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Prompted By Recipes

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Of course I loved this Little Golden Book, whose main character had my name, the way I spelled it at the time. It was my first cookbook, and may have foreshadowed the fact that I would not be much of a cook. The eleven recipes in here include chocolate pudding (add milk to chocolate pudding mix), frozen vegetables (I kid you not), canned soup (“whatever kind Mother is using that day”), and the slightly disturbing candle salad (half a banana standing up in a ring of sliced pineapple, with a canned cherry on top). I don’t remember if I ever made any recipes from the book. On the list in the back, two of the recipes have check-marks, but I don’t know if I wrote them or if it was one of my kids, who also read the book. Those two are Pixie’s Delights (which are basically s’mores, except cooked in the oven instead of roasting the marshmallows on a campfire), and Peanut Butter and Honey Sandwich.

Of course I loved this Little Golden Book, whose main character had my name, the way I spelled it at the time.

My next two cookbooks, The Joy of Cooking and The I Hate to Cook Book, were given to me by my mother when I got my first job and moved into my first grown-up house after graduating from college. I wrote an entire story about them back in 2016, which I have linked to. I was tempted to take the easy way out and just move that story to this prompt instead of writing a new one, but decided I had more to say. So I will just excerpt a brief part of one recipe, in case you don’t go back and read the other story, because it’s too good to miss.

My favorite recipe in The I Hate to Cook Book was for Skid Road Stroganoff which I actually made for many years. I stopped when the lactose intolerance of others in the family made the sour cream an issue. Now that there is lactose-free sour cream, it occurs to me that I could start making it again. But back to the recipe. After the first two sentences, involving cooking the noodles and browning the beef, the hilarious third sentence (clearly showing the 1960 viewpoint of the book) was as follows:

“Add the flour, salt, paprika, and mushrooms, stir, and let it cook five minutes while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink.”

  • * * *

My husband is a much better cook than I am – he and I agree on that fact – so he does most of the cooking in our house. However, at some point he insisted that I should be responsible for dinner one night a week. When Molly was at home, I would generally get her to help me pick a recipe and then make the dish. Although we have an entire shelf of cookbooks in our kitchen, she, being a child of the ’90s, would always look for recipes online. When she found something that seemed appealing and not too complicated, we would print it out and, if we decided it was worth repeating, put it in a loose-leaf binder of recipes, divided into Soups, Mains, and Desserts. Here is one of our favorite mains, Sun-dried Tomato and Walnut Penne Pasta. It’s easy, can be eaten hot or cold, and is transportable. When she went to college, we got in the habit of making it at the end of every vacation, right before she went back, so she could take the leftovers with her in a plastic container and  eat them in the dorm (or sometimes on the plane).

During the twenty months that Sabrina lived with us between leaving England after grad school and moving to Spain for a teaching job, Molly was still in high school, and the two girls and I would all cook together, which was the most fun I have ever had cooking. I fondly remember our assembly line for making fried eggplant, where one of us would dip the eggplant slices in the egg batter, the next one would roll them in breadcrumbs, and the third one would fry them up in the pan. Yum! My husband doesn’t like eggplant, so we would make that whenever he wasn’t going to be home for dinner.

Sabrina also got several recipes from a site called BBC Good Food, which is popular in England. Their recipes required some translation, since their measurements are all in grams and milliliters (crazy metric system!), and some of their terms are odd, like cornflour for cornstarch, spring onions for green onions, and soya beans for soybeans. She copied out all the recipes by hand, because she didn’t have a printer for her computer. At the time I thought that was silly, she could have just connected her computer to our printer wirelessly, but now that she’s been away for several years, I kind of like having these recipes in her handwriting. This recipe for Korean-style Prawn and Spring Onion Pancake was one we made many times.

As you may or may not be able to tell from the picture, she wrote the recipes on this strange British notebook paper, which is 14″ long instead of 11 ½” and is punched with two holes instead of three. So they don’t fit in our recipe binder, we have to stick them in a pocket in the back. Still, taking them out to look at them for this story made me happy, even though most of them are too complicated to bother with now that we are just two people.

  • * * *

By chance the book my book club chose for this month is Tender at the Bone, by Ruth Reichl, who is an acclaimed chef and food writer of about our age (born in 1948). She was the last editor-in-chief of Gourmet Magazine before it folded in 2009. This is her memoir, subtitled Growing Up at the Table, and in every chapter she has at least one complete recipe for something she talked about in that chapter. In addition to loving the narrative, I am enjoying reading all the recipes, but I don’t think it is too likely that I will ever make one of them. However, if you are someone who enjoys cooking, I strongly recommend reading this book and making the recipes. If you are not, then just enjoy the book, which describes an amazing life and how her experiences formed her into the chef she became.

