The Thanksgiving of Regrettable Food

A well-prepared dish and an appetizing meal is a creative achievement; therefore—

I shall derive happiness from work itself.

-The Cook's Creed, The Modern Family Cookbook


As y’all might remember from last year, The Goddess of Foof LOVES Thanksgiving! Me and The Husband-Type Man host dinner for our families every year, and, in the course of this tradition, we’ve gotten quite fond of giving the meal an annual theme/spin. At first, it was just enough that we were preparing something other than my Gram’s canned-green-bean casserole or his mom’s processed turkey loaf. We could be as foofy as our hearts desired. But with each year, it’s gotten more and more out of hand. Like last year. Last year, we hosted the gloriously Snotty and Pretentious Thanksgiving Dinner.

Then, I proudly proclaimed:

Yeah, we could just crank open a can of pitted black olives or grab the nearest box of stuffing... but why? Why spoil the integrity of a sublime roasted turkey, a gourmet dish of mashed potatoes, an exotic mushroom loaf or succulent asparagus dish or homemade pumpkin bread pudding with... Cool Whip? Canned cranberry sauce? Or, heaven help me, a... a... a casserole made with cream of mushroom soup... from a CAN! The horrors! No way, man.

Thanksgiving 2001? Quite different!

This year, thanks to the publication of Mr. James Lileks’ book version of The Gallery of Regrettable Food, we’ve hit on a rather special theme. When I discovered that Gram and Mom actually OWNED a couple of the cookbooks/booklets featured in the Gallery, well….

Yes, welcome to The Thanksgiving of Regrettable Food!

Predictably, Mom and Gram expressed dissent when I mentioned this to them. “Oh, honey,” Mom groaned, “don’t make a whole meal of things no one can eat!” Um, Mom? It won’t be all that different than canned-green-bean casserole and canned-sweet-potatoes w/marshmallows, then, would it?! Ha! Ha! Ha hahahahaaaaa! But no, we aren’t actually making pigeon pie, Mary Margaret McBride’s Link Loaf, or Ketchup-Pistachio Cake… yet we ARE taking our dishes and, especially, presentation straight from the regrettable pages of Gram’s old cookbooks/Mr. Lileks’ site. Curly parsley! Jell-o molds! PIMENTO! Yes, yes, yes!


Here, Mrs. Homemaker, is a book to take to your heart—and to your kitchen!

Yes, over the years, I’ve been pinching the old cookbooks that Mom and Gram never ever EVER use. I’ve referred to them in the past for theme parties; the appetizer sections, in particular, are an inspiration for a variety of Lounge-related parties. But things coalesced when I brought The Gallery of Regrettable Food book down to show Mom and Gram, and by coincidence was helping myself to the last two cookbooks buried behind a Price Club package of 400 paper plates stashed in the cupboard above the oven. I started paging through the appetizer section of one of them when… “Frankfurters take on a new glamour in this gleaming aspic.” And the next page, why, it was the tuna loaf with the spinal column! And the next page, “chicken shortcake served individually”! Manna from heaven, in the form of The Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook by Ruth Berolzheimer, 1968.

Also included in our cookbook inspiration are:

  • The Modern Family Cookbook by Meta Given, 1942
  • Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book by P.F. Collier & Son Corporation, 1942
  • McCall’s Cook Book by the Food Editors of McCall’s, 1963

All quotes throughout this entry are courtesy of The Modern Family Cookbook. Most recipes are to serve 6;  adjust yours accordingly.


My family’s satisfaction with my table setting and service is my responsibility:  therefore—

I will manage my linens and other equipment, my method of work, the assistance of my family, to the end that the table shall be clean and beautiful and service easy and dignified."

