Monday, July 28, 2014

The"Simple" Myth

I've been beginning to suspect that looking back on earlier times and thinking of them as being "more simple" or "less complicated" is a human tendency handed down through generations. For some reason past pastures aren't necessarily greener, but they are more rosy.

It may seem easy to compare our present with the past, but while our perceptions make it seem like the past was more simple, that seeming simplicity came at a cost - less medical advances (that's a biggie!), reduced traveling opportunities, less food choices, less education, less technology in general, more complicated food preservation, less hygiene, less equality, etc. Now, you may think all of that is grand and you wouldn't mind stepping into that time period. Great for you! I'm with you on a few of those things, though I am really loving electricity! But let me let you in on a little not-so-secret secret: The past is dead, I'm afraid! There's no going back no matter how much you think the idea of a time-traveling Tardis really could exist.

Besides, if most modern people are truly honest with themselves, is the cost of going the route of a simple life something they're willing to pay? I don't think so. When people reminisce about simpler times, what are they really saying? Is it really about simpler times of the past or is it really about less technology to fill our bustling, bursting lives? I'll let you ponder on that one.

So, how far back do these nostalgic "simpler times" feelings go in our society? I'm not sure exactly, but I was completely surprised to find this article by Don Herold in the October 1948 issue of Reader's Digest. I think it's very inspiring, but really striking for the time period. This is supposed to be one of those times that we look back at and wax poetical by how simple everything was! I am happy to say that this man has burst that little bubble for us.

Yeah! Indiana! I love that he mentions my home state.

Fantastic! I couldn't have said it better myself.

Now, even though the idea of past simplicity is a myth when we really examine it, there are things that we can do to incorporate certain aspects of the past that would greatly simplify our present. They will come at a cost, though. You will need to trade some things in. Things such as far less TV time for more reading in the cooling shade of an oak tree. Less texting & e-mailing for more face to face interaction or even *gasp* handwriting a letter! Less rushing around in our car in endless errands for more leisurely walks along tree-lined lanes. Less eating out and ready-to-make meals and more made from scratch, however imperfect at first. Depending on what level of simplicity we want to have in our lives, we can choose skills and traits of the past that we can use to learn from and make apart of our lives now. And in our pursuit for a reminiscent simplicity, I feel we can achieve that peace and quiet that we all crave.

How about instead of looking back on a strange and distant "simpler" past, that we choose to make our future simpler?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Project 52: Rationing - Week 29 - Tomato Aspic Salad

To watch a video short of the history of
Superman go here.
Being that Superman's 75th Anniversary is this year, I couldn't resist showing you this amazing comic book cover featuring a victory garden. Isn't it smashing?! Haha! I can't tell you how much I love it! 

I've always been interested in reading about victory gardens during both of the world wars. What I love about it is that everyone everywhere, including children, was encouraged to grow a garden in whatever spare land was available - yards, empty lots, in community gardens, and at workplaces.

One of my favorite wartime photos is of a man plowing up Old Main Hill on the campus of what is now Utah State University (my alma mater) for a victory garden. (see right) During WWI, Utah State University - then called Utah Agricultural College - was a land grant-based college focused on agriculture and funded heavily by the government. The college was asked to do its part, so, Old Main Hill was plowed up to grow crops for the war effort. I find that extremely compelling. Especially because I walked up and down that hill for 2 years!

School children all over the country during both wars grew gardens, and even work places had "office gardens" where employees would all participate in caring for the garden. Gardening was a serious part of the war effort and literally tons of food was grown just from these little scraps of land here and there. This greatly contributed to lightening the agricultural responsibility in providing for not only the country's food needs, but those of the troops and the aid for allies overseas.

In honor of victory gardens I wanted to make a recipe this week focusing on some produce from the garden. Since I just got the first tomatoes of the season off my tomato plants this past week, not to mention my first onion, I decided to try out this Tomato Aspic Salad recipe from my spiffy Lysol Victory Cook Book.

I've always wanted to try my hand at making an aspic which uses unflavored gelatin. It's always fun to find different uses for gelatin! This is one of those recipes that I felt a bit of trepidation about. A jiggly mold of savory tomato doesn't sound too appetizing, but one of my goals when starting out on this project was to make some recipes that were out of my comfort zone. Believe me, this is one of them!