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    Thank you, Suzy, for not (like me) falling back on a prior story but instead writing this delightful new one.

    Though we all read little Golden Books, the one you picture and discuss somehow didn’t make it to my brother or me – -though I at least give them credit for showing a boy on the cover, even if it is Susie who owns the stove. The candle salad is a riot, as is, later in your story, the anachronistic smoking comment in the “I Hate to Cook Book.”

    What comes through most in your story is that, while you are admittedly not a haute chef, you really have enjoyed your cooking experiences, especially as they have served as such a lovely bond with your family over the years.

    And thanks for the tip on Ruth Reichl’s book. To New Yawkers, she is probably best known for being the Times’ restaurant critic in the 90’s, a delightful writer able to make or break a restaurant during that pretentious “Important Restaurant” era in NY, and equally known for the outlandish disguises she wore in order to go to restaurants undetected.

    And, finally, as always, thanks for the great musical title. I now will have a Booker T and the MGs earworm for the next week.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, John, for your thorough and heartwarming comment! The boy on the cover of Susie’s New Stove is her brother Mike, and he isn’t left out of the fun altogether – he gets to be the doctor for Susie’s doll, the grocer when she goes shopping for ingredients, AND he gets to make lemonade! So boys can certainly find a role model there!

      Loved your New Yawkers’ insight into Ruth Reichl! I had never heard of her. If you already know that much about her, you will definitely enjoy the book!

      And thanks for recognizing the Booker T. earworm! Not one of my favorite songs (no lyrics to sing along with!) but it did seem to fit, and I had already used Food, Glorious Food as the title of another story.

  2. Oh Suzy, love your story and how lucky to have a husband who cooks!

    I’m neither a good cook , nor a green thumb, but I do have a small garden plot where veggies seem to grow in spite of me, and I’ve made yummy eggplant parm from my own eggplants.

    I’ll recommend Tender at the Bone to my book club, I’ve actually been wanting to read it for years!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Dana. I agree, I’m very lucky to have a husband who cooks! Even though he doesn’t like eggplant, one of my favorite foods. Would love to try your eggplant parm made from your own eggplants. And I’m happy that you are going to take Tender at the Bone to your book club – I’m really looking forward to my book club’s discussion of it at the beginning of June.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Suzy, I love this story for so many reasons! First, I still have a few, precious Golden Books lying around here too, like “Katy the Kitten”. We named our first cat Kate because of that book. “Kitty-cat” was Vicky’s first word; she just ADORED that cat and was devastated when she died, so I made a scrapbook for her, including that book, which is still on her bookshelf here. But the recipes from the book you describe sound SO familiar. I think my mother actually made that candle stick salad for us back in Detroit! And I used to make the chocolate pudding (what a surprise).

    I can relate to your feelings about cooking. I, too, am not much of a cook, have many cookbooks but do NOT have a husband who is handy in the kitchen, nor daughters who made it fun to cook with. I did my share in the early years of marriage and when my kids were young, but no longer. It sounds like loads of fun to cook with your daughters.

    By some weird coincidence, I’ve read “Tender at the Bone”, a fascinating tale. Though I never tried any of the recipes, it was an excellent, well-written story; something else we can share.

    • Suzy says:

      Thank you, Betsy. I’m actually amazed that I managed to hold on to this Little Golden Book and a couple of others through all of my moves. I probably read Katie the Kitten too – I just looked it up and it’s by the same author as the Saggy, Baggy Elephant, which was one of my favorites.

      Great to learn that you have also read Tender at the Bone and found it fascinating. Maybe you should come to my book group meeting, which is, of course, on Zoom.

  4. Marian says:

    Got to read “Tender at the Bone,” Suzy, after your intriguing description. It’s so nice that you and your daughters cooked together. My mother was a night owl, and I’m a lark, so at home I was in charge of breakfast. I’d never heard of that candle salad in the little golden book and do find it rather disturbing. Do you remember when the chocolate pudding got a skin? That was my favorite part!

    • Suzy says:

      I think you will really enjoy the book, Marian. Ruth had quite an eccentric upbringing, the kind that, if it were fiction, you would say “this is ridiculous, no one would do this,” but in fact they really did. I was never a fan of the skin on chocolate pudding or cocoa, I would generally skim it off and dump it in the sink. If I had known you, I could have given it to you!

