Sunday, July 31, 2016

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen

When I think about Laurie Colwin, I think about her tiny apartment in New York, the Meissen soup plate she would eat eggplant out of, and the time she went into her volunteer job in the kitchen of a women's shelter only to discover that she was the only cook there.  (Also, the fact that she was making sandwiches at Columbia during the upheaval that James Simon Kunen talks about in his book, The Strawberry Statement. Not a cookbook.) (Also, yeah, there was a movie. We don't discuss that, even with Bruce Davison in it. Read the book.) (Did you know that if you hit a glass Coke bottle against a toilet, the toilet will break and not the Coke bottle? Okay, I'll stop now.)

I don't think about these things because I knew her, but because she wrote about them so memorably that they've stuck with me. If you look at the cover of Home Cooking up there, you will see the quote from the New York Times Book Review, "As much memoir as cookbook and as much about eating as cooking."  For me, she hit the perfect balance.

I discovered Laurie Colwin when I acquired a boyfriend with a subscription to Gourmet magazine.  I loved her pieces, and I would look for them eagerly with each new issue.  When they stopped abruptly, it took me a while to find out why.  She died of a heart attack at age 48, much too soon.  But we do have her books -- five novels, three short story collections, and Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, made up (at least partially) of those columns from Gourmet.

I've never actually cooked anything from these books.  For me, they have been the sort of cookbooks I curl up with when I need to read an old friend.  Literary comfort food.  Here I give you not a recipe I have cooked, but one I should.

Creamed Spinach with Jalapeño Peppers

(Serves eight)

1. Cook two packages of frozen spinach. Drain, reserving one cup of liquid, and chop fine.
2. Melt four tablespoons of butter in a sauce pan and add two tablespoons of flour. Blend and cook a little. Do not brown.
3. Add two tablespoons of chopped onion and one clove of minced garlic.
4. Add one cup of spinach liquid slowly, then add 1/2 cup of evaporated milk, some fresh black pepper, 3/4 teaspoon of celery salt and six ounces of Monterey Jack cheese cut into cubes. Add one or more chopped jalapeño pepper (how many is a question of taste as well as what kind. I myself use the pickled kind, from a jar) and then the spinach. Cook until all is blended.
5. Turn into a buttered casserole topped with buttered bread crumbs and bake for about forty-five minutes at 300°.

Home Cooking at
More Home Cooking at

Friday, July 29, 2016

Masters of American Cookery as a speed bump

So I have this website....

On this website, I'm supposed to be talking about things I have collected over the years. And I'm supposed to do it regularly.  This requires a bit of focus and organization, and I'm...SQUIRREL!  Um...yeah, I'm not the most focused and organized person in the world.  But it shouldn't be too hard.  Pick a book off the shelf, come up with a couple of paragraphs about it, piece of cake!


Those darned, insidious public libraries!  The first one's free...heck, all of them are free!  And now I get distracted by books NOT IN MY HOUSE.  And library books take up reading time!  And then I think about buying them (or, occasionally, flinging them across the room)!

I come before you today to complain about Betty Fussell's Masters of American Cookery.  I stumbled across the title while looking around for information on Mrs. Rasmussen's Book of One-Armed Cookery.  Google said it was mentioned a few times in the text, so I thought I'd take a look at it.  The library obliged me by finding a copy, and from the cover, I thought it was just a four part biography on Fisher, Beard, Claiborne and Child, but it's not.  Oh, it is so much more!  Yes, she starts out by giving each of the four their own chapter.  This takes up less than one-fourth of the book. Then she goes on and tackles American Cookery itself, over 300 pages of classic (more or less) recipes and discussion on each one of them, talking about the history of the recipes, the variants that have been done (frequently accompanied by quotes from one or more of our four "masters"), and finishes by giving her preferred recipe.  For me this is not a fast read, but a slow, delicious one.  I think I'm going to have to make space on my shelf for this one.

Masters of American Cookery on Amazon

Thursday, July 28, 2016

George "Bull Cook" Herter in the Star Tribune

As some of you seem interested in George Herter and his Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices, I thought I should share with you this piece that was in the Minneapolis Star Tribune this Sunday.

