Food and a longing with the past tend to be strange bedfellows. Over the past few years, the term “comfort food” has been cropping up within the social media circles as well as other related places that deal in creating dishes that are deemed as “comfort”. That is, foods that one may have consumed with one was at a previous stage of domestic life.
For started as well as our disclaimer in order to product us for a possible lawsuit, disruption, or even reaction from those “trolls” that live under cyberspace bridges that border enchanted forests found in the meta universe, we will use the basis that one began their life living in a standard domestic household within a home base that was of typical nature found in North America, and perhaps selected places around the globe (Europe, etc.), and lived within a rather middle class (or equivalent) lifestyle. We hope that for noted disclaimer will please all of those attorneys from the “C”-suite variety with offices found in newer highrise buildings to the “cheap suit” clan that tends to advertise their services on billboards overlooking freeways and through TV spots that run on on local weekday daytime television! But we digress…
Of course, this younger stage usually begins at one’s childhood. When one was that kid, eating habits were not at their greatest. Toddlers tend to place anything within their mouths, edible or not. Their caretakers were the ones that fed them with foods that were deemed right for the kid, in spite of what the kid thought. As the kid got older, their food choices were at their own discretion, while mom, dad, and related caretaker would keep a watchful eye to what foods they consumed.
It would be around age ten and up where a kid chooses what they ate and how/when/where. School lunches were usually the butt of jokes as it’s widely noted through written stories that dealt with “tweener” life. (Way too many titles to list as an example here, but usually are titles that wind up as programming fodder through such media portals as Disney +, Nickelodeon, Netflix, and other sources). Ditto for so-called higher education sources including high school and even college, though college would be the most liberal chose to grab grub at all hours of the day and night via dorm spaces.
But getting back to comfort foods for a moment outside of the stage of life. There have been dishes that never seemed to receive the respect as they were just deemed as standard meals and were far from becoming anything fancy or even “gourmet”! Dishes such as pot roast, meat loaf, and even macaroni and cheese were something labeled as “1950’s foods”, through they reach back farther than the decade of the 50’s. Sweet items held no better, including those dishes made with genuine Jello brand gelatin that spelled J-E-L-L-O, and were sung in those commercial jingles. Jello molds or “salads” were rather common. But as things went around, they came around! Today, there are places that serve fancy versions of the above noted dishes, and tend to be the rave from those that remember those foods in their original form, and those that want to remember those forms of dishes.
Perhaps the best places to find such recipes are online of course. But if one desires, one can find those recipes in cookbooks published back in the day. Just within the past 100 or so years, there have been thousands of cookbooks commercially available that created recipes based on the source that published the cookbook. The cookbook could have been of a generic nature, such as the classic The Joy of Cooking first published in 1931 and has been revised dozens of times within the last ninety years. There have been the Betty Crocker cookbooks that have made the cooking circles thanks to the creation of “America’s Homemaker” through the advertising genius working with General Mills of Minneapolis. (Or actually, Golden Valley, but never mind..!) And there have been cookbooks backed by celebrities or people of interest that were associated with food or not. In the pre-internet days of the media, some of these folks created cookbooks through their media exposure that brought their name and face to their fans, as well as showing off that they could cook, or claim that they do!
Out of all of these cookbooks from another era that are out there, about 95% of them are long out of print. There are places to find those cookbooks of old from the standard online portals (eBay, etc.) to physical locations such as second hand bookstores, garage and estate sales, or if one is lucky enough, even abandoned in garbage cans and on street curbs. (Don’t laugh folks! Yours truly found some cookbook “gems” within these places!) They are often loaded with recipes and related food and cooking tips that are just as nostalgic and one can get.
A few years ago when I was attending some media event hosted by the Food Network, there was an onstage presentation conducted by Food Network TV personality Alton Brown. During the question and answer portion of the program, I asked Alton about his collection of cookbooks. And out of these cookbooks, what are the ones that are his favorites that are of a vintage nature. He replied that he tends to favor these cookbooks that were used as giveaways from local radio and TV stations that once produced a local radio/TV program that aired on daytime that catered to the housewife. These cookbooks, made available from the 1930’s and well into the 1980’s featured not only recipes as once presented by the on air personalities that hosted these shows, but had other notes from cooking tips to even making sure that your kitchen was ready for “action”. There were also a lot of ads placed by local businesses based in the geographical area of the program’s reach. Yours truly has one of these cookbooks that were given away by a local radio station in Dayton, Ohio c. 1966. That station had a program that aired between 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM on a Monday-Friday basis, and although I cannot find any air checks of that show, it appeared that the show was a light and breezy program. (For the record, the station is still on the air with different call letters and is now a sports talk station as part of the ESPN network.)
