Thursday, March 12, 2009

12 March 1955 "TV, Steak and Kidney Pie, and My Rant"

Tonight on NBC would premier :A Connecticut Yankee with the Cast: Eddie Albert, Janet Blair, Boris Karloff, Gale Sherwood

It is coming next year! planned obsolescence is beginning. Why stand up to change the channel? Why have such a small screen? Why have such a bulky screen? and it goes on.

Last night I made Steak and Kidney pie. I was excited the last time I visited my grocery store to see that they offered for the day, both liver and kidneys. I snatched them up. As mentioned before, my husband did not like the liver as a large piece, as I had cooked it (though I thought it was quite beautiful tasting) but said today, that he would eat liver again, but wanted to try it cooked the other way I had mentioned it, that is in strips, pan fried.

He did like the Steak and Kidney pid and I loved it as well. Here it is before it went into the oven, the crust construction was not my best piece of artwork, but I actually wanted to keep it rather 'rustic' looking. Next time (and believe me there will be a next time!) I may add some decorative pastry leaves etc. The crust looks odd in the photo, but it turned out golden brown and flaky.

Here is it served Hot for dinner.

And here it is today for lunch. I think it was actually better the next day. The flavors really had a chance to marry and it solidified nicely. Hubby had today off, which is unsual for him, so we partook of this today and it was really wonderful. I would highly reccomend it. Even if you think it sounds odd, it is worth a try. The steak is merely inexpensive stewing beef and Kidney is not dear, I think my one pound package was around $2.00.

Here is a more american version of a meat pie. This is a great recipe advert from one of my magazines. Though I would probably not buy premade beef stew ( I would just make my homemade and put in the pastry), I am sure it is good. And I could not find in my store a package of this boxed pastry dough, but I have a wonderful recipe in one of my new favorite cook books : the 1951 edition of the Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School Cook Book. It is my new bible. It is my endeavour to eventually try many of the recipes, as they are definitely of the 'gourmet' variety and what would have been considered so in the 1950s. There is a great recipe in there for a Pastry Mix which you can make ahead and store. It is as follows:

Pastry Mix

6 cups pasty flour or 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp salt
2 cups vegetable shortening ( I would use Lard or you could use butter as well)
Sift flour with salt. Cut in shortening as for Plain Pastry. Store in covered jar in the icebox or cool cupboard.

For 2-crust pie use 2 1/2 cups of the mix and sprinkle 1/4 cup ice water overmix by tablespoonfuls, stirring it in with fork until just enough has been added so that you can pat the dough lightly together to form a ball. Handle as little as possible and do not knead! wrap in wax paper and chill. Then roll out as needed.


1 lb. beef round steak
1 beef kidney
1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
3 tbsp. lard or drippings
1 med. sized onion, chopped
1/4 c. chopped pimento
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp. thyme
1 1/2 c. water
Pastry for 1 crust pie

Cut round steak in 3/4 to 1 inch cubes. Remove tubes and fat from kidney and cut in 3/4 to 1 inch cubes. Combine flour, salt and pepper. Dredge steak and kidney cubes in seasoned flour (reserving any extra flour) and brown in lard or drippings. Remove meat from frying pan. Add onion to drippings and cook over low heat until transparent. Pour off drippings, add pimento, Worcestershire sauce, thyme and water to onion in frying pan and bring to boil. Stir in browned meat cubes and any remaining seasoned flour. Invert 9 inch pie plate over pastry rolled to about 1/8 inch thickness. Cut a circle about an inch from rim of plate for top crust. Cut a design in crust to allow steam to escape.

Cut a second circle about 3/4 to 1 inch from edge of top crust to provide pastry to circle edge of pie plate. Moisten edge of plate and top with outer circle of pastry, adjusting to fit. Turn meat mixture into pie plate and cover with top crust. Seal top pastry to edge and flute. Bake in preheated 325 degree oven for 1 1/2 hours. Makes 6 servings.

I was thinking today about my project. It was originally as a challange to myself, for the novelty, and to hopefully trick myself into some of the routine I felt was commonplace to a homemaker at the time. (Oh, and to have an excuse to wear a petticoat and hat and gloves!)

Obviously, I cannot live strictly to 1955. The fact that you are reading this typed on my computer is a blaring example. But, in 'giving up' some of the modern things, what I have come to realize is this is not about time-traveling but more about changing the future. The things I have forced myself to give up due to it being 1955 have come to show me the power those things weilded.

