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Category: Cooking

A Clean Home Never Goes Out of Style

A Spotlessly Beautiful Home

By G. S. Norwood

The other day I happened across a list of suggestions from Good Housekeeping magazine on how to maintain a spotlessly beautiful home. The list outlines all the things I should clean every day, once a week, once a month, or a few times a year, so the house stays lovely, with only a little effort on my part. It read like one of those hopelessly outdated articles from the 1950s on how to make your husband happy, or how teachers should manage their classrooms. Clearly the list’s author was delusional.

Still, I thought I’d put the list to the test, to see how it would work into my daily routine. Just for fun, I added in some of the other helpful suggestions experts in the fields of health, nutrition, beauty, and fitness offer up to make every day my Best Day Ever. Spoiler alert: it’s not going to be pretty.

Just A Simple Morning Routine

A Clean Home Never Goes Out of Style
Somehow, even Spotlessly Beautiful can look dated, however. (Imgflip).

This is how the suggestions shaped up. The time estimates are my own.

6:00 am Wake up—instantly. Bound out of bed with lots of energy. (Which I don’t do.) Make the bed because, c’mon, it’s right there and you’re not getting back in. 10 minutes.

6:10 am Pee/Dress for dog walk: The experts don’t actually include this in the things I must do but, trust me, I must do this. 5 minutes.

6:15 am Take dogs for 1 mile walk. Do this twice, so all four dogs get a walk. 45 minutes.

7:00 am Sweep kitchen floor. Ten minutes. Okay, eight minutes because it’s a small kitchen, but I also have to feed the cats.

I Really Wanna Leave My Bed and Start the Day – Said No One Ever
Sure, she wakes up instantly. Who doesn’t? (LiveAbout).

Don’t Forget Your Health . . .

7:10 am Cook a healthy breakfast—oatmeal and such. Allow 20 minutes, because it’s steel cut oatmeal, plus we have to have fruit, which may mean washing each grape individually if we’re to get off all pesticide residue as the food purity experts recommend.

7:30 am Eat said healthy breakfast while reading the paper—20 minutes, particularly if you get your morning caffeine hot, since it has to cool down to drinking temp. (NOTE: You won’t finish the paper in this time, let alone work the puzzles.)

7:50 am Wipe down the electric kettle, put dishes in dishwasher, wipe down kitchen counters, sanitize kitchen sink. 10 minutes

Two memes give a tiny glimpse of the morning routine with kids: (1) Night Mom: “Tomorrow I am gonna wake up before all the kids & clean house & go for a run & cook healthy food & spend time alone drinking coffee!” Morning Mom: “Hahahaha Nope.” (2) “I just dry shampoo’d & febreeze’d my kids on the way out the door, so no, I’m not really interested in your family’s morning chore chart, Debbie.”
The author doesn’t have kids, but they make mornings even more of a riot. Spotlessly Beautiful need not apply. (See credits below).

. . . Or Beauty!

8:00 am Shower (because dog-walking is sweaty business) 20 minutes, including hair wash and shaving. We’ll credit the health and beauty experts for this next part.

8:20 am Blow dry/style your hair—10 minutes

8:30 am Wash face/Put on makeup—15 minutes

8:45 am Wipe down bathroom surfaces, squeegee shower, sanitize bathroom sink—15 minutes

9:00 am Dress—15 minutes

A woman frowns out through a small patch of scraped-away frost on her windshield. Overlay type reads, “Defrosting? Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That!”
Even Texans have to deal with this sometimes. The more northern of us? Heck, yeah! (Know Your Meme).

Heigh-Ho!

And then it’s off to work I go. I live in an area that is home to about eight million people. That’s roughly the total population of Missouri and Kansas. Some days I think they all want to drive down US Highway 75, the same time I do.

9: 15 am Morning commute—45 minutes

10:00-6:00 Work 8 hours

6:00-7:00 pm Evening commute—60 minutes (assuming there are no backups)

While my drive into work happens just slightly after the morning rush hour, my drive home hits the rush right in the fat part. I am continually astonished by the number of people who crash into each other during this sacred hour. And the number of people who slow down to look at the roadside carnage. They might call it rush hour, but trust me, nobody is rushing anywhere. Sometimes I bail, just to run a few errands and—okay, mostly I shop for books.