Thanks to the pandemic, a lot of people turned to cooking for overall comfort. They did the same with anything that was linked to nostalgia. And this cooking and nostalgia had their happy accident. But long after the pandemic was brushed aside (almost), using cookbooks of old became the perfect fit. So I will continue to dig deep within my collection and whip out a recipe from one of those titles of yesteryear. This week, it will be a recipe from either The Betty Furness Westinghouse Cook Book (Simon and Schuster-1954) or The Mystery Chef’s Own Cook Book (Garden City Publishing-1943 edition). The former title was “prepared under the direction of Julia Kiene”, and the latter was written by John Macpherson who was the first male celebrity chef. He hosted a syndicated fifteen minute radio program in the 1940‘s called The Mystery Chef where he never gave out his name during his broadcasts. (Thus, the “mystery”!) Betty Furness was a New York based stage actress and served as the spokesperson for Westinghouse appliances doing the live commercials on Westinghouse Studio One, a live dramatic anthology series that aired on CBS on Monday evenings during the early days of television.
Their names and places in the media may have been since forgotten, but their cookbooks live on–or at least in my kitchen anyway!
City Garage theater of Santa Monica presents the world premier of Charles A. Duncombe’s BEACH PEOPLE, a play about a couple attempting to spend a leisurely day on the beach, and the pair of beachcombers that change their oceanside attitudes.
Angela Beyer plays Anna, and Henry Thompson is Paul. They are a couple whose day on the beachside is to place themselves on lounge chairs to enjoy the sun, sand and surf. As they soak of the sea air, two others make their presence known. Diana (Naomi Helen Weissberg, alternating with Marissa Ruiz) who dons a skimpy bikini, a floppy hat, sunglasses, and holding a bowl of strawberries, passes by. Her presence draws the attention of Paul, leading toward a deep dialogue between Diana expressing various topics from a pursuit of happiness leaning upon a meaning of life. Diana aka “the girl in the bikini” isn’t there as a flirt nor as a threat. But she holds a mysterious presence. Adding to this “threesome” is Rex (Kasey Esser), a beachside waiter that can make a mean pina colada while showing off his tanned beefcake body. What is in store for Anna and Paul? Do Diana and Rex appear as how these two will figure out what life means to them? Or are they just another part of another day out where the sand meets the reef?
This single act play composed by playwright Charles A. Dunbcome is a fast paced comical drama (or dramatic comedy) that offers quick witty dialogue. It speaks an opus upon various topics that hold little to do with the sand and surf, but may be a metaphor about the subjects of the idol rich, what constitutes personal joy, and if a couple can compete with the “real” people of the beach. It’s a program that is fast placed while learning toward a lot of life’s questions that hold no answers. And that’s the best part!
The cast of four players that appear in this production hold off toward one another very well, especially with Angela Beyer and Henry Thompson as Anna and Paul. One can assume that their characters are just another seasoned couple i.e. within a married stance as Diana and Rex appear as their distractions. It doesn’t matter if that is the case as Frederique Michel’s stage direction points out that there is more to the beach than getting a tan along the sandy turf.
The stage set only consists of the for noted lounge chairs and a tiki bar off the the side on stage right as the set and lighting design is created by none other than the playwright. Josephine Poinsot’s costuming only consists of beachwear–an obvious choice!
It goes to show that there is more than what’s in store along the beach. One can get a bit of life’s meanings, or one can get enough coconut oil slapped upon one’s skin. But this production will fall to that old line that this show won’t give you that sunburn. It will present a time on the beach that is another meaning of human existence with a dash of salt air and a pina colada on the side!
BEACH PEOPLE, presented by and performs at City Garage theater at Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Avenue, Building T1, Santa Monica, until September 11th. Showtimes are Friday and Saturday nights at 8:00 PM, and Sunday afternoons at 4:00 PM. A question and answer session will take place with the cast and crew following the performance of Sunday, August 28th.
For ticket reservations or for more information, call (310) 453-9939, or online at http://www.CityGarage.org
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