I never watched alot of tv, but I certainly watched my share of design shows. I loved BBC America, and shows like Project Runway. Yet, by not allowing myself to have these anymore( I mean they are not possible as there is no more tv per se in my home.) I can only watch 'tv' that is 1950s. I do occasionaly watch these shows, but there are days that go by where I have not even thought of entertainment on that level. And when I do watch a show I find myself very antsy. Where I once could happily sit with some tea and muchies through a Sunday afternoon of Changing Rooms and Project Runway marathons, now to get through an half hour episode of Father Knows Best is almost like work. And, on some level, I do consider it part of my 'job'. The watching of such shows is a sort of research.
If I can digress a little more here concerning such shows. I used to, along with my modern compatriots, make fun of such shows of the 1950s. I am, however, finding them to have a certain element of endearing truth. Such as family is important. Be honest. Think of others. Be considerate of your neighbors, friends, relations. Your actions have consequences.
I LOVE Father Knows Best, and before this project I had never seen an episode . So, for me, it is honestly a new show. It is funny, because I find their clothes more normal now, than when I look around me in public. I now notice, when I go shopping for example, how slovenly people dress. What would have been considered just casual clothes to me, now really have that 'work clothes' look to them. Now, not that you should judge a book by the cover, but then again somtimes you can. You certainly could be a serial killer and dress up clean and neat, or be a saint in rags. However, I think for the average masses, who are neither killer nor saint, really represent themselves in their clothing choices. AND I have found, surprisingly enough, by changing your outfit, you actually change your own self-image and emotional state. I know, because it has happened to me.
I have always felt I had a good amount of self-esteem. I thought I felt good about myself and confident in my place in the world, but when I slip on that girdle and hose, a simple skirt and cardigan, reach into my scarf drawer and tie some silk around my neck, I feel a sense of myself and place that is quite unique. Even my work clothes have a sense of style and grace that I enjoy that is merely taking a few more minutes to prepare myself. My highwaisted jeans with one of hubby's flannel shirts tied at the waist, a neck scarf and head scarf. Nice comfortable flats and I really looked pulled together and yet completely comfortable to work.

I think somewhere along the line (most likely the 70s) we began to think that 'nice clothes' were for 'special occasions'. Well, don't you want to feel special more often than weddings, funerals and holidays? Are your friends and family not worth your looking nice? What we now view as post-war propaganda to 'make over' a person into a mold, or make everyone conform, is in actuality just dressing to express your place in the world. You are worthy enough to be dressed nicely to go shopping. It is as if you are telling yourself, "Darn it, I am worth wearing that nice dress today. Why do I have to keep it for 'special occasions'?"
Even nice dishes and cutlery end up being relegated to 'special times'. My vintage friend used to use paper plates because it was 'easier'. She now finds herself glad to take out those dishes gathering dust in her closet to use everyday. It is better for the environment and saves money and certainly makes your day feel more structured and it is nice to look forward to dinner at a table with nice plates and conversation. It is as if we care more for the coporate sponsers we advertise to us, that we allow them to have our dinner and conversation time! I would much rather talk to my friends and family over dinner, than hear about some new soap product or rather or not Paris Hilton did or didn't do this or that!

I think what is really missing from our modern world, at least from my little bit of it, is structure. We, as a modern generation, feel so much freedom and so 'above' routine or necessity to 'look nice' or eat at a certain time with nice things, that we often find ourselves floundering around feeling as if we don't have any control. We have no time to do this or that or any time to spend with our friends and family. When really we just need more structure.
One of my best revelations so far (and don't laugh as I am sure many of you were already so organized) was this simple concept. MAKE A DAILY LIST.
Such a simple thing. Some words on paper. A matter of minutes with a pen and a pad, but my, how it has changed my life! The vast array of what I need to do and would like to do would loom before me, taunting my like some old halloween skeletons, jangling before me. All I needed to scare away those Bogies were a pen and a pad.
Each morning I think about what I need to do, with a schedul I have made for my week already, and what I would like to do (depending on the weather for example as Spring is upon us.) I make that list at my little desk with my cup of coffee and I feel like the 'homemaking executive'. There it is. In black and white. Sometimes seeing things written affect us on some level, maybe all those handouts we had to do at grammer school. And, by the end of the day, if most of that list is checked off, I feel so good. It is a challange and a guide. If they could bottle that feeling you get when you walk up to your list and slide your pen through that item done and put it in an energy drink, they'd sell gallons of it!

