A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband

To every other little bride
Who has a “Bob” to please,
And says she’s tried and tried and tried
To cook with skill and ease,
And can’t! – we offer here as guide
Bettina’s recipes!

To her whose “Bob” is prone to wear
A sad and hungry look,
Because the bride he thought so fair
Is – well – she just can’t cook!
To her we say: do not despair;
Just try Bettina’s Book!

It’s been 100 years, ladies. And I want to know. Can you cook yet?

This little gem, circa 1917, is on my bookshelf, a wedding present from Hubby’s younger brother who stole it, I am sure, from a distant great-aunt’s box of cookbooks, gifted partly in jest and partly in fear that I would try to cook a chicken without looking inside of it first…again.

Written in chapters with roman numerals, the book follows the first year of Bettina and Bob’s wedded bliss as they keep house in a bungalow during the roaring ’20s, somewhere in America. Through dialogue with friends and family, we discover that “new fashioned breakfast foods are for feeding the stock, not human beings!” We learn what Bettina keeps on her “emergency shelf”: cans of pimentos and tuna, jars of dried beef, marshmallows and macaroni, a one-pound box of salted codfish. With a thousand ways to please a husband and three of them are “Jellied Beef”, “Radishes”, and “Peanut Butter Sandwiches”, I’m confused.

But what can you expect? When an engagement is announced, it’s toasted with…grape juice. Like. Until 1933. And, fresh out of World War I, “dainty, delicious, and simple” are the words of the day. This can be interpreted as: tiny little portions. Her flower arrangements are bigger. Good thing dessert is included almost every night. Bettina meets Bob on the porch as he returns from work each day, she in her apron, he in his spats. Recipes for “Tuna Loaf”, “Prune Souffle”, and “Ham Timbales” support their complete happiness.

Bettina is quite accomplished in economy (“I always try to use the oven for more than one dish if I am using it at all”), so you won’t find her spending all her allowance on the gas bill (“open fires are so nice”), and full of advice on how to use up those leftovers in the icebox (croquettes, salads, molded, or en casserole). She can remove ink stains with sour milk, heal burned fingers with olive oil, and cleans her steel bread knife by dipping it into the dirt in a flowerpot. I laughed at her newfangled “fireless cooker”, then pondered her jars of jellies and pickles, but when I read her conversation about how to get rid of ants…I got in line. Talk to me, Betty.

“Mrs Dixon was dressed in a trim street costume, but under her veil Bettina could see that her eyes were red, and her lips quivered as she answered, “Forgive me for coming so early, but I just had to. I know you’ll think me silly to talk to you confidentially when I met you only yesterday, but I do want your advice about something.”

“Why my dear, of course. I like economizing; it gives me an opportunity to use all the ingenuity I have.”

“Frank and I’ve lived in a hotel but – lately he’s been so different. Why – he hasn’t been at home with me two evenings a week – ”

“You must be dreadfully unhappy,” interrupted Bettina, “Why, Bob doesn’t like to be away from home any evenings at all.”

“But you’ve just been married!” said Mrs Dixon tactlessly. “Wait and see how he’ll be after a few years! Why, I can’t cook a thing – I can’t even make coffee! Frank says if he could only have one breakfast that was fit to eat – ” and she buried her face in her handkerchief.

“Why Mrs Dixon!” cried Bettina, cheerfully, although her heart was beating furiously. “Your trouble is the easiest one in the world to remedy! Your husband is just hungry – that’s all! You do just as I tell you for one month and I’ll guarantee that Frank will be home every single minute that he can!”

Coffee

7 T-coffee
3 T-cold water
1/2 T-egg white
4 1/2 C-boiling water

  1. Scald the coffee pot
  2. Add the coffee, cold water and egg-white
  3. Mix thoroughly, add the boiling water
  4. Boil two minutes
  5. Allow to stand in the pot one minute
  6. Serve
  7. Brace yourself

Wonder Pot

Things are getting very quickly out of control.

I just went to the store and bought dried seaweed, the neck bone of a lamb, coconut water, and stood for five minutes seriously considering a package of chicken feet, toenails included.

If that’s not a sign of shopping under the influence, I don’t know what is.

Somebody stop me. I bought an InstantMagicWonderPot last week, and I think the rest is history.

I blame my girlfriend, which is where most of our peer pressures come from, right?

She’s a young, hip, trendy gal who raises her app-wielding toddlers on quinoa and paints her walls gray, so already I was suspicious.

“It will change your life!” she insisted, and texted a photo of a salted caramel pretzel crust cheesecake.