Celebrating Waseca's Outsized Outdoorsman and Bamboozler

Here is the website for the Waseca Historical Society, although there isn't much to it.

And here is the New York Times piece from 2008 that is mentioned in the Star Tribune article.
The Oddball Know-it-all

And here's a link to the most recent edition, on

Monday, July 25, 2016

Teen Cuisine: A Beginner's Guide to French Cooking

Wow.  Just look at that cover.  You can tell what caught my eye, can't you?  I probably shouldn't have made the picture quite so large, but I couldn't resist.  That's about half the actual size of the book right now.  It's soooooooo pretty!

Yup, I like Peter Max.  And this book came out when Peter Max was HUGE.  1969, when he was featured on the cover of Life magazine with the heading "Peter Max: Portrait of the artist as a very rich man." (Thank you, Wikipedia.)  So how did Peter Max wind up doing the cover and some interior art for a so-so (but perfectly serviceable) French cookbook aimed at teens, published by Parents' Magazine Press?  My guess?  Somebody knew somebody. Exciting, huh?

According to the back cover, Abby Gail Hirsch was operating a cooking school and living in Chappaqua, New York, having attended at least two colleges and three cooking schools. According to the Library of Congress and a review by Poppy Cannon, she collaborated on a 1970 release, A Cookbook for Lovers.  And a couple of advertisements I found online say that she had the Abby Gail Hirsch Gourmet Center, Ltd., at least in 1973-4. 

Our other author, Sandra Bangilsdorf Klein is also well-educated, graduating from Cornell having spent her junior year at the Sorbonne (in Paris, as the cover text explains). "She has worked for several advertising agencies, writing copy for teen-age cosmetics."  At the time of release, she was living in Connecticut.  So...French connection, can speak to the kids...not much else.  Nada that I could find online.

Honestly, of the three collaborators here, Peter Max steals the show.  Yes, you have all of the basic French recipes you would expect in a 1969 cookbook.  And they've written them in a way that anyone could follow.  But....  "I'm sure the recipes are fine but what's really awesome are Max's saturated, full-bleed gradient silk screened pages. They're not all printed this way, but when they're not, and it's a white page, the type is silkscreened in gradient. Wow." (Link to WaryMeyers, whose words I'm borrowing. They have better photos too.)

Check these out!

The interior illustrations are not as fine as the cover, but the way the book has been printed to suit his style really makes it pretty.  Funky. Groovy. Trippy. Marketable toward the youth of 1969.

I think the only recipe in here that I have used was their recipe for crêpes, which gives a long and detailed description of the method.  So instead, I give you their recipe for one of my husband's favorite sandwiches as a kid. Whether this bears any resemblance to what he had in 1970's Wisconsin, I have no idea.

Croque Monsieur
French Toasted Ham and Cheese Sandwiches
(Makes six servings)

3/4 cup butter or margarine
12 thin slices white bread
6 thin slices cooked ham
6 thin slices Gruyère or Swiss cheese
2 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons milk

Use half the butter to spread on one side of each slice of bread after removing the crusts. Make six sandwiches using 1 slice each of the ham and cheese for each sandwich. Be sure the buttered sides of the bread are inside.

Beat the milk and eggs together. Cut the sandwiches in half and dip in the egg-milk mixture.

Melt remaining butter in a large skillet and sauté the sandwich halves over medium heat until golden brown on both sides. Serve hot. To Serve: Garnish with ripe olives and sprigs of watercress.

Teen Cuisine at

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Domesticity: A Gastronomic Interpretation of Love

I suppose that in some ways, it doesn't surprise me that this book and its author, Bob Shacochis, are overlooked when people are talking about food writing.  I mean, the guy was a novelist and former Peace Corps volunteer when he fell into the role of food writer for GQ Magazine.  Since the publication of this book, he has been a journalist, war correspondent, and is now teaching creative writing.  Who is this guy?  And how did he get a job as a food writer?  I have to give you the answer in his own words.