This idea of lists and organizing has really got me thinking how the modern world does not really, on a personal level, reward such behavior. It is expected at work. You do your work and get it done or you don't get paid. Then when you are off work you relax. Somehow it feels as if your work is more important to you than your own free time. Aren't YOU worth a list of things to get done and check them off? Even if the list is:
see a movie,
talk to my husband for one hour about global warming,
have coffee with my friend
and read three chapters in my book.
Obviously don't be a time nazi about it, but if you really did want to have time to read today, then your worth it. Visit with your friend for awhile and watch tv for awhile but don't just waste your time. It is YOUR time and you deserve to use it not WASTE it.
I know it sounds almost anal, and I am far from anal believe me, but somehow along the way we seem to have lost our own improtance. We seem a generation of ME ME ME, but with that me time we waste it fulfilling the needs of the consumer society in which we live. We need the tv to tell us what is entertaining. We have to buy things at the store to feel good for that hard day at work. We don't have enough time to get to cleaning and cooking (cuz of our tv time) so we will just throw some prepared food on our laps later and toss that pile of clean laundry in the corner; we will get to it later. But, don't you deserve to live in a nice house? Aren't you worth a dinner at home with napkins on laps and nice wine? We don't mind going out and spenging 12.00 on a hamburger at a restaurant, but we could spend less on a nicer home cooked meal in your own home where there are no tips, rude waiters and your dogs can be with you (I love my dogs)
So, I know I am rambling on again, but it just really hit me today how much of our modern world, the simple actions we take, are so affected by things like tv and 'modern concepts'. I think by my giving up these things that I felt were not 1955, I have begun to realize how we don't really need alot of them. And by taking on actions that I felt were important to people in 1955, I am finding that they are as important today!

Why don't we live like this today? I find myself asking. Certainly we think things cost more, but is that it, or do we just need to buy more things. I know it is not the same for everyone across the board, but I am just finding, maybe we are just mindless consumers who don't want to really think about how we spend. If it is important to get more of our time and life back then maybe you don't need a car for every member of your family. Maybe you don't need multiple cell phones or any at all. Or maybe one cell phone and no home phone. Do you need to buy a new car and pay it off, when you can buy one five years old and buy it outright? How many new clothes and shoes do you REALLY need? It is just a matter of choice, but it is YOUR choice. You can change your daily actions and life.

For me, even the making of my bed is really a 1955 concept. I didn't do it everyday before 1955. Now, I don't even think about it, I just do it. After hubby is off to work and the kitchen is all clean and dishes put away, I make the bed and straighten up the room. Now, I find myself sometimes going in there to relax. An organized clean room really makes you feel like a special guest in your own home. Think of it- a life long vacation in a hotel that caters specifically to your needs. It's true you are often the bell hop and the chef, but you can't beat the price and you can stay as long as you want.
I think one reason we have such celebrity and star worship in this country, is we view these people as the lucky ones who get to wear nice clothes and go to nice places, well, whats stopping you? So, you cant' afford a $10,000 gown, but one you make yourself or get on sale for 50.00, if it makes you feel good, isn't it the same thing. And so you can't afford some high-end restaurant, set your table with your 'nice dishes' get some good wine and make a great gourment meal for yourself. Why live your life vicariously through some media ideal, when the real thing is much more fun AND rewarding. You don't have to be rich and famous to be happy. You can wear nice clothes whenever you want and eat at your own table set with nice things and good food made by your hand and actually save money in the process. It is more work personally, but if it results in your having to do less actual labor/job work to pay for all the things that somehow make your not having to cook your own meals, make your own clothes, entertain at home necessary, isn't it worth it? Wouldn't you like to spend half the amount of money on igredients and take the time to cook and eat at home. If you did it enough you might find you don't need to work as much. It is a strange consumer cycle we are all stuck in. Just really evaluate what and where you spend. That seems to be the key to homemaking in the old days and this key should be used by all of us nowadays for our life. You don't have to be a homemaker to make these good decisions.

