November 5, 2008

No food talk today; I just thought you might want to check out today’s front pages.

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Published in: on November 5, 2008 at 6:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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Food Reporting at its Finest

I am fascinated by the work of Michael Pollen, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food. Listen to his great interview with Terry Gross of Fresh Air, which aired tonight.

(Note: Look at the above link I sent you to for The Omnivore’s Dilemma — they came out with a mass market edition of the book! They never come out with mass market editions of nonfiction books, other than like, Silent Spring!)

Among all the interesting tidbits I learned, I was particularly excited about Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden. I longed to find a picture of her down in the dirt of her garden, but the Library of Congress archives failed to turn up any gems.

I regret that Toby and I have neglected this blog, which still takes up a significant portion of my creative brain space. Alas, I am teaching an after-school program, coaching track, co-chairing the Math Team, did I mention our classroom library is up to 1,304 books, and I’m working at Display and Costume until Halloween, so perhaps after that I will be cooking more frequently…

YWCA Cookies

Watch your backs, Girl Scouts. This was way ahead of your time, Mrs. Fields.

Apparently, the YWCA ladies can bake a pretty mean cookie.

1919 YWCA Poster

It all started when I had a hankering for some chocolate chip cookies. I found a 1977 article buried in the back of the Washington Post that began thus:

It is highly unlikely that the Downtown YWCA’s recipe for chocolate-chip cookies will ever be revealed. But that doesn’t stop people from asking. Or from trying to reproduce it.

The popularity of the cookies has fended off competition from Famous Amos and the Famous Amos knock-off called The Famous.

But a cooking teacher in Arlington took up the chocolate-chip cookie challenge two years ago when the Y re-buffed her request for the recipe.

This teacher, a Mrs. Carol Finkelstein, spent two years trying to recreate this famous recipe — at one point, the article says, she even considered taking the YWCA cookie to be analyzed by a lab.

But if this cookie is so legendary, why haven’t I heard of it? Famous Amos, sure. Toll House, of course. The Neiman Marcus urban legend, yes. But I’ve certainly never been to a YWCA or a YMCA and discovered cookies so good they prompted a two-year quest for the recipe.

I was so perplexed I e-mailed the PR coordinator for the YWCA in Washington, D.C. Apparently, my ignorance was so profoundly idiotic that it didn’t warrant a response. So I stepped up my online investigation.

The National Capital Area YWCA recently held a YWCA cookie bake-off, in the spirit of those great original cookies. Again, though, this article assumes I already know the wonder of the cookies! The article goes on to explain that thousands of these cookies were sold from one YWCA in ONE DAY. Barbara Bush and Sandra Day O’Connor are apparently big fans.

But this is the only non-newspaper place where I can find mention of the “famous” treat. Frankly, the Post and the New York Times seem borderline obsessed with them. This Post article provides a pretty good history of the cookie, which was baked by the same four women from 1951 to 1981.

I think a large part of my intense curiosity surrounding these cookies is the fact that I am so perplexed that something treated as common knowledge in several articles was so totally foreign to me. Reporters constantly struggle to walk the line between making sure their readers have all the background information they need without making the article sound like they’re talking down to readers.

For example, I feel as though people in my generation chuckle a bit when local news stations do specials on Internet predators or the newest, hip thing for kids. I wonder if my great-aunt would be laughing similarly at me and my twitterpations over a freaking famous cookie. (P.S. My spellcheck recognized “twitterpations, but not twitterpate)

And what will happen in the future, when people forget that “tots” is a reference from Napoleon Dynamite and Brittany and Paris are no longer household names? When I first thought about this, I figured it wouldn’t be a problem people could go to Wikipedia or the Urban Dictionary to track down dated references. But if the YWCA cookie is so completely erased from most circles of pop culture, isn’t it inevitable that this will happen to some degree even in our time?

And as for the recipe? I spent too much time researching this weekend and not enough time baking. Check back in a day or so!

Is there interest?

When Toby and I began this project, I wondered if there would be any interest whatsoever in the history of food reporting. I mean, I knew there are a lot of random, niche research topics out there, but I didn’t know what to expect. (That shoutout’s for you, Franny. Sorry I couldn’t find a better comics link.)

With that, I’d like to thank the person yesterday who ran the term “the history of sesame steak” through their search engine and stumbled upon our site. I don’t know if they found what they were looking for, but at least they were interested.

