Tuesday, March 24, 2009

24 & 25 March 1955 "H.G. Well, Computers, A New Book, Cooking, Decorating and Chickens"

"At last I came under a huge archway and beheld the Grand Lunar exalted on his throne in a blaze of incandescent blue . . . The quintessential brain looked very much like an opaque, featureless bladder with dim, undulating ghosts of convolutions writhing visibly within . . . Tiers of attendants were busy spraying that great brain with a cooling spray, and patting and sustaining it . . ."
—H. G. Wells, The First Men in the Moon

The newest calculating 'brain' was installed in Monsanto Chemical Co.'s St. Louis headquarters. To IBM, it was the "Model 702 Electronic Data Processing Machine." To Monsanto and awed visitors, it was simply "the giant brain." Seated at its control console, a man has at his command the computing ability of 25,000 trained mathematicians.

In just twelve machine-hours the brain will do 1,200 cost reports that normally take 1,800 man-hours; in barely two hours it will complete a financial statement that takes a staff of accountants 320 hours. For Monsanto's chemists it will open up new horizons by rapidly working out complex equations to help discover new products, improve old ones, find out which of dozens of technically "correct" answers' to problems are the best.
[so it begins, the computer. Governments would have probably killed then to have 1/10 of the power that I am using to talk about how to clean your kitchen or make a cake. I hope we can now use our abilites to learn how best to be human so we can go forward with technology the right way. I used to think there was no 'right' way. Things were more subjective. Now, I know the right way is they way of Humans, community, and personal knowledge over endless faceless greed. I want Rosy the robot maid NOT the Terminator!]

I am very excited, as well you all should be, as I just got this in the mail today! I couldn't believe it when I found it on ebay. It is even better than I had hoped. It was published 1951. Just to give you a sample of what great things this book will be teaching us, this book goes into detail addressing the construction of rugs and how to make your own rugs! It is very thorough and I am really excited.There are even before and after shots of redecorating a room. This mingled with the previoius book I had posted about from 1908 will be a great comparrison of that time span and will cover all a 1955 woman would know from her grandmothers time to her 'present'. Be excited, as I am!

Here is my latest cake. I liked the recipe, but it was rather light because I used some squares of an actual chocolate bar instead of baking chocolate, as I normally do, and so it was lighter. My hubby, who does not like very sweet things, really likes it. The frosting is two kinds mixed. I made this new recipe, which was good, but I felt it was too runny, so I made up a batch of my 7-minute frosting (see previous blogs for recipe) and added this to it to make the frosting you see. It made a nice stiff frosting ( if you do make it, though, when you add the two frostings together, add a handful of confectioners sugar then let it sit for a good hour, it will bet a nice stiff consistency. It is a sweet frosting so paired nicely with the more mellow not-to-sweet cakes. It is nice to have a dessert always going, as vintage friend popped in last night as we were sitting down to dessert and I could dish her up a piece and a cupa and it was lovely.
This was a nice sidedish I just tried. I, of course, always have potatos in the house. There are some lovely ways to make them in my Boston Cooking School book from 1951. These were really good and I thought very 1950s as they have both a cream sauce AND pimentos in. It was yummy.
This is the white sauce recipe you use with the potato dish. I love what is says here: "Learn to make a perfect white sauce, not only for itself but because it is the basis of many sauces."
I am beginning to get to that point where I see cooking not as a bunch of random recipes, but a skill-set that you build up and then build out on. My attempts in the kitchen are beginning to result in my making up my own recipes. Last night I wanted to make a Ham and Cheese Souffle' but only had a recipe for a cheese souffle, so I began to think about what it takes to make a souffle rise and how it works and realized chunks of ham would not cut it. SO, I say my blender and it hit me, puree! So into the blender when the bits of ham I had diced and slices of sharp cheese and I just poured in what seemed the right amount of milk and ta-dah! This went into the other parts of the souffle. I will show pics and more of that tomorrow, now here is a picture of the original Pork Shoulder that I cooked with the above potate dish. It was so good. I slow cooked it for a few hours and basted it with, what else, brown sugar and syrup glaze. This is a bone in pork shoulder and I really prefer it to the precooked smoked boneless pre-cut hams. It cooks nicer and juicer and and you get so much more bang for your buck. I believe this 8 lb pork shoulder cost me around $7.00 on sale. We have had it for this meal. Then it went into two lunches for hubby, last night I used part of it to make my ham and cheese souffle and today the bone and the remainder of the meat will go into a bot to boil. From that I will get some great soup to eat and freeze and before it is a soup, I will take a cup or two of the stock and freeze that for future use. This is the kind of 'freezer' use I like. I really get so much out of one cut of meat. ALso, having the bone in is important. Any good chef will tell you that the meat and a stock and soup are only improved by having the bone in. The marrow and such add greatly to the taste. The skin being left on also really helps seal in the juices and I like scoring it. True, it looks like a pigs skin, because IT IS. I just feel, as I have said before, almost more honest about my food when it is in this form. Almost as if I am respecting the animal in a way by saying, yes you were alive and now you are going to feed my family. But, you know, we homemakers often have a running dialogue in our heads! Also the dogs LOVE this crispy skin. I will cut it up into strips and bake it crispy and the dogs love it AND they are cheaper than dog treats and I know there are no preservatives in.