The offer from GQ was actually a matter of coincidence: the fiction editor at the magazine had invited me to send him some of my novel then in progress. The chapter I submitted contained a scene in which the male character cooks an elaborate dinner, highlighted by a planked striped bass roasted over an open fire, for the woman he's romancing. At the same time, GQ's former Dining In columnist threw in his apron, and  word went out around the editorial offices, “Does anyone know anybody who can write about food?"
The fiction editor believed he did. My dinner scene was photocopied and passed around; in desperation, the senior editors agreed the column was mine, if I wanted it. One of them telephoned to see what I'd say. I said, not quite emphatically, No. I said I probably wasn't the person they were looking for. The writing I had read about food, unless authored by the likes of Fisher or A.J. Liebling or Calvin Trillin, struck me as exceedingly boring, pea-brained, pretentious, faddish, rife with the worst sort of classism, devoted to the most anemic forms of joie de vivre, etc. It wasn't even lovely enough, on its own terms, to turn my stomach.
The editor said, Fine. She said, write about anything you want, in any style you fancy, only tag a recipe on to the end of it.

And eventually he agreed. Boy, can this guy write about food. But like some of the best food writers, much of what he's writing is about everything around the food.  The people, the places, why the food is being cooked, why that food is being cooked.  The book is in some ways a journal of his life, with the central (non-food) focus being his "common law wife", Miss F.  The writing is romantic, it is upsetting, it is hysterically funny and it is beautiful.  Actually, the writing is so good that the recipes do frequently feel tacked on, as an afterthought.  And, if I was going to be very critical, the recipes do feel like they were mostly written on the east coast in the 80's.  Lots of seafood and bottles of wine were consumed in the making of this book.  But it all sounds so good, and you never question whether the food was as good as he makes it sound.

The recipe is one I read and started drooling over, until I started thinking about how much 2 pounds of good scallops were going to cost me.  One of these days we will make this in celebration of something, but I can't bring myself to make it in celebration of, say, Tuesday just yet.

Miss F's Champagne Scallops

2 pounds scallops
2 cloves garlic, halved 
4 chives, chopped 
1/2 teaspoon parsley 
1/2 teaspoon thyme 
2 whole cloves 
1 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon pepper 
2 cups champagne 
1 cup onion, diced 
4 egg yolks 
2 tablespoons half-and-half 
1 teaspoon arrowroot starch

In a large pot, simmer scallops for four minutes with parsley, thyme, chives, onion, cloves, salt, pepper, and champagne. Remove scallops and boil the remaining broth for eight minutes. Remove and discard garlic and cloves. In a mixing bowl, beat remaining ingredients. Pour contents into broth and cook at low heat, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens. Serve scallops on rice, smothered with the champagne sauce and sprinkle with paprika.  

Serves 4.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Links for 17 July 2016

Whoever Heard of Vegetable Offal? from the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery.

'A Super Upsetting Book About Sandwiches' is a Tasty Break From Tradition from Epicurious.

In the Queer Kitchen: 'Food That Takes Pleasure Seriously' from NPR.

The Original Master Chefs from the Guardian.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Tempt Me: The Fine Art of Minnesota Cooking

Just a quickie here, as this isn't my book.  It's a recent release from the Minnesota Historical Society Press, and I got it out of the library.  Very pretty, but the focus is more on the literal art of the food -- seed catalogues, labels, promotional cookbooks -- than on the food itself.  But there are recipes, and I wanted to hold onto one, so I thought I'd share.  I'll let you guess which recipe it is.

Tempt Me: The Fine Art of Minnesota Cooking at

Friday, July 15, 2016

Links for 15 July 2016

The History of the Croissant from Lucky Peach.

Step Inside One of the World's Most Beautiful Knife Shops from Saveur.

Turn Your Pasta Into Ramen With Baking Soda from Serious Eats.

In 'Ingredienti', Victor Hazan Channels Late Wife Marcella from the Washington Post.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A Visit to the Red Wing Pottery Museum and the Watkins Museum in Winona

Over the weekend we took a short road trip down to Winona, and stopped in Red Wing for lunch.  The place we stopped was right near the Pottery Museum, so we took a look.  Some very beautiful pottery, which I took no photos of.  However, this caught my eye.

The thing that caused me the most amusement though, was this.

