Author Archives for theRaggedys

Dinner in an Instant (with or without Pressure)

If you have a vintage pressure cooker you want to get rid of, take note: this just sold on eBay for $75 – with $89.35 SHIPPING CHARGES (how could that possibly be?)

Last week we put a lot of pressure on some of our BigLittleMeals contributors to give some instant feedback on their use (or non-use) of pressure cookers and instant pots. Here’s Charlie, our friend and former LSU colleague, with his take on the subject. And Charlie’s remarks are followed up by 9 other BigLittle Meals contributors – all letting their steam off on the subject. And if that’s not enough, Andy in today’s Andy’s Corner takes pressure cooker ambivalence to new heights. The only consensus appears to be that there is no consensus.

Confessions of a Pressure Cooker Snob – by Charlie in Houston

“I loved my pressure cookers (large and small). Don’t tell me you only had one. I loved the way the valve on top rocked back and forth and spewed merrily along. I also loved the way pressure cooking speeded up tasks like making broths, stocks, soups, and stews. As long as I was nearby and vigilant in regulating the temperature, all was well.

In the fullness of time, along came multi-cookers. Every young cook I know discovered cooking under pressure with these new contraptions. But, they were only learning what us veteran cooks had known for years. And, we sure didn’t need some fancy electronic thing to carry on with our traditional method. Who needs all those bells and whistles?

My daughter, one of those young cooks, gave me an Instant Pot for Christmas. I smiled politely and planned a possible home for it in our storage unit. But, she also gave me a very good recipe book. The book saved the gadget (more on the book below). In following the book’s instructions, I discovered the ultimate advantage:  one can walk away from this electric pressure cooker—it regulates temperature itself and will turn off after a set time has elapsed. And, you can tell it to keep the contents warm (or not). The jargon that we old pressure cookers had used (e.g., “quick release” vs. “natural release”) was now common language among 20-somethings doing it all quickly in a single vessel. Many related tasks were simplified, if not automated. The younger set was sauteing (over various heat levels), steaming, boiling, baking and, of course, cooking under pressure. All was not perfect, though. The multi-cooker was not a very good slow cooker, and it did not do rice nearly as well as my rice cooker. That left me heading to the storage unit to retrieve those devices when needed. Rather than exiled to storage, the now indispensable Instant Pot occupies prime in-house cabinet space.

The latest generation of multi-cookers has new features that substantially improve on the early models (see the America’s Test Kitchen January 2021 review on YouTube). If you remain Instant Pot-less, it is time to take the plunge. A few enhancements are tempting enough for me to consider replacing my trusty first-generation multi-cooker and maybe also letting go of the slow cooker and the rice cooker. We shall see.

Hardware aside, the difference maker for this snob was Melissa Clark’s Dinner in an Instant. Her status as a food writer for the New York Times was legitimating enough to get my attention. But, the recipes cleverly showed a range of pressure cooking applications that goes way beyond making stocks and broths. Shrimp in the multi-cooker? Really? Stand by for rubber shrimp! Nope. See why Clark’s recipe below is a favorite.

Our tried and true BigLittleMeals helpers do not all support Charlie’s views on this controversial topic. Even his own daughter has some caveats. And a practically universal response is that these multi-cookers take up too much room. (Editor’s note: each contributor’s approximate age is included since we thought it would be fun to see if age impacts reactions to multi-cookers.)

From Rachel in Houston (age 40+ and daughter of Charlie in Houston age 70+):

I like my instant pot but find that I need to choose recipes carefully so that they are flavorful and the ingredients are not just cooked to smithereens. I appreciate that it can hold things at warm temps for a long time (it’s great for mashed potatoes for a crowd). I think it works best when you are planning to shred meat, like in this recipe for salsa verde chicken: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1020670-pressure-cooker-salsa-verde-chicken

From Nancy in Santa Rosa (age 70+):

I don’t have either of those appliances and really can’t comment because of that. I’m even too lazy for convenience appliances and I’m short of counter space,  but have been thinking of trying an Instapot.