This concept of really using as much of an animal is really part of my trying not to waste. I bought some lovely cow heart on sale yesterday. I saw it and it was only .70 cents so I bought two packages. I knew there had to be recipes for these in my cookbook and there are. I just think, why let this part of the animal go into the dumpster. We killed the thing, at least have the decency to eat as much of it as we can! I love organ meats, kidney liver brains etc, but I do not know if I have ever had the heart. So, it will be exciting to see what it tastes like. Some people might think "Ick the heart" but honestly, should we just throw away bits of the animal because we think they might be icky? They might not, and why not NOT waste MORE? What do any of you think? Have any of you had heart befor? I Adore sweetbreads and we know that is brain, but if you have never had it made properly in a french restaurant, you don't know what you are missing. There was actually a great little french restaurant tucked away in a basement in Boston that had the best sweetbreads. But, now I can simply try to make them myself. But, then when I do use the 'restaurant budget' you can bet it will be for something good, I mean I can make hamburgers, or whatever at home, I am only going to eat out now if I know I can have very well prepared foods beyond my own current skill level.

Now, onto some decorating:

Dorothy Draper gives us this advice for ceilings and wallpaper.

"As you select your wall paper it's a good time to decide aobut your ceiling. If you don't wnat to paper it, the ceiling can match the background color of the paper.Or it can match a dominant color in the pattern of the paper. For instance, in a room hung with flowered paper the ceiling might match the pink of the roses or the pale green of their leaves."

I know wallpaper is definitely having a renaissance right now, and brava or bravo, not sure what gender wallpaper is! Anyway, I have never ever hung wallpaper before, but I am determined to use it in my decorating scheme.Have any of you ever hung paper before? What am I getting myself into?

Aren't these dreamy wallpapers? I know I could never afford them, though I am writing to find out. They are from SecondHandRose in NYC. They are actual vintage papers NOT reproductions. I think if I paid alot for them, I might be scared that I would ruin them, but it is fun to dream. I am sure I can find some things that are similiar new.

I know this paper seems rather silly, but I ADORE it. I really want it for my first floor poweder room! I wanted to do it over in grey and pink. I already have a lovely silver accented mirror in there and could just see this in there along the top of a half wall of lucious pink tile! YES, I said PINK TILE! I know, but living in 1955 you really begin to have such lovely doll house fantasy's of pink! And, if you see, it still fits with my overall home scheme. The pink and red in the warm color, the touches of the blue I love in the plants and you can see the shades of brown and tan in some of the fish and everyroom whould have some black to ground it as this paper demonstrates. Have any of you paper in your bath and if so, how does it hold up. This would be for a powder room, so it is not as if peopel would be showering or taking long baths in there. [Addendum: I just recieved an email and this paper is $200.00 a roll! Wow, I think reproduction will have to do. That is out of my budget, plus now I am really going to try and redo this place with fleamarket, local thrift sale finds, the free dump shop, some paint fabric and cheaper wall paper and of course my 1955 Homemaking powers of creativity and ingenuity!

Speaking of the dump. I mentioned our dump as a great 'swap shop' where you drop off things you don't want but SHOULDN'T throw out. After all, one mans garbage IS another man's treasure. So, here is my hubby this past Sunday playing with his new free toy. It is a great early 1960s typewriter and it is truly portable. He already has visions of sitting in a chair in the yard, pipe in mouth with this little devil typing away. Free things...how fine, indeed.
Isn't this 1876 Copeland creamware dreamy?! The colors are wonderful. I am not sure if any of you noticed my french chair upholsterd in orange in one of my photos, but this would be perfect with that fabric.

