’tis but thy name that is mine enemy

I’ve been trying to eat salads every day but it’s been getting so boring. I was sitting on the floor of the kitchen in defeat the other night when my eyes came across a couple of vintage cookbooks, in particular one salad cookbook by the Culinary Arts Institute from 1953 and one by Better Homes & Gardens from 1958.

Maybe these are the answer, I said as I cracked them open.

Maybe these are the answer, I said as I melted into the linoleum…

Motel Heck

Earlier today a friend of Benny’s asked him for some ideas for a fun kids’ Halloween party. Now, you may recall that some time ago I consulted a card file of activities for just such an event. Unfortunately, back then I couldn’t find the master table of contents for the activity instructions and was left somewhat confused about what this one game Peanut Lag was supposed to be, so I wound up giving up on the whole party idea.

Well, at some point later today I finally found the table of contents for the card file, and there are a whole bunch of games here that sound pretty good that weren’t even listed on the plan for Halloween.

By the time I found the table of contents, however, Benny had already come up with his own ideas for activities/refreshments for a fun kids’ Halloween party. This is kind of a PG-rated blog so I might have to edit some of these descriptions from the original, but hopefully you’ll get the idea:

  • Tie a turkey neck to the oldest boy’s bathing suit area. Call him Carl and have him serve drinks to the ladies
  • Cover the hallway floor in ground beef. Cover that with clear plastic and dish soap. Slip-n-Slide!
  • DO NOT HAVE ANY CLOWNS. Enough people already think they need to pretend to be afraid of clowns. Hire a terrifying pony instead
  • Get a bounce house. Write “ORGY DOME” on the side in “fake blood”. (Fake blood is any real blood that isn’t “technically” human)
  • Fear Pong
  • Closet Goose
  • Difficult Cheese. Difficult Cheese is just new labels on cans of orange spray paint. They go next to the “crackers”
  • Lunch Creep
  • Pin The Tail On Heather’s Hot Mom
  • Chicken Bone Challenge
  • Barebottom Hayride
  • Facepainting

Benny’s friend wrote back “thanks” but we haven’t heard anything further. Maybe we need to have our own party.

Also known as a “fuddle”

Part of me loves Thanksgiving and part of me gets very anxious about it, the latter because it’s very frequently a potluck dinner affair. I never cop out with potlucks by just bringing a bag of chips; I always make an effort to bring something delicious and/or fun.

And that’s where the anxiety comes in. I can’t just bring the dish. I find myself monitoring it to make sure people are trying some. Hoping they are enjoying it. I don’t need raves, I just don’t want to bring home the whole thing and have to eat it all by myself the rest of the week.

So this Thanksgiving is great! The pressure is off. Sure, Benny and I are going to have to make the entire meal ourselves, but when we do, there isn’t going to be a whole roomful of people critiquing the brussels sprouts. We can really let loose and experiment.

One thing I’ve always been intrigued by is a savory gelatin salad. Should I try one this year? Brian Downey a/k/a FalconBowse just gave me a fantastic/terrible idea:

Go to his Instagram to see it jiggle.

Hm. The colors here really pop, but I’m thinking more of a tomato aspic. If it doesn’t taste good, we can just hollow it out a bit and wear it for the family Zoom meeting and make everyone feel better about not having us over this year.

Un homme extraordinaire du HoJo’s

I started following French chef Jacques Pépin on Facebook at some point during this pandemic. I’m not really sure why, because I’m not a good cook and I don’t have any aspirations about becoming some wizard in the kitchen or anything. I think I was just a little bored with the food I was cooking and all of his videos were short with nice captions that made me want to click on them. Good mornings and hope you’re doing well and such. Really low pressure stuff.

He seems like a really good and humble guy. He was the personal chef for the President of France, but when he came to the US he turned down Jackie Kennedy’s White House job offer to go work at Howard Johnson’s. Now he has a foundation that gives ex-cons and homeless folks training for employment in restaurant kitchens. He was friends with exuberant giantess Julia Child, he appeared on game shows in the ’60s, and he’s survived a near-fatal car crash and, more recently, a stroke. He’s been cooking since he was 13 and can wrangle a $15,000 a plate fancy meal, but he’s not too snobby to use store-bought mayonnaise and ketchup in his recipes. Some of the most frequent phrases in his cooking videos are “if you want” and “you don’t have to.”

The thing about him that has really been saving me during this crap time, however, is his voice. Calm. Calme. He’s better than a meditation app. Here he is making circle pups:

Merçi, Jacques. I still have to practice browning my chicken thighs without crying and Benny coming to the rescue, but I’m working on it.

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?

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