  5. Much to love here, Suzy. Handwritten recipes, for one. My Dad’s Aunt Debba was a great one for those, and her elegant handwriting is enchanting. And I love the family cooking. It’s something I’ve done with my sons from time to time. When they were still quite young, maybe in the 9 to 12 range, I would task each with creating a dinner menu and cooking it (with my help). Never a dull moment and always something worth doing.

    • Suzy says:

      Handwritten recipes are great, I agree. I didn’t have any passed down to me, but I’m glad I have the ones that Sabrina wrote. And I also have my own handwritten Charoset recipe, which I probably should have included in this story – I wrote it out because I was copying it in a bookstore from a book that I didn’t want to buy. If that happened now, I would probably just take a picture of the recipe with my phone, which wouldn’t be much of a keepsake. Nice to hear that you cooked with your sons. Do they still cook now as adults?

  6. I can’t believe we both still have our first cookbooks, although yours is a REAL book, and a Golden Book at that!! Either way, they’re both filled with questionable recipes.

    As to the I Hate to Cook Book, am I the only one that wonders what the “Skid Road” in the stroganoff recipe is referring to? If so, never mind then!

    I still remember the day I first heard the term “pasta salad” and was immediately dead set against it. Cold pasta? No way! Silly me…I ended up selling three versions in my deli, and of course it’s a staple pretty much everywhere you go now.

    I’m with your husband, I don’t like eggplant either (and my husband keeps asking me to make it) but I do love the thought of your assembly line…such a rich experience and one none of you is likely to forget.

    The Korean-Style Prawn and Spring Onion Pancake recipe sounds fabulous…definitely want to try that so thanks for that, and for the Ruth Reichl book recommendation, will look for that as well.

    Such a fun, entertaining, and highly readable story…as usual! Thanks, Suzy!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks for your comments, Barb. I think she called it Skid Road because it’s made with ground beef instead of more expensive cuts of beef. I just went to look for the book, to see if she had any comments about the name, and I couldn’t find it. I know it’s in the house somewhere, so that’s puzzling.

      Funny how you reacted to the idea of cold pasta. I’ve been known to eat leftover spaghetti cold, even before it was fashionable. And the sun-dried tomato pasta dish is perfect for hot Sacramento summer nights. Hope you enjoy the pancake recipe, and that you don’t have trouble reading Sabrina’s handwriting.

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    I love the book in your featured image, Suzy. I had something similar, but never had a recipe for candle salad. What a riot! I printed out your pasta recipe, which I think I could make successfully. Your “I Hate to Cook” recipes remind me of the popular ones from early in my marriage that involved canned cream of mushroom soup or adding pudding to a cake mix to produce a “fancy” bundt cake. Thanks for the memories and a few good laughs.

    • Suzy says:

      Canned soup was a popular ingredient in those early recipes, especially cream of mushroom and cream of celery. So much quicker than cutting up fresh mushrooms or celery. 🙂 I hope you like the pasta recipe, I actually make it in the Tupperware bowl that you also have, for easy storage of the leftovers in the fridge (although if you never found the lid for your bowl it doesn’t work as well).

  8. Risa Nye says:

    Suzy, believe it or not the Betty Crocker cookbook I mentioned in my piece also has a recipe that features an “erect” banana, set in the middle of a pineapple slice, topped with a half maraschino cherry! Yikes! Also there is a recipe for Meat Loaf a la Mode, pie shaped wedges of meatloaf topped with a scoop of mashed potatoes. We can all have a good laugh about what people used to cook back in the day!

    • Suzy says:

      Wow, did Betty Crocker get the banana recipe from Susie’s New Stove, or vice versa? Susie was published in 1950, what is the copyright date on Betty Crocker? I actually think the idea of cutting meatloaf into wedges and putting a scoop of mashed potatoes on top is so hilarious that I would like to try it some time! Thanks for the idea!

  9. Risa Nye says:

    My copy (it says “New”) was published in 1965. I think that’s the answer. Betty is a copycat!

  10. Risa Nye says:

    Late addendum: the original came out in 1957. Still. . .

    • Suzy says:

      It turns out neither one created it. I googled “candle salad” and the Wiki article says it has been around since 1920! The picture there looks even more suggestive, with whipped cream or some other white substance dripping down the side of the banana. Yikes is right!

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