I’ve become a spoiled prepared foods purchaser 🙂

If Nancy is concerned about counter space, here’s CNet’s recommendation for a 3-quart one. It measures 11.4 x 11.2 x 10 inches. Kohl’s has it on clearance sale for $39.99.

From Sara in San Francisco (age 50+):

I’ve never had either! But I did use an Instapot once and found that the whole experience of cooking was lost, no matter that it was easy. I like to smell things, I like to stir things, I like the process. So the romance of that is replaced with convenience. 

Simultaneously I’ve always thought a pressure cooker seemed like a cool thing to have because I love braises so much. Just not ready for more things to put on my counter.

If Sara wants a pressure cooker, Food & Wine recommends this 6 qt Presto – which can be purchased at Home Depot for $79.99 (and free shipping)

From David in Albuquerque (age 76 and almost 2 months):

I don’t have and have never used an Instant Pot. These sound like something that might be useful for someone who doesn’t have a kitchen, maybe, but I have no place for one and no confidence that I’m smart or patient enough to figure out how to use the electronics. I have been tempted to get an air fryer because though fried air doesn’t sound especially tasty it must be very low cal, but I don’t have a place for one. And a friend recently talked up a sous videoutfit, but I figured that would meet the same fate as the vacuum sealer for leftovers that fell into my cart at Costco a few years ago, now out of bags and lost in the back of a cabinet somewhere.

I do have and sometimes use a pressure cooker and often a rice cooker, both of which have homes under the counters. My mom used a pressure cooker, so that seems normal to me. She used it to save time, but I cook mostly to get away with wasting time. Sometimes I’ll use it to cook the bejesus out of a dried out ham hock or some other kind of gnarly meat or bones to make stock, and sometimes to cook beans, but the fact is that I use it seldom and could get along fine without it. As in so many endeavors, less is more. It looks like I’d pay heed to that principle when it comes to writing, eh?

From Moss in San Francisco (age 17+):

I’ve never used either one! They seem very cool to have. I know you can make yogurts and soups. Some have searing options (InstaPots). You can make things very quickly In pressure cookers. I think it’s so versatile and interesting. If I had my own place and more money I would get one! I know you can can stuff and also sanitize things. It isn’t only limited to cooking. You can grow mushrooms in a sterile environment with the help of a pressure cooker and start seedlings in an InstaPot. Very fun. 

With spring on its way, a new and different approach to starting seedlings sounds like fun.

From Deb in Glen Ellen (age 65+):

As for pressure cookers, my mom had one, and I remember not so much the meals, but the sound and rhythm of the mechanism that released pressure, I loved it!  Thinking about the food/meals that were actually produced from the pressure cooker, other methods of cooking, roasting, sautéing, even steaming made the food way more individually authentic and delicious, instead of the seemingly homogenized single taste of one pot cooking.  These tools  might be timesaving, but create food that is just not as interesting.  

I did own a pressure cooker for cooking legumes early in my cooking career, after having the regulator blow off and coat the ceiling with pinto beans, I was done with it.  Lastly, the storage space required for either of them, weighed against the food they create, does not justify a place for them in my kitchen!

From MountainWestBob in Albuquerque (age 75+):

We use an InstaPot and have had it for maybe 4 years. We love it for its slow-cooker features, for the sturdy stainless-steel liner that’s so easy to clean, and so-on. It’s doing chili con pollo for tonight right now, and there will be copious leftovers to enjoy later this week. (Note: here’s a link to Bob’s acclaimed instant pot recipe for Chili con Pollo.)

As for the pressure-cooker feature, fuggeddaboutit! We’ve ruined beef short ribs, a couple of beef roasts and some chicken. Even though the meat is standing in juice and veggies, it comes out dry and tough. We haven’t used the pressure cooker function since those tragic early experiences.

The pressure thing is too much for too little.

From Hannah in Brooklyn (age 35+):

I wish I’d appreciate the instant-pot more, but I’m not a gadget person, so I haven’t taken the time to experiment, and in turn lack the confidence to take advantage of its full functionality. It does make homemade broth and soups incredibly easy/efficient, which alone makes it worth keeping it around.