Sesame steak. We didn't cook this.
Sesame steak. We didn’t cook this.

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Published in: on February 26, 2008 at 8:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Why on Wednesday?

When I mustered up the courage to call and ask for a tour of the Seattle Times’ test kitchen, I knew not to reach anyone on Tuesday. That’s because Wednesday is the day the Food and Wine section is printed, so I figured Tuesday calls would be impacted by deadline stress that I didn’t want to be a part of.

Seattle’s not the only city to print its food section on Wednesdays. In fact, ponding why many papers print their recipes and reviews on this day was one of the impetuses that caused us to create Clipped and Diced in the first place.

There aren’t many cut-and-dried reasons for why the tradition started. Nor are there researched answers — I quizzed several of the journalism history profs at Michigan State University, and none of them knew anything definite. I do know the author of the now-defunct Saute Wednesday blog assigned special food significance to this day of the week, reinforcing the fact that I’m not the only one interested in it.

The best information I can cobble together is this: Grocery stores began their weekly sales on Thursday. The ads for these sales went out on Wednesday. Thus, if newspapers printed their recipes on the same day the ads went out, efficient homemakers could plot their shopping list and weekly menu in one fell swoop.

This explanation makes sense particularly because many small-town papers align their recipes to items that are on sale.

The author of Endless Simmer calls Wednesday the nation’s newspaper food section day, a phrase I find accurate and sucinct.

Unless you lived in the Bay Area in the 1950s. If you did, Wednesday were just another day.

I found further proof of the print-recipes-on-the-day-the-ads-run theory when I was fiching through the San Francisco Chronicle (I just made that verb up, by the way. Sort of. This guy beat me to it).

In 1957, the Chronicle’s food pages ran on Thursdays. So did all of their grocery ads. Not only that, but “Jean Friendly”‘s food advice column touting the benefits of the three new flavors of Campbell’s soup ran immediately next to a five-column ad for… you guessed it, Campbell’s soup.

Soup!
Article or Ad?

I attempted to see if Jean Friendly was a pen name, and I discovered there actually was a Mrs. Friendly related to journalism. I don’t believe she contributed to this article, however.

I haven’t yet decided if the small “Advertisement” print at the bottom applies to Jean Friendly, or if it applies to the article below. Here’s the whole page for you to decide (I’m not sure why the PDF formatting is wonky):

San Francisco Chronicle, Thursday, October 3, 1957, p. 14.

I know I skipped out on a few weeks’ worth of entries. I’ll make it up to you, believe me. I just raided the University of Washington library for books on the women’s pages.

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LA Times Photo Update

Well, we heard back from the folks at the L.A. Times in regards to the photo we wanted printed from the fantastically tasty (if complex) college flank steak salad:

 Hello,

… [t]he fee per image to post to your website is $230.

You may make payment by check:
LAT Reprints
my attention
202 West 1st Street
1st Floor
LA, CA  90012

or credit card:
fax # 213 237 6515

In either case, please include a copy of this email.

Regards,
Kate McCarthy

Needless to say, that’s quite a bit out of our price range. Even if we were to unethically purchase just a copy of the page and then scan it in, it would cost nearly $90 plus shipping.

Luckily, a Google search has revealed that Western Washington University, just a short 3-hour jaunt away, has the Times on fiche! Which is good because our other microfiche options would have taken us into California. I’ll see how next weekend looks for a road trip… Plus, I need to find out whether I need a school ID to access the computers.

No recipes until at least Wednesday of this week because Toby’s finals are keeping him out of the house until at least 3 a.m. most nights.

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Published in: on December 9, 2007 at 8:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Busiest Bar Night Approacheth

Toby and I have been eating pub food too frequently lately, with the result that we have no tested recipes to share with you yet. That shouldn’t be a big concern to you, however, because if you’re like much of the drinking population of the United States, you’ll be out at the bars this week.     

Escape from Thanksgiving

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is anecdotally referred to as the busiest bar night of the year, but no hard numbers can confirm this, according to former Detroit Free Press reporter Kelley Carter. She tried to track down the info from the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association in her Thanksgiving Eve article last year.

