroids are bits that fall off an asteroid, sort of like crumbs falling off a chocolate cake. You do not want to get hit by a meteorite. It’s not like getting hit by cake. Some of them are very large and consist of solid iron and rock.

If a meteorite hit you on the head, you would see shooting stars inside your brain. Actually, you’d probably die first.

Some people use the occasion of spotting a shooting star to make wishes, just as they do when seeing a moving vehicle loaded with hay, or when they throw coins in a fountain or blow out birthday candles or rub a magic lamp. If you wish upon a star, you’ll wake up where the clouds are far behind you. Your troubles will melt like lemon drops, and you will be found high above the chimney tops. This is what happens to people who see rare and random events as occasions to express their desires in the belief that some cosmic force will “make it so.”

A large meteorite zoomed into Russian airspace in 2013, terrifying a lot of people. You can see it here.

The Magic of Jell-O, MGR Publishing & Promotions Inc., 1998

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Liquid Diet

There’s something very appealing about the idea that liquids could “not count” when it comes to reducing one’s caloric intake. The lack of bulk suggests that there is no correlation between what you drink and the physical fat you want to lose.

The juice diet might therefore seem like an easy, and easy to maintain option: don’t chew anything; just slurp away. And you can get all your nutrients if you mix it up with milk, juice, a shake, sodas and a bevvy or two as a reward at the end of the day.

Often, “juicers” take this a step further by simply reducing solid foods into liquids by tossing them in a blender. Sure — you might drink it down, but make no mistake about it: you’re eating, not drinking, or at least your stomach is.

This handy little chart from 1968 means well. It wants to remind the dieter that alcohol has calories too, and does it by providing tasty, fat-laden equivalents to popular drinks. Certainly, it aims to act as a diet fairy sitting on the shoulder of the lady who will whisper in her ear “that Daiquiri is like eating 3 tablespoons of cream cheese!”

But how effective is it, really?

If I want a glass of wine with dinner, I’m not going to be put off by seeing that it’s equivalent to two teaspoons of butter. Whatev. It could also backfire by making one salivate at the thought of snarfing back peanuts or bacon, but knowing these are off-limits, reach for a beer instead.

Of course, it’s not just calories at stake here: it’s fat. There isn’t any in the drinks, but loads in the foods. The fat which will be produced by the body converting all that carbohydrate will come later. This too is the hidden problem with juice diets: they’re loaded with carbs.

Better to eat that avocado with a glass of wine. Because we all know that the peanuts are going to make you want a beer and vice-versa. And that there’s nothing that works as well as taking your mind off your fat than getting drunk.


Eat and Stay Slim, Better Homes and Gardens, 1968

Also from this book: Life's A Bitch

Friday, July 5, 2013

Life’s a Bitch

An interview with the late Leona Helmsley’s dog, Trouble. Trouble, a Maltese, has recently inherited $12 million in the convicted hotelier’s will.

Q: So how does it feel to be the richest dog in America?

T: It’s OK, I guess.

Q: How has having $12 million changed your life?

T: It hasn’t, really. I’m a dog. I don’t have extravagant tastes.

Q: Were you aware that two of Mrs. Helmsley’s own grandchildren were given nothing?

T: I heard about it, yes. It was all over the news. I feel very badly for them — they lost their grandmother in the prime of her life.

Q: She was 87.

T: Exactly. She had so much to live for.

Q: Do you have any knowledge about why they might have been disinherited so cruelly?

T: It had something to do with not naming their children after Harry.

Q: Harry Helmsley, Mrs. Helmsley’s late husband? Her third husband?

T: Yes. Of course, he was not actually related to the grandchildren in question.

Q: Well, how could they be expected to do that?

T: That’s nothing. The other two have been required to visit his grave every calendar year in order to get their money.

Q: What was it like to live with such a despotic woman?

T: Look: my life has been, and will continue to be, exceptionally comfortable. I have no complaints.

Q: Not one?