From Diane in Los Altos (age 75+):

Cooking is my hobby as well as my favorite pastime. A few years ago, I bought an instant pot, because it seemed to be the thing to do, and it was about the only kitchen tool I didn’t have. I’ve never used it. There isn’t room for it in my kitchen, so I would need to get it from a shelf in the utility room. And I never think about it. Now that I’ve been asked my opinion, maybe I should try it. Not for cooking rice, steaming, warming, or sautéing. Maybe as a slow cooker, probably not as a pressure cooker. 
I think I shouldn’t have given away my crock pot. 

If Diane is shopping for a new crock pot, Target has this 4.5 qt one for about $25!

True confession: Andy and I (ages 78+) have neither a pressure cooker nor an instant pot. And though Andy grew up knowing about all the trials and tribulations of a pressure cooker, I don’t even share that. My mom never used one (and my dad didn’t cook). I even had to look at a YouTube video to hear the much-mentioned ominous sound of the pressure releasing.

I guess it “boils” down to how many kitchen tools do we need. And what are the must-haves. If you’ve decided to move ahead and update your current pressure cooker or multi-cooker or buy your first one, here’s a good recommendation:

Serious Eats and J Kenji Lopez-Alt pick this 8-qt Instant Pot Pro 10-in-1 as the best multi-cooker for most people. It was released
in 2021, so it’s a “late generation.” You can get it at Crate & Barrel for $169.95. A 6-qt version is also available and Epicurious recommends that size.

And here’s the recipe that our guest blogger, Charlie, loves – and so do we. D-lish!

Instant Pot Indian Butter Shrimp

Instant Pot Indian Butter Shrimp

Be sure to use the sauté function, not the pressure, once you add the shrimp. Recipe adapted from Melissa Clark’s Dinner in an Instant 2017 cookbook and the NYTimes.

FOR THE MARINADE 

  • 1/4 c plain whole-milk yogurt 
  • 2 tsp ground cumin 
  • 2 tsp sweet smoked paprika (note from Ann: if your spice is just labeled “paprika”, it will work as well)
  • 2 tsp garam masala 
  • 2 tsp fresh lime juice 
  • 1 1/2 tsp Diamond kosher salt 
  • 1 tsp grated ginger 
  • 1 garlic clove, minced 
  • 2 lbs large shrimp, peeled and deveined (note from Ann: frozen, peeled, and deveined shrimp work wonderfully and make the whole process easy; just dump the frozen shrimp into a bowl of cold water for no more than 15 – 20 minutes and then drain and dry them a little before putting them in the marinade)

FOR THE SAUCE 

  • 4 T (1/2 stick) butter 
  • 2 shallots – or about 1/2 c – minced 
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 1 1/2 tsp grated ginger 
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, to taste (note from Ann: ground Kashmiri would also be appropriate, as would 1/4 tsp of cayenne; I actually prefer the ground chili over the flakes)
  • 1/4 tsp Diamond kosher salt, plus more as needed 
  • 1 28-oz can diced tomatoes and their juices
  • 1 c heavy cream 
  • 1/2 tsp finely grated lime zest (note from Ann: this could be omitted)
  • Cooked basmati rice, for serving 
  • Chopped fresh cilantro, for serving
  • Indian pickles, such as mango or lime, make a nice accompaniment

In a large bowl, mix together the yogurt, cumin, paprika, garam masala, lime juice, salt, ginger, and garlic. Stir in the shrimp, cover the bowl, and refrigerate until needed, at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour. 

Prepare the sauce: Using the sauté function, set on low if available, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in the pressure cooker or instant pot. Stir in the shallots and a pinch of salt; cook until golden brown, 4 to 8 minutes. Then stir in the garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, and the ¼ teaspoon salt, and cook until golden, another 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, cream, and a pinch of salt. Raise the sauté heat to high if available, and bring to a boil. Then cover and cook on high pressure for 8 minutes.

Release the pressure manually. Remove the lid, and using the sauté function, simmer the sauce, stirring often, until thickened, 3 to 7 minutes. 

