Thursday, April 30, 2009

Weekend vegetarian? Weekend hippie?

Posted By on Thu, Apr 30, 2009 at 10:32 PM


So after my panic attack over the dangers of eating red meat, I thought to myself: I'll only eat red meat, like, two nights a week and during the weekends, and I'll only eat healthy fresh vegetables and grains and tofu and horrible, dry, tasteless, vegan desserts."

And for some completely strange reason, the concept of being a "weekend vegetarian" reminded me -- this was almost like a flashback -- of an episode of the incredibly saccharine 1960s TV sitcom Family Affair.

God knows I hadn't thought of that TV show since August 28, 1976, when actress Anissa Jones -- who had played cute little pig-tailed Buffy on the series -- died of a drug overdose. It was a big news story for a few days.

But my flashback had to do with the episode titled "Flower Power," in which straight-arrow big sister Cissy goes out on a date with a clean-cut, blond-haired all-American boy named Garfield and he takes her to a "pad" in the "East Village" where his friends, all "cool cats," play guitar and wear, like, far-out clothes. While Cissy sits around, talking to the cool cats, Garfield briefly vanishes and returns wearing a dark Prince Valiant wig and groovy "flower power" duds. Cissy is stunned, but Garfield (who, in his clean-cut persona, bears more than a passing resemblance to alleged "Craigslist Killer" Philip Markoff) informs Cissy that he's a "weekend hippie."

Unbelievably, I discovered the "Flower Power" episode on YouTube tonight and found it to be much more bizarre and disturbing than I remembered. Of course, I was a mere child the last time I saw it, but the memory of Garfield, the weekend hippie, stuck with me for decades.

The show is hilariously awful, but the sitar music playing in the background of the hippie pad did make me hungry for a good Indian buffet. 

(Image via Flickr: hlthom4) 



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Friday, April 24, 2009

Happy Pigs-in-a-Blanket-Day!

Posted By on Fri, Apr 24, 2009 at 9:07 AM

Flickr: Felixtcat

Once a staple of the diner industry -- including breakfast joints like IHOP and Waffle House -- a "pig-in-a-blanket" was a breakfast variation of the British dish known as "Toad in the Hole," pork sausages baked in Yorkshire Pudding batter. Most of us in the United States know the dish as a chubby little link sausage tucked into a soft buttermilk pancake.

There's also the appetizer version: tiny sausages baked in blanket of flaky phyllo pastry or the pigs-as-a-meal treat: an All-American hot dog wrapped in a sheath of packaged crescent roll dough and baked in a hot oven. And here's a low-fat version of this.

Back in the late 1980s, when I worked for a local pancake restaurant, I had customers who insisted that pigs-in-a-blanket were a classic hangover cure. I don't know about that, but in the wild and crazy and swinging '70s, I used to make them for my girl-about-town roommate who on more than one occasion would wake up -- horrified! -- on Saturday mornings with a pig in blanket sleeping next to her.  




Thursday, April 9, 2009

Pay what you want for your dinner

Posted By on Thu, Apr 9, 2009 at 5:12 PM

Charles Ferruzza Collection
Original Unity Vegetarian Inn, 913 Tracy Avenue

Restaurateurs are trying all kinds of gimmicks to get penny-pinching patrons back into the restaurants.

Last month, several news sources reported on restaurants that gave customers the right to "pay whatever they wanted for their dinner." It's an interesting concept (especially since most customers have always paid whatever they wanted when it comes to tipping servers) and a restaurant in Arlington, Texas is trying it out. So is this bistro in Sydney, Australia.

But the idea was done before in Kansas City, over a century ago. In his new book about the history of Lee Summit's Unity Village, Unity Village (Arcadia Publishing, $21.99), Tom Taylor tells the tale of the first vegetarian restaurant in Kansas City, Unity Inn, first opened, in 1906, in a frame house at 913 Tracy Avenue.

"Patrons paid according to what they felt the meal was worth," wrote Taylor. "Workers handed out cards that read, 'All the expenses of this house are met by the freewill offering of its guests. Freely you have received, freely give.' "

Taylor told me that this "freewill" concept didn't last too long. Too many customers weren't "freely giving" for those meals of nut-loaf, home-baked breads and fresh vegetables. The staff at the Unity Inn started charging set prices for meals. Customers didn't seem to mind. The Unity Inn was successful enough to move into a beautiful brand-new building at the corner of Ninth and Tracy (it's still there, now used as an antique shop) in 1924 and stayed there until 1951.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Politically incorrect breakfast cereal

Posted By on Sat, Mar 28, 2009 at 7:31 PM

Vintage Cereal Collection

When I was putting up today's Fat City post about the potential rice problem in Japan, I was thinking back on when I first started eating rice. It wasn't ever a staple in our home (unless someone brought carry-out Chinese food over), but I've always loved it. Even as the ingredient in a breakfast cereal. Suddenly I flashed on a long-forgotten memory from my past: So Hi!