Napkin Nights visited seven downtown Sacramento bars for its 2003 Thanksgiving Eve Bar Hop, and each of them was packed. Based on the number of photo albums on Facebook, Flickr, and the like, bar crawls seem to be a popular thing. That’s probably because college and post-college students are home for the holiday wanting to reunite in a boozy way (and what better way to show off your charm to a high school ex than to be wasted, eh?).

Dave Richards of the Erie Times-News refers to the pre-Thanksgiving club/pub/bar rush as “Civilization gone Wild.” In his article yesterday, he went further than the basic reasoning that eager-drinker youngsters are home for the holidays.

Why? Nearly everyone is off work the next day, for one thing. Also, many people throw their own bashes for New Year’s Eve and/or Halloween, but do you know anyone who hosts a Thanksgiving Eve party? Nobody wants to mess up the house when friends and family will be coming over for Thanksgiving dinner the next day.       

He got his facts from Bev Walker, owner of the Erie, PA, bar Sherlock’s Park Place. Makes sense.

The biggest bar night of the year is followed by arguably one of the saddest bar nights of the year. Last Thanksgiving, the Yakima Herald-Republic ran a front page piece about the bars that stay open as havens to those who are alone for the holiday. It’s quite a nice tale:

… And then there was bartender Rebecca Merrifield, who on Thursday, as on other days, flashed a smile and greeted every customer who entered the restaurant. She’s worked the bar for the past six Thanksgivings and has no qualms about doing so.

“I’m going to treat you like family,” she said. “This is a part of my life.”

Last Thanksgiving, owners Chris and Cathy Johnson, who bought the Twin Bridges Inn in May 2005, wanted to close the restaurant for the holiday.

But employees like Merrifield insisted that the restaurant could stay open for all the holidays, even Christmas.

“We have too many people that don’t have any place to go,” Merrifield said.

And many customers were thankful that it was open.

Leon Noble, 75, was sitting at the bar enjoying a beer and telling jokes to Merrifield. Noble, a retired Navy veteran, has been going to the restaurant several times a week for the past nine years. The self-described bachelor had plans to make some barbecue and watch the football game alone, but decided it would be more fun to be with his “really dang good friends.”

And so, Happy Thanksgiving to all our really dang good friends and family members.

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Published in: on November 17, 2007 at 5:33 pm  Comments (1)  
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Salutations!

Hello, and welcome to our newest undertaking. We hope to use this blog to bring you tasty, trivial, and (perhaps?) timeless recipes from the pages of newspapers. We’ll use recent articles as well as those from as far back as we can find recipes (so far the 1930’s have the oldest). And although we’re based in Seattle, we’ll be using large and small newspapers from across the country.

We won’t just stop at instructing you on how to prepare the perfect apple pot roast. We’re also committed to putting those recipes into a historical context, both the history of journalism and the social history of the U.S.

Why are we doing this? Because we find it interesting. Here’s a little bit about us, and maybe you can find out why we were drawn to this project:

Toby & Shannon
Toby & Shannon at Beaumont Tower, Michigan State University

Shannon is a 24-year-old first year teacher. Although she loves her 4th graders, she has never let go of her undergrad experience with newspaper reporting. While at Michigan State University, she interned at the Jackson Citizen Patriot, the Detroit News, The Gazette of Colorado Springs, and The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union. She loves the history of journalism. In addition, she’s fascinated/horrified with ’50s housewife chic and its resurgence. One of her recent literary heroines is Lynn Peril, author of Pink Think and College Girls. She is most interested in exploring the role of the women’s page/food page, the role of women at newspapers, and the changing role of a food section in the current world of journalism.

Toby is a 24-year-old student at the University of Washington, where he studies digital arts and experimental media. A self-described Mac geek (who converted long after Shannon sang praises of the G4) , he dabbles in Web design and is particularly interested in communicating through music and technology. Toby is also an amateur cook. He has been known to get down on himself because a meal’s presentation was deemed sub-par, and he has also been known to randomly whip up blueberry syrup from scratch for the fun of it.

We aim to update once a week, as our students and coursework prevent us from more frequent posts. If you’re particularly interested in keeping tabs on us, Shannon also blogs about children’s books, and Toby posts his recent projects online.We’d love to hear any suggestions you have for us, and we’re always in the market for old newspaper recipes you’ve got in your file! Enjoy!

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Published in: on November 12, 2007 at 7:34 pm  Comments (1)  
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