7:00 pm Stop for groceries/drug store stuff—20 minutes

The photo shows an absolutely jam-packed (photoshopped for emphasis, we hope!) freeway full of cars, trucks, buses, and motorcycles, in which traffic lanes appear to be more of a guideline than a rule, and nobody is getting anywhere soon. The caption reads, “Why do they call it ‘Rush Hour’ … when nothing moves?” – Robin Williams.
Good question, Robin. (MEME).

Home Again, Home Again

When I hit the door at home, a lot of things happen at once.

7:20 pm Potty break/change into home clothes—15 minutes

7:35 pm Take dogs out for a second walk—45 minutes

8:10 pm Dinner prep—25 minutes

8:35 pm Feed animals—15 minutes

8:40 pm Throw in load of laundry—5 minutes

8:50 pm Take load out of dryer/fold—10 minutes

8:55 pm Put laundry away—5 minutes

Two memes by the incomparable Anne Taintor: (1) in a classic 1950s-era illustration a well-dressed woman has wiped her cloth down a wall and left a visibly-cleaner, lighter streak. The caption reads, “See? Cleaning one thing just makes everything else look dirtier.” (2) A well-dressed woman in heels and an apron that matches her tasteful gray dress stands by an open oven. It reveals two racks full of complicated-to-cook foods. The caption says, “Honey? Can you get the food out of the oven so I can stick my head into it?”
When living Spotlessly Beautiful lives of quiet desperation, dark humor often works best. (See credits below).

9:00 pm Serve/eat dinner—30 minutes This is the first time I’ve sat down (not counting the potty break) since I got home from work.

9:30 pm Wipe down kitchen surfaces, put dishes in dishwasher—10 minutes

9:40 pm Clean the cat box—5 minutes (Again, not on the expert list, but trust me.)

9:45 pm Take dogs out again—45 minutes

10:30 pm Pay bills—30 minutes

11:00 pm Bedtime prep—30 minutes

11:30 pm Fall asleep instantly, suffer no insomnia, and sleep 8 restful, peaceful hours.

7:30 am Awaken in a panic after that 8-hour sleep, knowing I’m already 1 hour and 30 minutes behind schedule

Two memes: (1) in classic “SomEEcards” style, a woman frowns at the notebook on which she’s writing. The caption reads, “My to-do list from today seems to consist of everything from my to-do list yesterday.” (2) A woman clutches the lapels of the blond man standing in front of her and screams, “THERE’S NO TIME THERE’S NEVER ANY TIME!!!!!”
We’ve done both of those things. How about you? (See credits below).

A Spotlessly Beautiful Home?

I couldn’t help but notice that the schedule laid out by Good Housekeeping’s cleaning expert made no allowances for drinking those eight glasses of water a day recommended by the health experts, or the potty stops which come with all that fluid intake.

Nor was that the only obvious flaw in this neat outline for keeping my home spotlessly beautiful. The schedule I outlined above is for a single woman, living alone. In making it, I gave no consideration to married women, who might have multiple children on different day care/band/sports/school/after school schedules. And forget about taking time to have sex with that brilliant and talented life partner some of you might be fortunate enough to have around the house. No time for so much as a 2-minute quickie there.

Two memes: (1) in another Anne Taintor classic, a young woman in a baking apron stops to look up and put a finger to her lips. She’s holding the iconic 1935 edition of “My Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.” She stands behind an island counter filled with a vintage mixer, bowls, pans, and baking ingredients. The caption reads, “Time to myself? HUSH! THAT’s the DEVIL’s Talk!” (2) A woman puts her hand to her head, as a tear streaks down her face. The caption reads, “8 glasses of water per day? Impossible. But I can drink 8 glasses of wine at one meal.”
The Spotlessly Beautiful conundrums continue to confound. (See credits below).

Life Happens

Nor do you get a break on the weekend. That’s when you’re supposed to be mopping your kitchen and bathroom floors, scrubbing all bathroom surfaces, and cleaning the mirrors. Because you really, really want to see the haggard wreck you quickly become on this schedule. Don’t forget to dust your furniture, vacuum your floors and furniture, change the bed, clean out the fridge, wipe down all your kitchen appliances, clean the microwave and sanitize the sponges (whatever the hell that is).