For whatever reason, they decided to set up a little general store scene. As we passed by, there were two girls in their early teens quizzing their grandmother about details, as though they expected her to respond from personal experience.  She did her best, mind, but as their grandmother was younger than my mother, I was getting the giggles.

On to Winona!  The Watkins museum wasn't any larger than the Pottery Museum, but I took a few more photos.  There was all sorts of beautiful packaging from through the years, like this

but what interested me the most was the display of WWII-era items.  Dried eggs!

And boxes for Servicemen.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Joyce Lamont's Favorite Minnesota Recipes and Radio Memories

Joyce Lamont was a fixture of Minnesota radio from 1946 until she retired from radio in 2003.  She was at WCCO, the local Minneapolis CBS affiliate from 1946 until 1989, at which point she moved to KLBB, which is where I heard her for the first time. Over the years she did a lot of what they referred to as "women's programming". In that time she collected many recipes. 

In 1978 she published a book titled Joyce Lamont's Favorite Recipes.  I don't know anything about that one, but in 2008 Joyce Lamont's Favorite Minnesota Recipes and Radio Memories came out.  It's primarily a recipe book, but it does contain a short piece about her time on the air and quite a few photos.

I've tried several of her recipes and found it a very inviting cookbook. The Chicken Broccoli Hot Dish didn't go over so well, but the Beef-Cottage Cheese Pie was good, as was the Apple-Gingersnap Pie. But the big winner was the Chocolate Marble Bar recipe, which is similar to the classic rice crispie treat. If you need a reasonably easy dessert for a decent-sized crowd this is a good one. Everybody likes rice crispy treats and this is a truly decadent version.

Chocolate Marble Bars

This easy bar cookie is a take-off on the popular marshmallow cereal bars, but it doesn't use marshmallows. A combination of corn syrup, sugar, and peanut butter coats cereal, which is marbled with chocolate. All I can say is yum!

1 cup corn syrup
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup peanut butter
5 cups rice cereal flakes
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

In large microwave-safe bowl, combine corn syrup and brown sugar. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Remove from microwave and stir. Return mixture to microwave and cook on high for 2 minutes longer. Rinse off spoon in hot water.

Stir in peanut butter until mixture is smooth. Add cereal flakes and stir until coated. Then add the chocolate chips and stir just until mixture is marbled.

Press mixture into buttered 13 x 9-inch pan. Let stand until firm, then cut into bars to serve. Yields about 48 bars.

JOYCE LAMONT from Pavek Museum on Vimeo.

KLBB tribute to Joyce Lamont

Joyce Lamont's Favorite Minnesota Recipes and Radio Memories on

Monday, July 11, 2016

Links for 11 July 2016

Eating Dim Sum in Hong Kong With C.B. Cebulski from Lucky Peach.

Magic Out of Mould: Inside the World's Wildest Restaurant from the Guardian.

Eight Foods So Scottish You Probably Haven't Heard of Them from STV News

Nothing Says 'Hip' Like Ancient Wheat from NPR

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Links for 9 July 2016

Citizen Khan: Zarif Khan's Tamales and the Muslims of Sheridan, Wyoming from the New Yorker.

I Cook to Talk About Some of the Things We Don't Want to Acknowledge from the Boston Globe.

What is "American" Food? from Cynthia D. Bertelsen's Gherkins & Tomatoes

Sushi Chef Makes Star Wars Vegetable Figures from Kotaku.


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Mrs. Rasmussen's Book of One-Arm Cookery

Who is Mrs. Rasmussen and why does she only have one arm? I hear you ask.  Well, she actually has two arms, although they're both fictional.  Let me explain.

In 1942, Mrs. Rasmussen was introduced to the world in the pages of the book Suds in Your Eye, by Mary Lasswell.  It's a book about three women of a certain age who find themselves somewhat down on their luck in San Diego, California during World War II and wind up living together.  Here's a fuller description, on the Neglected Books page.

So, yes.  It's one-arm cookery so that the other one can hold your beer!

In 1944 Mary Lasswell published a second book about the same characters, High Time.  After the second book came out, she was apparently inundated by requests for "Mrs. Rasmussen" to put out a cookbook.  So says the introduction to the cookbook, and also this review (?) from The Lewiston (Maine) Daily Sun.