The ingredients are quite simple: tomatoes (fresh or canned), a bay leaf, gelatin, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, cold water, onion, celery, and some lettuce to serve it on with mayo for a garnish.

tomatoes, bay leaf, gelatin, cayenne pepper, lemon juice,
cold water, onion, celery

 Combine the tomatoes, grated onion, minced celery, salt, cayenne pepper, and bay leaf and simmer for 10 minutes until tender.

Cooking tomato mixture.

 Drain the tomato mixture. You'll be so proud of me. I used the drained tomato juices for our soup for dinner in good ol' wartime spirit! :-)

 Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water to soften. Return the tomato mixture to the heat and return to a boil. Add the gelatin and stir to dissolve. Add the lemon juice. 

 Pour the mixture into 3 molds that have been chilled with cold water. Chill until set. Remove the aspics from the molds, sit them each on a bed of lettuce and garnish with mayo. Serves 3.

Tomato Aspic Salad
Doesn't it look so iconic?
The big moment of tasting came. I'll be honest. I was nervous, but I just went for it anyway and dug in. I got a spoonful of the aspic with a little dollop of mayo and... it wasn't bad! Not my favorite, but not bad. It packs a powerful, clean flavor punch. The wisdom of the '40s portion sizes never ceases to amaze me. I was worried they were too small, but I think considering the flavor density, the size is perfect. What a great way to get in your serving of veggies!

The creaminess of the mayo is important for this salad to cut the acidity of the tomato. Also, it goes without saying, but you have to really like tomato to want to eat it! I was additionally happy to find that it did not remind me of fruit-flavored Jello at all. I think this would make a fun, retro appetizer for a dinner party. I mean, who wouldn't want to be able to say that they've had aspic? Haha!

Recipe from Lysol's Victory Cook Book

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Project 52: Rationing - Week 28 - Knox Gelatine Spread

Don't you just love this pamphlet I found?! The heading is fabulous - "Don't let butter rationing scare you!" haha!

Considering how much butter was used in baking and for plain eating, it really is understandable that the idea of butter being rationed for the duration of a war could be a scary one. If you were only allowed so much butter per person per week, finding ways to make it stretch would be a relief to the stress of planning meals.

I found this week's ration recipe for Knox Gelatine Spread in a couple places - one was this original Knox Gelatine pamphlet featuring the spread recipe and various recipes in which you could use the spread. The other place was in Grandma's Wartime Kitchen by Joanne Lamb Hayes. According to Hayes, this gelatine spread was quite popular with housewives and was published a lot in women's magazines in the summer of 1943. I went and checked one of my Ladies Home Journal resources from June of 1943 and while I didn't find the actual recipe I did find references to "spread" (printed in quotes just like that) in a week's menu in their "How America Lives" section. It even had a helpful listing of what it would take to feed a family of 6 for a week with foods and their ration points costs at the time. So, 1 pound of peanut butter and 1 pound of margarine were both 5 points and 3/4 lb. butter was 6 points. That's pretty cool! See the pictures below:

In the Knox pamphlet, they point out that their gelatine was not the same as the fruit-flavored gelatine which just had a fraction of protein. Their unflavored gelatine was pure protein, and using it would boost the nutrition of whatever you were making with it.
I wanted to try the recipe for the spread to see 1) how it tasted and 2) if it did a good job of extending the butter like it said.

Simple Ingredients: unflavored gelatine, evaporated or fresh milk, butter, and salt.
Coloring was optional. 

Soften the gelatine in cold water.

Then stir to dissolve while sitting the bowl in a pan of hot water.

Mix the salt and milk, add the gelatine. I accidentally let it sit without stirring and it solidified in the cold milk. So, I had to take an extra step to put the glass container in a pot of hot water and stirred it with a fork until it all dissolved again.

Now I guess I cheated on the next step. The recipe says to soften the butter in a bowl over hot water without melting it. Not melting it is very important! That whole process just sounded complicated to me, so I set my unsalted butter out until it softened and then whipped it with a whisk. I did set the bowl over the hot water and whisked the butter until it warmed a little bit more to be more compatible with the warm gelatine mixture.

Then I slowly poured in the milk-gelatine mixture while whisking, almost like I was making a homemade mayonnaise. I did that until all the milk was incorporated. I have to say I was very surprised that it still looked like butter by the end! I thought I was going to end up with a soupy mess.

It looks pretty good!
I tasted it at this point and it tasted just like butter, but I could also tell there was another texture in there. It wasn't a bad texture, just not straight butter. I refrigerated it and it set up nicely. In the end, the spread really reminded me of margarine in color and texture, but it's nice that it's still actual butter.