I am certainly not in the market to spend on such things, but a gal can dream can't she. AND, if you are going to buy something precious that you don't NEED but just WANT, make it something with some intrinsic value because then you can always 'sell it off to uncle when your in need of some stumpy' as they say. You can find bargains. My 'good china' which is bought mostly due to is having my favorite blue in it, was not expensive, as I got it marked down at a sale in an old antique store, but as a set it could be sold for more than I paid for it, if I needed to.Or, if you have children, the joy of having things that were passed down is priceless. I know I have things that are not terribley costly that were, my grandfathers, but becuase of that, they are all the more precious to me. I think this idea of something you care for and have your whole life and leave to your children, is sort of missing a little today as well. Unless you are really wealthy, most things people buy today are throw-away. Yet, what we pay for computers today would certainly have been an expense our ancestors would have put onto somthing of real value that you could still own. I doubt lil Tommy will be happy to see in the will that he gets Nana's black and white 386 laptop. I know our modern technology can't but help be throw away, but I wonder, if you are not into video games with your computer, could we stop buying new computers now, at the current stage of technology, as they can handle graphics of youtube and Hulu, and are fine for emails, blogging an such. Could we honestly stop at some point. When I say, we, I mean anyone who thinks, you know, this computer is fast enough and cutting edge enough for me. I don't want to stop progress, but I also want to think for my family when is enough technology. Wait until computers are screenless or whatever space-age future they have and then buy a new one.
I really want to take my computer I have now and turn it into a sort of 'vintage look' with wood I can polish etc. There is a movement now of people who do this, called Steampunk. I guess I would want mine to be more Eams meets early american.

I was thinking today, no surprise there, that I really seem to come to this cross-roads everyday: What is ME and what is the character Me in 1955?
This project has just become so engrained, enmeshed into my life, that I often find myself confronting a new idea with a question, "wait, would I want to do that in 1955?"

Then I have to say to myself, "Look, Self"(housewives have often, intimate, and sometimes heated debate with themselves!) "You do not want to just try and be some one-dimensional 'character' or 'art piece' of what you think a woman in your circumstances in 1955 would do. You want to take on the aspects and ideas of her world and then see what YOU would do."

Case in point: I am now the proud owner of some chickens. I cannot tell you how excited I am about this. The amount of eggs I go through is incredible, and I love the sound of the Rooster (though we have to make sure the ole' boy is locked away at night as he wakes up hubby and presumably some of the neighbors!)

So, I put to myself, "well, here I am a middle-class homemaker in 1955. My husband works in the city. We live in the country/suburbs. There is abundance everywhere, but I was a young lady during WWII. I know what rationing is and may therefore still have the habits of that time as well."

You see, I worry if I am trying to justify things that might seem like an ecological/safe or green thing to do know with what my 'character' would do in 1955. It is true keeping a garden and chickens certainly became suburban practice in the 1940's, but would I have worried about what the bridge club thought?

Then, I go one step further in this line of resoning ( My conversations with myself often go on for a long time, I am rather long-winded with myself!)"Honestly, I am not a character." I say, " I am a person and I really think the concepts, morays and ideals I am picking up are true to the time period and earlier and might seem like the 'in thing or green thing' now, only because we lost our way along that path somewhere. What seems like a modern 'green' concept, is really just natural living in 1955"

My point is this: Here I wanted to sort of make a character to portray to myself in order to experience history at first hand as possible. Now, the things I am learning are becoming such a part of me that I do not always see them as some character-set. This project has forced me to really face myself in the mirror and try to separate project from whom I thought I was. I realize, now, that only the project is forcing me to do somthing that we all SHOULD and will do:evaluate our life.

We are confronted daily with a barrage of information and physical stimuli. We are told what to eat, when to eat it, where to buy it, how much to pay etc. Overload of info at every street corner and we take it all in stride, but really it can often silence that voice in our head which tells us who we really are or what we would like to strive to be. Although, I am not truly in 1955, in some way I have shut off some of those voices. I no longer watch tv and that is a big distraction. The tv silences that voice in your head that tells you, "Hey, what are you doing GO LIVE YOUR LIFE, this is it, don't waste it tryin to decide what toothpaste to buy or if joe or sue are going to be the next american idol".

