There is no ‘P’ in ‘Short Stack’

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‘Who knew a pancake could be so Proustian?’

I was thinking a lot about pancakes this past weekend. For one thing, it was Father’s Day — a day, like Mother’s Day, when the ole pancake griddle (or frying pan, which is what was used when I was Growing Up Lutheran) can get a real workout.

I can remember a time, not that long ago, when, as a young(ish) mom myself, I would rustle up a batch of pancakes not just for Father’s-or-Mother’s Day, but almost every Sunday morning, winter and summer — pretty much all year ’round.

My Garland, all shined up at that. This is the same stove that Julia Child owned, I'll have you; the one that's in the Smithsonian. Not this exact one, of course

My Garland, all shiny and ready for pancake-making. This is the same stove that Julia Child owned, I’ll have you know; it’s in the Smithsonian. (Not this exact one, of course)

I’d man (woman?) the griddle on my impressive Garland six-burner-and-griddle-topped stove, spatula and coffee cup in hand(s) while The Child polished off an impressive number of pancakes (five? seven? ten?) without benefit of butter, syrup, or even fork. The experience was rather like watching my Oldest Younger Brother Scott polish off sweet corn. (His talent for this inspired my Swedish Grampa to give him the nickname Scott ‘Sweetcorn’ Henry.) Continue reading

To pick. Or not to pick.

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‘A story about a lady out standing in her (strawberry) field. Oh, and a dog named Snoball.’

It’s getting to be That Season. When signs like these are sprouting along the highways and byways: ‘Pick Ur Own Strawberries’. ‘Pick Ur Own Raspberries’. Even ‘Pick Ur Own Rhubarb’. Later on this summer you’ll be seeing ‘Pick Ur Own Corn’. (Which I do love in its already-picked state; see my ‘To Hell with Kale’ for the Best Corn-Cooking Method on The Planet Earth). And come Fall, there will be, you can count on it, ‘Pick Ur Own Pumpkin’ signs.

Nah. I'd actually rather U did the picking. And I did the eating

To be perfectly honest, I’d much rather U did the picking. And just handed me a nice box of berries

In case you miss the ubiquitous highway signs (sometimes, for grammatical variety, spelled ‘U-Pick’, as above) there are data bases for locating Pick-Ur-Own places in your area. I ‘picked’ (hah) this highlighted one, because it’s Southern Illinois berry-picking we’re going to be talking about.

By the way, I’ve also seen ‘Cut Ur Own Christmas Tree’ (see example below). One can only wonder when we’ll see invitations to ‘Chop Ur Own Wood’? ‘Slaughter Ur Own Beef’? ‘Split Ur Own Atom’? Continue reading

Radio Days

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‘Did I just hear somebody say “sushi”?’

The Dude and I grabbed some sushi last night. (Why is it that one ‘grabs’ sushi, I wonder?) And, as I deftly dipped a chunk of inside-out California Roll into a little dish of sodium-reduced soy sauce, I was transported back, in a rather Proustian tasting-the-madeleine-like way, to one of the very first times I ever had sushi.

It was in Chicago, back in those golden years of traveling around the country on somebody else’s dime. I was working in advertising, natch. On this radio project that involved interviewing people who had lost their money because they were silly enough to be carrying actual money instead of American Express Travelers’ Cheques.

We were using this interviewer named Alan Kalter (he got to be pretty famous as an announcer on Letterman, but, trust me, this was way before that). Anyway, Alan was in a glass-fronted room talking to a group of losers (er, people who’d lost their money) while the producer and I watched and listened and prompted him (via a tiny wireless earpiece mic) to ask certain questions, or to get the interviewee to repeat a phrase more clearly or loudly.

See, we were recording the interviews so we could piece together some ‘it-could-happen-to-you’ radio commercials. So we needed certain phrases, like ‘I lost my money’, ‘My vacation was ruined’, and, of course, ‘I wish I’d been carrying American Express Travelers’ Cheques’ to come out nice and crisp and clear. Continue reading

The fruitcake gene

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‘You either have it, or you don’t’

Have you ever heard someone say ‘Fruitcake isn’t my favorite, but that sure looks tasty’? Or ‘A slice of fruitcake might make a nice change from pie’? No. It’s usually more like ‘Fruitcake! Blechhh. I hate fruitcake’.

Fruitcake is so frowned-upon that there are even jokes about it. You’ve heard the one about there really only being one fruitcake in existence? That it just keeps getting re-gifted? And there is the ‘fruitcake’ pictured at the top of this post. It will ‘never ever get stale’. Basically because you blow it up like a whoopee cushion. And then you don’t eat it.

The 'Fruitcake they'll actually want to get', seen as served. At least you won't have to wash the plate

‘Serving suggestion’ for the ‘fruitcake that never gets stale’. At least you never have to wash the plate

But I have a confession to make. Continue reading

Leftovers

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‘A few stories that got pushed to the back of the fridge’

I know, I know. It’s Christmas Season. And has been since around Halloween, it seems. And while I like the tinsel and the lights and the music (well, except for ‘Little Drummer Boy’) and, most of all, the sensationally savory scent of evergreen, I’m just not quite ready to let go of Thanksgiving.

For one thing, I have a big ole pot of turkey soup to ladle out. But that’s it for leftovers of the edible kind. Absolutely nothing else is left: not the stuffing, not the mashed potatoes, not the non-powdered-sugar gravy, not the cranberry sauce. And especially not the pies. Which were basically gone by breakfast on Black Friday. (Incidentally, I like to think it’s called ‘Black’ Friday because everyone is sad because the pies are gone.)