-The Family Hostess’ Creed

As with any meal (in my world), the décor is important as well. I mean, der. And, by happy coincidence, the refurbishing of the Breakfast Nook and the Lounge here at the Mansion is going to be complete in time for the holidays! The old lady pinkness, the Formica, the quilted leather, the atomic wallpaper… all will help to contribute to the Era of Regrettable Food atmosphere. Moreover, THTM’s mom has been cleaning out their garage, and we’ve scored, as a result, some FABULOUS dishes and glassware from the 40s and 50s! Rock ON! So the dining room will be rigged out with Gram’s Plastic Tablecloth (the festive embossed holiday version), various platters and molded things, and as much Melmac as I can rustle up. The table centerpiece, in fact, will be a gelatin mold of the most noxious variety, and I’ll accent with what Mom’s old BH&G cookbook calls “harvest fruit”: nuts, small pumpkins, Indian corn, gourds, the usual horn ‘o plenty stuff. The “sideboard” is an Ikea table that I used to use as a desk, but have now painted white and covered with bodacious yellow oilcloth; the sideboard will be decked out with the punchbowls and some sort of era-appropriate flower, like yellow pom poms and/or white mums.

But above and beyond, we’re providing something special this year: souvenirs!

On our trip back to the East Coast in October, THTM and I took a couple of days to drive up the coast and wander around looking at Fall Colors. We ended up in Plymouth one morning, and, thanks to a very SPECIAL gift shop, we stocked up on vinyl-covered Pilgrim and Mayflower placemats, erasers shaped like Miles Standish and Squanto, and various postcards. Something for everyone! We may use the postcards as placecards, in fact….


We thought long and hard about the appropriate music for The Thanksgiving of Regrettable Food. Regrettable music, certainly, is a must. But we didn’t want to do the same old Lounge Tunes. Whilst wandering around NYC the other week, The Husband-Type Man and I got to discussing what music we’d associate with that sort of 1950s mentality… and suddenly, I remembered “La Mesa Music.” No, you can’t buy it at any stores. See, when I was little, like 4-5, I lived in Santee. Gramma and Papa lived in La Mesa. On my mom’s car radio, whenever we went anywhere, was then-popular adult contemporary music. Mac Davis. Starlight Vocal Band. Elton John. That kind of stuff. And Gramma and Papa’s LTD car radio was always playing E-Z Listenin’ music. Big bands. Doris Day. Andy Williams. Perry Como. I just thought that if you got your car in Santee, like we did, it played Santee Music, and if you got your car in La Mesa, like Gramma and Papa, it played La Mesa Music. And so when we were driving someplace in the LTD and Mom switched the radio station, I was baffled. “I thought this car only played La Mesa Music!”

To this day, Gram’s 1940s E-Z Listenin’ music is known as “La Mesa Music.”

So yeah, we’re gonna find us an LA radio station playing “La Mesa Music” for the occasion.


I’ve got a stunning polka-dot dress from the 50s that I was hoping to break out by the holiday dinner, but my Weight Watching has hit a yucky plateau this month, and I might not be able to squeeze into it just yet. No worries! I have a LOVELY chiffon apron to deck myself out in! Now I’ve just gotta hit Gram up to pincurl my hair….


My family’s enjoyment of food is my responsibility; therefore

I will increase their pleasure by planning for variety, for flavorful dishes, for attractive color, for appetizing combinations.

-The Cook's Creed

Ah, yes… this is where is all comes together!



Eggplant/Red Cabbage Porcupine
Gram does a similar thing with a tinfoil-wrapped grapefruit, but I’ll take this one crucial, classier step than that and stick my hors d’oeuvres into a colorful vegetable instead. And I’ll honk up the cheese and ham cubes and Vienna wieners slices and olives and cocktail onions with something more interesting. For instance… at the risk of poaching on Mr. Lileks’ territory, enjoy this quote from our mutual copies of The Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook : “Almost anything you like can be rolled in bacon, oven or pan-broiled, and served on picks.” Well, okay, then! Let’s make us some Bacon Rolls!