And so Mrs. Rasmussen's Book of One-Arm Cookery was born.

It's a fairly simple cookbook with good food, and the occasional comment from Mrs. Rasmussen or her friends Mrs. Feeley and Miss Tinkham. It was followed by four more books about the same characters, and in 1970 by a revised edition, Mrs. Rasmussen's Book of One-Arm Cookery with Second Helpings.  The main change was that more recipes were added, and the cover isn't as delightful.

In 2006, in a piece called "Save These Books!" for the New York Times Book Review, Betty Fussell spoke up for Mrs. Rasmussen: What first put me in the kitchen was "Mrs. Rasmussen's Book of One-Arm Cookery," written by Mary Lasswell in 1946 and illustrated by George Price. One arm was all you needed for cooking if your other held a schooner of suds. Lasswell's popular novel, "Suds in Your Eye," had immortalized a trio of beer-drinking elderly women, one of whom could really cook — beer-friendly dishes like chicken-fried steak, Mexican tripe, pasta fazoola, oyster loaf, huevos rancheros. This was wartime America, when food was not supposed to be fun. To a college kid, Lasswell's instructions were heaven-sent: "Take a bottle of cold beer out of the icebox. Place an ashtray handy to the stove." No surprise to me that Lasswell's book was one of James Beard's favorites.

And other folks speak out for Mrs. Rasmussen.

The recipe I'm going to give you, though, is for something that jumped out at me when I read Suds in Your Eye.  I could just taste them!

Fried Chicken Loaves

1 small French loaf for each person
3 large pieces of chicken for each person
Salt and pepper
1 c. pork lard
Melted butter
Dill pickles, sliced thin
Green onions
Potato chips
Lemon slices

Only large pieces of chicken are suitable for frying. Buy the pieces at a chicken-part store, or use cut-up fryers, reserving backs, wings, and necks for soup or chicken and noodles. One three-pound fryer will make fried chicken for two loaves.

Clean and pick over chicken carefully. Put flour, salt, and plenty of pepper in a paper bag. Drop the chicken in and shake the bag well to cover evenly. Have one cup of pure pork lard  —Crisco if you must — heated in a big deep frying-pan.  The fat must send up blue smoke before the chicken is put in. The hotter the fat, the more brown and crisp the chicken will be, with all the juice inside. As soon as the pieces are all red-brown, turn often and move them about keep the color even, reduce the heat and finish cooking over moderate flame. Chicken, like all white meat, must be well and thoroughly done, no red around the bone. Chicken cooked this way will be crisp, red-brown outside and juicy inside. When the chicken is nearly done, scoop out the center of the French loaves, spread with melted butter and heat in the oven. Pile of pieces of chicken in each loaf; garnish with dill pickles, green onions, radishes, potato chips, and lemon slices. Serve in small individual wicker baskets with big paper napkins and no knives and forks.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Links for 5 July 2016

Food and Drink on the Somme Frontline: A Soldier's Experience from History Extra

How to Make Pancakes from the New York Times.

Murder and Motherhood from Lucky Peach.

The Story of London's First Indian Restaurant from Londonist.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices by George Herter (a quote)

I'm not actually writing about this book at the moment, but I do have it and love its craziness.  But while looking for information on another book, I stumbled across this comment by Jonathan Miles, from the New York Times Sunday Book Review back in 2006.  I figured I would share it now, in case I lose the quote before I get around to the book.

Modern cookbook writers rarely take the time to address the origins of women's panties, the best time of year for eating robins and meadowlarks, the effects of menstruation on mayonnaise-making and the unheralded kitchen pioneering of Genghis Khan, the Virgin Mary and Stonewall Jackson. George Herter's bombastic comic-culinary masterpiece, "Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices," self-published in 1960, did all that and more, as the opening lines attest: "I will start with meats, fish, eggs, soups and sauces, sandwiches, vegetables, the art of French frying, desserts, how to dress game, how to properly sharpen a knife, how to make wines and beer, how to make French soap and also what to do in case of hydrogen or cobalt bomb attack. Keeping as much in alphabetical order as possible." Imagine the "Joy of Cooking" in the early stages of dementia.

Whee!  And that's such a good description, too!