But where’s the protein?

Another cookbook from my friend Julie, another reminder that even the simplest recipes used to be more challenging.

Maybe I’ll just eat some mac and cheese tonight.

Published in: on September 19, 2019 at 6:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Slayer cake

We went to an estate sale recently where there was one of those sad progressions of cookbook libraries that started out with Fun Holiday Cookies and Cakes For Every Occasion from the ’60s and ended up with No Sugar Desserts and Diabetes Busters from the ’90s. In honor of the lady of the house’s fun times, I went home with the Wilton Pictorial Encyclopedia of Modern Cake Decorating from 1969.

My friend Sally asked me what I was going to make first, and I had to reply that I had no intention of making anything in the book. I bought it solely for the pictures. There are a lot of really elaborate and colorful wedding cakes and cakes shaped like pianos and very advanced sugar flower techniques, and there isn’t a thing in here that I would actually be able to pull off.

But the thing I noticed most about the book was the jarring shift in tone throughout the pages. At a certain point I realized that a lot of the perceived tonal shift was due to the photos either being in color or black and white.

Take, for instance, the Bear Skiing On The Roof Pink House Fantasia:

compared with this terrified bear/mouse creature being eaten alive while running through a field:

I’m sure he’ll be fine, but he doesn’t look happy. Polar bear about to jump off the roof seems much more dangerous if you think about it, but gosh if I don’t want to jump into that picture and hang out for a while.

What about these dolls?


It’s a toss-up for me as to which one I would prefer, but the mood couldn’t be more different between them. It’s Laugh In vs. Clive Barker in confectionary form. Let’s move on to clowns.

If you read this site frequently, you know that I like clowns and am annoyed by the proliferation in modern pop culture of “scary clowns.” Scary clowns are a tired cliche and are kind of unfair to actual skilled acrobatic clowns who can juggle and do magic and would be able to make a whole heck of a lot of kids happy if the kids hadn’t been conditioned to the “clowns are terrifying” point of view by their lame relatives. But still, there are some unsavory clowns around. I will admit that.

Take these guys who are creepy crawling along the perimeter of this cake:

They may be preparing to sneak up on someone, or they may be recovering from a drunken face-plant; either way, they do seem to be clowns to watch out for. On the other hand, I’d much prefer meeting all three of them in a dark alley if the alternative were:


There are a lot more examples like the ones above, but I’m going to wrap this up with the cakes celebrating violence and destruction. If you were to choose, would you prefer to adorn your party table with:


I guess it depends what kind of party it is. I never knew George Washington could seem so goth.

Tea party

This year’s Independence Day has gotten off to a shaky start (6.6 earthquake here in southern California) but I am going to press on with something to bring to a barbecue. I’m looking at a cookbook that my awesome friend Julie sent me this week, and am wondering if it’s seditious to prepare the “Russian tea” concocted by Molly and Betsy from an Iowa church sewing group in the ’70s. Here’s the recipe (Molly and Betsy have helpfully tagged this recipe as “Easy”):

  • 2 c. Tang
  • 1 pkg. Wyler’s lemonade mix
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. instant tea
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. cloves

Mix ingredients, especially good if ground in electric blender. Store in a container. To serve, use 2 heaping tsp. per cup hot water.

A certain Joan in the group seems to have fallen under the sway of some Cold War paranoia, or maybe she was just a little less pretentious about naming her instant mix beverage concoctions, because on the next page of the cookbook she has provided her recipe for “Spiced tea.” It is not tagged as “Easy,” for what it’s worth:

  • 1 c. instant tea with lemon
  • 1 c. Tang
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves

Combine all ingredients and use a heaping tsp. per cup of tea.

It actually sounds easier than the Russian tea; no fiddling with containers and electric blenders. And to be fair, it’s not exactly the same as Russian tea; it’s almost like the difference between Russian dressing and Thousand Island dressing.

