Sunday, November 29, 2009

It's still 1943!

I got my day off to a swinging start with The Swingin' Years. Usually I love listening to the whole thing every Saturday and Sunday, but today I woke up so late that all I heard were the last few songs on the countdown as I chugged my coffee.

But it was my favorite year, 1943! This week, five of the top ten songs were performed by Der Bingle, but the number one song was Paper Doll by the Ink Spots, and man, I found myself humming that song. All. Damned. Day.

The 1943 theme got me thinking about my poor neglected Victory Garden, so I spent the rest of the day yanking up the weeds and remnants of the summer tomatoes and tilling in compost for the winter cabbages and peas. It was sunny but there was a definite chill in the air, and the wind started picking up just after noon, blowing the fallen leaves everywhere. It was apple pie weather; stew weather. You need something chunky and warm to cast the chill out of your joints at the end of the day.

As I planned where the root vegetables were going to go, I started to get really hungry, imagining roasted parsnips or beets from my winter garden accompanying a baked chicken, or all the carrots, peas and potatoes filling up a stew. Then, as I was clearing away some forgotten corn stalks, it occurred to me that I had the making of a great stew sitting in my freezer right now! The corn crop this summer was AMAZING. What a difference planting corn in a block makes! I blanched and froze most of it, hoping to make corn bread and soups this winter. Well, no time like the present! And just a few days ago I went past a recipe for Corn Chowder in one of my ration recipe cookbooks. Gosh that sounds good! Now let me see, where was it...

Next week, if you're good, I'll make some of those bizarro sandwich fillings for you. They're really not bad, I've tried a few. But I digress!

In the spirit of true rationing, I had to make do with a few things. The first thing that went through my mind was "FOUR CUPS OF MILK! THAT'S MY WHOLE WEEKS RATIONS!" So in the spirit of making do, I used two cups of fresh milk, and enough powdered milk and water to make two more cups. The thing about powdered milk and powdered eggs is that they're awful when you use them as directed and consume them as stand-alones, but if you bury them in a recipe they are undetectable. And so it was with the stew. The milk situation turned out just right. Also I was out of onions, which has never happened before. Finding them growing out or turning to mush happens from time to time, but I can't ever remember actually being OUT of them before. Luckily I had some chopped, dried onions in the pantry, and while I certainly didn't get the same magical aroma that real onions and bacon fat would provide, the resulting flavor of the soup was quite nice.

The resulting soup was a little insipid at first. You have to use a LOT of salt to get it up to snuff, and even then I thought it smelled wonderful but still tasted a little boring. I added a teaspoon of butter smashed up with a teaspoon of flour to make a roux. That added some body and improved the taste a bit, but it was still a little boring and I was just about at capacity for the salt and pepper, I didn't want to use any more. I searched a few other recipes and found garlic powder to be a recurring ingredient, so I tried about a 1/4 teaspoon. That made it sparkle, but there was still a little something missing. It smelled wonderful but the sweetness of the corn just wasn't shining through. Aha! Sweetness! I put in a teaspoon of sugar and stirred it in. I tasted it. Oooh, yes...that's MUCH better! So for all those who just skipped to the bottom of my paragraph, follow the recipe but add some garlic salt and a little sugar to the finished product.

I don't have any crackers on hand, and I was going to make bread but I ran out of strength. Plus, the soup cooked up very fast, about a half an hour. I still have a few rolls hanging around that didn't get used up for Thanksgiving dinner, so they made an excellent garnish. Tasty too.

I wish you could taste it, it's really quite good, and it makes enough for four bowls of soup plus leftovers for another day.

Further adventures for my time travelling friends:

The Swingin' Years can be heard Saturday and Sunday Mornings from 6 to 9 am Pacific Time. If you've never heard it, it's really a treat. The host, Chuck Cecil, has been running this show for fifty years now, and he serves up each song with trivia, listener-supplied memories from letters, interviews with the Bandleaders and singers that he's conducted over the decades, and stories about the ballrooms they played in. The only commercials are station breaks and the occasional pledge breaks every month or two. It's a first-class memory trip and I don't know what I'll ever do when Chuck finally kicks the bucket.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

It's 1941!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! No matter when you celebrate it...on the last Thursday of November, as tradition dictates, or on the penultimate Thursday, as FDR decreed it to be in 1939 in order to extend the Holiday shopping season and get some more money flowing into the economy as soon as possible. It was a nice idea, and it certainly worked the way it was supposed to, but just ask the simmering families what THEY thought of it. If you had one day off, and your children and cousins had another day off a week later, it was impossible to get everyone together for the Thanksgiving meal. Sports schedules had to be postponed or canceled, parades were re-routed, it was a general nightmare. Some people (and some states) split the difference and celebrated TWO Thanksgivings (oh my gosh wouldn't that be great if we had two 4-day weekends in a row? Heaven!) but most people and states picked one and tried to stick with it as best they could. After much fuss, Congress finally passed a law in 1941 stating that Thanksgiving would henceforth be ON THE FOURTH THURSDAY OF NOVEMBER, AND THAT'S IT, BUSTER! Okay maybe they didn't use those exact words but that was the spirit of the law.