Visiting with friends? Not gonna happen.

Plus, when are you going to go to the farmer’s market to buy the fresh, delicious, locally grown produce? Don’t you want to feed your family the healthy, home-cooked meals the nutritionists recommend?

Take out the trash? Work in the yard? Garden? Obedience-train your dogs? Pursue any kind of hobby? Attend a play or concert? Or even a football game? Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline? Because your life has become a meaningless horror show as you sacrifice all your time and energy on the altar of having the spotlessly beautiful home.

Two memes: (1) another classic from Anne Taintor. Two women, dressed as if for church, stand in front of an open refrigerator. One holds a full meat drawer open for the other. The caption reads, “I did all the laundry and cleaned the house, and then I felt like killing someone.” (2) An young woman dressed in a housekeeping apron languishes in an armchair. One hand clutches her head, while another hangs listlessly over the chair-arm, still holding a cleaning rag. The room around her is a disordered tangle of upended ladders, brooms, mops, and assorted clutter. The caption reads, “My housekeeping style is best described as ‘There appears to have been a struggle.”
It can be a daily struggle. (See credits below).

Let’s Get Real

Clearly the problem here is not that you and I don’t adopt these simple methods to mix light housekeeping into our normal daily routines. The problem is unrealistic expectations. I’m no expert, but I’m willing to bet the list was originally written sometime in the 1950s by a man with a degree in engineering. He probably specialized in workplace efficiency. If he had children, I expect he greeted them each evening as he sipped his after-work cocktail, then waved them off to bed. Back in those days, guys like that often felt it was their duty to help women become more organized when it came to those all-important household chores.

Oddly, women were not grateful.

The truth is, to this day, women still shoulder the responsibility for twice as many household chores as men do. Even in homes where the male partners consider themselves to be feminists. This doesn’t begin to account for the tremendous amount of mental labor” women undertake to keep the family schedules straight and address the social and emotional needs of all family members. And then there’s the guilt women feel when they think that somehow they don’t measure up.

Four memes by Anne Taintor: (1) A woman serves bacon and eggs onto a plate. She looks over her shoulder at the viewer with a smile. The caption reads, “Personally, I wouldn’t mind being replaced by a robot.” (2) A beautifully-dressed young woman in vintage clothing strikes a sophisticated pose and offers a pensive, unsmiling face to the viewer. The caption reads, “I’m not laughing on the inside, either.” (3) A wholesome-looking young woman in an apron stands by a stove. She holds a wooden spoon in one hand and touches a control on the cooktop with the other. The caption says, “Why, I’d be delighted to put my needs last again.” (4) A young woman dressed for entertaining holds up a bottle of wine. The caption says, “This one pairs well with screaming at people in your head.”
An Anne Taintor quartet offers more masterpieces of sarcasm. (Bored Panda).

Call It What It Is

Which is why I call bullshit on lists like the one from Good Housekeeping. I not only suspect it was originally formulated by a man, I’ll bet he doesn’t know how to sanitize sponges either.

So the next time you are seized by the urge to make yours a spotlessly beautiful home, I suggest you pour yourself a cold glass of something besides water. Stretch out on your freshly vacuumed couch. Read one of those books you picked up on the way home from work. Something that will take you far away from the stress of maintaining a perfect house. I have some ideas:

Weird Sisters Publishing: We have tales to tell. The XK9 Series. Deep Ellum Stories. The Windhover Tetralogy. All artwork © 2019-2022 by Jody A. Lee, Lucy A. Synk, and most of all Chaz Kemp. Wow. When we spread them all out, they really do look like a LOT of tales to tell!
Weird Sisters Publishing has an expanding catalog. (Weird Sisters Publishing).

IMAGE CREDITS

Wow, do we have a lot of people to thank for the pictures in this Spotlessly Beautiful post! Primary among them is the talented and subversive Anne Taintor, whose wicked vintage-illustrated memes are sharp enough to draw blood. All montages are the work of Jan S. Gephardt, who also chose the pictures and assembled them.

