Just Good Food

by John Ryan


Keeping the Faith


The other day I was at the library and was struck by the hair on one of the librarians. She must have been in her mid 40s, but instead of a trim professional do, her hair was long, straight, and parted down the middle with really long bangs. It was the way that cool girls wore their hair in the 60s...if their moms would let them. Looking at her I had this odd feeling of kinship. Like meeting someone in a foreign country who speaks your language, she could have been one of my college friends or a housemate.

Every time I see a middle aged guy with a good pony tail, I find myself secretly admiring him. You see, I'm on the younger cusp of the 60s generation and I went with the flow. When long hair went out, I felt self-conscious and cut my hair. As soon as I perceived that my funky clothes weren't admired, I bought what was in. Over the years I've occasionally caught myself with a superior attitude and even some resentment at the rare pony tail or pierced ear. "Who's he think he is?" "What's he trying to prove?" I'd mutter to myself.

But these days I'm liking it. I mean, people have a right to be comfortable in their skin. And if long hair makes them comfortable, then I'm thinking so what?

Hippie Power Seeing the librarian also got me to thinking about my own habits in the 60s. Every third book I started had something to do with yoga or zen and I used milk crates between boards to create bookshelves. (Having spent way too much money on "nice" bookshelves over the years, I still think milk crates and boards make great bookshelves.)

My eating habits were different as well. A salad in 1968 was an enormous wooden bowl full of lettuce, sliced mushrooms, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, carrots, sunflower seeds, sprouts, and dressed with some creamy tofu dressing. Sure, the salad was out of control, but to understand that salad you have to know where I was coming from. I grew up with salad being iceberg lettuce, a hard pink tomato wedge and bottled Italian dressing. So a big wooden salad bowl overflowing with a riot of colorful vegetables was a celebration. I was discovering how sweet bell peppers could be, how good crisp mushrooms are, and how cool and refreshing cucumbers are. Sure my/our salads were out of control, but I loved them.

Stir-fries were as central to my daily cooking then as pasta is now. Like salads, a stir-fry then had everything but the kitchen sink in it. And I was making bread. Only homemade bread wasn't artisanal, it was moist, dense and always loaded with nutrition by way of whole-wheat flour. The bread had no crust to speak of and it was practically impossible to toast, but it was an infinite improvement over the machine-made, balloon bread I grew up on.

Another 60s staple was casseroles. Depending on my feelings about eating meat at the time I used ground beef or TVP (textured vegetable protein) tricked into looking like ground meat. The basic sauce was made with tomatoes and lots of newly discovered herbs and spices. The casserole was topped with and lots and lots and lots of cheese and left to bake for what seemed like hours.

And we weren't content with chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Nooo. Even cake had to have nutrition. Carrot cake was born.

In my world, sunflower seeds were king; alfalfa sprouts were queen.

Now it's 2000 and I couldn't grow a pony tail if I tried. I like stir-fries from blazingly hot pans with minimal vegetables and white rice is okay...if it's basmati or Arborio.

I do occasionally get a taste for the old food. If I want one of those huge salads, there are any number of health food restaurants that are keeping the faith. And when I get a jones for vegetables, I make a 60s stir-fry I've dubbed Hippy's Delight.

(As I was writing, I had a great idea for yet another cookbook that I'm not going to write. I'm always amazed that publishers keep cranking out books of authentic recipes from villages in Provence or Tuscany. Why not a cookbook with authentic recipes from the 60s? After all, the recipes reflect a particular culture and lifestyle. As with Tuscan recipes, the kids of the 60s fashioned a cuisine with what was most available to them. And the recipes betray a cultural sensibility completely foreign to us now. But then I realized that such a cookbook is pointless because the original Moosewood Cookbook is still in print—and has even just been revised!)


Just Good Food Archive


John Ryan

Both chef and musician, John Ryan wrote the Just Good Food blog from 1996 through 2001.


This page created March 2000