In any case, Happy Thanksgiving! Save a slice of pie for me.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It's 1943! And it's starting to get chilly.

Twice a year I get a terrible itch to plant a vegetable garden. The one I plant in spring...well, that's a no-brainer. I get to plant all the things you'd typically expect to see in a Victory Garden: Corn, tomatoes, peppers, melons and herbs. The winter garden takes a little more planning. You don't want to go to all the trouble of digging up the soil, planting seeds and pulling weeds, only to have your strong little sprouts turn to mush with the first frosty night, so you have to plant only the things that can take the cold.

Luckily, most of the things you can plant in the winter are things you might actually want to EAT in the winter. Red cabbage cooking on the stove with sugar and vinegar makes a wonderful smell and an even tastier dish. Chubby little sugar snap peas cook up hot and fast, and although I haven't tried it yet, there are two recipes for pea leaf soup in my ration cookbooks. If I can save the leaves from powdery mildew this year, I might actually give it a shot. Cauliflower tastes much better broken to pieces, steamed hot and served with leftover gravy. Broccoli makes a tangy, crunchy salad with bacon and dressing, and you might think you hate Brussels Sprouts until you have them simmered in mustard sauce. And what's a stew, soup or casserole without a few root vegetables, like carrots or parsnips? Every little bit helps, you know.

Yeah I know it's a planner from 1944, but what I plant this winter will contribute to recipes like these next February. So there.

Click on the page for a larger (and much sharper) view of the recipes.

The most important thing that I've learned about winter gardening is that things get BIG, bigger than you'd expect them to, if all you have to go by is the size of the finished product at the store. The first year I planted cabbage, I figured a foot apart would be just about right, that allows for the head at the center and some extra leaves, right? Was I ever surprised when they hit up the three foot mark and started fighting it out for space. So this year I'm doing the onions a foot apart and spacing the cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower four feet apart. This sounds like I'm getting fewer cabbages out of my little plot of land, but four cabbages you can at sure beats one cabbage shaped like an S from space hogs.

So off I go, wearing a beat up and much-patched pair of pants (Make it do or do without!) and an ugly shirt I don't mind ratting up. The sun is shining, the wind is blowing, it's not too hot and it's not raining. This is perfect fall gardening weather! And when I get back in, maybe I'll make a soup out of the Butternut squash I harvested from the summer garden.

I tell ya, a little victory gardening makes a big difference in your meals! And your pocketbook.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

It's 1939!

NBC radio city is one of my stops on my fantasy perfect day. I'd relive a day from some set year, start off with a vintage breakfast courtesy one of my antique cookbooks, a newspaper from the LA Times Archive (They have any day to choose from, from 1881 on) , then catch a movie I saw in the paper, or visit the site of NBC radio city with two tickets to Fibber McGee and Molly...or maybe I'll hit up the old KNX building across the street from Columbia Studios. It used to be CBS, the Columbia Broadcasting System, so various movie stars from the studio across the street would cross the crosswalk after work and put in an hour (whether they wanted to or not) recording their episode of Suspense! That's my favorite, Suspense from the war years. Absolutely the best! Always a great, twisty ending! I'd end the day by listening to an old radio show, probably Suspense, come to think of it, and partake of any advertised product that happened to still exist.

I keep thinking of things to do on my perfect day. There are things that still exist, like various movie palaces and radio stations, a few restaurants and shops. And of course I have movie magazines and women's magazines from whatever year I pick. Thank heavens for netflix! I can watch a double feature if the movies still exist. Oh it would be so much fun to roll film at the same time sixty years late! I am such a dork.

Further reading:

If you have a Los Angeles Public Library card, it will get you access to the L.A. Times Database for free. This link will take you to the database. Pop in your card number and pin and proceed to "Proquest - the Historic Los Angeles Times". Give the date you want and hit enter. Everyone else will have to go to the Proquest database or the Los Angeles Times Archive database but you'll have to pay for the privilege.

has dozens of stations that cater to the Old Time Radio fan, and OTRCAT has individual shows for purchase, but a google search will turn up many, many sites that offer mp3s of old radio shows and news broadcasts.