And did it extend the butter? It sure did. It really did double my butter! I find that so incredible. No wonder this butter extender was popular! Another bonus to the Knox pamphlet version of the recipe is that you could use the recipe to double your margarine or do half butter and half margarine. Love that versatility!

Knox Gelatine Spread!
Now the real test comes in using it in recipes. I'll save that for another week. :-) Maybe I'll use one of the recipes in the Knox pamphlet - like Ham and Peanut Butter Spread! Yum! haha!

Recipe from Grandma's Wartime Kitchen by Joanne Lamb Hayes

Here is an excerpt from the Knox Gelatine Pamphlet along with the recipe and the warning not to use the spread in frying, sauteing, or greasing pans. Good to know!

Just look at that P.S... evaporated milk whipping cream using gelatine?!
I've got to try that!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Project 52: Rationing - Week 27 - Lemon Curd Without Eggs

Lemon Curd Without Eggs
My son and I absolutely love lemon curd. It's pretty much an elevated lemon jelly but with butter and egg yolk; so creamy and rich, bright and delicious! We have lots of fun finding things to put it on like shortbread cookies, pancakes, in plain yogurt, etc. So, when I found this British ration recipe for Lemon Curd Without Eggs, you bet I was going to try it!

When I told my friend Lori about the recipe I'd chosen she made an interesting observation. She wondered how during the war the Brits could happen to have lemons lying about, which were not domestic, but not eggs, which were domestic. I don't have an answer to that one and it makes me wonder too! I really have no idea. It is possible that some people grew lemons in hot houses, but I can't imagine they would be that plentiful, unless they were somehow getting them in from Spain instead. Intriguing little mystery!

One of the ingredients is called "vegetable marrow". When I looked it up, vegetable marrow is essentially a medium-large, elongated summer squash with green skin and whitish flesh. Right now finding large summer squashes is difficult, so I had to content myself with small-medium zucchini. If I had been thinking properly about it, I would have opted for yellow summer squash as the zucchini gives the curd a bizarre green tint. Haha! I suppose you could always make lime curd with zucchini!

This recipe used weight measurements for everything! So the first step was to peel and scoop out all the seeds of the zucchini.

 Ingredients are simple - 2 1/4 medium zucchini, about 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 lemon, about 3 Tbsp. butter. You might want to weigh the ingredients yourself just to make sure. I was silly and didn't write down the measurements at the time, so I'm going off memory here!

 Steam the zucchini until it is very soft and can be mashed and easily whipped smooth with a fork.

It looks a bit like baby food doesn't it? :-)
 I wasn't content with just the fork mashing, so I took the additional step of pushing it through a sieve. The texture was much smoother after that.

 Zest and juice one lemon.

 Put all the ingredients into the pot.

Cook and stir for 30 minutes until nice and thick. You might want to put on some good music. It's a long 30 minutes. I even think that 30 minutes may have been too long since my curd is extra thick. Maybe 20 minutes would have been better?

 Put curd into jars and top with lids. Store in the fridge once cooled. It made 2 half-pints for me.

We ate our lemon curd on some lemon shortbread cookies. Oh, my it was so yummy! I could tell it didn't have that rich decadence that lemon curd with egg yolks has, but it was still very good and I never would have guessed it was made with squash! If I were to tweak the recipe, I would add a bit less sugar and more lemon juice since I like my lemon curd to be more on the tart side. I'd say it was definitely a success, though!

Don't you just love recipes in comics?
The recipe came from Victory Cook Book by Margeurite Patten

Thursday, July 10, 2014

12 Little-Known Historical Dramas You Should Definitely Watch

Some people seem to think that the historical drama film genre only includes films based on historical events and people, but in my opinion it also encompasses films made after books set in particular time periods, even if the characters and events are fictitious. If you haven't read the books that the films are based upon, you should! I always like to compare. When the film makers are true to the book it makes my enjoyment of the movie that much more.

I'm sure you've heard of a few of these, but I feel they either need a little reminder or need to be talked about more. I've put the country in which the films take place, not necessarily which country filmed them, though many of them do match up that way.

I asked my good friend, Mairi, for some input as she is an avid fan of historical dramas as much as I am and she's seen quite a few that I haven't!

