Monday, September 3, 2012

Three Labor Day Meals

Happy Labor Day!

A time to reflect on the labors of the America Worker and the inherent struggles -- past, present, and future. My "labor" today is a different kind of work -- within the job description and apron of the 1950s   housewife.

Grandma's notebook includes several of the Daily News' Cooking School columns penned by the 1950s cooking expert, Mary Starr (see blog about sandwich spreads). Within these columns are printed menu suggestions for the day, presumably to give the woman of the house some ideas for the week. Menu suggestions are always entertaining to read but I personally have never cooked ANY preprinted menus (not even a Martha Stewart menu!) for a myriad of reasons....mainly time.

So how much TIME did a typical 50s woman spend in the kitchen each day? Around 20 hours a week.  Today's woman spends an average of 35 hours at her JOB in the 2000s....married women who don't work spend an average of two hours in the kitchen each day. Women who do work and women who are in higher income brackets spend from 45 to 30 minutes cooking each day. Let's see where my Labor Day stacks up.

The Daily News
Cooking School 
by Mary Starr

Menus for Thursday

Orange Juice
Crisp Rice Cereal
Poached egg on Tost
Frizzled Ham
Coffee, milk

Frankfurters with Sauerkraut
Green Bean Salad
Hard Rolls
Lemon Tarts
Milk, tea

Rice meat balls
Tomato Sauce
Buttered Noodles
Broccoli with Hollandaise Sauce
Pumpernickle Bread
Date Whip

7:00 a.m. Rise and shine. Coffee. Paper. Porch.
7:40 a.m. Putting away all of yesterday's dishes still in the drainer. Begin breakfast menu.

The first thing I notice is the absence of fresh fruit. Well, orange juice, but no fruit. Not sure from what season this menu might be. I fill the saucepan with water, bring it up to a simmer for the eggs. I have whole wheat bread of the toast, ham slices for the frizzled ham which, by the way, is just ham fried up in a pan until it kind of curls up around the edges. According to the internet, frizzled ham is usually made with lunch meat. I have ham slices on hand so no fried bologna here. Crisp Rice cereal? Yup. Plus Max gets the cocoa kind -- lucky guy. Poached eggs -- I remember the vinegar trick and I dump some in just before the eggs. I crack the eggs into a cup and roll them into the simmering water just like you see on TV. But they don't coagulate right away and the water looks more like egg-drop soup. Ick. Then as I let the pan simmer for a few minutes they take shape. I drain them on paper towels and plop them onto the buttered toast. Perfect! Whew!

8:00 a.m. Eating the breakfast. Quite good. And in only 20 minutes! Just imagine if I'd had to actually fix my hair and put on clothes and makeup beforehand....Would have had to get up at 6:00 a.m. on a holiday. No good.
Labor Day Breakfast

9:40 a.m. Begin lemon tarts for lunch in between laundry, a jigsaw puzzle, and locating the play-doh bin. I remember seeing a post on the web from a lady saying she remembers her own mother cooking one meal and then immediately beginning the next one. I understand the feeling.

The lemon tarts are a short-cut recipe I found online....pie crust rounds into mini-muffin pans, top with a lemon pudding mix with garnish on top. They had boxed lemon pudding back then so I figured why not? Max and I cut the pie crust dough into rounds, tamp the rounds into the greased muffin cups and bake at 450 for 7 min. We mix the 4-serving size box instant lemon pudding with one cup milk. Next, the zest on one lemon for good measure (thanks to Max for zesting). After the shells cool I fill them up with the lemon mixture and top each with a blueberry. Done! Max gets the leftover dough scraps to play with. It's a win-win. Into the fridge the tarts go until lunch.
Lemon Tarts

10:10 a.m. Wash kitchen floor with ammonia water. Long overdue -- had to be done.
10:30 a.m. Kitchen closed