“A Clean Home” came from Imgflip, as did the “8 glasses of water” meme below, and it appears to have been the original source of “There appears to have been a struggle,” although we found it on “Life After the Morning Flush.”

“I Really Wanna Leave my Bed” came courtesy of LiveAbout. The two “Morning Kids” images came from Pinterest: “Night/Morning Mom” is from Debbie Beidelman’s pinboard, while “Just dry shampoo’d & febreeze’d my kids” is from the Digital Mom Blog via Meadoria’s pinboard.

Many thanks to Know Your Meme, for “Defrosting,” and to MEME for the Robin Williams quote. The SomEEcards “To-Do List” image comes via Janileth Slattery’s Pinterest pinboard, while the “Never enough time” meme came to us via the “724 South House” Blog.

Yet More Anne Taintor, plus Tales to Tell

The Anne Taintor’s “Cleaning One Thing” image came from Bored Panda, in the same article that brought us the collection of four others near the end. Many thanks to QuotesGram for the “Take the food out of the oven” meme, as well as “Time to myself?” below.

Might note that the young lady in “Time to myself?” clutches a copy of the 1935 My Better Homes and Gardens cookbook featured in G.’s earlier blog post, “Cooking? O Joy!” Both of these articles feature more sarcasm of this type if you’re enjoying it. The Bored Panda piece focuses specifically on the work of Anne Taintor. “Did all the laundry and cleaned the house” (another by Anne Taintor) came via Mrs. Domestic Goddess in Progress’s blog via their Pinterest pinboard. Our deepest gratitude to all!

And we hope you really will take a look at our “Tales to Tell,” via the Weird Sisters Publishing’s “Our Books” page. Current releases (as of this post) include Jan S. Gephardt’s XK9 Series and G. S. Norwood’s Deep Ellum Stories. But the list is steadily expanding. We plan to add the “Windhover” Tetralogy (by “third Weird Sister,” the late Warren C. Norwood) this winter.

Francis X. Tolbert, his book cover, and a Texas-style bowl of red.

A Bowl of Red

By G. S. Norwood

We are in the middle of what passes for winter in Texas. Not like the deep freeze we had last winter, thank goodness. A typical Texas winter means we have many days when the temperatures hang in the mid-fifties during the day, sometimes dropping into the twenties overnight. And when temperatures drop in Texas, Texans make chili.

Frost on the grass in Dallas, with “Forrest Gump” meme: “And just like that everybody was making chili in Texas.
When temperatures drop in Texas, Texans make chili. (See credits below).

A Bowl of Red

Chili looms large in Texas mythology. Cue the image of cowboys sitting around the campfire, eating bowls of chili while someone plays a harmonica in the background. Back in 1966, beloved Dallas journalist, restauranteur, and historian, the late Frank X. Tolbert wrote what remains to this day the definitive work on chili. In A Bowl of Red, Tolbert offered up recipes, profiles of chili masters, and lots of tasty historical tidbits, all collected on his way to founding what is now called the Original Terlingua International Championship Chili Cookoff, held every November in Terlingua, Texas.

For more than 50 years now, folks have been flocking to Terlingua, or simply starting their own chili cookoff competitions, in pursuit of the best, the ultimate, the absolutely perfect bowl of red. Along the way, the Terlingua competition has spawned many legends and inspired at least one classic outlaw country recording—Jerry Jeff Walker’s ¡Viva Terlingua!—all of which have only added to chili’s mythic stature.

Please note that ¡Viva Terlingua! has nothing to do with chili and was actually recorded in Luckenbach, Texas. But the wide-open craziness of the Terlingua Chili Cookoff has resonance in Texas, and somebody must have figured the name would sell a lot of records. Which it did. (Luckenbach is a whole ‘nother story.)

Wide views of vehicles, tents and people at the Terlingua Chili Cookoff, 2021, over a map of the Terlingua area.
Photos from the 2021 Original Terlingua International Championship Chili Cookoff. (See credits below).

Beans? No Beans?