12. Our Mutual Friend (England)
 I watched this one at Mairi's urging and I'm so glad I did. The story is about a wealthy young man who is betrothed by his father to a young woman he doesn't know and isn't sure he'll like . Sailing back home from being abroad, the ship hits a storm and he is believed to be lost at sea. In reality he survives and comes back, but decides to come back incognito; he's been gone so long no one recognizes him. It is such a lark! The love story is fantastic and the intrigue is just as twisted as with all of Dickens' plots! Sometimes Dickens' villains get on my nerves as they do in this film adaptation, however, it's well worth watching as the storyline is very interesting and unique. It's been awhile since I've seen it so I can't comment on the costumes, but the movie left an impression on me.

11. Little Dorrit (England)
This is based on another book by Charles Dickens. I'm not really a fan of reading Dickens, but I am a fan of watching the films made from them. This one is wonderfully moving with interesting characters. The main story line is about a girl, Amy, whose father is thrown into debtor's prison and they lose everything. She is forced to find work all the while taking care of her father despite his pride and frustrating delusions. The whole story line is sad and delightfully twisted. I like the loves story, but it is a bit frustrating to the point of wanting to smack a certain character.  But Amy's story is so compelling, it's worth the frustration. Andy Serkis is extremely creepy as the villain too. I have to say his performance nearly gave me nightmares! I think this is one of the finest adaptations to one of Dickens' books. It's definitely worth a watch.

10. Northanger Abbey (England)
I love this new adaptation to Jane Austen's novel Northanger Abbey! Everyone I've asked hasn't seen it, so I wanted to include it in this list. It is the story of an ordinary girl who is a bit in love with reading gothic novels and daydreaming about herself in "gothic situations". She has the chance to go to London and makes various friends, some good and some not so good. She lets her imagination run a little wild when she is invited to stay at the dark and mysterious Northanger Abbey. Adventures and romance ensue!
The actors are wonderful and the movie makes fun of the gothic just as much as Jane Austen did in her book. This movie also contains my hands down favorite movie kiss ever. It is just so sweet and giggly! The costumes aren't remarkable, but I suppose they don't always have to be. Still, it's my favorite adaptation of a lesser-read/watched Austen. :-)

9. Enchanted April (England/Italy)
This is another film my friend Mairi introduced me to. I think it's an interesting and lovely film with wonderful clothes from the 1920s. It's about a group of people from various backgrounds who go spend a month at a villa in Italy and how they change and heal and grow apart or together. It prompts the reflection of how we can all be remarkably changed by one place or one person.

8. Barchester Chronicles (England)
(Review for this film is courtesy of my great friend, Mairi! I haven't watched this one yet, but it's on my to-watch list.)

It is surprising that Barchester Chronicles (1982) is so little known, especially considering the cast it boasts: A very young and almost feline Alan Rickman, Donald Pleasance, Geraldine McEwan, and Nigel Hawthorn. The supporting cast is very good as well, and includes Barbara Flynn, a familiar face to those who may have seen Wives and Daughters, Cranford and others. Based, I think, on several Barchester related books by Anthony Trollope, it deals with a quiet clergyman and how he deals with changes which occur to his living, and also how he deals with his sometimes volatile family, and others around him regarding these changes. It is difficult to describe the plot in more detail, and I don't want to give any of the fun away, but it is truly a delightful series and the performances in it are stellar. It's old-school BBC, so don't expect the same level of glamour that is found in later BBC productions. However, I don't really think there is anything in it to disappoint.

7. Sungkyunkwan Scandal (Korea)
If you have yet to venture into the Korean drama genre, this would be a great place to start. (This and "Rooftop Prince" which is hilarious and partly historical.) The series is set in 18th century Korea and is about a young woman who is forced to find work to support her widowed mother and ill brother by dressing as a man and working as a scribe. Through the trick of one particular character she ends up taking the entrance exam for the university at a time when the formal education of woman was forbidden.

Much of the film is about her adventures at the university with her male roommates and the risks of her being discovered. The love story is very sweet and it has one of the best kiss scenes ever! What I really love about this drama besides the story line is that they make brief mention of the American Revolution and what it represents which is so fascinating as the events happening in America are half a world away from Korea. The cool little bits of 18th century technology in Korea are pretty cool too.

You can watch this for free at or (English subtitles)

6. Sissi (trilogy) (Austria)
I had never seen a movie set in Austria besides "The Sound of Music". So, when I saw this historical drama film trilogy streaming on Netflix I gave it a try. It's entirely in German with English subtitles and was filmed in the 1950s.

