Archive for the ‘Books’ category

How to Have Guests – And Enjoy Them

December 16, 2008

My family lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan and not only is it home to the one and only, world famous Zingerman’s family of businesses, loved by foodies one and all, but it also has a really fantastic public library. Once a year at least (I’m not sure, I don’t live there anymore) they have a book sale at the library made up of, I’m assuming, books that were donated to them. They charge next to nothing for the books, but all the proceeds go to benefit the library, and you can find a lot of really wonderful treasures, if you’re willing to hunt through the piles. The last time they had one of these sales, I sent my mom and sister there on a mission to pick me up any fun/interesting/useful cookbooks they could find (no surprise there), and boy did they hit the jackpot! I finally got to see what bought when I was recently home for Thanksgiving, so I’m just now working my way through them, but there are some totally fun images and great quotes that you should keep an eye out here for in future.

I thought I would start you off with a little quote from one of three Betty Crocker cookbooks that I got. This one was published in 1959 and is entitled Betty Crocker’s Guide to Easy Entertaining: How to Have Guests – And Enjoy Them.
Jack Spratt

From a section called:
What do you do about guests with special diet problems?
“The thoughtful guest who is on such an extremely restricted diet as a salt-free one, for example, does best to regret an invitation to a meal. It is not kind to ask a hostess, who has her hands full anyway, to prepare an entirely separate meal for one. It is even more unkind to refuse the party dishes she has gone to such trouble to prepare. In this case it is better to say, “We are not dining out at all while Bob is on a limited diet, but we’d love to join you anytime you’re planning an after-dinner party.” This gives the hostess a chance to say, “We’ll miss you – but will you join us after dinner?” Or, if late-comers do not suit her plans, “I’m so sorry. We’ll plan an evening together soon.”” (17)

My reaction:

Can you imagine if this were the protocol in this day and age? I mean with all the “special diets” and dietary restrictions that we are all constantly navigating, whether by choice or for health-related issues, if we went by the above advice, we’d never get a chance to eat with people who didn’t have the exact same diet as us, unless we went out to a restaurant of course.

I do not see why bringing your own food to a dinner so that the hostess is not put out and you can still attend would be considered in bad form? And if you are to be a shut-in until you have managed to somehow work your way around your “special diet”, then why would anyone ever choose to stick to their diets? If this isn’t a means of marshalling everyone into one generic diet or cuisine, I don’t know what is! Keep in mind that this is during a period when there was also heavy push to find and stick to “American-style” foods, none of that foreign stuff, particularly if you were an immigrant. Think here about the cooking schools that were so popular during the 1950s and all the packaged and processed convenience foods which were supposed to make life easier without the quality suffering (yeah right!).

Part of me has such a hard time getting behind the above advice because I can’t remember ever having attended such a formal dinner party, which just goes to show you how much more informal we’ve become since then. It’s funny to juxtapose this against a comment which was made at the beginning of this same book which states, “The lives of all of us have changed vastly since we watched our parents preparing for the first big party we can remember…. Our clothes and manners are far more casual. And our entertaining is less formal…” It would seem that we are on a downward slope toward casualness when it comes to entertaining, though I’m sure that more formal dinner parties become the norm as one ages. It is much easier to cobble together a bunch of friends and a hodge podge of dishes when you’re a graduate student than when you are more settled and the opportunity to get together isn’t there as often, then expectations are higher and formality tends to go along with those expectations.

Anyway, I just wanted to share the above quote with you all since it made me laugh when I read it, simply imagining how ridiculous it would be if we all followed those instructions today. I don’t think I’d have any friends and I certainly wouldn’t go out half as much. Today we’re much more accommodating (which, Betty acknowledges can be a hassle it’s true), though this seems almost a necessity given the extent to which dietary restrictions and special diets have gained acceptance across society. It’s practically more unusual to find someone who doesn’t have food allergies or special needs. I find it’s always good to look back into the past to give our present circumstances some perspective, and this certainly has done that for me.

American life in Japanese cookbooks

June 18, 2008

As you know I was recently in New Orleans, and while there I stumbled across an all cookbook used bookstore by the name of Kitchen Witch, what a find! Some cookbook stores can be full of overpriced and rare books that are way out of my price range even if they are books I wish I might own, this was not one of those. The owner not only was well informed and well organized, with different sections for cuisines from different parts of the world or different parts of the meal (e.g. bread or dessert cookbooks), but he also had a very affordable selection.

A couple of years ago in Williamsburg, Virginia I acquired, from another used bookstore, a cookbook called The Art of Chinese Cooking by the Benedictine Sisters of Peking. It is full of amazing and wonderful drawings, and perhaps, if you’re lucky, I’ll share some of them with you here at some point in the future. It did put me onto the fantastic artwork that seems to have appeared in cookbooks particularly in the 1950s and 60s coming out of this country. I love line-drawings and the ones in the cookbooks from these decades are precious, definitely reflective of their time and place in history and so worth talking about with you here.

I ended up buying two Japanese cookbooks from the Kitchen Witch, I guess starting myself down the road to collecting Asian cookbooks from the mid-twentieth century with cool drawings. I’m include the images from one of those books in this post. This book is entitled Buy It ‘N Try It: Hints on Cooking and Living In Japan compiled and edited by The Women’s Society Tokyo Union Church (new revised edition 1967). As far as I can tell, it’s part of a larger series of “Buy It ‘N Try It” books, though I’ve not yet taken the time to explore what other topics they covered. As I said, what drew me to this book were the images. And another amazing thing about the book is that it essentially tells an American audience how to cook Americanized food in a Japanese context. If you happen to be in Japan and you’re an American, for goodness sakes, do not eat Japanese food, why would you do that? Instead, here are a bunch of recipes that use very few Japanese ingredients, but are American favorites, such as meatballs, peanut brittle, cinnamon buns, dill pickles, etc. Perhaps I’ll explore this in theme in another post as well, though I’m contemplating writing a more academic article on it instead.

So for the images below, click on each one for a close up and a few thoughts and further information about the drawing. Do enjoy this little tour through the newest edition to my growing cookbook collection. 🙂