Chili con carne is a basic of Tex-Mex cooking, but modern Texas chili has evolved far beyond a simple sauce of chili peppers and meat. Traditional Tex-Mex cooks treat chili con carne (chili pepper sauce with meat) more like gravy than a hearty stew than can make a meal all by itself. Chili con carne, like chili con queso (chili pepper sauce with cheese) is ladled over enchiladas and added to huevos rancheros. You can slit open an individual size bag of Fritos corn chips, drizzle a little chili over them, and add a whole pile of shredded cheese for Frito Pie. Uses like these give rise to the scornful snort you’ll often hear from chili purists: There are no beans in chili.

But c’mon. Let’s flash back to those cowboys, gathered around the campfire, out on the rolling plains. If you’re the camp cook and you have to provide a hearty meal for some hungry ranch hands, what are you going to do to make that chili pepper sauce with meat stretch? Add more expensive meat? Or throw in a bunch of beans?

That’s right. You go for the beans. Beans are cheap. When dried, they’re easy to transport from Beaumont to the trailhead in Abilene or Fort Worth without going bad. Your cowboys, whether Anglo, Black, or Hispanic, all grew up eating beans. It beggars the imagination that pintos, red kidneys, or navy beans never found their way into a pot of chili until folks from up north or back east started messing around in the chili pot.

Two historic photos of cowboy and chuck wagons.
“Cookie” had to feed a lot of hungry men out of that little wagon. (See credits below).

Man Mysteries

But that protest from the purists is a clue to another aspect of the chili saga. Like barbeque chefs, chili cooks are often men, and they raise the act of making chili to the level of a men-only sacred ritual. No girls allowed.

They do this by turning chili into Man Food, which is generally hotter, more complicated, and more extreme than the kind of food mere females create for mundane purposes like feeding the family. You think jalapeños make your chili hot enough to start brush fires? the chili men ask.  Try adding habaneros or ghost peppers. Wait! How about habaneros AND ghost peppers!

I firmly believe that food should not be painful but then, I’m a girl.

The meat in chili con carne also begs for masculine refinements. Beef is only a starting point. Some chili cooks swear by pork, others by highly spiced sausage. Or, hey! Why not a combination? Beef, and pork, and sausage! Or venison! Yeah! That’s the ticket. There’s probably even a cult following for Varmint Chili, using rabbit, raccoon, opossum, or rattlesnake as sources of meat. I wasn’t able to find a link for it, but you know if I thought of it, the manly chili connoisseurs are way ahead of me.

Francis X. Tolbert, his book cover, and a Texas-style bowl of red.
Frank X. Tolbert put Texas chili on the map with his classic cookbook, A Bowl of Red. (See credits below).

My Personal Chili Odyssey

Do you remember last week’s blog, where I said my mother thought Italian food was too spicy? Well, that went double for chili. It was a forbidden food at our house when I was a child—so much so that it became a bonding opportunity for my father and me. Several times when I stayed home sick from school, Dad took me to the doctor. Mom was a full-time high school teacher, but Dad, a college professor, had a more flexible schedule. It became our little secret that, on the way home from the clinic, we would pick up a can of Hormel and some saltine crackers and have a clandestine lunch of chili.

As an adult, I switched from Hormel to Wolf Brand—the preferred chili of Texas if you have to eat it out of a can. And, while Warren was very much a devotee of the Man Mysteries school of chili cooking, I discovered that he sometimes took a shortcut. He’d buy a Wick Fowler’s Two Alarm Chili kit, which is a prepackaged collection of herbs and spices for your chili-cooking pleasure. Wick Fowler being the legendary chili cook who upheld Texas pride in that very first International Championship Chili Cookoff in Terlingua.

After Warren’s death, when I became the sole chili cook in the household, I fell back on Wick Fowler’s False Alarm Chili, which turns out to be a dead simple recipe for delicious chili that won’t burn the back of my throat away. Did I mention that I don’t think food should be painful? I’m not a chili purist, and I’m definitely a girl, so I feel no shame. Now, when the weather turns cold and I’m hungry for that bowl of red, I pull out the Wick Fowler’s, a can of Ranch Style Beans, and my big red cast iron Dutch oven. Because when the temperatures drop in Texas, even transplanted Missouri girls make chili.