I hit the Amazon button.

Because my life could definitely use a change in the cheesecake department.

When the box arrived, I danced happily into the house singing, “Guys! My Magic Pot is here!”

From around a corner I heard, “Mom, you shouldn’t do drugs…”

“Hey! That’s legal now.”

“In that case, how magical is it?”

Such kidders in my family.

Half of the instruction book is in honest-to-goodness Chinese, the other is in Canadian, so I called that girlfriend up and she came over to play Interpretive Cooking Channel.

I had the ingredients to one recipe: lemon chicken. It’s citrus season in San Diego.

I got to work, GF coaching me while her toddler and baby roamed free-range around the house.

What I learned was that this pot is basically a pressure cooker: it forces the food to cook at gunpoint (as opposed to the microwave which is insidious with X-rays) and if you disturb it while it’s got a death-grip on your chicken and lemon juice, it gets very nasty and hisses at you.

It holds the pressure of a thousand mommies trying to make dinner.

It may very well blow up your house if you look at it funny.

Which is why I spent the whole time spying on it from around the corner, confirming that I am my mother’s daughter after all. Explosions are her favorite specter.

The pot spent twelve minutes coming up to pressure, one minute steaming into the kitchen, and another twelve minutes cooking. I watched GF flick the button to quick-release the pressure and the top blew. I jumped five feet, and the toddler looked at me with disgust.

“It’s just steam, Jolie,” she said, “You don’t have to be scared.”

From the mouth of babes.

The chicken was perfect. I decided I still had time to get fancy, so I spread them under the broiler in my oven for another six minutes to brown up, and made gravy in the pot with what was left seething in there.

Rice was fifteen minutes on the stove top while the chicken cooked, but the Pot – so it says in Canadian – can do it in five.

We had chicken and rice and sort-of gravy and salad and girl scout cookies and tea and if I sound a little giddy, it’s because it’s been so long since I’ve cooked real food.

It just gets me…right here.

GF laughed, and drove away bragging about spaghetti squash and pot roasts.

After cleaning up the kitchen, I decided to give it the real test. It’s one thing to cook in broad daylight, with plenty of time and no starving children under foot, it’s another entirely to come home from a long day at work and stare into a messy kitchen at the witching hour and try to not eat Cheetos.

I had a house full of teenage boys, aka: guinea pigs.

I set the pot back up.

I dumped a pound of frozen, cooked ground beef into it. I dumped a jar of spaghetti sauce into it, and another jar and a half of water. I broke a pound of dry spaghetti noodles in two and piled them on top.

The lid went on, the display lit up, and I backed away slowly.

Twelve minutes to warm up, five minutes to cook, five minutes to cool down.

The boys began sniffing, and walked in to investigate.

I flipped the vent and jumped away, crying, “Stay back boys, she’s gonna blow!”

That was the cue for them to surge forward and do facials:

“Stop!” shrieked my own mother’s voice from my mouth, “That steam will burn you! It’s not a toy!”

Which is teenage for: Step right up and steam-iron your shirt; instill a lovely Italian scent to your wardrobe.

It looked like this when we took off the cover:

“Fine,” I said, “after those shenanigans, you deserve uncooked spaghetti for dinner!”

The problem is, once I stirred it up, it turned into this:

And it was lovely.

I’m sold. The pot fits in with how we roll around here: less dishes to wash, less time spent babysitting a stove or oven.

I’ve been following an entire community of pot lovers, gleaning recipes.

That’s seaweed in the mac n cheese, stop looking at it funny.

Sprouting Off

I wrote this one up when I was going to plant my garden and realized all I have are a few pots to play in. So naturally, micro-gardening came up. People have been growing their own sprouts forever. If I were going to play with it, I would be hard pressed deciding whether to use a mason jar or a chia pet. I would choose my seeds based on how pretty they would look on display.

You can have your own personal organic locally grown sprouts in a jiffy.

You can buy the plastic mesh lids or circular metal mesh inserts either in stores or online, or substitute needlepoint canvas or any meshy nylon fabric like cheesecloth or pantyhose for over the jars.

Find the seed of your choice in health stores. Ask an employee to verify that the seed is suitable for sprouting. There are risks with sprouts that are considerably smaller when growing them yourself, involving bacterial contamination of the seed itself. When you buy it, ask about the source and/or treatment of the seed and make your decisions accordingly. Thoroughly cooking your sprouts (ie stir fry) should destroy any microbes you may still be worrying about.

Never use seed intended for planting, they may be treated with chemicals. My folks used to grow alfalfa and mung bean sprouts, but sunflower, wheat grass, beans, broccoli, chia and any little micro-greens would work.

