Thursday, August 11, 2016

Coulrophobia! Or, My Dinner with Bozo.

Coulrophobia is the technical term for the fear of clowns.  Creepy, evil clowns.  
It has long been my firm belief that everyone suffers from at least a touch of this phobia. If you deny it, just imagine yourself face to face with an actual clown. That's right. The culmination of all the dark imaginings of the netherworld standing right in front of you. Possibly, honking a little horn. Forced to stare into its soulless eyes and garishly painted grin, emotions WILL stir within you. These can range anywhere from slightly unnerved to bone-chillingly terrified. You may also feel the urge to curl up in a fetal position, whimper, or smack that stupid horn out of his hand. These are all completely natural responses.
So, even if you are not completely horrified by clowns, there's one thing we can all agree on and that is that they are evil. Without a doubt. E-vil.
Not only are they evil, but many people are repulsed by their very existence. Which is why it is so bewildering to me that clowns feature so prominently in vintage advertising. To my eye, they were just as disturbing then as they are now. Perhaps, even more so. The universal presentation of them as harmless, benign entertainment for children (thank you, by the way, Stephen King for dispelling that myth) is absolutely chilling. Consider the following:

Let's begin with Ronald McDonald. You may think you are familiar with this icon of fast food, but take a look at how he looked in the beginning:
That is Willard Scott in 1963 portraying the first Ronald McDonald.  Tell me this will not haunt your dreams forever. I mean, what the actual hell? Run. Seriously. Go. He's right behind you.  

And what about Jack In the Box restaurants that forced you to speak into a horrific clown mouth to place your order?  Little did they suspect that...
Oh, yes.  Yes, he will.  In your nightmares.  And he will tell you to do awful, unspeakable things.

Thankfully, both Ronald McDonald and the Jack in the Box clown could be avoided by simply not patronizing these fast food establishments.  Surely, consumers would then be safe from the menacing scourge of random clowns, right? Wrong. 

You better hope Mr. Krinkles never runs out of cereal or he is coming to eat your soul.

Never let Derange-O the Clown get into the liquor. You wouldn't like him on the hard stuff.

There are no words to convey the shudder-worthiness of this particularly gruesome clown. I am convinced, if provoked, it could unhinge its jaw and swallow me whole. And, it's offering me candy.  Excuse me while I run off screaming into the night.
Behold the foundation for a lifelong fear of clowns...and luncheon meat.  There's nothing like the sound of children screaming when they see this lurking in their sandwiches. 

Camels. It's the cigarette preferred by clowns to relax and unwind after they have successfully harvested your soul.

Furthermore, heaven help you if you were a kid planning a birthday party.  Clowns were pervasive and, for some reason, the mothers of yesteryear seemed absolutely convinced that clowns were the pinnacle of childhood delights. Why, you might ask? Well, I strongly suspect clown mind control. What else could explain these?
No one ever chose the snowy owl option.  The clowns made sure of that.

Mother was very, very careful to arrange the table exactly as the clown had specified. She knew if she didn't, he would not be pleased. And then, the accordion would start playing and her world would go dark. "Not again", she thought to herself as she adjusted the parsley. "Never again." 
She would later regret the jaunty uni-brow and nontraditional cherry tomato nose. The clown was not amused. Not. At. All.
From certain angles, the cupcakes seemed to take on an eerie, almost sinister appearance. Their very presence on the buffet table cast a pall of unease over the entire gathering. The party guests tried to conceal their apprehension, although they all felt a growing sense of urgency. They knew they had to eat the clowns before things took a turn for the worse and they found themselves on the menu.

Mercifully, in recent years, clowns seem to have fallen out of favor as both birthday party centerpieces and advertisement darlings. Now, they seem to be relegated to horror movies, where their true faces are on display for the world to see.  But, we must remain ever vigilant, lest they return.  So, if anyone ever says to you, "I think clowns are cool" in a hipster, trendy, retro sort of way, just slap them. Slap them hard. Because clowns are no laughing matter.