I also no longer read modern magazines. This, at first, I didn't really think about. Now, however, when I go to a modern bookstore, there are SO MANY MAGAZINES. Everything has a magazine. It is another way to separate out little bits of who we might be. An entire book on just kitchens for example. When I read my magazines and my homemakers manuals, they cover EVERYTHING in one book or issue. You can literally learn how to strip a chair down to its base, refoam and wire it etc. There was a certain level of ability that was just expected of you as a human being then, that now is almost gone. Think of the layers of skill we no longer use. Even cooking. It is not really that hard. Yet, we zombie ourselves to the store, buy prepared foods, pop it in the food heater (micro) and eat it in front of the tv while it tells us what better frozen meal to buy next. I know I know, another rant and all because of chickens!

I also now only listen to music before and up to 1950s. This at first, I thought, would be hard. I certainly think there are alot of great modern musicians out there. I adore Joanna Newsome, and I thought, "This will be hard". But what I have found is not that I listen to the same amount of music, but replace it with'oldies', but that, in fact, there are hours that go by in the day where I listen to nothing. I can be in my little sitting room having my afternoon 'homemaker break' with a cup of tea and a book and it is quiet. The dogs rustle in their heap of blankets. The parakeet rings its little bell, maybe the rooster crows. But, it is silence. It is as if I can hear the actual voice in my head.

The endless need for sound and visual stimuli has become such a normal part of modern society that I had not realized it until it was all shut off. I have to say, I really like silence. Now, I would probably go mad with it all the time, but I can see if I were in 1955 and I had children who would watch tv and such in the evening, during the day while they were at school, you could see how this would be a time of bliss for the homemaker. I think someone my age, too, would not have succumbed to the soap operas. I would have grown up without tv and of course had radio, but I would have had alot of freedom to use my imagination. I would have craved the silence during the day. Even in the grocery stores and such there is always music. One aspect I am upset about our little local store that I will be doing my marketing at next week, is since the renovated they added a flatscreen tv to the wall over the newspaper rack. WHY? It just sits there spewing 'news' over the printed news. This was not here last summer and this is a genuine old store. Crooked wooden floors, old shelves with canned goods individually priced with now scan bars, but now A flat screen tv? And they have taken away some of the seating where many locals would sit and chat over coffee or have a good town gossip, now what? Are we suppose to stand there and watch the news instead of converse? Very odd, indeed.

Even toys, which are really a big business growing in 1950s, begin to give the distraction to kids. To prepare them for the noise and information of adulthood and really on some level, take away a little of their silence.

As a child in the Depression, I would of had very little in the way of toys. Even if I were still staunchly middle class, I would have had nice dolls and miniture tea sets, surely, but that is most likely it. I would have had a freedom to go and run and be free that is no longer available to children. Even, during the 1950s, this was being discussed. The new generation of children were not given the freedom of their parents. Perhaps it was the war that scared the new mothers. Watching a child leave the house could feel as if they never would come back. I do know that I have no children now and we have no plan for any, but this is the point in my life where I have most thought about possibly having one. However, now I am not sure what I would do. I do not think I could raise my child completley in the modern world. Would it be unfair to the child, as he would then possibly not relate to others because of it, like Branded Frasier in that movie where he was raised in a bomb shelter completely free from modern norms. I used to not even think there was any big deal with video games, but now I cannot honestly say that I would even let him know they existed until he discovered them at a friends house, but I would want him to learn to play and create on his own first. SO, perhaps it is good we do not have children, maybe I would warp the poor thing into some sad vintage human who was self-reliant but unable to communicate with others as he who have no modern pop-references or know how to play video games. I have to hand it to all of you parents out there, how do you make the decisions on how to create and grow your child?

So, trying to get back to my main point: I am not a character, but a real person. I do not really live in 1955, but am trying to recreate as much of it as possible in so doing I am closing out alot of the 'modern world' and that is making me open my eyes, hear my own voice, and become, I hope, a better person. IF not better, at least someone I can respect.

Now, when I look in a book that says I can reupholster a chair, make a souffle', build a bookcase, make a rug, and also look pretty for my husband AND myself I don't think, "They were crazy back then." but "Oh, okay, I will try that tomorrrow and the next day add one more thing to that."

Life is for living not just watching.