So what? So Hi was the little Asian boy cartoon figure who shilled a cereal manufactured by Post called Sugar-Coated Rice Krinkles. I didn't eat a lot of this cereal, but decades later, I can tell you exactly what it tasted like: a caramel-sweetened version of the more popular Kellogg's Rice Krispies (which I passionately loved as a kid). I demanded my mother buy Rice Krinkles because this particular brand always had really good toy prizes in the box.

My siblings and I learned about the current breakfast cereal prizes on the TV commercials that aired non-stop during Saturday morning cartoons. I just found this hilarious vintage commercial for the cereal that would send up howls of protest today -- it's totally un-P.C. -- but I suspect no one in the 1960s would have thought a thing about it -- even though it evokes the same kind of response today as this commercial.


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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Broke? Don't be depressed ... eat something!

Posted By on Tue, Mar 17, 2009 at 10:21 AM


There's that inspiring lyric from a Stephen Sondheim song that goes, "In the Depression, was I depressed? Nowhere near..."

Eating is always a mood-elevator (for me anyway, so pass the tuna noodle casserole this way). During the most grim days of the Great Depression, my great-grandmother (who had once run a boarding house), put terrific meals on her family's table because she was a great cook and knew how to stretch a buck. There are still cooks around, like the legendary Clara on YouTube, who have advice on making inexpensive meals, just like they did back after the stock market crashed in 1929.

In John Mariani's history of American restautants, America Eats Out, he reveals that in 1934, one of the worst years of the Great Depression, there were 18,763 restaurants in Manhattan, somewhat more than there are today.

Yeah, I could stay home and make Clara's pasta with peas (I'd rather not) or my great-grandmother's stuffed meat roll -- which isn't that terrific, I discovered after finally making it last week -- but I'd really rather get in my car and find an inexpensive meal in a good restaurant. Any good ideas to share?

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Monday, March 9, 2009

Zasu ... who?

Posted By on Mon, Mar 9, 2009 at 4:22 PM


I've never been to Parsons, Kansas, but I do know that one of the half-dozen or so famous people to have come from this southeastern Kansas hamlet was Zasu Pitts, the fluttery-voiced actress whose unusual onscreen presence was supposedly the inspiration for the cartoon character Olive Oyl.

One of the more unusual cookbooks in my collection is the 1963 hardback edition of Candy Hits by Zasu Pitts, which includes dozens of candy recipes from the skinny actress whose career spanned the silent era (she was in the classic movie Greed) to the early days of television. Candymaking was Zasu's hobby, and the book is loaded with recipes for confections you hardly see anymore: divinity, panocha, Texas Tycoons and Cleopatras.

Pitts died in 1963. Her hometown hosted a Zasu Pitts Film Festival at the local community college for five years until 2002 when the festival, like a homemade marshmallow left out in the sun, fizzled away.

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Monday, March 2, 2009

Cook like a Native American!

Posted By on Mon, Mar 2, 2009 at 3:39 PM

Charles Ferruzza Collection

I have this friend -- no, it's not Pitch theater reviewer and inveterate collector-of-weirdness Alan Scherstuhl -- who is constantly bringing me cookbooks that she finds at junk stores, flea markets, estate sales. Her theory is this: Charles likes to cook and read books, thus Charles must love cookbooks.

I do like cookbooks, but I've got plenty. That hasn't stopped my friend from loading me down with all manner of eccentric culinary ephemera. "You never know when you're going to be looking for a certain recipe," she likes to say to me, handing me a copy of some bizarre treasure like Indian Cookin by Frances L. Whisler (1973, Nowega Press). "And you won't be able to find it because you don't have this."

And she's right. Some dark and stormy night, I might be looking for a recipe for Yellow Jacket Soup and would be utterly lost if I didn't have Indian Cookin (that's right, without a final apostrophe) to tell me how to turn a mess o' swarmin', stingin' little bees into a hot, hearty pot o' soup.