Stir in the shrimp and the liquid in the bowl, remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and lime zest, and simmer until the shrimp are pink and cooked through, 2 to 5 minutes. Serve over basmati rice, sprinkled with fresh cilantro.

Recipe brought to you by Charlie in Houston and BigLittleMeals.com.

The Best Laid Schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang Aft Agley

Robert Burns could/should have added “women” to his line from the 1785 poem To a Mouse…”the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men an’ women gang aft agley” And surely anyone who cooks – or just lives – would agree with his remark. Our schemes and plans and work often go awry. Andy wrote about things that go awry on an earlier blog – and he’s back on the topic again today in Andy’s Corner. But this time he’s blaming Fortuna.

You could follow Burns’ message up with another oldie but goodie: “Pick yourself up; dust yourself off, and start all over again.”

Why am I thinking about all of this? Well here are two teeny hints: consider this number: 15. Then consider this photo:

Ha!

My baking plans definitely went awry the other day. Case in point: the German Apfel Marzipan Kuchen I made for a New Year’s Day dinner party at a friend’s home. I was hesitant to use that particular recipe since I’d never made it before, but after hours of studying recipes and picking what seemed a fool-proof one (thanks to my confidence in the recipes from David Lebovitz and Luisa Weiss’s Classic German Baking), I made it. The result was gorgeous in appearance. Yes, I pondered a bit when the center seemed slightly soft when it was ready to remove from the oven, but it had pulled away from the sides, the edges were golden brown (in fact, one edge was approaching burned), and I even got out our new, pricey Thermapen to check the internal temperature – and the temperature seemed a tad on the low side, but I attributed that to the fact that it had been out of the oven for a few minutes before I tested it.

My German Apfel Marzipan Kuchen with an apricot glaze

Normally, after it had cooled, I would have cut into the cake to be sure it was fully baked, but it was so lovely I decided to have faith and bring it to the dinner party whole and beautiful and perfect-looking.

What followed is a food blogger’s possibly-worst nightmare. After we’d consumed our delicious German-themed dinner of pork and sauerkraut and a vegetable mixed salad and yeast rolls, I was asked to serve the Apfel Kuchen – my contribution. And – you guessed it – the center was a doughy mess.

My failed cake

I put on my best fake smile, cheerfully cut pieces from the outside of the cake, and served it up, pretending I hadn’t totally screwed up. Did the dinner guests guess? Who knows.

Ginger Rogers has the perfect song for such an occasion; be sure to watch the whole thing. Did she convince Fred Astaire that he could dance after his failure?

“No one could teach you to dance in a million years.”

It’s kind of amazing how many poems and songs deal with this subject. We all know “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Did you know if came from a Teacher’s Manual, published in 1840?

Will I be trying that recipe again, determined to make a perfect Apfel Kuchen? Nope. But I’ll keep on baking apple cakes; I’m returning to my old stand-by recipe, originally published in the NY Times in 1973 – Teddie’s Apple Cake. It may not be as lovely to look at, but I’ve never had it fail.

And what is the lesson about failure to be learned here? Take it from Kevin McCarthy’s approach (whether you dislike him or admire him):

 ‘Taint no use to sit an’ whine,

  When the fish ain’t on yer line;

  Bait yer hook an’ keep a-tryin’—

  Keep a-goin’!

(even if it’s 1 a.m. in the morning)

Teddie’s Apple Cake recipe first appeared in 1973 – in the NY Times
Teddie’s Apple Cake

Teddie's Apple Cake

Adapted from the recipe published in 1973 in the NYTimes. Sadly, no one seems to know who Teddie was.

  • 3 c flour, plus more for dusting pan
  • 1 1/2 c vegetable oil
  • 2 c sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp Diamond kosher salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 c peeled, cored and thickly sliced tart apples, like Honeycrisp or Granny Smith (the original recipe calls for Golden Delicious, but we definitely don’t recommend them); about 1/4″ thick slices work.
  • 1 c chopped walnuts
  • 1 c raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter and flour a 9-inch tube pan (a bundt pan will work too but may require slightly longer baking). Beat the oil and sugar together in a mixer until they’re very well blended, which may take several minutes. Add the eggs and beat until the mixture is creamy.