Beef and tomato sauce, Wick Fowler’s chili kit, and Ranch Style beans make tasty chili.
A transplanted Missouri girl makes chili. (G. S. Norwood).

PHOTO CREDITS:

All montages are by Jan S. Gephardt. The frosty Dallas lawn photo is courtesy of LawnStarter, and the meme came from America’s Best Pics & Videos. Many thanks to Ghost Town Texas for the panoramic views of the 2021 Terlingua chili event (it’s worth a look at all the photos on their page – especially if you thought sf convention-goers wore weird costumes!). Thanks also to Google Maps for the satellite view of the area.

We deeply appreciate the archive of historical chuck wagon photos by Erwin E. Smith at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas! Jan used a little “Photoshop magic” to make the details easier to see on The Shoe Bar Outfit in for Dinner (1912) by Erwin E. Smith. That one is definitely from their collection. We found the other photo, Erwin E. Smith stops for a cup of coffee on the LS Ranch (1907) on Pinterest. The Pinterest poster attributed the photo to Erwin E. Smith (he did take several photos of himself) and the Amon Carter Museum – but we couldn’t find this exact photo in the Amon Carter’s online collection of photos, letters, and other materials by Smith.

Thanks very much to Alchetron, for the photo of Frank X. Tolbert. Amazon provided the cover image for A Bowl of Red, and the delicious-looking Texas-style “Bowl of Red” photo came (with a recipe) from Dad Cooks Dinner. Finally, G. S. Norwood herself photographed the stages of her own “Bowl of Red” recipe.

Mouth-watering photos of a poot roast, pot roast tacos, roasted chicken, a plate of spaghetti, and pizza, cover a week on a calendar page.

Cooking? Oh, Joy!

By G. S. Norwood

Way back in July 2021, I wrote a blog post about how cooking your day-in-day-out meals can be fun, if you don’t get too hung up in the snobbery of hobby cooking. I even wrote a follow-up post about comfort food. And here I am, still at it. Still searching for those perfect recipes that are tasty, nutritious, and enjoyable enough for me to think, “Cooking? Oh, Joy!”

Mouth-watering photos of a poot roast, pot roast tacos, roasted chicken, a plate of spaghetti, and pizza, cover a week on a calendar page.
Check out the credits below and you’ll find links to recipes for all of these dishes. Based on G.’s “Classic Five.”

The Classic Five

I read somewhere that most cooks really only have five basic meal plans in their repertoire. A standard week’s dinner menu might read:

Sunday: Pot Roast

Monday: Reheated Pot Roast

Tuesday: Pot Roast Tacos

Wednesday: Baked Chicken

Thursday: Spaghetti

Friday: Take Out, Because, C’mon, it’s Friday!

Saturday: Pizza

Or maybe that’s just me. Cooking for one can be a challenge when I want to cook something that renders more than two servings. Even pizza gets old (really old) after the second day. That’s why I’m always on the hunt for new things I like to cook, like to eat, and that also hold well into the next day or two.

“Betty Crocker’s Cookbook” and “Jamie’s Food Revolution” are two of the titles in G.’s library.
Two of G.’s go-to cookbook resources. (See credits below).

What’s in Your Library?

I have a small collection of basic cookbooks, from the classic, orange-covered Betty Crocker’s Cookbook—mine dates to 1979 and features a lot of Jell-O molds—to chef-driven entries like Jamie’s Food Revolution, by Jamie Oliver.

My mother was an advocate of Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, which has apparently been “new” for at least 75 years. Jan even has an old copy that belonged to Mom’s mother, so well-worn and stuffed with recipes clipped from the newspaper that it was kept in a bag to prevent it from falling apart. It dates to some early era before they started using the classic red and white checks on the cover.

But how many of the recipes did Mother actually cook? Certainly not the pot roast, and probably not spaghetti, either, since she seemed to think Italian food was “too spicy.” Mom was really good at a lot of things—she was an excellent art teacher, for instance—but cooking was not where her imagination found fertile soil. And somebody should have taken that electric skillet away from her years before it died. For real.