The recipe for Yellow Jacket Soup is on page 33 of this 64-page pamphlet, and explains how one "gathers ground-dwelling yellowjackets... early in the morning." It doesn't suggest gloves, but common sense might tell you otherwise. Once you've got the comb full of bees in your hands, take it to the kitchen and "place over heat right side up to loosen grubs. Remove grubs. Remove and pick out the yellow jackets and brown in oven. Make soup by boiling in water and season with grease and salt."

I do have a nest of yellow jackets in back of my garage. Maybe this spring I'll get industrious and whip up a pot of soup for my neighbors, along with another dish from this book: parboiled toads.

The book, which features a watercolor cover illustration of a beautiful (and apparently topless) Indian maiden grinding corn, has recipes that are more familiar, including pound cake, fried apple rings, huckleberry pie and peppermint tea. It's also filled with nutritional advice, like the warning not too eat too much opposum because it's greasy.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

I want an Old King Tut!

Posted By on Mon, Feb 16, 2009 at 2:46 PM


This morning, I put up this Fat City post about the anniversary of the opening of King Tut-ankh-Amen's tomb and the story of the short-lived candy bar inspired by the event. A couple of hours later, I received an e-mail from Russell Sifers, owner of the Merriam-based Russell Sifers Candy Company, which continues to make the famous Valomilk candy cups.

Sifers had read the post about his grandfather Harry Sifers creating the Old King Tut Bar in the 1920s, not long after "King Tut" mania took over the country. He knew the story well since he's the one who told it to me!

Russ had his own caveat to the earlier Fat City post, recalling that when he was in junior high school, his teacher, Gil Reynolds, discussed the media frenzy that took place after the opening of Tut's tomb and a fad for "Egyptian" influenced fashion, furnishings, films and books. Young Sifers recalled that his grandfather's company had been part of that craze and introduced the short-lived Old King TuT bar.

"It was a caramel, nougat, peanut and chocolate roll much like Pearson's Nut Roll today," write Sifers, "but with a chocolate coating."

As a young man, Russell Sifers would sweep the old Sifers factory at 20th and Main (where the Hereford House parking lot is now) and found some unused candy wrappers created for the Old King Tut Bar. The next time his teacher started discussing ancient Egypt and the actual Tut-ankh-Amen, Russell brought those candy wrappers to school.

"Many years later," Sifers wrote, "I found out that Mr. Reynolds would pull out the Old King Tut wrappers to show his class every year they studied Tut. He did this until he retired."

I'd like to be eating an Old King Tut Bar right now. And watching The Mummy.


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King Tut, the edible version

Posted By on Mon, Feb 16, 2009 at 6:39 AM


It was on this day in history -- February 16, 1923, to be exact -- that archaeologist Howard Carter made his way into the long-sealed tomb of Egyptian boy king Tut-ank-Amen to find the chambers filled with treasures, including a generous bundle of dried licorice.

The wild craze that followed the discovery of Tut's tomb may not have increased licorice sales in the United States, but it did inspire a Kansas City candy maker named Harry Sifers -- the creator of the legendary Valomilk bar -- to introduce a nut roll called the Old King Tut Bar. Unlike the more successful Valomilk candies, the Old King Tut Bar didn't survive the Great Depression. 

But do-it-yourself candy makers can still buy King Tut chocolate molds to make sweet replicas of the boy king to honor this great day in history. 

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Monday, February 9, 2009

Before pizza, there was Minsky's burlesque

Posted By on Mon, Feb 9, 2009 at 1:11 PM


Minsky's Pizza has been a fixture in the Kansas City area, but for decades the name Minsky was better known for its connection to the great American art form of burlesque. The four Minsky brothers -- Abe, Billy, Herb and Morton -- started presenting live shows with naked or nearly naked girls in New York City in 1912 and closed up shop in 1937.

The tale of the Minsky brothers and their bawdy burlesque is the subject of a new musical playing in Los Angeles, Minsky's. The play was reviewed in today's Los Angeles Times, where critic Charles Isherwood notes that the show is loosely based on the 1968 movie The Night They Raided Minsky's.

I've never been able to sit through that film and now I think I know why: Isherwood writes: "It's no celluloid treasure, padded as it is with long atmospheric passages showing people eating pickles and pastrami on the Lower East Side."

I love pickles and pastrami, but I don't particularly want to watch people onscreen eating them. That goes for pizza too.

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