Whisk together 3 cups of flour, the salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Stir into the batter. Add the vanilla, apples, walnuts and raisins (if you’re using them) and stir until combined (note: this is a VERY thick batter and will take muscle to stir it – or a stand mixer).

Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (or an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the cake registers about 210 degrees F). Cool in the pan before turning out. Serve at room temperature with vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

      

The Seeds of Change

There is nothing constant in the universe. All ebb and flow, and every shape that’s born, bears in its womb the seeds of change.

— Ovid, Metamorphoses

Andy is back in Andy’s Corner today – after a month of being front and center with his blogs. Yes, it’s a change – and his blog is about change. Changes in what we may eat. My blog is more about seeds. But first it’s about holiday conversations.

Norman Rockwell Freedom from Want; illustration for the Saturday Evening Post, March 6, 1943

It was the night before Christmas and all through the house….families were talking about Santa’s imminent arrival or all of those colorful presents under the tree or the Babe in the Manger or the rare roast beef served for the holiday dinner. Or maybe your family was preparing for the last day of Hanukkah and the final lighting of the menorah and talking about the chocolate babka that Bubbe made for breakfast or the brisket you had for dinner. Meanwhile, our relatively-a-religious multi-generational family was talking about the turkey gumbo we’d just enjoyed (made from the leftover Thanksgiving turkey bones), and we were talking about…Metamucil.

The 24,484 ratings on Amazon give it almost 5 stars

Eater.com published an article about this “delicate” subject that Metamucil addresses back in April. The author, JJ Goode, writes:

While we all fawn and fuss over dinner, we ignore the elephant dung in the room. Because whether it’s hand-harvested scallops with sea-buckthorn jam or a Popeyes chicken sandwich, what’s on our plate will soon be ground by the teeth, transported via peristalsis through the esophagus, macerated in stomach acid, metamorphosed by its journey through two dozen feet of intestinal tubing, and then deposited into the toilet. Food is sublime in part because of its transience, each plate of it the edible equivalent of a sand mandala, destined to disappear, once there and then gone. Funny, then, that we so rarely talk about where it goes.

A little research into Metamucil made me laugh more than some of the multitudinous holiday puns that I heard! (I have two family members – here’s lookin’ at you, Andy and Hannah – who are obsessed with puns.) The video below is an actual ad from Metamucil, featuring Mary and Leon, who have been married for over 50 years and have been taking Metamucil every day together for years. It’s a must watch! An unintentionally-hysterical way to start off 2023.

If this ad leaves you craving more “Meta” stories, check out this Metamucil site.

Because, if you follow my blog, you know that my brain jumps from topic to topic in often inexplicable ways (or as our daughter, Sara, likes to say…”it’s all so random!”), you may be wondering why I entitled the blog the “Seeds of Change” (an expression which dates back to Ovid). The answer is simple. I have the perfect alternative to Metamucil. And it’s a seed. And it may change the way you…well, we don’t want to delve too far into that “unmentionable” subject 🙂

Ta-Da! The seed I recommend is this: FLAX. And for Christmas I gave packages of Bob’s Red Mill Whole Flaxseed to every family member I thought might “need” it. They were all thrilled.

As a former professional gardener, I’m embarrassed to admit that I knew nothing about growing flax, including what the plants look like, whether they’re annuals or perennials, how to harvest them, where they grow, or the multiple ways that flax is used. For answers to all of that, here’s a helpful article from Iowa State U.

Most flax, an annual, is grown in Northern Europe and Russia, though North Dakota and Minnesota produce it too. Linen comes from the stems of flax; linseed oil for wood comes from flax, as does flax seed oil, which has numerous health benefits. And, of course, flax seeds come from flax. The plants are 3-4 feet tall.

