It is Lent and I am reading retro recipe blogs. Usually, this is a safe activity in Lent, as the food is terribly unappealing. I can eat black bean soup and smugly chuckle at pineapple and frankfurter casseroles bound with minute rice and tomato soup.
But then I hit the cutest Australian retro site, with recipes from the 1970s. (http://retrofoodformoderntimes.com/2013/03/18/retro-food-for-modern-times-invites-you-to-the-worst-cocktail-party-ever/) This was the decade I started cooking on a daily basis, and left home. It was heady times, finally being an adult in my own home, free to shop and cook as I pleased.
Comparing notes with other 70s survivors, I can see I was one of the blessed ones. I had grown up in a household where people still cooked, and were relatively adventurous about food, for rural people in Northern Maine. My parents gave parties where they cooked and served Chinese dishes, from a cookbook I had bought them. We had a set of cookery encyclopedias, and I was tentatively allowed to try recipes from them with my mother’s prior approval. (No wasting ingredients, nothing expensive, nothing that couldn’t be served to my finicky youngest sisters.)
My parents really seemed to like it when I would put together a “fun” meal. There was one dish everyone liked, but just seems revolting now. It was sliced frankfurters in a sauce that I remember as ketchup, brown mustard (that being exotic), some cider vinegar, and celery seed. It was a kind of desperate barbeque sauce. The dogs were slathered in this, wrapped in foil, and baked. It was then transferred to a chafing dish or fondue pot. I think they were served on toasted hotdog buns. I was also the family salad maker, as well as the cake frosting chef. So meals I made would include a huge, multi-ingredient fresh tossed salad and a cake made by my mother, and then buried half an inch deep in butter cream. My mother thought I was too slow in processing baked goods, but in retrospect, I can see she was often too abrupt and hurried, resulting in cakes, pie crusts and breads that were overmixed to the point of being tough and dry.
I think that it would be fun to have a retro 70s party – without the recreational chemicals and herbs because we are strictly legal now – but with the weird chi-chi food, sangria and craft beers. Maybe offer clove cigarettes or Balkan Sobranies because we were so ironically boho retro then, and some people will feel like it is not a 70s event without something burning. (Reeking sticks of perfumy incense smouldering in a flower pot near the front door, because sure that would fool anyone passing by.) Cheese balls, earnest whole-grain peasant bread, fondue, pineapple and sausage onnastick, etc! We used to make these beef stews with lots of red wine and call it boeuf bourguignon, but it was just winy beef stew. When I was vegetarian, it was all lentil curry with lots of garnishes or sweet and sour stir fried vegetables on brown rice. I used to make this tofu green goddess salad dressing/triscuit dip no one else would eat. It was pretty raw with parsley, chives, dill and garlic cloves. And broiling Things onto triscuits – wasn’t that just so 70s? Salami and jarlsberg cheese; tomato sauce and mozzerella; gouda and fines herbes…
I can picture myself back in those days – wearing a long denim skirt, possibly made from an old pair of jeans, a red gingham shirt, and a homespun full apron, either barefoot or in wooden clogs. My hair was very long, and usually covered with a blue or red bandanna. I was Stephie Sunshine.
What I took out of the 1970s was a repertoire of inexpensive vegetarian dishes, the ability to deftly mix, knead and bake whole grain breads, and an appreciation for good beer. (I have never had the income or social circle to acquire a taste for really good wine.) I still like triscuits.