T: Well, maybe one. The food’s undergone a vast improvement. Nowadays I get a bowl of Also, which I like. Most dogs do. It’s tasty. Day in, day out, I don’t mind it. But before, she insisted her chef made me this dish — literally, the dish was edible.

Q: How odd!

T: Yeah, it looked like your regular dog bowl, right, but it was green and made out of some molded lime gelatin with iceberg lettuce and onions all embedded in it.

Q: Wow.

T: And in the middle was always something fancy like tuna salad or beef tips, but all dolled-up. Honestly, I could have used a bone every now and then. I’m a dog, you know? And she’d stand there expecting me to eat it, like she’d done me some big f*cking favor. Sorry, I don’t usually use bad language.

Q: That’s OK. You were under duress.

T: Despite my name, I’m no trouble. I’m pretty laid back. I used to bite people, but I’ve stopped that now. There’s no need. We used to have this running joke: “you’re the bitch,” “No, you’re the bitch.” It wasn’t very funny, but I played along.

Q: Certainly. Are you aware that Mrs. Helmsley has asked that you be buried with her when you die?

T: Ain’t gonna happen. I had my lawyer already look in to it. In the State of New York, you are not allowed to inter animals with people. I dodged that bullet. I’m going to be cremated instead. No muss, no fuss.

Q: Thank you for your time, Trouble. And best of luck for the future.

T: Sure thing.

(Note: Trouble’s inheritance was later reduced to $2 million, the remainder going in part to Leona Helmsley’s two disinherited grandchildren. She lived to be 12 years old and was, indeed, cremated.)

Eat and Stay Slim, Better Homes and Gardens, 1968

Also from this book: Liquid Diet

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?

To escape this lady.

Curiously, the lady presumably about to enjoy her chicken dinner is celebrating her butchery with a chicken.

Any recipe that begins with “cut off head if not already done” is going to shape up to be a good one.

For a set of instructions that makes a pun of the word “draw,” however, they would best be delivered with actual illustrations.

Cutco Cook Book, Margaret Mitchell, 1956

 Also from this book: Euphemistically Speaking...

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Euphemistically Speaking…

There is no such thing as a Chilean Sea Bass. It is a Patagonian Toothfish, and it ain’t pretty.

Prunes are a victim of the success of marketers who wanted us to associate them too much with bowel movements; now they are known as Dried Plums. Which is what they in fact, are.

You might think using Rapeseed Oil is politically incorrect because of the whole “rape” thing. So you use Canola Oil instead with no qualms. It’s the same thing.

A Chinese Gooseberry might sound a tad too exotic, but you’d eat a Kiwi, right? Well, it’s not all that exotic if you’re in New Zealand, which is where it grows.

Would you like some Dolphinfish? No? Why ever not? How about some Mahi Mahi instead?

You’ve probably had some delicious Slimehead. You won’t have called it that, however. You’d have asked for some Orange Roughy.

I expect you enjoy steaks, chops and ribs too. Yes, ribs.

There is a significant connection between how we perceive a food and our physical response to it — and what something is called plays an important part in that. Thus it is that we have a long tradition of simply changing the names of foods to ease them into the public maw if the original name proves unappealing.

Sometimes there’s a battle between those who want all foods described literally (high fructose corn syrup) and those with a more poetic bent to mask the truth with prettier words (corn sugar).

During the 1940s, there was a great push to call offal “Variety Meats” in order to persuade housewives on a budget to find new sources of protein. Cookbooks were the front line in this effort, but as the Cutco Cook Book shows, the authors / illustrators didn’t really get it. On the one hand the chapter is Variety Meats; and thereafter follows the bits and bobs in all their anatomically-named glory. At least in the days when most folks actually ate offal because they had no choice the language was more sensitive to this dilemma. A sheep’s lungs were called “lights.”

Surely there can be another word for “brains”?

(Note also the unfortunate illustration that probably means to depict three chefs dancing with excitement about the prospect of cooking offal, but instead appear to be fending off swarms of flies attracted to it.)