The health benefits of flax are still being researched, but here’s what the U.S. NIH has to say: Flaxseed is emerging as an important functional food ingredient because of its rich contents of α-linolenic acid (ALA, omega-3 fatty acid), lignans, and fiber. Flaxseed oil, fibers and flax lignans have potential health benefits such as in reduction of cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, autoimmune and neurological disorders. Flax protein helps in the prevention and treatment of heart disease and in supporting the immune system.

Give flax seeds a try – for their fiber, if nothing else. If you need refreshing on why fiber is important for “you know what,” read this from the Mayo Clinic. Just remember a few important things when using flax seeds:

  • Grind the seeds before using them; whole flax seeds just “pass on through” without helping
  • A couple of tablespoons is a serving, and don’t start out with that many because your body needs to adjust gradually.
  • Refrigerate your ground seeds and use them up within a few weeks (we don’t recommend buying already ground seeds because they will not keep for very long and will need refrigeration)
  • While scattering them on cereal or on a salad – or baking them in rolls or muffins may be fine, it’s unlikely you’ll get enough that way
  • Try 2 T ground flax seeds stirred into your morning oatmeal
  • OR stir the ground seeds into a serving of unsweetened applesauce. Yum.
  • A smoothie is also an easy way to incorporate ground flax seeds into your diet.

While a Jugo Verde may be our idea of the best possible smoothie (probably because of fond memories of sipping them on the beach at Ixtapa, Mexico), the green color – and spinach – doesn’t appeal to everyone. So here are two nice alternative smoothies. Try them; you’ll like them. And, with the addition of ground flax seeds, so will your gut! AND you don’t have to buy Metamucil.

Continue reading

The Nylon Riots and a Christmas Tradition

[Editor’s Note: For an unprecedented second time in a row, Andy is carrying the burden for today’s main blog while Ann is the guest MC for Andy’s Corner (which, by the way is full of ideas for special culinary holiday gifts).  Also, for reasons that will become obvious, if you have young children you may want to direct their attention elsewhere while you read this]. 


Nylon stockings’ debut at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York (source: GlamourDaze.com)

Each year around Christmas time I can’t help but think about nylon hose. I’m not referring to the garden hose variety, I’m talking about women’s nylon stockings.  Remember those?  It wasn’t that long ago when they were considered a fashion must.  Indeed, it wasn’t that long ago that they came into existence. It turns out that the history of nylon stockings, as short as it may be, is fascinating.  Before filling you in on why nylon stockings come to mind at Christmas time, let me tell you something about their colorful (and somewhat violent) history.

This is from a 2015 Smithsonian Magazine article entitled How Nylon Stockings Changed the World:

“Nylon stockings made their grand debut in a splashy display at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. By the time the stockings were released for sale to the public on May 15, 1940 demand was so high that women flocked to stores by the thousands. Four million pairs sold out in four days.

But the nylon stocking boom was short circuited by World War II when the sole manufacturer of nylon, Dupont, had to devote its production of nylon to the war effort. Nylon, which was dubbed “the fiber that won the war,” was used for parachutes, glider tow ropes, and numerous other military necessities.

Leg painting became a business when nylon stockings were not available during WWII (Photo credit: Library of Congress)

Suddenly, the only stockings available were those sold before the war or bought on the black market. Women took to wearing “leg make-up” and painting seams down the backs of their legs to give the appearance of wearing proper stockings.

Women would have to wait until the end of the war for nylons to return to the market. And it wasn’t long after the war that Dupont resumed production of nylon stockings and promised to meet the demand.

American Airline flight attendants try on nylons that were flown in by American Airlines for Holeproof Hosiery Co. and distributed to flight attendants, Dec. 10, 1945
Chicago Tribune

In August 1945, eight days after Japan’s surrender, DuPont announced that it would resume producing stockings and newspaper headlines cheered “Peace, It’s Here! Nylons on Sale!” DuPont’s announcement indicated that nylons would be available in September and the motto “Nylons by Christmas” was sung everywhere. (Wikipedia)

The first nylon sale in San Francisco following the war drew a massive 10,000 into Market Street. They had to close the sale early when one of the display windows caved in from the force of the crowds (source: GlamourDaze.com)

Unfortunately, Dupont was unable to produce the 360 million pairs per year that it promised, creating mad rushes when the stock hit the store racks. These incidences, which occurred in big cities across the country in 1945 and 1946, were called the “nylon riots.” There were at times mile-long lines of women “hoping to snag a single pair.”