8 strips bacon
4 tablespoons peanut butter

Spread strips of uncooked bacon with peanut butter. Roll up tightly and fasten with toothpick. Broil until crisp and serve on hors d’oeuvres server.

Broil each of the following until bacon is crisp:
Spread a slice of bacon with 1 teaspoon finely crated cheese and 1/4 teaspoon chutney or India relish. Roll as above.
Roll 1/2–inch cube of aged Cheddar cheese in the bacon.
Roll large pickled onion in 1/2 slice of bacon.
Wrap rolled anchovies in bacon.
Wrap shrimp in bacon.
Cut stuffed olives into halves, put together with cheese spread, wrap in bacon.
Stuff large cooked prunes with American cheese.


Roquefort Puffs
A variation of the Retro Cocktail Party staple….

1 egg white
2 ounces Roquefort cheese
8 crackers or 8 (2-inch) bread rounds
Beat egg white until stiff; cream cheese, fold in beaten egg white and heap on crackers. Bake in slow oven (300* F.) 15 minutes or until brown. Garnish with paprika.


Every appetizer section of these old cookbooks shows those red-wax rounds of cheese in SOME capacity. Arrange on a small cheese plate with crackers and a few artful parsley sprigs.


Deviled ham eggs
To get the yolks in the middle of the egg, start the eggs in cold water, keep moving them around, and never bring them to a full boil.

6 hard-cooked eggs
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup finely chopped ham
3/4 cup Mayonnaise
Cut eggs into halves crosswise. Remove yolks, mash and mix with remaining ingredients. Fill whites, sprinkle with paprika. Decorate with sieved egg whites and chopped black olives.


Filled Celery
Arrange celery stalks on a glass tray with lots of leafy greens. You can fill in cracks with tomato- or hard-cooked egg wedges, or deviled egg halves.

Whip 1/4 -cup cream cheese with 2 tablespoons chopped black olives and 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice. Pipe or spread into celery stalks.
*Peanut-Filled Celery
3-oz cream cheese
1/4 cup creamy-style peanut butter
2 tablespoons light cream
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
8 stalks celery
1/2 cup chopped salted peanuts
In small bowl, with wooden spoon, cream cheese and peanut butter until well combined. Blend in cream, onion and curry powder. Fill celery stalks. Sprinkle with peanuts. Refrigerate 30 minutes before serving.



[Beverages] are also socially valuable, being practically indispensable for all the between-meal refreshments which are served to guests, as well as for planned entertainments.

Spiced Apple Cider
I made a special trip with Mommy to the Julian Apple Festival to stock up on cider (and pies, but that’s another story…).

1 quart sweet apple cider
8 whole allspice
8 whole cloves
1 stick cinnamon
Few grains salt
1/4 cup brown sugar, well-packed
Put cider into saucepan, add the spices, salt and sugar, and cover; heat very slowly to the boiling point. Heat should be so low that it takes the cider about a half an hour to come to a boil. Remove from heat, strain, and serve steaming hot.


Grape Juice Float
This is a honked-up version of The Husband-Type Man’s Family’s favorite holiday drink: grape juice and ginger ale.

3 cups grape juice
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 cup apple cider
1/4 cup sugar, or to suit taste
1 cup ginger ale
1 pint orange ice
Combine grape juice, lemon juice and cider, and sweeten to suit taste. Just before serving add ginger ale. Fill glasses about 3/4 full and drop a scoop of orange ice on top. Serve immediately.



“Who for such dainties would not stoop? Soup of the evening, Beautiful soup”

Cream of Corn Soup
Every good hostess has a starter for formal meals, you know.

1 cup fresh corn
2 cups canned creamed corn
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon minced onion
2 cups milk
Simmer corn and soup together for 20 minutes. Press through a coarse sieve. Melt butter, blend in flour, salt, pepper and onion; add milk gradually. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly, and add strained corn. Cook until thickened, about 5 minutes. Serve garnished with popcorn.