I found this movie quite enchanting!  The story is about a prince whose parents are setting up his marriage with an eligible princess, but he accidentally meets and falls in love with the princess's younger sister. The trilogy is about how their love for each other grows, their relationship, and also how she blossoms into her role as the future queen as well as the many challenges she faces. That's the best way I can describe it. It might sound pretty bland, but this is not your typical prince & princess story. Sissi and her family live deep in the country and while Sissi and her siblings are all princes and princesses they are all a little wild and raised quite informally. Some parts are rather funny and much of her story is interesting and touching. I think it's a great look at life in 1860s Bavaria. Not to mention, the costumes are wonderful! Here's a little blurb about the real Sissi.
Unfortunately, this movie is a bit hard to find now. I do believe you can get it on DVD through Netflix though.

5. Meet Me In St. Louis (U.S.A.)
This 1944 film is based on the book of the same name by Sally Benson. No, it's not technically a drama, but I had to include it. The story follows a family in St. Louis through an entire year and how the family looks forward to the 1904 World's Fair. This is one of my top favorite musicals. Judy Garland is fantastic and made the Christmas song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" written for the movie an instant classic. The "boy next door" is quite swoon-worthy and the relationship between the two older sisters is so much fun! I love so many of the songs in this film especially "The Trolley Song". The costumes are absolutely lovely, not to mention the corset scene is awesome. I can't say enough good things about this film. Watch it!

4. Anna & the King (Siam)
Many people have heard of the musical "The King and I", and I'm sure many have also watched the movie "Anna & the King" with Jodi Foster and Chow Yun Fat, but I was disappointed in how quickly it faded into the background. This film warrants a lot of discussion! Not only for the exquisite costumes, but also for the interesting political tensions in the country at the time, and the moral and ethical differences between an English female school teacher and a Siamese King. I feel the relationship between Anna and the King in this film is much more potent than the musical - maybe because they don't sing or dance around! I really loved this film. If you saw it in the past, I encourage you to give it another try.

3. Daniel Deronda (England)
This movie is based off of the book by the same name written in 1876 by George Eliot set in modern England at the time of its publishing. This film adaptation entwines two stories - one of a selfish, spoiled young woman and her quest to get everything she wants and the other of a young man she cares for - Daniel Deronda. His path is far different from her own as he falls in love with a beautiful, sad Jewish young woman and sets out on a quest to delve deeper into his own past since he was adopted as a baby by a wealthy man. It's a fantastic, fascinating story and one you wouldn't expect to come out of the 1870s. Of course the costumes are lovely and all the parts are played very well. I'm sure you'll recognize quite a few of the actors.

2. The Moon That Embraces the Sun (Korea)
This is another historical Korean drama, but a lot more on the serious side. The story is about a girl who is betrothed to the crown prince and just as they are about to be wed, she falls mysteriously sick and dies... The story moves to the crown prince as an adult who has become king and how he still pines for the girl he was betrothed to... I can't tell too much more without giving things away! It's so good. :-)

There is a lot of political intrigue and I really like how they show the royal court and their tense relations. The love story is... stressful in a word. At times it's even frustrating; it's sad and sweet at the same time. Overall the story is quite fantastic and there's even some magic & shamans woven in there. Usually that's not my thing, but I found it an interesting aspect of the story. This is just an overall fascinating look at relationships and Korean court life - an aspect of history that you don't see in American film culture at all. It's rather refreshing!
This is also available for free at among other sites. (English subtitles)

1. Bright Star (England)
Set in 1818 Hampstead, England, this is a beautiful film that tells the story of the forbidden romance between the poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne. I wasn't sure what to expect when I first watched it, but was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it; not so much for the story, but for the odd, yet wonderful way in which the movie was filmed. The cinematography was inspiring, as I've never seen anything quite like it. There was a lovely intimate and poetic way about it (how appropriate!). It also had a very real-life feel - as if you were there watching in person. I think it's because the music is very minimal and at times there is no music for very long stretches.

Another thing I loved about this film were the costumes! The dresses were interesting and so beautiful. I don't think I've seen a film set in the late 18-teens before and I have to say I was loving the higher hemlines, mostly because you see shoes! Exquisite, lovely, period shoes! I just loved watching the actors' feet!

Lastly, I really loved how the movie showed the bits of every day life that don't seem very film-worthy, and yet they add so much life and depth - even in things so simple as a way of sitting, miss-matching chairs, and the realistic relationship between siblings. Lovely! A must see film.

Well, that's it! Of course, there are dozens of movies I could have included (like "Nicholas Nickleby" and "The Scarlet Pimpernel"), but I think this is a good start. Any little-known historical drama films you'd recommend?