In her book Nylon: The Story of a Fashion Revolution, Susannah Handley writes about one of these “riots” when more than 40,000 Pittsburgh women lined up outside a hosiery store, determined to buy some of the store’s 13,000 pairs of nylon stockings. According to newspaper accounts, “a good old fashioned hair-pulling, face scratching fight broke out in the line.”

 The “riots” abated once Dupont got up to production levels to satisfy the booming market. In 1959 pantyhose came onto the fashion scene and quickly dominated the nylon hosiery market. But it didn’t take long before pantyhose also became passé. As the Smithsonion article puts it, “by the 1980s the glam (for pantyhose) was wearing off. By the 90s, women looking for comfort and freedom began to go au-natural, leaving their legs bare as often as not. In 2006, the New York Times referred to the hosiery industry as An Industry that Lost its Footing.”

Now let’s get to why Christmas conjures in me images of nylon stockings. As we all know, hanging stockings is one of our culture’s cherished traditions practiced at Christmas and immortalized (at least for a large chunk of us) in Clement Clarke Moore’s “A Visit From Saint Nicholas:”

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

...He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;


Hanging Christmas stockings, 1954. Photo from the Smithsonian Magazine “The Legend of the Christmas Stocking” published December 14, 2012.

The above photo from the Smithsonian Magazine was taken in 1954 when I would have been 11 years old (and probably still clinging to the fading hope that there really might be a Santa Claus). However, two things about that picture do not apply to my childhood experience with this tradition. First, we had no fireplace and hence could not hang stockings by the proverbial chimney. Second, and more to my point in this blog, the stockings in that photo look nothing like what we hung.

While I was growing up our family “tradition” was to put up nylon stockings on Christmas eve, along with the obligatory cookies and milk for Santa. Much to the bemusement of Ann, I convinced her to continue that tradition when our own children were young (although by then we had to resort to cutting off nylon pantyhose legs because nylon stockings were no longer easily available). Unfortunately, I can find no photographs of our filled stockings.

My parents (or was it Santa?) always stuffed the nylon stockings with an orange, assorted nuts (in the shell), Christmas candies, and small wrapped gifts. Ann and I pretty much followed that pattern with our kids. You would be amazed at how much stuff can fit into a nylon stocking. As a kid I always felt a bit sorry for my friends who only had traditional (and, in my opinion, absurdly small) stockings to hang and at the same time I felt a little guilty for having such Christmas morning abundance.

To my knowledge, our family nylon tradition is unique. I tried to find pictures of filled Christmas nylons on the Internet and came up with none (other than those filled with women’s legs). I’m not sure if I should feel some sense of satisfaction that we created a truly creative tradition or a bit of regret that we were spoiling our children.

After our kids grew up Ann made these stockings for our “adult” Christmas stocking tradition. They’re prettier, but not nearly as much fun as nylons.

So, those of you with young kids and who happen to have an old pair of nylons (or pantyhose) in a drawer somewhere you might think about starting your own family nylon holiday tradition. The stockings may look a little sad and un-Christmasy on Christmas Eve when “hung by the chimney with care” but when your kids see them in the morning brimming with goodies and gifts, nothing can be more Christmassy (at least in my mind).

Happy Holidays, whether or not you celebrate Christmas and the stocking tradition.

Cows, Pigs, Hucksters, and a “Devilish Good Drink”

[Editor’s Note: Andy is at the wheel for today’s blog while Ann is covering Andy’s Corner].  

Poster for the 1952 L.A. County Fair (Source: CalPoly Pomona University Library)

I came across this on a website the other day:

The Los Angeles County Fair turns 100 this year. It first opened in Pomona on October 17, 1922, when nearly 50,000 people walked through the entry gates of the inaugural fair. Earlier that year, a group of Pomona businessmen and civic leaders transformed a 40-acre beet and barley field into a fairground with a grandstand, a barn, race track and exhibit tents to promote “the agricultural, horticultural and animal husbandry interest of the great Southwest” [emphasis mine].