“Food is actually more beneficial to the body when it can be eaten in an atmosphere of good humor…. The homemaker, as hostess to her family, can set the pattern and guide them to make mealtime an event to anticipate with joy and recall with pleasure.”

Cucumbers in Sour Cream
Gram digs stuff like this. So does THTM, for that matter.

1 large cucumber
1 cup thick sour cream
1 tablespoon chopped onion
3 tablespoons vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
Pare cucumber. Run tines of fork lengthwise of the cucumber and cut crosswise into thin slices. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over sliced cucumber. Marinate 30 minutes.


Cranberry Ring Salad
The Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook version shows it “filled with shrimp and garnished with pineapple slices and cream cheese.” Ooh. Nummy.

2 cups cranberries
1 1/2 cups cold water
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup chopped nuts
3/4 cup diced celery
Wash cranberries, add 1 cup cold water. Cook until tender. Add sugar and cook for 5 minutes. Soften gelatin in 1/2 cup cold water, dissolve in hot cranberries.

Chill until mixture begins to thicken. Add nuts and celery/ Mix thouroughly. Pour into oiled ring mold. Chill until firm. Unmold and place on large salad plate. Place light lettuce around salad, arrange shrimp in cender, or serve on a bed of chicory on individual plates and garnish with mayonnaise.


According to my copy of The Modern Family Cookbook, “How long do you need to cook the Thanksgiving turkey this year? Here’s a way to find out for yourself, with no ifs or buts: Just simmer the giblets a day ahead of time, note how long the gizzard takes to become tender, and add one hour—and that’s the length of time your turkey should be roasted!” Get right on that, okay?


Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
Another helpful hint from The Modern Family Cookbook: “Gravy should always go to the table piping hot. The gravy boat may be heated thoroughly before the gravy is poured into it, by letting boiling water stand in it for a few minutes.”


My stuffing is a top-secret recipe, combining several cookbook’s directions/hints, plus some improv-ing of my own. I refuse to reveal my secrets… my stuffing is THAT fabulous. But the Regrettable aspect is one of my regular ingredients… a plastic tube of Farmer John pork sausage.


Spinach Ring
Can’t serve too many rings for The Thanksgiving of Regrettable Food! And, I guess, according to The Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook, you can’t serve too many rings filled with shrimp, neither. (We’ll prolly skip that part, in fact.)

3 cups Cooked Spinach
1 cup White Sauce*
3 eggs, beaten; 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Chop spinach fine, combine with white sauce, add eggs, salt and pepper and pour into greased ring mold. Place in pan of hot water and bake in moderate oven (350*F.) 30 to 40 minutes. Fill the spinach ring with creamed shrimp and garnish with hard-cooked egg wedges.


White Sauce:

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
_ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Melt butter and blend in flour. Add warm milk gradually, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and cook 3 minutes longer; add seasonings.


Bologna Cups with Peas
The second we saw this recipe, we KNEW, just KNEW deep in our SOULS that it was DESTINED for The Thanksgiving of Regrettable Food. THTM prepared it with a deep sense of pride.

6 (1/8-inch) slices Bologna
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups seasoned Cooked Peas
2 cups cooked rice
1 peeled tomato
Spread Bologna with butter, and place in heated broiler. As the slices heat they will take the shape of cups. Fill with hot peas and arrange around mound of rice. Cut tomato into wedges and place between cups. Garnish, if desired, with sliced hard-cooked egg and green pepper rings.


Sweetpotato [sic] Biscuits
Down home harvest goodness!

1 1/2 cups sifted flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold shortening
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cup mashed sweetpotatoes
Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Cut in shortening. Combine milk and sweetpotatoes. Add to first mixture and stir quickly. Kneed lightly, using as little flour as possible on board. Roll out to 1/2-inch thickness; cut with floured cutters. Place on greased baking sheet and bake in hot oven (425* F.) 12-15 minutes



“One function of desserts is to produce a sense of complete satisfaction at the end of the meal—which is a good enough reason for trying every one of the recipes in this chapter. But you’ll probably need no coaxing to do that, for where is the hostess who doesn’t love to hear the Oh’s and Ah’s that are sure to greet a particularly delectable dessert?”