Monday, August 8, 2016

On The Menu: Summer Cooking Adventures, Part Three: Zucchini Bread

I confess, I have always wanted my own backyard garden.  It's true and yet, my tendency to kill and maim every plant I have ever tried to grow had made me somewhat apprehensive. This sort of venture just did not seem tailored to my skill set.  Last year, however, a bit of research suggested that zucchini were easy to grow. "If you're a beginning gardener," the articles said, "zucchini are for you." There was even a strong suggestion that this endeavor COULD NOT FAIL.  And, in a sense, they were right.  Planting a few zucchini plants in a small patch in my backyard made me feel all the feels I would imagine a seasoned backyard grower experiences.  I was living off the land. I felt successful from the first watering and the plants thrived. In fact, they seemed to multiply at an alarming rate. Before I knew it, they were spreading out of their designated area. At a certain point, I felt there was a real chance that they would become sentient and I would wake one morning to find them knocking on my door announcing plans to take over the world.  After which, they would suck out my brain, turn me into a pod person, and force me to do their evil zucchini bidding. The final yield was impressive.  I truly had no idea what to do with the initial crop of zucchini, let alone the multiple bumper crops.  I remember, after what seemed like the fifteenth harvest, quietly weeping and asking, "why won't you die already?" I dreamt of ways to "do away" with the seemingly unkillable plants, some of which involved clandestine visits to the patch under the cover of darkness armed with shears, hefty bags, and desperate rage. When questioned later about the garden's destruction, I planned to blame the carnage on a roving gang of raccoons. Truth be told, there were simply not enough recipes.  I sauteed, diced, chopped, and added them to every meal.  I gave them away as gifts. I considered standing on my corner with an armful of zucchini and flagging down passing cars begging them to take the excess off my hands. Or, attempting to toss them into their open windows when they slowed at the corner stop sign.  Then, I found this recipe.  I realize recipes for Zucchini Bread are common, but this one is just amazingly good.  The top gets golden brown and has a slight crunch while the inside is moist and flavorful every single time. It is one of the few recipe cards from my mother's collection that has made it into regular rotation.  Best of all, the loaves freeze well so you can enjoy the zucchini-ness for months to come.  So, I baked away my zucchini invasion.  I'm even considering planting zucchini again in the future.  But, probably not.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

On The Menu: Summer Cooking Adventures, Part Two: Peach Cobbler

Now that my Sous Chef is back in school, I have time to sit and reflect on this past Summer.  It is hard to believe how quickly it flew, and yet I must admit to feeling a bit of excitement yesterday morning when the crispness of Fall was in the air. Soon, pumpkin-flavored everything will arrive and my neighborhood will be adorned with scarecrows and skeletons.  Autumn is truly my favorite time of the year.  It just feels cozy to me.  This is the time of year when I begin to seek the comfort of soups and stews and look forward to the hustle and bustle of the holiday season just around the corner.  So many familiar and iconic treats like candy corn, pumpkin pie, and the love-it-or-loathe-it fruitcake will soon make their annual appearances. 
But, what is the iconic food of summer?  Slices of fresh watermelon?  Burgers and hot dogs on the grill?  Corn on the cob?  For me, it will always be Peach Cobbler.  Warm and gooey and served with a heaping dollop of vanilla ice cream.  It is a winner with me every single time and this vintage recipe was exceptional.  The preparation is simple.  In fact, the most difficult part was peeling the peaches since I absolutely hate getting my hands sticky.  And, come to find out, there are few things in the world more sticky than fresh, in season, juicy peaches.  The only surprise ingredient included in the recipe was almond extract.  I have never used this before when making peach cobbler, but when in vintage cooking land, do as vintage cooks would do.  I found the almond taste to be a bit overpowering in the dish.  I think a bit less would compliment the peaches rather than compete with them.  So, next time I make this, and there will be a next time, I'll just use a bit less than the amount called for.  A slightly more almond-y taste than I was expecting was really my only criticism.  The topping was one of the best I've ever had.  It was dense and slightly sweet and absolutely heavenly. As an added bonus, the recipe stated that this cobbler could be made with frozen or canned peaches as well as fresh.  So, I think I'll tuck this recipe away until sometime in January. I'll pick a particularly gray day when the snow is blowing and the wind is howling and then, I'll whip up a batch of this peachy goodness and dream of the summer yet to come.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

On the Menu: Summer Cooking Adventures, Part One: Mozzarella Eggs

I must admit, my favorite meal of the day has always been breakfast.  I love everything about it.  Perhaps it's the myriad of sweet and savory choices: pancakes, waffles, cinnamon rolls, ham, sausage, bacon, eggs, toast, home fries, french toast.  The list goes on and on. Or, perhaps it's the relaxed elegance of a leisurely brunch where all those sweet and savory choices can be enjoyed with Mimosas.  Or, perhaps it's just that some of the most memorable Saturdays of my misspent youth ended with a late night trip to Denny's for an order of Moons Over My Hammy.  I'm not really sure. But, I do know that my deep love of breakfast abides.  So much so, that I occasionally welcome a breakfast invasion even during the dinner hour.  It seems so extravagant to me.  Breakfast for dinner. So, the last time I had a yearning for eggs in the evening I thought it might be fun to turn to my Mother's recipe collection to shake things up a bit.  Enter the recipe for Mozzarella Eggs.  This dish can best be described in three words: eggs with cheese.  Yep.  Umm...that's really it.  Now, please understand. I like eggs with cheese a lot.  I am a lifetime member of the Cheese Omelette Fan Club of North America: Mid-Atlantic Branch. But, this recipe was a disappointment to me.  These were not scrambled eggs.  These eggs were sunny side up. The cheese was not a delightfully sharp cheddar, but rather slices of mild mozzarella.  The mental picture of runny eggs combined with strings of melted cheese did not appeal to me. Not in the least.  However, I was committed to making the dish since I had promised my family breakfast for dinner and I had also promised them a retro recipe dish. To back out now would prove...awkward. Once Binner has been promised, Binner must be delivered. To do otherwise would invite the possibility of a small scale revolution.  Or, at least a temper tantrum.  Most likely mine.  So, I made an executive decision.  I scrambled the eggs.  I admit it. I went off book. The resulting Mozzarella Eggs were delicious, as eggs with cheese usually are. So, no surprises this time. The sprinkling of oregano to finish was a nice touch, though. Classy.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Less Cooking, More Beach

