Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Back from the DEAD!

Let's just pretend it hasn't been five months since I last posted, ok? I've been making lots of bird food and hunting for the perfect new job, but you probably don't care. So let's just get to the cookbook!

I flipped to an interesting chapter today - A Year's Bill of Fare. As you might guess, it is a complete daily meal plan for every single day of the year, "
made with especial reference to convenience, economy, and adaptation to the wants of ladies who are so fortunate as to be obliged to look after their own kitchen."

Surprisingly, even in 1881, people didn't eat enough fruit. But according to the chapter intro, they did serve bread, pickles and cheese at almost every meal, and butter only at dessert. They also grew their own melons or were forced to wait two weeks or more to have a melon shipped in! Can you imagine shipping a watermelon in 1881? Me neither.

I also can't imagine eating "hot pates of mutton" for breakfast, as the book suggests for February 12th. Or "cold biscuit, cold tongue," as recommended for supper on the 17th. But who knows? I guess I'll have to pick a recipe and give it a go. If there's one you really want to see, just let me know.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Poor Man's Fruit Cake

Holy Cats! This is some swe-e-e-e-t bread! I think I have a sugar buzz. Turns out Poor Man's Fruit Cake is an 1881 version of raisin bread, but denser and more buttery. Kind of like a 2.5-pound donut.

The blackberry jam does form a fun little ring in the center. And I think folks who dig coffee cake would probably find the overall taste quite nice. But for my simple taste buds, this stuff is crazy sweet.

I baked it at 350 for about 60 minutes, by the way. If I wanted to be truly old-timey, I would've made it on a coal (or wood) stove, but thankfully, somebody ripped the coal stoves out of my house about 80 years ago. You can still see the burns on the floor - which is authentic enough for me.

I did "labor joyfully" while making this cake, tearing away from my usual TV/computer distraction for a whole 30 minutes. And afterwards, I can honestly say I felt more peaceful. It was relaxing to mix and pour and make a mess with the goopy dough, and there's definitely a sense of pride that comes from creating something from scratch.

I know exactly what went in it. I had a good time making it. And despite its tooth-rotting, diet-busting credentials, I give this Practical Housekeeping experiment a hearty thumbs up!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I don't need no stinkin' labor.

When you tell people that maybe they should do more work, undoubtedly you're going to catch some hell. Americans already work more hours and take fewer vacations than anyone in the Western world, including the Japanese. And twenty percent of us even work while on vacation.

You'd think that with all this productivity, we'd all be delighted with our industriousness. But we're not. In fact, a recent study showed that happiness levels have remained the same since World War II, although income levels have risen considerably. In other words, we're working more and earning more, but it's not making us any happier. So why is that?

Well, for one, I think it's HOW we're working. Millions of us have become cogs in the giant wheel of industry, working for large corporations that neither value our humanity nor honor our contribution. Our bosses demand longer hours and greater output, but when our work leads to greater company profits, we are rarely the ones rewarded.

The average American CEO now earns 344 times the pay of the average worker - and that gap has increased ten-fold in the past 30 years. All of this at a time when pensions and healthcare are being cut, and countless middle-class jobs are being lost. Even worse, most of us now work so hard for other people that we have little energy left to work hard for ourselves....to do the kind of "joyful labor" that enriches our households and our communities.

So that's HOW we're working. I think we should also examine WHY we're working.
Why do you work? Have you ever really thought about it? Most people will say that they work for the basics - food, clothes, housing, education, transportation. We all work for those same essentials, and those are all good things to work for. But for many Americans, working is about obtaining better basics.

These folks work more so they can buy more - nicer clothes, a bigger house, newer cars. They also expend more time working so they can
save time on activities like cooking and cleaning. You know the drill.... You work all day, sit in traffic, you're tired. You buy take-out for dinner, which frees up some up time. You (and the kids) pile in front of the TV (or the computer), where you'll be slapped with ads reminding you to buy more (and work more) so you can do what? Save time and live better.

It's the vicious treadmill of consumerism, and many of us don't even realize we're on it. We never step back to ask why we're working so hard, or whether our efforts are really yielding a quality life. A life in which our most important assets - our loved ones, our community, and our unique purpose - are really being honored.

It's a lot to think about, I know. And it's not going to change overnight. So for my part, I'm going to think about it over cake: Poor Man's Fruit Cake. Here's the recipe. The results of my joyful labor still to come.....

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

And so it begins.

OK, so this is a blog about a book. An incredible, helpful old book that is truly one of a kind. But it's also a blog about stepping back and viewing life through a different lens.

Like me, I suspect that there are many people who don't quite jive with the way our society is moving these days. And I wouldn't be surprised to find folks who also long for a simpler, kinder, more "organic" existence - the way that I do. The world has gotten faster, but I'm not sure better. So as I do my tiny part to help slow it down, I thought it might be nice to share my progress with you.

Our guidebook for this adventure will be a brilliant old text called "Practical Housekeeping." Printed in 1881 by the Buckeye Publishing Company of Minneapolis, Minnesota, this "careful compilation of tried and approved recipes" is basically a cookbook. But it's also a unique, intimate snapshot of American history and a useful primer on many subjects, not the least of which is how to live a rich, joyful life (and treat scarlet fever).

I don't know the woman who owned this book originally. My husband bought it at an estate sale years ago. But I can tell you that she cherished it and used it frequently, tucking it with scribbled recipes and important clippings. She also loved to bake, as evidenced by the many stained and tattered pages in the cake-making chapter, and this may well have been the only cookbook she owned.

I have lots of cookbooks – scores of books period – so it’s difficult to imagine, in this era of information overload, putting your trust in one single volume and allowing it to guide the direction of your entire household. Surely our modern world is much more vivid and satisfying, given our myriad choices and options. Or is it? Do our time-saving conveniences and work-cutting efficiencies really make us happier?

I intend to answer those questions in this blog….and test lots of interesting recipes along the way. I’ll also try my hand at some of the more practical activities in Practical Housekeeping, such as removing kitchen odors, dyeing clothes naturally, and growing healthier fruit trees. And when I’m done, perhaps we will all be able, as the book suggests, to tackle our daily to-do’s “not reluctantly like drudges, but lovingly, with heart and hand fully enlisted in the work.”

Perhaps in good, honest labor we will find greater joy.