12:00 p.m. Begin to prepare lunch. Yikes! John reminds me he has football today so lunch has to be served STAT, he wants to leave by 1:00. I whirl around the kitchen and start the green bean salad first. I have a pound of fresh garden green beans from our yard so this is an easy one. Steam them for 6 min, shock in cold water, add a pint of cherry tomatoes (also homegrown), a cucumber and slices of red onion. A few glugs of olive oil and juice of a lemon (Max juices it for me), salt and pepper. Done. Frankfurters and kraut? I throw them in all in a pan with a bit of water and let it simmer. The hard rolls are courtesy of the Target bakery and though the menu called for milk and tea I skip both. Water is nature's best hydrator.
12:35 p.m. EAT. John is lucky I can cook as quickly as I do. I feel like Rachael Ray with a 30-min meal! The recipes were all quite good though it feels funny to have a "hot" lunch, like I was at a cafeteria or something. The green bean salad is quite good and the lemon tarts are good but I would have preferred a lemon curd rather than a lemon pudding.

Labor Day Lunch

1:10 p.m. Finished cleaning up kitchen. Whew. Siesta? Not yet. I look at the dinner menu and remember to make the Date Whip. This recipe was a mystery to me but not the lady who collects the recipes from the backs of old, vintage packages -- including the back of a box of dates! Visit her at:

Max strolls in as I am whipping egg whites and adding the allspice and vanilla. He crushes a cup of graham crackers for me and we combine all of it with a cup of freshly-whipped cream. We take a taste -- decidedly different but very good! Tastes like a spice cookie or gingerbread. VERY sweet. Yum! Into the fridge 'til later. 

1:36 p.m. Run the dishwasher with all the day's dishes in it. Sit to write this blog. 
2:45 p.m. Siesta
3:15 p.m. Outside to play
4:30 p.m. Lego. I build a campground for Harry Potter and a few of his friends.
5:00 p.m. Cook dinner. I start with the meatballs. I actually have a recipe in my personal box for a ground beef and rice meatball with a tomato sauce so why not? They are called Porcupine Meatballs and they have a sauce made with tomato soup that I remember as a child. Pretty good stuff! I grab an extra lean beef, mix it with garlic, onion, parboiled rice, 1/4 cup tomato soup and an egg. It made 16 meatballs that I browned in EVOO on the stove. They stick to the pan but eventually release as they cook longer. I add water, the rest of the soup and yellow mustard to make a simmering sauce. The meatballs simmered for 20 minutes. Next -- tackle the hollandaise sauce. 

On the web there are loads of hollandaise recipes. Most are loaded with egg yolks and butter. I only needed to make a small quantity so I decided to make modifications. One yolk, 2 tablespoons of butter, 1 teaspoon lemon juice and a squirt of Dijon mustard. I ignore Tyler Florence and his double boiler, I also ignore other suggestions to haul out food processors, blenders, and immersion blenders. Nope. Going commando here. I simply whip the yolk and lemon juice to emulsify and then I slowly add the butter and lastly the mustard. It doesn't break at the low temperature. Hot water thins it as it thickens too much. Authentic? Maybe not but it works. 

Buttered noodles? Easy. Pumpernickle bread? Pepperidge Farm, thank you. I even butcher a watermelon and Max and I call it dinner. John is not home from football so I make him a bento box of  homemade goodness for tomorrow. The menu calls for coffee. Nope, not me. When I've cooked like it's Thanksgiving I go for the Malbec. Yum. 

Max and I dine on the porch with the fading evening light glowing on our family table. Max says it's the best meal ever. I agree. I think Grandma would too. 

7:00 p.m. DONE

How much time did I spend in the kitchen today? Just a hair under 5 hours. Yikes. And our Grandmothers used to do this EVERY DAY? A sobering thought. However, the nice thing about today is I feel full all day long. No snacking for me, not even a thought of snacking. The meals are balanced (except fruit??), a bit carb-heavy with the starches and desserts but calorie wise, not too bad. John and I run the stats and breakfast clocks in around 550 calories, lunch also around 550. Dinner? Not quite sure but around 850 -- 900 calories. That puts me around 2000 for the day. Not exactly weight loss territory but not overreaching, either. I enjoy the challenge....and another bonus presents itself -- all the yummy comfort food with my family? Priceless.

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