As you may have noticed, I took a bit of a blogging holiday in July. But,I did not take a break from testing recipes. So, new posts of my cooking adventures will be coming soon which include Zucchini Bread, Peach Cobbler, and Mozzarella Eggs. I also wanted you to know that I hope to resume a more frequent blogging schedule once my sous chef starts first grade in September. Until then, however, there will most likely be more of this:

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sharing the Retro Recipe Love: Moussaka-In-A-Hurry

The other day I was searching for a recipe in my own collection, which is housed in a small tin box. This box is one of my most treasured possessions. Contained within are handwritten recipes from my Grandmother, my Mother, family, and friends.  These are my go-to dishes; the recipes I make again and again. The “I almost have the recipe memorized, but still consult the card just to make sure I didn’t miss anything” dishes.  So, imagine my surprise when I came across a single card from my mother’s vintage collection tucked into the Main Dishes section.  The recognition was immediate and it brought a smile to my face.  It is the only recipe that was ever moved from the see through plastic box into the beloved tin. The only one that broke up the set.  It was the recipe for Moussaka-in-a-Hurry. Here's the story:
Valentine’s Day, 1991. A young woman is frantically trying to find the perfect dish to make for her new boyfriend.  It is their first Valentine’s Day together.  Home from college, she remembers her Mother’s collection of recipe cards and how sophisticated they all seemed when she was five.  She pores through each section and settles upon a dish called Moussaka-in-a-Hurry.  She reasons that, since her boyfriend loves all sorts of food from other countries, why not Greece? Greece seems like it would have some romantic food.  Also, he's studying to become an architect and Greece has the Acropolis. It was all coming together.  This meal worked on so many levels.
Looking back, it is important to note that I knew Moussaka was a tasty dish.  I had first tried it in the summer of 1990, on a trip to Europe. Basically, it is a casserole of fresh vegetables and ground meat in a creamy, b├ęchamel-type sauce.  The recipe for Moussaka-in-a-Hurry was reminiscent of that dish in the sense that it had ground beef and eggplant.  In all other ways, however, it bore absolutely no resemblance.  One of the ingredients, especially, made me raise an eyebrow: Campbell’s Cheddar Cheese Soup.  I remember feeling slightly crestfallen.  After all, I wanted to impress my boyfriend with not only my culinary skills, but also my globe-trekking worldliness, regaling him with tales of my travels and trying Moussaka for the first time. All of a sudden, my cosmopolitan dish was taken down a few pegs.  Really? Condensed soup?  In place of b├ęchamel?  Still, I made it and it was a huge success.  My boyfriend loved it, especially the sauce.  He inquired what it was and I just smiled and said, “it’s a secret”.  
Now, twenty-five years later, I still make this dish for him at least once a year.  Usually on Valentine’s Day or our anniversary.  On Valentine’s Day, 2005, I finally told him what the secret ingredient was.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

On the Menu: Picnic On A Stick

This recipe appealed to me for a number of reasons. First, the words "on a stick".  Sold. I love almost any food presented on a stick. Shish Kebabs, corn dogs, satay, caramel apples, the list goes on and on. Because I'm always on the lookout for new foods that can be be-sticked, I always have bamboo skewers at the ready. In fact, here is an amazing article listing 100 foods to try on a stickCheck it out if you are a fellow food-on-a-stick fancier. You won’t be disappointed.
Second, this recipe was found in the Children’s Favorites section of the recipe card collection.  So, to me, that meant that my six-year-old could most likely prepare these herself, as long as I was there to make sure that she did not have imaginary sword fights, poke her eyes out, jab her fingers, or impale the dog.
Third, there is no cooking involved in this recipe, only assembly. 
Finally, the weather was lovely and a picnic sounded like a great idea.
Assembling the picnic on a stick was great fun.  We used mini dill pickles, cheddar cheese cubes, salami, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and ham.  The recipe did not call for cucumbers, but we were inspired. I don’t know why, but we were. And, why not? This is one of those recipes that cries out for improvisation. I know we will make these again.  Perhaps  next time we'll choose cubes of Havarti, roast beef, green peppers, and mushrooms.  The possibilities are staggering. 
After assembly, each picnic on a stick is supposed to be placed in its own plastic bag, but we just piled them on a plate. The recipe also states that a hot dog roll, slathered in butter and mustard, should accompany each kebab. The recommended method of serving is to place the picnic stick in the roll and then slide out the stick. No,thank you. We tossed the sticks into a gallon plastic bag and walked outside to enjoy our stick-y picnic.  Occasionally, we tasted some of the pieces together, combining salami and cucumber or ham and pickle. But, for the most part we just slid the pieces off one at a time. When we were done, we took our empty sticks, went back inside, and ate a hot dog roll sans butter or mustard.  As I suspected, it WAS a great day for a picnic.