Cutco Cook Book, Margaret Mitchell, 1956

Also from this book: Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road? 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Just Add Water

“In this day of uncertainty and unrest, it is a wise plan for a family to be prepared for any emergency by having a good supply of food on hand. Who knows when natural disasters, unemployment, or even the ravages of riots or war may strike?”

Such is the premise of the spectacularly dull book Just Add Water, by Barbara G. Salsbury (the wife of a Mormon Bishop). A big hit in the world of panic cookery, Just Add Water was reprinted 34 times between 1972 and 1980.

The recipes aren’t all that taxing, and nor was the task of writing them, as can be seen in the instructions for reconstituting meat granules. Clearly you had to follow the right recipe or a culinary disaster would occur.

If you hit upon exactly the right words, why change them?

This page of recipes reflects Salsbury’s vivacious and compelling dedication to her craft. You can see that she took to heart the need to concentrate on dryness. (TVP stands for Textured Vegetable Protein.)

These recipes are better suited for 1972

Vagueness is a distinctive feature of this book, as is the admonition to “remember” to do things while cooking so as not to ruin the meal by failing to cook long enough or not season enough or by not adding sufficient water or perhaps simply by getting in your car and driving to Mexico rather than eat another dish that has relied on “swelling” to be edible.

Be sure to follow that last sentence to the letter.
Far more interesting (and certain to produce a tastier result) is this recipe for Scripture Cake. One presumes the water added comes in the form of a baptism.

Keep your clauses in your pauses to avoid accidents.

Salsbury says "Your attitude is all important! If you involve your family and are happy at the prospect of eating dehydrated foods, you most likely will succeed. If you are doubtful and say , 'Well, I guess we'll have to eat this stuff now,' you've already lost."

Amen, sister.

At the back of the book is a helpful list of books for further reading if you live in Utah and fear the apocalypse.

Of note:

Bee Prepared with Honey (haw haw!)

Gateway to Survival (as opposed to the Gateway to Doom)

Passport to Survival (Do you need a passport for that?)

Honey, Some Ways to Use It (Honey – I shrank the Kids!)

Soybean Granule Recipes (oh Boy!)

Tasty Imitations (For when the real thing doesn’t quite measure up)

Just Add Water, Barbara G. Salsbury, 1972

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Earl of Bunwich Folds

It’s approaching six o’clock and the Earl of Sandwich is holding a strong hand. He’s been at the card table since noon, but things have not been going his way; already he’s lost a fancy timepiece, a ship, some silver candlesticks and an entire flock of sheep. He’s starving but can’t afford to stop playing to eat.

The rest of the table has folded, and only his nemesis remains: the Earl of Bunwich, who rather fancies getting his paws on the jewels his mistress wears, and for that matter, also his mistress’s jewels, which even now threaten to spill from her décolleté. His stomach rumbles loudly, prompting Sandwich to remark that he’s a bit peckish.

In order to show off, Bunwich calls his servant over and asks him to bring him some food. The servant hesitates; this is a highly unusual task. What shall he bring? Bunwich leans back in his chair and with growing flourish requests a bun, cut in half, with some loose ground meat, a pickle, some green beans, a tomato and a slice of cheese. The servant looks alarmed. Insert the top half of the bun halfway, between the pickle and beans, Bunwich adds, only make it upside down.

Not to be outdone, Sandwich calls his servant over and asks for a sandwich. A sandwich, your honor? the boy replies, puzzled. That’s what I said, the Earl replies.

I bet everything I own that my dinner will be imitated for generations to come, offers the Earl of Bunwich, certain his opponent is bluffing.

Off speeds the boy. When he returns, he carries with him a piece of ham stuffed between two slices of bread. Bunwich laughs.

Sandwich merely eats, with his hands. Bunwich looks at the plate upon which his dinner sits. He has forgotten to ask for a knife and fork, and has no idea how to bring the food to his mouth. A long moment passes as dust motes float in the air in the candlelight. 

Bring me one of those things Sandwich has, calls someone from another table. Bunwich stops smiling.

I fold, he sighs.

Family Dinners in a Hurry, Golden Press, 1970

 Also from this book: S'moresThe Arithmetic of Desperation

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