I hadn’t thought much about the fair for eons, but this news brought back a flood of memories.  As a kid growing up in Chino during the 1950’s going to the Los Angeles County Fair was almost mandatory.  As I recall, our mom loved the fair about as much as we kids did.  Our dad was less of a fan – he thought the cost of fair food was a rip off – but he always went with us.  It was such a big deal that on “Chino Day” all of the schools would close and we students would get free passes for the day.

The L.A. County Fair in 1949 (I was 6 at the time). Source: CalPoly Pomona University Library

The fair was huge. Purported to be one of the largest in the country, it was nearly impossible to experience the whole thing in a day.  The highlight for me, aside from the “Fun Zone” with its roller coasters, tilt-a-whirls, and shooting galleries, was to stroll through the vast pavilions and stock yards with their rows and rows of cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, rabbits and other farm animals waiting to compete for ribbons and trophies – which in retrospect, may not have been so enjoyable had I realized that their next stop was probably the dinner table. 

The inaugural L.A. County Fair, Oct. 17, 1922 (Source: TimeToast.com)

I also loved the many booths featuring hawkers with new gadgets that you couldn’t live without.  I can still hear the huckster’s bantering “it chops; it dices and slices” while demonstrating some “amazing” gizmo to a crowd that had stopped to watch while carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, and assorted vegetables were effortlessly transformed into a beautiful salad. My skeptical father even bought a new fangled Farberware “Open Hearth” electric broiler from one of these booths.

Actress Pamela Searle in Los Angeles circa 1959. Photo: Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Then there was the concession stand where I could get my all-time favorite cold drink – an Orange Julius. According to an article I found on the San Jose public library web site, the drink was named after Julius Freed who started a very modest orange juice stand in 1926 in Los Angeles. Freed’s business took off dramatically upon the introduction of the Orange Julius formula which consisted of fresh orange juice, crushed ice, syrup, and a powder “which remained a company secret.” By 1967 there were approximately 700 Orange Julius’s franchises in the U.S. and abroad.

Like many things, the fair of my childhood changed, shifting from its agricultural roots to a more urban motif, much as the endless stretches of tract homes, freeways, and malls had displaced the citrus and walnut groves and the farms and dairies of the areas surrounding Chino. As this excerpt from the CalPoly, Pomona web site confirms, my beloved Los Angeles County Fair ain’t the same no more.

In 1984, the fairground was officially renamed the “Fairplex” and has evolved into a major entertainment destination. The Fairplex continues to host the Los Angeles Angeles County Fair and also now includes a hotel, a sanctioned drag strip and motorsports museum, major entertainment events, food and wine competitions, a railroad museum, and a children’s development center.

While I may never again stroll through endless rows of cows and sheep or hear the hucksters selling their goods along the fair midway, I still am able to enjoy drinking an Orange Julius. That’s not because I can go to a local Orange Julius stand. There are none any more. Dairy Queen bought the rights to Orange Julius in 1987 and by 2019 it could be found only in a few select DQ locations.

Orange Julius logo from 1929 – 1968 (Source: Logopedia)

The reason I still can have this experience because I know how to make it at home. When our kids were growing up I made it quite frequently as a breakfast drink. I even would occasionally toss in a raw egg (which was an option offered at the original Orange Julius stands). If I recall, my Orange-Julius-making days came to an end when our daughter Sara, fresh from culinary school, informed us that one of her instructors claimed that fruit juices were no more than “empty calories.” Bummer!

Empty calories or not, I’ve decided to share an Orange Julius recipe that comes close to how I made the drink so many years ago. Rather than using fresh orange juice, I always used frozen orange juice concentrate, which nowadays may be difficult to find (although we are able to get it at our local Safeway).

Speaking of oranges, if you want to experience an orange-based pun and to learn about a couple scrumptious orange-based recipes check out Ann’s version of Andy’s Corner. You may groan at the pun, but I guarantee you will applaud the recipes.

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