Corn Sirup [sic] Spice Cake
Gram, who grew up in North Dakota, pronounces “syrup” as “sirp,” one syllable. This old-time “sirup” cake, then, is just for her.

1/2 cup shortening
1 cup dark corn sirup
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup milk
2 cups sifted cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cream shortening, add sirup gradually, creaming continually. Add well-beaten egg yolks. Beat in half of milk and 1 cup flower. Add remaining milk and fold in remaining flour sifted 3 times with baking powder, spices and salt. Turn into greased deep 8-inch square pan and bake in moderate oven (350*F.) 45 minutes.



"Garnishes are to foods what lace collars, belt buckles and costume jewelry are to dresses. And just like these ornamental accessories, garnishes must be well-chosen and well-placed to fulfill their function at the dinner table. If your garnishing repertoire is limited to a couple of bunches of parsley on the meat platter and a sprig of mint floating in the orangeade you’ll find that this chapter opens a fascinating new world."

The garnishes MAKE the Regrettable Food regrettable you know. But they’re serviceable as well… they hold slippery deviled eggs in place, fill in spaces in a too-large serving platter, even provide a subtle infusion of flavor.

Some indispensable items for this particular meal include:

This is the big pimpin’ stud mac daddy of garnishes. It is EVERYWHERE in these old cookbooks. Deviled eggs? Garnished with pimento. Corn O’Brien? Garnished with pimento. Cheese bakes? Pimento. Salmon rice loaf? Pimento. Halibut Salad, Horse-Radish Molds, Spanish Rice? Pimento, pimento, pimento. You can make eggs in pimento cups, mushroom-pimento sauce, stuffed pimento hors d’oeuvres -

Black or green, preferably canned. Use them sliced on top of molds and loafs, to decorate canapés, or sprinkled over salads. Whole ones are groovy combined with other appetizers (bacon roll, anyone?) or just served on their own.

In this case, curly, if you please. Everything from deviled eggs to the turkey itself can be plunked on a bed of parsley.

veggie curls
Especially carrot curls. Using a potato peeler, scrape down a carrot on one side until you get wide slices with both the middle part and the outside together. Curl them up, spear ‘em with a toothpick to hold them, and put them in water in the fridge for at least six hours. Voila!

pineapple rings
A festive touch to any molded salad, THE thing to use on cakes, can be served broiled or fresh…. So… soooo… SO exotic and Polynesian!

The tiny sweet ones, mind. As with olives, you can wrap these up in bacon or cheese or pastry and call ‘em hors d’oeuvres. You can serve them on their own. Or you can get fancy and cut them into “pickle fans.”

hard-boiled egg
Slices, halves, chopped sprinkles…. Even if a dish has no apparent relation to egg whatsoever (Jell-O, fruit cocktail, greens), you can garnish it with a natty egg slice on top, or a lump of chopped egg scattered on top, or a dozen egg-halves perched around festively.

bell pepper/red pepper
Julienne slices, rings, or chopped. You can wrap them around bundles of green beans or asparagus. You can sprinkle them over dips. They add color and contrast to any dish!

Cut into roses, natch. I haven’t mastered this art yet, but I’ve got my paring knife ready for the big day!

kale, Swiss chard, romaine lettuce, endive
Any leafy, fluffy, colorful green works well as plate- and platter foof. Use them as cups to cradle mounds of ambrosia fruit salad, make a bed for a molded loaf, or break off smaller pieces to fill in cracks in an appetizer platter.

If you’re in a hurry, use slices or halves to garnish a platter. If you have a little time, use broiled halves to garnish. If you have lots of time and a sharp knife, make cherry-tomato rosettes.

Chow down!

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