Saturday, January 11, 2014

When The Wheels Fall Off

Sell the horse, she says. Sell the horse! You want to keep fit, sell the horse. So I sell the horse. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Horses are expensive, she says, rubbing her fingers together. Horses eat, need the vet, need shoes. I need shoes, she says, lifting one foot onto the table. Horses are old-fashioned, she says, and goes back to her magazine. So I sell the horse.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

And then she said burn the cart. Burn the cart! After all, she reasoned — without a horse, how can you pull a cart? You want to keep warm, burn the cart. There is plenty of firewood in a cart. It was the middle of winter, and snow lay thick on the ground. It seemed like a good idea. So I burn the cart.

Of course, in the winter you can use the sled. The sled is designed to go easy on snow.

In the summer, not so much.

Still, I’m fit. It’s one foot in front of the other all day long pulling this sled across the pasture while the cows look on. I know what they’re thinking: they’re thinking here I am wearing a fine brass bell doing nothing but sunning myself all day and there he goes, wearing a funny hat, dragging cheese back to his fat wife.

The Cooking of Germany, Time-Life Books, 1969

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Child Model Speaks

Yes, I was a child model. I did all sorts — clothing catalogues, TV spots, book covers. My Mom took me to all the shoots and they saved the money I earned for a college education. Well, that was the idea; that’s what I was always told. As it turns out, when I turned 18, there wasn’t anything left. My Dad had used it all to pay bills. I think my Mom wanted to be a model herself. You know; same old story. I loved it, actually, because it meant getting out of school. It was my “job.” I thought it was pretty cool. It was easy work, let’s face it.

Ah yes — the Fast Fixin’ Kids’ Recipes, that one was memorable. I did a bunch of stuff for Better Homes and Gardens. They wanted to be “multi-cultural” and all that, so they hired kids who all looked real different. This kid on the cover with me was a sweetheart. He just giggled and smiled. Honestly, I think he was on something — cold medicine or something, Some Moms did that to keep their kids obedient — pliable, you know. Would just smile and smile and do whatever they were asked then fall asleep.

The photographer for this book got some terrible shots. Real clunkers — kids with their eyes closed, weird facial expressions, etc. In one picture a boy dressed up as a cowboy was literally crying when the shot was taken — and they used it! He looked just miserable, my God.

They had this enormous cookie made in the shape of a bear, covered with frosting. This one girl had to pretend to eat it. She was a trooper. She threw up constantly. Her Mom said it was nerves, but it was because she nibbled the entire time.

I’ve got this gape-mouthed, wide-eyed look going. I’m staring at a burger, or was supposed to. In fact, they took this picture when I was looking at the hand puppet the photographer was waving. They do that, in kid’s shoots, to produce the kind of expressions they want. Well, you don’t want to know what he was doing with that puppet.

Seriously, look at that cover. Why would anyone look like that over a burger? Was it made of gold? No. Mostly it was made of glue and lacquer and all the shit they put on the food to make it look fresh. The food never smelled like food, you know — it smelled like fumes; chemical fumes. You never wanted to lean in too close.

Fast Fixin’ Kids’ Recipes, Better Homes and Gardens, 1988

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Indies

Food looks good on plates that are white and blue. Why? Because food usually comes in colors other than white or blue. You want to see what’s on the plate (hence it cannot be too dark), and you don’t want your plate color to clash with, or — heaven forbid — render unappetizing, your food.


This is why dinnerware with a delicate blue pattern on white has always been popular. Think Willow pattern: an ancient love story played out at every setting.

Old British Castles

Johnson Brothers, the venerable English china company, produced iconic dinnerware until being folded into a larger china conglomerate operating out of China. Old British Castles and Devon Cottage will bring back happy memories for many nostalgic for home cooking — but my favorite has always been Indies, a wistfully floral design that screams 1970s. It has long been discontinued, though a thriving market can be found for it at online auction sites.

Devon Cottage

This book, unappetizing in every other way, nevertheless features Indies plates on its cover. Perhaps they served as a small measure of aesthetic comfort for those subjected to the recipes inside.

Such lovely plates might be cold comfort, however, to those fasting; there is an entire chapter in this book dedicated to not eating. There’s even a recipe for raw rice — “particularly for purging intestinal parasites.”

The Brown Rice Cookbook: Delicious Wholesome Macrobiotic Recipes, Craig & Ann Sams, 1983

Saturday, January 4, 2014


Here in America, we usually buy our chickens denuded of feathers, head, feet, and guts. Many people are too young to have ever had to catch and pluck their poultry.

But chicken feet are a delicacy in many parts of the world.

Looks like chicken feet

 In China, for example, they are called “phoenix claws,” which sounds more exotic than “chicken feet.”

Looks like chicken feet also

In South Africa they are called “walkie-talkies,” because they are served with head, heart, intestines and giblets.

Looks like chicken feet too

In the Philippines, they are called “adidas,” after the running shoes.

The Thrift Cook Book, Marion Harris Neil, 1919

Friday, January 3, 2014

Good Night, Cooper Black

Cooper Black is a font designed by Oswald Bruce Cooper in 1921 for the Barnhart Brothers & Spindler type foundry.

You are very familiar with it because you see it everywhere — or used to. It is characterized by big, bouncy, thick black curves. There are no straight lines; it looks inflated. See how the bases of the feet on this H dip slightly below the line — this makes it feel to your eye as if the letter is subject to gravity and has weight.

Because of its easily-readable, simplistic curves, Cooper Black suggests to us happiness; innocence; safety. It is the basis of the EasyGroup conglomerate’s corporate identity; white Cooper Black lettering on orange or vice-versa. The idea behind the entire brand is that anything you choose to do with any of its many branches is “easy.” Cooper Black is therefore the perfect face for it.

Better Homes and Gardens was clearly banking on this same idea rubbing off on its readers during the 1980s — especially when it came to cookbooks dedicated to children’s food.

Only they didn’t actually use Cooper Black; they used a knock-off. They did use it throughout the books, though, in different weights. This recipe for Good-Night Cocoa gives you three weights and an italic.

What it doesn’t give you is a good cup of cocoa.

Fast-Fixin' Kids' Recipes, Better Homes and Gardens, 1988

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Robot Rounds

In 1986, cookbooks still advised busy Moms to bake hot pockets and pop tarts in an actual oven. Sure, they suggested using ready-made pastry, but that’s all. This recipe for Robot Rounds even requires brushing on an egg wash before baking.

It assumes readers will know what an egg wash is.

It mentions using the “tines of a fork” with which to seal the edges. This book appeared at the exact point in history when “tines” could be mentioned in a recipe illustrated with flying robot homemade hot pockets.

The microwave had not yet made enough of an inroad to kitchens to build a zappable after school snack industry. It’s years away from envisioning squeezable yogurt tubes and cereal bars and a generation who don’t even know how to use a knife and fork because all they eat is food that doesn’t require any.

Kids’ Lunches, Better Homes and Gardens, 1986

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


Guess what’s hidden inside this aspic sarcophagus?

Missing sock

Loose change

Lottery ticket

Engagement ring

Turkey breast

Parking ticket

A summons

Dead mouse

Live mouse

All your hopes and dreams

Pair of dentures

Car keys


All of the above

All-Time Favorite Salad Recipes, Better Homes and Gardens, 1978
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