Wednesday, November 29, 2017

An Alcoa Christmas

Ready to cap off a year of highly reflective celebrations? That's right: Let's dip into 401 Party and Holiday Ideas from Alcoa (Conny Von Hagen, 1971) for Christmas.

Of course, there are gift-wrapping ideas that will only take 27 hours to execute in a month already filled with carol singing, cookie baking, egg nog making, last-minute shopping, present hiding, tantrum throwing, repeated "Santa is watching" warning, office party avoiding, and hurried "some assembly required" assembling.

I'm sure making a regally crowned swan laden with flowers or a dollhouse with windows, garden, and functional door as wrapping for another gift is on the agenda too.

The book also suggests ways to incorporate other cultures' Christmas traditions through creative use of foil. Do you like pinatas?

Well, it's nothing like the tissue-covered papier mâché form, but this chicken made out of a foil-covered bowl is pretty cute, and it will clearly only take one moderately gentle tap to dump the presents, rather than 20 minutes of increasingly frantic whacks with a baseball bat.

If you want something a little colder for Christmas, you can always go with the Polish decorations instead:
I'm pretty sure the kids won't go to bed dreaming of sugarplums. Babouschka will hunt them down in their nightmares as she holds her candle aloft, angry-villager-with-a-torch-style.

Speaking of torches, my favorite Christmas decorations are the ones that seem to suggest this is a fine time of year to burn your house to the ground.

Cover a bunch of paper towel tubes with foil, then top with Christmas ornaments and surround with lit candles. When the kids come through (or maybe when someone opens the door and a stiff breeze blows in), you will have broken glass and blazing cardboard in no time!

Even better: Hang candles from the ceiling, right where an unfortunate tall person might run into them.

And hang them on bent-up coat hangers! Yes, bent-up coat hangers. What could be more stable than lit candles carefully balanced on bent coat hangers dangling from the ceiling?

Happy Holidays from Alcoa! Now, call the fire department.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Funny Name: Speaking in Code Edition

Let's kick off the holiday season with this nonsense sentence of a title from Catalina's Cactus Cuisine (Catalina Junior Woman's Club of Tucson, Arizona, 1968):

Innocent and Christmasy is medieval? It sounds like it should be some kind of a code one spy would whisper to another. The other would reply with something like "Experienced and jejune is cretaceous" and they would sneak out to assassinate the archduke or something.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Create a sensation!

When the title has an exclamation point, the writer must think she has to work extra hard to get readers to believe its assertion.

At least, that's my theory for Simply Delicious! (Gertrude Wright, 1976). Is this booklet really full of simply delicious recipes? Well, I imagine the chocolate cake on the cover is fine, but some of the other stuff, like that enormous platter of appetizers in the front, is pretty sketchy.

And that is why the apps are my favorite part of the book. Let's start out by looking a little closer at the contents of that platter:

Yes, the tray is crammed full of suspect tidbits. Since people love gelatin with olive eyeballs in it (or maybe nipples, the way these little blobs are paired up?), I'll start with them.

They are Paté 'n' Miniature-- all the beef consomme, liver paste, and deviled ham firmed up with gelatin you can stand! (I love the way the "n" makes it look as if the title is missing a word at the end. Paté 'n' Miniature what? Marshmallows? Dachshunds? Golf?)

The bacon spirals may look pretty innocent, but they're not exactly a thrill either:

The bacon hides prunes (stuffed with pecans if you're lucky, or water chestnuts if you're not). I'm sure the book is correct that "most [guests] will be surprised to find they're eating prunes" after picking up a bacon roll, but I'm not convinced they will be as pleased by the surprise as the book seems to suggest.

Now, you might think the strawberries around the edge are safe, but don't they look a bit misshapen? And isn't the greenery a little off? Well, there's a reason for that.

Those aren't strawberries! They're lumps of Velveeta shaped into a strawberry, then rolled in red sugar and topped with parsley. There's a surprise for you! (And if picking up a sugar-covered Velveeta strawberry isn't a weird enough surprise, please note that this also suggests making cheese pumpkins to top a pumpkin pie-- just in case you need a last-minute tip for your Thanksgiving dinner.)