Maybe I am just spewing nonsense and most of you think I am crazy, or perhpas you already do these things and are thinking, "well, I know that already". But, you see, I did not. I just didn't know it. Know one ever taught me to sew or cook. I had to learn to do laundry on my own and only recently saw how wrong I was doing it. No one simply said, look at what you are spending and evaluate if you need this or that. Just because it is easier to buy prepared foods, have two cars and buy your own clothes doesn't mean it is the only option. But, in trying to limit myself to things in 1955, I am realizing how these limits can really make a happy life for us. Why save up all year to rush through two weeks of a holiday when you can make more of your daily life a great vacation?

I was talking with vintage friend the other day and she is not a homemaker. She has a full time job. She was telling me how she really would like to be a homemaker. Now, she doesn't have a husband, but she lives with her fiance'. When I started talking with her about if it could be feasible to stay home, you realize it is BUT, there is always a but, it might involve getting rid of things we think we NEED: such as, two cellphones, two cars etc. IF you stay home and your husband works relatively close by, why have two cars? If you have things to get done that day, drop him off and you have the car. If not, let him have the car and you will need to stay home and get your work done, because it is a job. You cannot say, "Oh, never mind I will go off and get some starbux instead". Because, again, I really think many people believe being a homemaker means you have a lifelong day off. Not true. In fact, I never leave my place of work. It is always there and ALWAYS needs my attention, but it is my responsiblity as the boss of this outfit, to make sure I budget my time so I can have an official 'punch out time' at the end of the day. And in treating it like a job, I make sure I meet deadlines, don't overspend, make sure my work area is clean. I mean, when you are at work you follow all the rules set by your boss and your job. Why not have those same rules for your home and yourself even if you are not a homemaker. It is still your home.
So, back to my friend. At first she balked, as many of us would, "live without my cell phone? only one car?" But we have to realize people used to do such things. In fact in our own living history we all lived without cell phones. Our consumer socitey is SO good at what it does, that we have no memory when it comes to consumption. We have short term memory when it comes to purchasing. Who can remember not having cell phones, well it wasn't that long ago! "Oh, I need my cell phone, I can't live without it," even though ten years ago you would never have even thought of it.

Now, many of us are concerned about the environment and such, what better way to reduce our carbon footprint then to get rid of one car! We started adding up the cost of insurance, excise tax, inspection each year (at least here in MA), gas and the hidden cost: When you can just drive where you want when you want, you spend more! If you cannot take off for starbux, you won't have spent five dollars on a cup of coffee. When I think of what I used to spend on one coffee! I can buy coffee beans for the week! AND I don't give myself atitude when I order my own coffee at home and if I want to leave a tip, it goes in a jar for me!
Another moment of revelation for me happened the other day. I had bought the closest thing to a sponge mop I could, as I saw these existed in 1955. I had seen an ad in my vintage magazine for a sponge mop and so went out to get one. So, I thought, good this is better than my old swiffers, I just use this sponge over and over agian and then only need to buy the refill. Not everytime I mop.
Then I thought about it. The consumer socitey is beginning in the 1950s. Here I am merely buying the 1950's version of the swiffer. I checked and the refill sponge was 8.99. Certainly, I do not need to buy it as often as swiffer refills, but I do need to buy it. Then I saw a 100% cotton mop was the same price as one sponge refill. The mop head detaches and I can wash it and use it probably indefinitely! Then I went back even one step further, before mops, you got on your hands and knees took a brush and some soapy water and did that. No product required but the buket and the brush that was probably your mother's old one. This sort of backwards analyzing has really opened my eyes. The levels at which we spend is amazing. No wonder so many people think they cannot afford to have one spouse work and one stay home. But, if you do want to think and treat it like a real job ( which means take it seriously and realize sometimes it is a messy hard job) you could do it.

