by Kate Heyhoe
I'm writing this in June—the official month for dads, grads and grills. Besides the fact that the American dad's stereotyped cooking skills are confined to barbecues, grilling and red meat, the Memorial Day holiday ensures that the stage will be set for backyard barbecues and patio get-togethers. Furthermore, throughout the month of June college students nationwide break open long-neck bottles, pop those aluminum tops and go to town with charcoal briquettes, ground beef and buns. This is the All-American tradition: the first month of summer and smoke.
Many of us are either aging baby-boomers—or retro-junkie, Nick-At-Night, Friends-Wannabe video-heads. Recently, a hip little book that spins on the foods of the "Love That Bob" era has brought these diverse age-groups together. Patio Daddy-O is devoted entirely to patio cuisine, where "foods from the fifties meet the discerning tastes of the nineties." Hmm....an interesting concept, but do we really want to revisit this particular era? In many ways, we forty-somethings already are.
If you remember the original ads for the Pepsi generation, you may unknowingly exhibit frightening signs of your own father this summer. Patio Daddy-O is sure to bring them to the forefront. Do you regularly sport those shirts with the itty-bitty pony on them—the replacement for the short-sleeve banlon knit? Do you secretly yearn for a kitschy apron emblazoned with "Super Chef" on it? Does your hair, once down to your waist, now rest pristinely high above your ears? Do you live in a comfortable home with neatly clipped lawn and a Weber grill? Do you or your best friends have a kidney shaped coffee table, ashtray or for that matter, any chotchky that is kidney shaped? Do you play golf?
If so, look out, you are becoming your father! But the foods of the fifties aren't necessarily to be revisited with so much glee. If you have any doubts about this, just check out your public library's vintage Junior League cookbooks—Jello salads and tuna-noodle casserole (with canned mushroom soup) were haute cuisine. TV dinners, introduced by Swanson, and Cheez Whiz also debuted in the 50's and we still haven't been able to get rid of them.
Back to the patio, Daddy-O! Like I said, an interesting concept. One that has been approached before but sadly kept itself too close to the original thing. Yet the foods we grew up with can be comfort foods—especially if they actually taste better now than what we remembered. And that is what the authors have done here: taken our skeletal memories, our iconic outlines of good times past and made them actually feel, look and taste good!
I mean even the burgers in this book go au current with herb butter and Fontina cheese! Tell me this is not meant for both the boomer and the Friends generations. The Eat-Now Potato Salad hasn't one drop of mayonnaise, but instead is laced with a true Caesar dressing, complete with real anchovies and Dijon mustard (none of that neon-yellow stuff). Even the plain old Turkey Sandwich is adorned with sage mayonnaise and honey-marinated apples.
This is not to say that all of the recipes are nouvelle, nouveau or yuppity. My favorite classic is the unadulterated recipe for grilled cheese sandwiches made with white bread, American cheese and the weight of a hot clothes iron to achieve the perfect effect. The Chunky Chicken Salad on Toasted Raisin Bread stays fairly true to form, although the authors do offer the choice of creme fraiche or sour cream.
Beyond the recipes themselves, the graphics in this slender tome are a real kick. Reproductions of vintage tablecloths, aprons, and other period pieces are kitschy enough to send garage-sale sleuths into fainting swoons. Right down to the dishtowel depicting mom and her built-in oven with the words "Be Modern." Or the BBQ apron imprinted with slogans like "You're the guest and I'm the host, but the one who eats the fastest gets the most."
All in all, this is a really fun book. The authors have pulled off the recipes well and the design and illustrations carry out the theme (That Smokin' Lemon Chicken and Rock 'n' Rollin BBQ Baby Back Ribs are here for you to try yourself). It's one of those great gift books that you can feel comfortable giving to your dad, your grad or anyone, even if they don't have a clue as to what the fifties were really about. And the pictures alone will give even the non-chef some amusing entertainment—whether that be you in your father's clothing or your kids in their retro-wearables.
Just in case you forgot yourself what was new, hip and happening at that time, here's a list of what else cropped into our lives in the fashionable '50's (in chronological order):
Meanwhile, in Paris, Julia Child and pals Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle opened their cooking school L'Ecole des Trois Gourmandes and were busy teaching Americans the French way to cook. Restaurant critic Duncan Hines (the man, not the mix) made his first trip to Europe in 1954 and announced that American food was far superior, but it is unclear whether he ever met les Trois Gourmandes.
And on that note we wish you all...
Happy Father's Day!
Happy Graduation Day!
Happy Memorial Day!
Modified March 2007
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