Did you notice the weird-looking lump in the center of the plate? Take a closer look:

Is that some kind of a weird swamp-based flower, torn from the muck and flung on the plate? Well, in the belief that everything is better with gelatin, the recipe writers have even jellified the centerpiece:

Yep, even the rose has to be encased in a mold! I'm thinking that this is supposed to be purely decorative since the rose is secured with tape, but then again, the recipe also calls for sugar. Is anybody supposed to eat the rose jelly? I'm hoping not, but who the hell knows?

The appetizer weirdness is not confined to the platter from the cover, either. My favorite just might be this afternoon craft-project-turned-hors-d'oeuvre:

“When there is no room left in hell, the dead will walk the earth.”

Ahem. So where did this mangy chicken and her circle of ... pink nightmares... come from? In this case, the egg definitely came before the chicken:

The hen is basically an enormous glob of extra-gluey egg salad hand-molded into a shape vaguely resembling a hen, then covered with sieved yolk "to resemble feathers." (I'm not overly familiar with chickens up close, but I'm pretty sure they're not usually covered with yellow lumps unless something has gone very, very wrong.)

And what of the pink circle surrounding nightmare chicken?

They're small hens, of course! Shrimp balanced on a deviled egg and iced with pink cream cheese. The cookbook asks, "Notice how it resembles a hen in a nest?" I have to admit that I've been trying to notice for 20 minutes, and I still think they look more like convulsing scorpions or trained seals that are still performing even though they've been flayed.

"Guaranteed to create a sensation!" indeed. On this point, I am sure Simply Delicious! is correct.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Funny Name: Turn Your Spud and Cough Edition

What is the most sensitive part of the potato? Make-a-Mix Cookery (Karine Eliason, Nevada Harwood, and Madeline Westover, 1978) knows:

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A dip into Kraft

Today I'm feeling Krafty.

The Kraft Cookbook: 75 Years of Good Food Ideas (1977, though the 75th anniversary was 1978) offers plenty of food ideas. Whether they're actually good ideas depends largely on your tolerance for Velveeta/ Cheez Whiz, Kraft salad dressings, and marshmallow creme.

Some recipes take perfectly delightful traditional recipes and "modernize" them. Do you love lasagna?

How about if the ricotta is kicked out and replaced with Velveeta? The notes insist that kids will love it, but I suspect the adults will revolt...

And speaking of horrifyingly mangled traditional recipes, how about some guacamole?

Of course the guacamole has to be turned into a gelatin mold flavored with that staple of Southwest cuisine, Italian dressing, because it was the '70s! That's not enough of an indignity, though. The mold also has be filled with Mexi Bean Salad, although I have no clue what makes kidney beans in sweet pickles and French dressing Mexican. The recipe is a lot of work to ruin a couple of defenseless avocados.

The book includes plenty of highly questionable dips, spreads, and dressings. Need something festive to start a fall dinner? Try Festive Fall Fondue:

Applesauce and cinnamon in Cheez Whiz! Teens will dig it. (A lot of old cookbooks claim to be authorities on what teens will love, but I somehow doubt their expertise...)

If you want a dressing for fruit salad, just mix random sweet stuff with mayonnaise! Here are my two favorite examples of the genre:

Mayonnaise with sherbet is a classic choice, but if you want a recipe that really embodies the ethos of this book, it would be hard to do much better than this dressing:

Mayo AND marshmallow creme! If they could just work in some Velveeta, it would be the holy trinity.

Both dressings are supposed to be great on gelatin molds. (I don't think the Guacamole Ring with Mexi Bean Salad was quite the gelatin mold they had in mind, though. At least, I sure hope not!)

Besides all the dips and dressings, the book focuses on (supposedly) kid-friendly cuisine an awful lot. I suspect that some Kraft home economist hated kids just as much as I do. Take this perfectly innocuous-looking after school snack:

We have nubby, golden-brown cookies and a pitcher of a creamy orange drink, with jacks and a ball set off to the side as if the kid was so excited for snack time that the toys were simply tossed aside. The snack looks so sweet and wholesome. So what's in those cookies?

Yes, Bran Apple Cookies are part of the long and ignoble line of recipes that allow desserts to pretend to be healthy as long as there is some fruit and bran flakes hidden away in all the sugar. But look closer. Yes, there's a cup of shredded American cheese in these cookies too! A slice of good Cheddar cheese on apple pie is a polarizing issue, but who is ready to defend American cheese in bran apple cookies?

If you think the beverage must be better... well...