The 1935 cover for “My Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook” and a harvest-gold West Bend electric skillet from the 1970s.
The Weird Sisters’ grandmother cooked out of a 1935 “BH&G” cookbook, but they’re not sure how often their mother consulted it, before turning pot roast to shoe leather in her Harvest Gold West Bend electric skillet. (See credits below).

Finding the Joy

Let’s just say that I don’t have a deep legacy of great family recipes to rely on at suppertime. Is it any wonder I perked right up when novelist Hallie Ephron wrote about her own mother’s cooking skills in a recent post on the Jungle Red Writers blog? Hallie’s mother, who was never one to cook at all, struck culinary gold when she came upon a recipe for chicken paprika in Irma S. Rombauer’s classic Joy of Cooking.

I realized that I had known about Joy for Cooking for eons—it was first published in 1931—but had never owned a copy, or even spent much time browsing through it in the bookstore. I went straight to my computer and ordered it for my cookbook library.

Oh, my goodness! It’s not just a cookbook. It’s an encyclopedia of cooking, with detailed chapter introductions about ingredients and prep work, thousands of recipes in quite small type, no chapter divisions or thumb tabs to guide you, and no fancy color photographs of carefully styled food. What it is, is comprehensive. You want to know how to hard boil an egg? It’s in there. You want to know how to roast a pheasant? It’s in there, too.

What it isn’t? It’s not very daring when it comes to spices. As I dipped in and out of the various chapters, I noticed that seasonings often began and ended with salt and pepper—at least on the core Middle American White Folks recipes. Mother would have loved it.

G’s deviled eggs in her carnival glass egg dish, with an apple pie in the background, next to the cover of “Joy of Cooking.”

Purist or Adventurer?

Joy of Cooking does offer a wide array of variations on some basic comfort food recipes, however. People who follow this blog my recall that I’m a purist when it comes to deviled eggs. Rombauer starts out that way, but includes optional spices like chili sauce and curry powder (yes, salt and pepper are in there, too). Plus a whole long list of “additions” including anchovy filets, garlic, smoked salmon, dill pickles, pesto, several kinds of onions, capers, caviar, and bacon.

I was appalled. My good friend, who has a more adventurous palate, cheered when I told her. She makes her deviled eggs with Grey Poupon mustard. Her husband and son-in-law like mine better, but it’s a free country.

Cooking? Oh, Joy!

And that’s the bottom line, really. The joy of cooking comes from learning how to cook things, then discovering how to combine the basics into tastier, more adventuresome dishes. Books like Joy of Cooking and Jamie’s Food Revolution aren’t just about finding new recipes. They’re about mastering new skills, so you can develop your own new recipes, and raise that dry, crusty pot roast your mother fed you up to succulent, fork-tender, new heights of ginger and soy sauce with orange slices. Or whatever strikes your fancy come pot roast day. So, the next time you step into the kitchen, be joyful!

IMAGE CREDITS

All montages are by Jan S. Gephardt. Photos for G.’s “Classic Five” came from a variety of sources, all of whom we fervently thank! They are: Food Network for the pot roast. Taste of Home for the Mexican pot roast tacos. The blog “I Heart Naptime” for the roasted chicken. Delish, and photographer Parker Feierbach, for the spaghetti. And The Recipe Critic for the homemade pizza. Note all of these sources include their respective recipes! Many thanks to Amazon and At-A-Glance, for the calendar background (featuring this very month!).

Cookbook covers for Betty Crocker and Jamie Oliver are courtesy of their respective Amazon pages. The background photo of the stovetop full of good things cooking was taken by photographer Zubaida Abdallah, AKA “zouzou1,” via 123rf.

Our grandma’s copy of My Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook (the 1935 edition) is considerably more food-stained and stuffed with recipes clipped from many sources over several decades. Unfortunately, it’s also in archival storage and Jan wasn’t able to access it quickly enough to photograph it for this post. Abe Books provided the photo. The Harvest Gold West Bend Electric Skillet in our photo is no longer available on Etsy, but we appreciate the access to the image.

Finally, G. took the photo of eggs she herself deviled (she also baked the apple pie in the background). This photo originally ran in her blog post “Stuff That Works.” The (latest in a long succession) cover for Joy of Cooking is courtesy of Amazon. Many thanks to all!

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