If I make the Russian tea but serve it with whiskey, is it sufficiently patriotic for the day? Or is that too Irish? What if I spell it “whisky“? How about bourbon? That looks pretty French to me. I don’t know. We’re supposed to be really patriotic today, right? With the Star Wars theme and “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the big guns pointed at us and such, you know. How about Kentucky bourbon? Man, this earthquake has really gotten me rattled. Forget the tea; I’m getting a case of Tecate.

Foiled again

Well, here we are. As of today (or maybe tomorrow; that first post wasn’t much), I’ve been writing Fancy Notions for ten years. A ten year anniversary is typically celebrated with tin or aluminum, but I had really wanted to make myself an elaborate smorgastarta, which is

a savory sandwich cake, frequently made with shrimp and eggs but mainly just whatever you feel like would be good in a sandwich cake. Ham slices, radishes, chickpeas and beets… with frosting made of cream cheese and maybe some ranch dressing. Yes.

But it’s Wednesday, and I’m tired. And it’s also Pi Day. A pie tin would work with both aspects of the day, but there’s no way I can bake a pie right now. If only there was one of those pecan pie vending machines nearby. Who’s in Austin and can ship me a celebratory pecan pie? I’ll owe you a smorgastarta.

And don’t worry. I may be tired, and I may not be able to go on forever like pi, but I will keep this blog going for as long as I can possibly handle it. Thank you very much for your support through the years!

Photo by Pomax on Flickr

Cereal dater

Benny got me a 1957 Betty Crocker’s Cookbook For Girls And Boys for Christmas, and it’s inspiring me to resuscitate yet another subject category here that hasn’t seen much action lately: Quick & Delicious Dishes. There are some legitimate recipes in this book and it’s nice to see that adults used to trust children with hammers and boiling syrup, but my favorite items are the “maybe the editor was on a deadline and also drunk” suggestions that you can always count on in an old Betty Crocker cookbook.

The following rogues gallery is prefaced by the encouraging: “Just watch your little brother’s face when you surprise him with the Little Man Who Wasn’t There…” which actually isn’t as sinister as it sounds,


except for the part where you’re putting an orange slice in milk. I’m not sure what the Smiles cereal for the Pig In A Poke is – it’s hard to tell if Sugar Smiles was still around by this time, and it’s definitely not Grins & Smiles & Giggles & Laughs, nor the smiley-faced Kaboom.

What I do know is that if I were a kid making a weird cereal breakfast treat for my brother, I’d choose this one


but I’d call it When The Log Rolls Over, We Will Die, We Will Die. Just watch his face.

Swedish Chef

I’m not sure this is really a thing, because most of the articles online link back to one specific article at HuffPoUK, but I’m intrigued with the idea of Swedish pizza. Benny and Smoothie have accused me (perhaps fairly) of being an aficionado of “comedy food” such as hot dog-flavored potato chips and sushi burritos, but some of the combinations I’ve seen offered as examples of Swedish pizza give Dali’s Surrealist cookbook a run for its money. From the original article, here are some supposedly beloved combos:

Tomato sauce!

Tomato sauce!
Canned Fruit Cocktail!

Tomato sauce!
Black Currants!

Tomato sauce!
Pork Tenderloin!

I can’t find photos of any of the above except for one rather blurry image from Gawker that I refuse to link to, and the only other “Swedish pizza” photos I’m finding are for pies featuring “kebab meat” (gyros, it appears) with tzaziki… and that seems to be a perfectly reasonable pizza that Benny would order and Smoothie would come over to share. I have yet to see anything as silly as Pizza Hut’s hot dog crust or Mr. Pizza’s potato wedges/corn/”nacho chip flake” abomination. Is this Swedish pizza really a thing?

via Metafilter

An entry for the Bake-Off

Benny used to work in a Chinese restaurant in Oklahoma called the Fortune Cookie, and he learned how to make a really good fried rice there. He’s going to make some of this fried rice tonight, and I’m so excited that I started looking for an accompanying dish in this old Chinese cookbook that some exiled Benedictine nuns compiled after WWII. I love this book, even though I haven’t tried making any of the recipes. The pictures are so great that I can never make up my mind about what I actually want to cook.