After thoroughly cleaning your quart jar and lid, place 1-3 Tbsp of seed in the jar and cover with room temp water by over a couple inches to soak them.  Put the lid on. Set the jar in a dark cool place overnight. The seeds will expand.

In the morning, drain the jar, then re-fill with fresh cold water, swirl to rinse the seeds, and drain again. Do all of this through the mesh lid. The lid stays on until the process is complete.

Set the jar upside down in a dish rack or tipped in a bowl. See if you can get seeds to gently stick to the sides of your jar and spread out. The idea is to keep it drained but exposing the lid to allow fresh air to circulate in the jar. This helps prevent mold. If you think mold is growing, toss the seed and start over.

Set your jar somewhere in the kitchen where it will be exposed to daylight but not directly in the sun. This helps the sprouts “green up” by developing chlorophyll. Don’t let the jar get hot.

Rinse your jar out twice a day, maybe three if you feel the need. If you’re sprouting large seed like sunflowers, you want to remove the hulls on day two or three. If the mesh is large enough, your rinsing will automatically bring the hulls out through the lid. If you’re using mesh cloth, you can remove the lid and rinse the baby sprouts in a colander to swish them out. Be gentle. Broken sprouts die and will spoil.

Between two days and a week, your sprouts should be ready to eat. Taste test them if you’re not sure. They should not taste bitter. Remove the sprouts after a last rinse and let them air dry. Cut off what you want to eat, and store the rest in an airtight bag or container for up to a week in the fridge.

Sterilize your equipment and try a new seed variety next time!

The Cookbook Quarantine

Once upon a time in a kitchen far, far away there was a massive pile of cookbooks. My first cookbooks were wedding shower gifts. And then the collecting began. Birthday cakes, veggies, soups, pasta…from fundraisers and girl scouts and contests. I had everything from the Costco cookbook to ones that came with every major appliance, including the Coleman camp stove. If I needed to whip up some chicken fried venison steaks in the wilderness, I was ready.

One year, I watched an entire winter Olympics while putting my free-floating recipes into a three ring binder, gluing or stapling or enveloping them. I thought about using baseball card pocket pages but it was pricey. I just didn’t want to see them fall behind the fridge, never to be seen again.

You know…in case I wanted to make one.

I subscribed to Taste of Home Magazine. They have gorgeous color photos and easy recipes with normal ingredients. I kept them in the magazines. And then I had to keep all the magazines.

When they piled up beside the binder and the cookbooks, it dawned on me.

I was overwhelmed with recipes and good intentions.

Mine is a family that would cheerfully live on spaghetti seven nights a week. Usually introducing a new menu item was a recipe for rebellion.

I had to deal with my demons: no more incoming recipes! Take what you have and use them or lose them!

I found myself sneaking photos of recipes in magazines at the dentist office with my cell phone.

“Genius!” thought the demons.

Until you have your phone in the kitchen, trying to read it while spewing batter all over.

Not gonna happen. Not for what I just paid for my phone.

Here’s the catch: I HAVE to have a recipe in front of me when I cook. I may have made this exact same cornbread from scratch for the last 20 years. I may not even want to follow this recipe. But it’s my personal safety net, my security blanket in the kitchen.

Because when I get cocky and just start throwing things in the bowl, it’s a recipe for disaster. You’d think after a serious amount of cooking for a large family, it wouldn’t be. But just as Anne of Green Gables discovered, cooking requires that you keep your wits about you.

“There’s so little scope for the imagination, you just have to go by the rules.”

All it takes is a phone ringing or a bird flying by or maybe thinking about the color I want to paint the wall, and boom. I leave the sugar out of the pumpkin pies. Oh sure, they bake up lovely, smell divine, and the cute little pastry cut-out stars show off nicely. Take a bite. I dare you.

Squash. Pumpkin is a squash.

And now you know it.

Each cookbook only contained one to five recipes that I had actually made and only one or two that we liked enough to repeat. Some cookbooks were purely ornamental. And as most of the recipes I held onto were, let’s admit it even though it hurts, wishful thinking, I did a drastic thing.

I banished every single one to the garage in a box.

When I really needed one, I pulled it out, wrote it onto an index card, and returned the book to the box. I have a small bound set of index cards now with only the family recipes that we love and repeat. Every time hubby brings home an odd item from the grocery (“But they were on sale!”) I can go to the internet and find ten ways to cook it.

The cookbooks were sent to the resale shop. I feel about 50 pounds lighter.

Best diet ever.