Sunshine Refresher is mostly orange juice. But it's mixed with marshmallow creme to give it the throat-searing sweetness kids love and raw eggs for protein/ salmonella. Someone has got a sick sense of humor if this is the after-school snack. Pretty damn Krafty.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Funny Name: Cooking for Woodland Creatures Edition

Oh, no! You're a good '60s housewife and your kids unexpectedly ask their beaver playmates to come over for lunch! What do you do? Quick & Easy Dishes (Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers, 1968) is prepared for just this scenario:

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

It's a Trap!

Hey, modern girls! Are you trying to develop those cooking skills while you're working in the office until you can land Mr. Right?

If you answered "No," then Jody Cameron Malis is still happy to ignore you in The Office Cookbook (1971).

I think this book was supposed to be at least kind of liberating, aimed at "working women" to help them save up money by making their own lunches in the office on a hot plate or electric skillet rather than ordering out.

While the book has plenty of (awful) standalone recipes, by far the most interesting part of the book is the beginning, with full menus that suggest a slightly different kind of story.

A lot of them suggest the reader is... well... less than devoted to her job.

And even on days when she's not hungover, she can't be particularly good at her job:

Here's a hint: If they already think your typing is lousy, filling the office with the smell of fish and eggs (and commercially canned zucchini? I didn't even realize that was a thing, but apparently it is) is not the way to get the boss-- or anybody else, for that matter-- to think you're a real asset to the company.

Before you get too overconfident about any aspect of yourself, though, remember that you suck at everything, even cooking.

Another tip: If your idea of cooking is heating up a can of beef chow mein and dumping it over instant rice, they will totally know you can't cook.

Maybe it's best just to forget about the work and concentrate on the men:

I am not sure how dumping a can of chicken into a can of Spanish rice is supposed to trap anyone, even if you're clever enough to sprinkle it with a bit of Parmesan and surround it with olives. Noting the serving size, I realize Jody Cameron Malis is not all that convinced this ploy will work either. Nobody's going to want to share, not even the dumbest office bachelor.

This is somehow simultaneously one of the funniest and saddest books in my collection. I love it so much it hurts.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Funny Name: I Ham What I ... Wait, What? Edition

I wonder if the marketing people at Lea & Perrins (The Lea & Perrins Exciting Ideas Cookbook, ca. 1970) chickened out about the name at the last minute because they were afraid Popeye would sue them, but they were too lazy to think of a really new name and just sort of half-assed it.

I'm just disappointed that they didn't put any spinach in it.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Hold on to your pie pans! You'll only need 517 of them...

It's November, so you know what that means! Time for bright, happy, shiny, sanitized versions of American history and the first Thanksgiving from 401 Party and Holiday Ideas from Alcoa (Conny Von Hagen, 1971). Did I mention shiny? This version is save-all-your-disposable-pie-pans-for-a-couple-years shiny.

See, I was serious. This project requires saving "aluminum pie pans galore!" And then cutting, rolling, taping, gluing, soldering, forging, milling, drilling, and quality control testing hundreds of pie pans to build a friendly pilgrim village and their native friends.

These enormous-headed people seem to be having their own stiff version of fun: the adults heartily shake hands; the kids all try to stare thoughtfully at the same space in the middle distance, imagining the names they might call each other if they could speak the same language; and the town hussy, all dressed up in red like she thinks the rest of the town doesn't notice, closes her eyes and imagines how much better her life could have been if she lived several hundred years in the future.

If you think that crafting this entire party isn't enough work for a month when you're actually supposed to cook a whole turkey with stuffing plus potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, stuffed artichokes, cranberry salad, tossed salad, dinner rolls, fresh biscuits, a couple of cheese balls, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, and apple pie (all from scratch, of course), then you're in luck! Just look in the background.

Those settlers need some trees to represent the bountiful forests of their new home!

Just make them from all the extra leftover pie pans and pubic hair painted green.

And the pilgrims had to get here somehow, right?

They all came here in an armor chest plate with weird epaulets! I mean, on a ship! Made out of pie plates!

Even the book acknowledges this might be missing the mark a little:

"It's a ship all right, even if she does not look like the Mayflower. But what do you expect of two pie plates?"

What do we expect, indeed? I expected some entertainment, and I got it. Alcoa has held up their end of the bargain once again.