Pies, left to right: cranberry-apple, apple, and pumpkin, pre-feast, in the Pie Keeper, AKA laundry room.

Pies, while they still existed. Left to right: apple, cranberry-apple, and pumpkin. In the Pie Keeper, AKA the laundry room

And for another thing, Continue reading

In the kitchen with Dad (and the Coal Miner’s Daughter)

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‘Why it pays to taste while making gravy. Or baking pies.’

Anybody who knows me, either in person or through the Virtual Universe, knows by now that Thanksgiving is my all-time favorite holiday. You can read how and why in last year’s ‘Turkey Shoot’. But if you’d rather just keep reading this, I bet you can guess that Awesome Food is one of the reasons T’giving wins the Holiday Sweepstakes, at least for me:

I’m not going to bother posting a picture of what I consider the absolute best part of this best holiday meal: the gravy. Because, delicious though it might be, gravy just isn’t all that photogenic. Neither is stuffing, which I also adore. Go figure.

Anyway. This is a story about gravy and cherry pie and my Dad and the Coal Miner’s Daughter. Continue reading

Great Aunts and Glorified Rice

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‘Summer foods that did not come from a farm stand’

Some of you have read my Ode to Corn, and no doubt share my fondness for what can be enjoyed pretty much straight from the garden. (Or, in my case, the farm stand.) But there was a whole other category of deliciousness to be savored during summers where and when I grew up. And that was the food made by Great Aunts and dished out at Family Reunions.

My favorite of these was a dish called Glorified Rice. Here it is, in all its (sorry, I can’t help myself) glory:

I picked this photo because I have these dishes. Now I just need to fill them

I picked this photo because I have these dishes

Now, the Wikipedia entry for Glorified Rice is pretty hilarious, on a couple of levels. For one, the dish is described as a ‘dessert/salad’. For another, one of its sources was a website called lutheransonline.com, which I clicked (of course) and found is now defunct. Probably all the Lutherans grew up and moved to New York.

But more about these family reunions. They were always held in the summer, mainly so they could be outside. These were the days of Big Families, people. (No way these reunions would fit into a dining room or kitchen. Or a normal back yard, for that matter.) One of my earliest memories is of going to something called the P-A-L (Peterson/Anderson, and Lindstrom?) Reunion, held in Belvedere Park. (There was a swinging bridge that terrified me, but that’s another story.) Continue reading

General Foods, we salute you

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‘Drinking the Kool-Aid (and Country Time) in the 80s’

Those of us who worked on the General Foods account at Ogilvy used to kid around a lot (big surprise; see ‘Short Men and Flat-Chested Women’ for evidence). We used to say that nothing General Foods made was really a ‘food’. You know, something that could actually sustain life. If you were stranded on a desert island with only GF products to eat, you would, basically, starve.

That’s because everything made by General Foods (or GF as it was fondly known around the shop) was actually a powder. A powder that you stirred into water (Kool-Aid, Tang, Country Time Lemonade-Flavor Drink Mix), brewed with water (Maxwell House Coffee), shook up with meat (Shake ‘n Bake), or mixed with other assorted stuff (Good Seasons Salad Dressing Mix). I don’t mention Jello here, even though it was in fact made by GF, because it (and Bill Cosby) were Y&R’s problem, er product.

My first Ogilvy commercial was one for Shake ‘n Bake. This was in the early 80s, so it actually did not use the famous ‘and I helped’ line. Nope, I got to do commercials with this spokesperson called Pete the Butcher. The 80s were replete with spokespersons: Cora (Margaret Hamilton, who was the Bad Witch in the Wizard of Oz) for Maxwell House, Grandpa for Country Time. And those were just some of the Ogilvy GF spokespeople. (Don’t forget Bill Cosby for Jello; as if you could.)

Here’s a typical example of a Shake ‘n Bake Pete the Butcher spot that I found. I’m not sure if I did this one or not. That tells you something right there, I’m afraid. Continue reading

The Emperor has no peppers

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‘A Tale of Two Families (and an identity crisis)’

Okay. Let’s take a quick poll. What’s a brownie? Is it thick and cake-y? Or sort of gooey and dense? And what about oatmeal cookies? Fat, with raisins? Or thin and chewy, with chocolate chips?

And, not to make this all about sweets, what about potato salad? (that is, if anybody out there even eats potato salad anymore): is it sweet and sort of vinegary? Or made with mayo? And if it’s the mayo-y kind, would that be Hellmann’s, or Miracle Whip? Continue reading

Turkey Shoot

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‘At least it’s not Christmas’

Tuesday Night: Sipping a very large Manhattan to reward myself for having made the piecrust (yes, I make my own), I’m tipsily (If that’s not a real word, then it should be) writing my post while waiting for the Big Beef to do its braising thing. (More on Big Beef later.)

Today (if it is in fact Wednesday when you’re reading this) is Thanksgiving Eve. Before I get started raving about Thanksgiving, just take a look at two of the things I like best about this particular holiday:

Fingers crossed this year’s pies are as good as last year’s: Left, apple. On the right, cranberry-apple.

Anyway, I know I promised not to rant. Nor shall I. But allow me to expound instead on the virtues of Thanksgiving. It’s not that I don’t like Christmas. But let’s compare the two festive occasions, shall we? Then, you decide.

Why, in my humble opinion, Thanksgiving beats the tinsel out of Christmas: Continue reading