I could see how I can come off as some sort of 'conspiracy theroist' when I make such statements as "THEY don't want you to entertain yourself" or "THEY don't want you to be skilled enough to make your own dress, your own rug and curtains and lampshades, do your own nails, grow your own food, etc" But, honestly, if we all learned to do HALF of what is in my latest Homemakers Handbook, we would spend alot less money by merely making things ourselves and wouldn't need the latest tv because we would be so busy living our lives and adding to our skills that we would laugh at the idea, "What? Sit in front of that thing for hours watching someone else live their life? I have jam to put up, I am braiding these rags from the ragbag to make a rug for the front hall, and I have to make a cake for the local charity, No thank you".

Have you wondered why reality tv is so big? It is because now it is allowing you to vicariously "LIVE" through others. It gives you the perception of whatever the life is they are portraying, all while you sit down and consume more products! I know, I did it.

I have found so far that when I come upon somthing that I think is going to be too hard or is a bit scary [like I am a little scared next week about only shopping local and keeping to my budget] that once I do the thing I find it was not hard but challenging and learning.I was actually a little worried about not getting to shop at my Stop and Shop (grocery store chain on the east coast) next week for my food. Then I just said to myself, "Self (see, you have to really sit yourself down somtimes and have a good heart to heart) Self," I said,"Stay in your dollar amount budget. If you have to buy LESS food, then so what? Make what you have stretch to fill the week. We are just so tricked into thinking that we have to have SO much around us and it is so easy to just pop down to the store and use our debit or credit card and just get 'a quick meal', when really we are spending more than we need to! Case closed. We buy too much. You cetainly would have had less in 1944 then 1955, so I just figure I will have to make do with what is in my icebox and my pantry next week.
When you do your own cooking you realize how meals are actually put together. You can see that if you are low on somthing or you have leftovers you know how to make it stretch and make it into a new meal. I honestly believe this very basic skill of cooking so so important to the money saving of the majority of America and yet there is no push nor need to learn it. Why is it required to read Dickens in school but not learn how to make three basic meals?

So, fianlly (I know I am like a rollercoaster of rant) back to my very original point: The Chickens. I don't know if A middle class homemaker in 1955 would have had chickens, but I know THIS middle class homemaker of the new 1955 does.

After hubby left this morning, I took my pile of scraps and a bucket of water and headed out to the little darlings. At the end of each day there is alwasy something that I won't give the dogs and won't make it for 'leftovers' that goes in a little bowl, "for the chickens'. In this way, not only am I making less garbage, but I am putting it into an animal that then uses it to produce that wonderful perfect ingredient for cooking: THE EGG. There is a feeling of connection when I do this. Again, maybe it is all the time I spend with myself thinking too much, but I stroll out (today it was bitterly cold) with my little bowl. Sometimes the dogs follow me, today they chose to stay bundled up in blankets. I pull open the door to their house and they come rushing out; the cluck cluck of their 'good-morning' and the confidence of the rooster. I open the door to their run and they come up to me, for I am the bringer of wonderful table scraps. Today they had the leftover pancakes (some of which went to the dogs as well) and the end of my romaine lettuce. A few green beans that didn't get eat last night. Then, there is that magical moment, when I go into the chicken house and see, in perfect little circular nests ( I swear they make honest to goodness perfect little nests out of the hay I give them. I don't use straw, I think it is too picky, and the hay smells so wonderful) lay the eggs. Like magic, there they sit waiting to be made into souffles and breakfasts and yummy cakes. How distanced we have come from our food.

I know not everyone can have chickens where they live, but you would be surprised that people even in the city, keep chickens. I guess it is a new thing that many people are trying to lift the bans in their cities to allow them to keep chickens (just hens NO roosters, as you know you don't need a rooster, but ours was an accident and so I am gonna keep him. I actually thought of eating him, but I really think he does a good job of protecting my gals) If any of you have the land or the opportunity, go for it! If you don't like it there are ALWAYS people looking for good laying hens. The satisfaction from watching these pets that provide for you table is worth it ten-fold and their feed is quite cheap especially when supplemented with your table scraps.

So, I am not telling anyone what to do or how to live their life, there is plenty of that IN your life already, but even if just for one day, turn off the tv the radio, grab an old book (no modern magazines) and see what you hear inside. Think, "what if this were my everyday? Would I go batty without my show. I need to watch this or that. I don't want to not have distraction!" See what all that noise is really hiding. I think when someone cannot live without distraction, they are trying to silence something in them. Just listen to that something, it might be the real you screaming to get out and live.

Well, that is my rant for today.
Until tomorrow, happy homemaking, and listen to your inner voice, it might be trying to get your attention.
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