There is another level of spending that is part of our consumer society that I am become to laothe. It is a type of spending that seems on the surface to be saving you money, but in fact is still part of the whole ploy to pull you in and spend. For example, I found myself buying a shirt at old Navy the other day. It was very vintage inspired and was marked down to $4.00, I HAD to buy it. And, true I could NOT make this shirt for this price. But, then I had to stop and think, what does this shirt really cost? Such stores exist on the suffering of other human beings. I know that sounds crazy, but how do you think such places can sell you a shirt for four dollars? It certainly is not because the local neighborhood tailor is making it for them. But, China (to whom we are increasingly becoming indebted to) has tons of people and they do not care how they treat them. They literally have children sewing shoes for pennies while we buy them for hundreds of dollars, or we buy somthing really cheap because, we could never make it that cheap. But, do we need that many clothes? Wouldn't we rather pay a little more, have less, but buy it from our neighbor who runs a dress shop?
We are apalled when we think of the Holacaust and wonder, "How did people let it happen?" And yet, we buy without thinking! We just wonder around like mindless zombies with our pocketbooks open, mindlessly buying because it is so cheap I HAD to buy it!
I have mentioned Walmart before, because I am always baffled at how good they are at the game they play. Their whole concept is 'good ole america'. Yet, they undersell small business until they are forced to shut down. They buy from China. There is a price for everything and if we don't pay it for the product we are paying for it in our destorying of a way of life we may still want. I am amazed at how easy it is to fall prey to them, for example, I found a blog the other day that was about being green and getting back to the earth. It showed how to make your own jam. It went on about nature and picking your berries locally etc and then in the list of things needed, it said, 'All of these things are really cheap and available at Walmart'. It just really hit home for me.
Really? Pick berries from your local farm, but buy the supplies from the beast himself? Or why not just buy on ebay or from your local store. Then you are helping out your local economy, or buying something used, so it doesn't have to be manufactured again, thus being even more green and thinking local!
Many people pine for the old days and wish we could return to the local downtown where little johnny can go to the five and ten and get a soda at the counter. You know all your neighbors, there is the local butcher and bakery. But, we act as if some magic Genie came and took it all away. We don't want to have the accountability to accept that is is OUR fault it is gone. But, in accepting that we can see that we can also bring it back, HOW? Stop shopping chain stores. DON'T go to walmart and Home Depot. I know, "It's cheaper there, " you will say. But, is it? Is it okay to help purpetuate the continuing harm to others so we can save $1.00 on some cleaning product we could proably just make with vinegar and water anyway!

It makes me sad, because we as a collective in this country could make a difference, but we won't want to because, oh, it'll be too expensive. But, we don't think, well, maybe we could buy LESS things support locally and still only spend the same amount. And what about when all stores are only chains and corporations and China calls in its debts, then what? Then they can charge whatever they like! No wonder we pine for the good ole days, but we need to be like those people and work harder locally, and think before we spend.
I know I might sound like a fanatic, but this trip to 1955 has really shown me self-worth and self empowerment. I can say, "No, I won't go to walmart or Old Navy I will shop locally and make it myself if I can". I needed the guise of a time-travel project to do it, but then I realize, I could have just done it anyway. Any of us can just make the decision to buy less, buy local, make what we can and barter for what we can't. We don't need a cell phone for each of us and everyone their own car. What saddens me, is I think it will only take such a huge financial crisis of epic proportions to get us to HAVE to return to these ways. When, really, we can do it right now. We can change in our own backyards and it would ripple out like a stone dropped into a pond.

A good lesson in consumerism is your local dump. If you have a local one, go to it. Just go there and look at it all. I am surprised by the decreased number of my own garbage bags by the simple act of using cloth napkins, rags for cleaning instead of paper towels, mop instead of throw away swiffer, toilet brush instead of toss away scrubber, not stopping for coffee and bringing home that throw away cup. Even my vintage Kirby vacuum uses no paper bags. It goes into a cloth bag inside another cloth bag and emptys out of the bottom. Both of those bags are washable. These few changes have already decreased the amount of garbage bags (bin liners) I have at my curb as well as what I spend on products.

It somehow has seemed that the very act of being a grown up, which means thinking things through and being responsible for your actions, is just disapearing from our community landscape. Why?

It is fun to scorn or scoff the homemaker, at home cooking for her family, keeping her house. "She is a slave" you might think, and yet happily go through life working hard to pay for all the things the tv and society tells you you need. Now, honestly, who is the slave? The woman who gets to be her own boss, design her own surroundings and use her own imgainations to make do with what she has? Yes, indeed, poor slave. What a sucker, now I need to go work more hours at my loathsome job so I can pay for the gas to get there and then shop to buy things to make myself feel better and not have to go home to that messy house.

Even single people can be their own homemakers. Because really, being a homemaker simply means being in control of your own life, thinking before you buy, and making your surroundings the best they can be for yourself.
That is the type of slavehood I like.
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