Behold the illustration for pork with tofu:

Mushrooms with spinach (look how strong!):


Walnut bars (There are some other walnuts in the original illustration that are drinking coffee. If they’re at a bar shouldn’t they be drinking cocktails?):

And the simply incredible sour cream pudding:

Ha! Look how old he is. Of course that cream is sour. Oh, but geez. It’s happened again. I can’t decide what to make. Maybe I’ll just try Benny’s recipe for Chinese Fry Bread. I think I posted about Chinese Fry Bread before but I didn’t include a formal recipe so here’s your chance to try it yourself. I don’t think the Fortune Cookie will get at me posting their secret recipe if I leave something out.


  • 1 package Pillsbury® Buttermilk Biscuits
  • hot oil for deep fryer

Open biscuit package and cut the biscuits in half so that each biscuit is a semi-circle. Heat oil in a deep fryer to (redacted) degrees. Place biscuit semi-circles in hot oil and fry until golden brown, making sure the inside has been fully cooked or you will get sick from eating all that uncooked dough. Probably serve this with some beer.

Actually, I don’t even think the Fortune Cookie exists anymore, but it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to potential litigation.

Bankrupt hostess

It’s happened again. I should know better; this always happens. We’re having some friends over for a simple dinner tonight, I couldn’t find the recipe for the spicy hot nuts, and now I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of terrible hors d’oeuvres ideas from old recipe booklets.

I can’t really blame The Calvert Party Encyclopedia for its miserable-sounding ideas – snacks called Hot House, Tongue Treat, Cheese Breeze and the like – because the thing was compiled by a gin manufacturer who wanted to add a few more pages to their “hey, mix this with gin, and you could also try this with gin” marketing effort.

It’s this Good Housekeeping’s Appetizer Book that gives me pause. I believe I’ve discussed this book here before, but the last time I looked through it I don’t think I noticed the “I’ve given up” recipes. Here are a few examples in the “Quickies” section:

English Muffinettes: Spread split English muffins with butter or margarine; sprinkle with poppy, caraway, or celery seeds. Broil till bubbly; cut into wedges to serve.

Seasoned Popcorn: Pop a big bowlful of popcorn; sprinkle with seasoned salt.

Potato Chips: Heat in oven; serve in basket.

That’s just sad. I prefer the happy, bat-shit crazy attempts. Let’s try some Ham-Grape Pickups, shall we?

Ham-Grape Pickups

12 scalloped round crackers
1 2 1/2 oz. can deviled ham

About 1/4 cup commercial sour cream
6 halved, pitted green grapes

Just before serving: Spread each cracker with deviled ham; top with small mound of sour cream. Press grape half, rounded side up, into cream.  Makes 12

Or maybe you can try that. I just found the spicy hot nuts.

Tomato guy

Oh, look. I just made this tomato guy.

Hey, Tomato Guy. I’m learning some stuff about you today.

  • Your scientific name lycopersicum means “wolf peach,” and people used to think that witches could turn into werewolves if they ate your cousin the nightshade.
  • Aztecs called you the “thing with a navel.”
  • Some other guys in your genus are the giant devil’s-fig and the kangaroo apple. Altogether you sound like a pretty tough gang.
  • Hernán Cortés was probably the person who brought tomatoes to Europe, so he did at least one thing in his life that wasn’t completely terrible.
  • Shakespeare never wrote anything about you, but Dickens referred to you six times in The Pickwick Papers.
  • Botanically you are classified as a fruit but the US Supreme Court labeled you as a vegetable in 1883. You are the state vegetable and the state fruit of Arkansas.

You’re a pretty interesting guy, Tomato Guy. I’m glad I made you. Now how about lunch?

Armour meats

It seems I’ve found a fancy dish more questionable and double-entendre-sounding than meat pinwheels. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the helmeted cock:

Yes, that is a roasted chicken wearing a helmet and carrying a shield, and he’s riding on a roasted pig. Here’s another one:

It’s not a new thing; it’s medieval. Really. People did stuff like this when there was no television.

via Metafilter, where you will also find a medieval half-pig/half-turkey creature. Magic!
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